The melody, originally titled "Cotton's Dream," was composed, and lyrics were written for it, by De Vorzon and Botkin Jr. as incidental music for the 1971 theatrical film Bless the Beasts and Children. The instrumental version was commercially released on that film's soundtrack album on A&M Records. The soundtrack also included "Lost", a song set to the same melody but with different lyrics, performed by Renee Armand.
Botkin Jr. later composed a rearranged version of the instrumental theme for the U.S. TV soap opera The Young and the Restless, which debuted on March 26, 1973, on the CBS television network. Although a soundtrack album for the TV series was released by P.I.P. Records in 1974, the LP only contained a cover version by easy listening group Sounds of Sunshine, rather than the original recording by De Vorzon and Botkin.
In late July or early August 1976, ABC's sports summary program Wide World of Sports used "Cotton's Dream" for a montage of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci's routines during the 1976 Summer Olympics. However, Nadia never performed her floor exercises using this piece of music; instead, she used a piano arrangement of a medley of the songs "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "Jump in the Line."
Viewer inquiries about the music from the Wide World of Sports montage prompted a commercial release of the 1971 version of the song as a single through A&M Records on August 28, 1976. This recording was identical to "Cotton's Dream," with a repeat from the bridge to the end edited in to lengthen the piece. The single was titled "Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless)" and was a commercial success, charting for 22 weeks and peaking at #8 in the Billboard Hot 100 on the week ending December 12, 1976.
A&M Records failed to credit De Vorzon as the co-writer on the first pressings of the single. He successfully sued the record label for $241,000.
In October 1976, as the De Vorzon & Botkin version on A&M climbed the charts, P.I.P. Records released a single containing the Sounds of Sunshine's vocal and instrumental versions under the title "Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless)". The label also re-released the 1974 Young and the Restless soundtrack LP, now stickered to say it contained "Nadia's Theme", although it still only contained the cover version.
That same month, Barry De Vorzon capitalized on the success of the song by releasing it on his first album, Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless). Soon after, Sounds of Sunshine released their own Nadia's Theme album.
On 23 November 1976, CBS further entrenched the song's association with the famous gymnast by using the melody in its broadcast of "Nadia—From Romania with Love", a one-hour TV special hosted by Flip Wilson, co-produced by CBS and Romanian television.
The De Vorzon & Botkin version of the song was never actually released on CD until Eric Records included it on the CD Hard-To-Find Orchestral Instrumentals II.
Other versions of "Nadia's Theme" have been recorded, including easy listening renditions by such artists as Ronnie Aldrich, Ray Conniff, Ferrante & Teicher, the orchestra of The Lawrence Welk Show, and James Galway; a semi-rock version by The Ventures; and David Hasselhoff's vocal rendition, which incorporated De Vorzon's and Botkin Jr.'s lyrics, for his 1997 album Lovin' Feelings.