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The Untold Truth Of That '70s Show's Theme Song

Hangin' out, down the street...

Fans of the iconic sitcom That '70s Show will instantly fill in the rest of those lyrics, thanks to the long-running series' insanely catchy theme song. The tune perfectly evokes long, lazy summers lounging around (perhaps in a buddy's basement), with no money, no plans, and not a thing to do but talk to you. It's such a great mood-setter for the hilarious misadventures of Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his gang of slacker friends that one could be forgiven for thinking it was written specifically for the show — but one would be wrong.

It took the show's producers a season to get it just right. Long-time fans are certainly aware that the first season's version of what came to be known as "That '70s Song" was much more spare, performed in a different key, and featured a much different vocal from the version that would become a fixture for each of the series' next seven seasons. If you know the origins of the song, then you are truly an aficionado of hard rock music — for while the band that originally performed it is not among the world's most famous, it's widely acknowledged among those who remember their too-brief heyday, and the legions of musicians that they influenced, that they should have been. Here's the untold truth of "That '70s Song," and the most optimistically-named band in history: Big Star.

'That '70s Song' began life as 'In the Street' by Big Star

Big Star was formed in the early '70s in Memphis, Tennessee, and in its original configuration consisted of Alex Chilton on guitar and lead vocals, Chris Bell on lead guitar, Andy Hummel on bass, and Jody Stephens on drums. The songwriting of Chilton and Bell — both strongly influenced by the likes of the Beatles and the Byrds — combined with their, rough, guitar-heavy sound, made them unique among their peers at the time. While it didn't take the band long to score a record contract, their label, the legendary soul imprint Stax Records, would seriously fumble the promotion for Big Star's debut album, 1972's even more optimistically-named #1 Record.

The third track on that album was titled "In the Street," and its opening guitar salvo and first verse will instantly evoke images of Eric Forman's Vista Cruiser for any fan of That '70s Show. The following track from the album, "Thirteen," would also go on to receive prominent placement on the sitcom (it's the lovely ballad that opens, "Won't you let me walk you home from school") as a sort of theme song for Eric and the love of his life, girl next door Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon).

Stax's mismanagement of Big Star — the label struggled even to properly make #1 Record available in record stores — put the band behind the eight-ball from the start, and despite glowing reviews from critics, their debut failed to move many copies, leading Bell to quit (although he performed uncredited work on later releases). The band only managed two more albums, 1974's Radio City and 1978's Third, before disbanding. Tragically, Bell was killed in a car accident shortly after the latter album's release; Chilton and Hummel both passed away in 2010.

That '70s Show's theme was performed by some '70s rock legends

For That '70s Show's inaugural season, "In the Street" was reworked by musician Todd Griffin, the former lead singer of an obscure '90s band called Graveyard Train, into a composition that closely mirrored the stripped-down aesthetic of Big Star's original. It was a perfectly suitable theme song, but somewhere along the line, somebody must have decided that it just didn't sound '70s enough. That situation was remedied for the second season, as the legendary powerpop outfit Cheap Trick was brought in to give "That '70s Song" a chunkier, more layered sound. Unlike Griffin's version, Cheap Trick's concluded with the repeated refrain, "We're all alright," a reference to the band's hit 1978 single "Surrender."

The new version struck just the right chord, and it stayed for the duration of the series' run. Fittingly, Cheap Trick were among the many musicians featured in the 2012 documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, discussing the profound influence that the group had on their music. Other luminaries to take part in the doc included Robyn Hitchcock, Evan Dando, and M. Ward, along with members of the Flaming Lips, the Posies, and R.E.M.

Big Star may never have gotten the recognition they deserved from the general public, but it's safe to say that none of the band's members ever could have predicted what long legs "In the Street" would have. Cheap Trick, which is still going strong to this day, often plays the full version of "That '70s Song" (which can be readily found on YouTube) during concerts, and fans all over the world have kept That '70s Show and its iconic opening firmly in the public consciousness ever since the series ended in 2006. Before his death, Chilton admitted to Rolling Stone that he had never watched the series, or heard Cheap Trick's version of his tune — but that he did appreciate the royalties he earned from its use. How much did he pull down with each airing? "It's actually ironic that the amount is $70," Chilton said. "To me, it's That $70 Show."