Behind the Themes: Making a 'Champion' TV Tune

You may not know the name Dan Slider, but you certainly have heard his work. Slider has scored more than 1,000 hours of primetime TV programming, including the long-running America’s Funniest Home Videos. He's responsible for the show's ridiculously catchy theme song. You know how it goes: "America, America, this is you."

But this isn't about that sonic masterpiece. SideReel recently contacted Slider to discuss a different — but no less iconic — earworm:

The theme song for the Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship.

You don't think you know it? Even if you didn't catch the original broadcast (hosted by none other than Dr. Seaver himself, Alan Thicke), you might have seen Key & Peele's hilariously dark spoof, or come across one of the many memes or GIFs the event has spawned.

 

It's the kind of theme that grabs hold like a vice and doesn't let go.

Listen:

The Champions.
The Champions!

Slider was first approached by the event's producers in 1984 to arrange a new version of the song "You Make My Heart Beat Faster." In 1986, one of those producers, Howard Schwartz, asked Slider to create an original instrumental song to represent the competition.

The result was catchy as hell, the kind of tune that prompts a weirdly obsessed TV writer to contact Slider out of the blue 30 years later.

Slider said the job came during a fairly fraught time.

"It was a very difficult week for me personally," he said. He and his girlfriend had just moved in together. "Promptly, she freaked, and moved out the next day!" he said. "I was devastated and financially didn't know how I was going to survive, but had this theme to write, so just kept at for a few days till this theme emerged. It helped me to get through that rough patch!"

The following year, the producers requested a version of the song with vocals, so Slider asked his friend Laura Baricevic to write lyrics and hired Tyana Parr to sing.

We are the winners, watch us glimmer.
Like the sunset of champions!
We're in control, body and soul.
We push ourselves to the maximum!
The Champions. The Champions!

Parr said she was psyched to sing on a high-energy track during a time when aerobics permeated pop culture, from films like Perfect (starring Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta) to the famous Jane Fonda videos. "All the classes at my gym were jam packed," she said. "I'd often see Leah Thompson there doing two classes in a row. How fun was that?"

Neither Parr nor Slider anticipated how successful the song would become, but they did think it was catchy.

"It was a kind of [an] 'It’s a Small World After All' thing," Parr said. "Hear it once and then it was with you all day."

The new version of the track — with vocals — was used for extended intro segments during the National Aerobics Championship's TV specials from 1987 through 1990. But it has resurfaced several times in recent years — not just in memes, GIFs, and YouTube covers, but also on TV, including a Season 2 episode of The Goldbergs and the Netflix series Haters Back Off.

Of course, the highest-profile use of the song in recent years comes courtesy of Comedy Central's Emmy-winning sketch series Key & Peele.

"Some people started messaging me on Facebook asking if I was the singer," Parr said. "So many that I looked it up on YouTube. I don’t think I’d ever seen the video from the competition before. I was thinking, 'Oh yeah! What fun that was!'"

Slider wasn't aware of the spoof until the YouTube video already had amassed several million views. "I was shocked it was back!" he said.

At that point, the song wasn't for sale online, so Slider got ahold of Schwartz, who helped make it available through iTunes and other platforms.

These days, Slider is writing classical music, and recently finished recording two compositions with the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra at Lucasfilm. He continues to write music for television, including new pieces for America's Funniest Home Videos, which was renewed for its 28th season. ("I was a 30-year-old kid when I started that," he said. "Now I'm an old man.")

Parr, who spent some time acting on shows like Deep Space Nine in addition to working as a studio singer, now balances a day job at Stevie Wonder's production company with roles coaching young artists and directing youth choirs.

While it's no longer a TV event attracting superstar sitcom dads, the competition that birthed this epic tune is still around. It became the USA National Sportaerobic Championship and now is the International Aerobic Championship. The next winners will be named in Phoenix on Aug. 2.

They'll be the champions. The champions!

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Jun 16, 2017 7:12AM EDT

OMG, I have this song as my ringtone because I love the video it's from. It took me forever to find it, too. Now that I have it, every time I get a phone call I dance like a weirdo.

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