This post contains independently chosen affiliate links. See full affiliate disclosure.
Artist: Quincy Jones
Album: You’ve Got It Bad Girl
Composer: Quincy Jones
Sanford and Son is one of the greatest American television shows of all time. I’m still amazed that Redd Fox was only 49 years old when the show started. He so successfully portrayed a man in his late 60s by simply dying his hair and beard gray and staggering when he walked as if he had hip and knee problems. And, did you know that Sanford was Redd Fox’s given name? Yep, John Elroy Sanford. But, you’re here to find out about one of the most popular, well-remembered, and iconic TV theme songs of all time. Who wrote the theme song to Sanford and Son?
The Sanford and Son theme song was written by Quincy Jones who subsequently released it on his 1973 album, You’ve Got It Bad Girl, under the title “The StreetBeater.” The single failed to reach the Billboard 100, stalling out at 294. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a well-loved song. Recalling how he became involved in writing the song for the show, Jones said,
Bud Yorkin came over my house around 1970 and he said we just bought the rights of a show from England called Steptoe and Son. Sanford and Son was taken from the English TV show. He said, ‘I’d like you to write the theme for it.’ I said, ‘who’s in it?’ And he said Redd Foxx. I said, ‘man, you can’t put Redd Foxx on national TV [laughs]. I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. We used to do the Chitlin Circuit. I used to write this music for him to come out with. Yorkin said, ‘No, it’s gonna be a great great show. And it was. Foxx took his sense of humor and took it all the way to the top. I wrote that song in about 20 minutes too. We had four musicians, Recorded it in about 20 minutes. It’s amazing. Looking back, it’s a trip.
Steptoe and Son, mentioned by Jones, was a popular British sitcom about a father and son who ran a junk business in Shepherd’s Bush, London, on a fictional street called Oil Drum Lane. It ran from 1962 to 1965 and from 1970 to 1974 and was voted Britain’s Best Sitcom in a 2004 BBC poll.
Sanford and Son was not the first attempt to remake the show for an American audience. The first attempt came in 1965 when Joseph E. Levine produced a pilot starring Lee Tracy and Aldo Ray which was never picked up as a series.
Norman Lear, who had successfully remade the British show Till Death Us Do Part into All in the Family, initially had his producing partner Bud Yorkin and writer Aaron Rubin produce a script that would center on an Irish widower and his son who had an Italian mother. This pilot, starring Bernard Hughes as the father was not picked up so the team began considering using black lead characters. Long story short, they did so and found gold when Redd Foxx agreed to play the lead role.