A lot of pop culture history to cover here, so bear with us. "Believe It or Not" was the theme to the 1980s TV series The Greatest American Hero, and by far the biggest hit for the adult contemporary singer Joey Scarbury, who also charted with the follow-up single "When She Dances" (#49), and back in 1971 with "Mixed Up Guy" (#73, written by Jimmy Webb). Scarbury has also had some scattered songwriting success, including "No Matter How High," a #1 Country charter for The Oak Ridge Boys.
This song was written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer, a songwriting team who are also the names behind "Back To Back," the equally catchy theme for the '80s TV series Hardcastle & McCormick
. They've also worked a lot with mighty TV mogul Stephen J. Cannell. Post also wrote "Theme From Hill Street Blues
" and "Theme from The Rockford Files
This is the answer most people guess for the question, "What TV theme song was a #1 hit in the '80s?" The correct answer: The Miami Vice Theme
by Jan Hammer. "Believe It or Not" spent two weeks at #2, but never hit the top, held off by the Diana Ross and Lionel Richie duet "Endless Love
The Greatest American Hero was a comedy-drama series which ran from 1981 to 1983 on the US TV network ABC. It is about an ordinary school teacher who has a chance encounter with aliens who give him a superhero costume (which endows the wearer with super powers) and tell him that it's his destiny to use it to save the world. Said teacher promptly loses the instruction manual that came with it, and subsequently has to spend the whole series figuring out how the costume works by trial and error. So it's kind of a metaphor for how everyone deals with computers, software, mobile phones, microwave ovens, and technology in general. To this day "RTFM" (Read The "Fine" Manual) is the battle cry in countless Internet technology forums, and is likely to be the first answer you get to any tech-related question you post on the web. Was this some brilliant cultural commentary looking forward, or what?
To get a misconception out of the air, this song has nothing to do with the entertainment franchise Ripley's Believe It or Not, be it the TV series, newspaper column, or chain of museums. "Believe it or not" has been a generally common cultural phrase since about forever.
Trivia alert: The main character was originally supposed to be named "Ralph Hinkley"; however, literally on the cusp of its air date, a man called John Hinkley wounded US president Ronald Reagan in an assassination attempt. Suddenly the name Hinkley was tainted, so the show's producers first squelched all mentions of the main character's name with jet exhaust and other tricks, then had hasty name-changes to "Henley," and later had other characters refer to him as "Mr. H."
Mostly through association with the TV series, this song has been referenced in dozens of other works. This includes TV series Seinfeld (where George sings it as his answering machine message as "believe it or not, George isn't at home..."), Family Guy, Heroes, My Name Is Earl, Gilmore Girls, to name just a few. It also includes being covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks, and appearing in Michael Moore's 2004 documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11. This last usage bears some explaining: it's played over a montage about president George W. Bush, and the song's lines "Suddenly I'm up on top of the world; it should've been somebody else" call back to Michael Moore's point about how Bush scraped into the White House on a technicality when the popular vote went to 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore.
This featured in a 2017 commercial for State Farm insurance starring Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In the spot, Rogers is enjoying a slow-motion montage with his dog when his teammate, Clay Matthews, crashes a drone into his truck.
In a nod to the Seinfeld
episode that featured this song, it was used in a 2021 commercial for Tide
that ran during the Super Bowl in 2021. In the spot, a kid has a dirty hoody with Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld
) on the front. Alexander shows up in the ad, disturbed that he's wearing his face.