Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TV themes and Theme songs - who wrote them?

I've been watching reruns of Remington Steele. The popular 1980s series about a detective agency (Remington Steele) starred Stephanie Zimbalist and launched the career of Pierce Brosnan. In watching, I am reminded how ‘a cut above’ the theme music is. No surprise it was written by Henry Mancini.

That got me to thinking about other Television Series Themes and/or Theme songs: some memorable, some less memorable and some truly iconic.

Most of the time, unless the theme was written by the likes of a Mancini, we pay no attention to the composer, if we even know who it is.

You may remember the theme - if you hear it, you know the show - you can even whistle, hum or sing it but you probably have no idea who wrote it. Many composers of TV themes work anonymously though lucratively.

Let’s start with some of the ones and composers you may know.

In addition to Remington Steele, Mancini also wrote the jazzy theme to Peter Gunn. That theme was so popular that it was often used by modern dance performers. He also did Mr. Lucky, Newhart and The Thorn Birds.

Nelson Riddle the great bandleader and composer, who often backed Frank Sinatra, wrote the very memorable theme to the TV Series Route 66. There are lyrics but they were never used as part of the TV theme music, only in recorded versions by the likes of Nat King Cole, etc. Riddle also wrote the themes for: The Man from U.N.C.L.E; the gritty Naked City; The Rogues and The Untouchables.

Neil Hefti, most famous for the Batman theme but he also did the theme for The Odd Couple (he had done the score for the film).

Sanford and Son, the great Quincy Jones. He also did the theme for Ironside and The Bill Cosby Show.

Mission Impossible and Mannix, Lalo Schifrin. He also did Starsky & Hutch, Glitter, Petrocelli, Dr. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain’s first series) and Medical Center.

Then there are the Theme Songs.

Gilligan’s Island was written by the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz who also created The Brady Bunch and wrote it’s theme song.

My favorite is Monk, with the theme song written and sung by Randy Newman. It came along in the second year of the series. The first year there was no song just a jazz instrumental by Jeff Beal, who also scored HBO’s Carnivale and Rome as well as Ugly Betty and In Plain Sight.

And who can forget Rawhide. The series that launched Clint Eastwood. The music was written by the great composer, Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Ned Washington. Frankie Laine sang the song. Though this was Tiomkin and Washington’s only TV series work, they collaborated on songs for a number of feature films, including High Noon.

Have Gun Will Travel was another wonderful theme song, though technically it was not a theme song as it was only heard over the end credits. The Ballad of Paladin was written by Johnny Western. Interestingly, the show’s opening theme was written by Bernard Herrmann, who scored many of Hitchcock’s films as well as Citizen Cane. The great trivia question about the series is what was Paladin's first name. Of course, it was Wire. It said so on his business card: "Have Gun Will Travel, Wire Paladin, San Francisco.

77 Sunset Strip, music and lyrics by Jerry Livingston and Mack David. Cookie, Cookie, Lend Me Your Comb. The two also collaborated on Surfside 6, Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye and Lawman.

So now how about some themes you may remember but probably don’t know the person responsible.

The Rockford Files, Law and Order and Magnum P.I. These have very recognizable themes, all written by Mike Post. He also wrote the themes for, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and many others. There may be no one more successful writing TV themes today than Post.

The Star Trek theme was composed by Alexander ‘Sandy’ Courage. Not only was the series a real departure for prime time television so was the theme from what might be considered the norm at the time. Courage also wrote the theme for Judd for the Defense. Footnote: As a way of co-opting some of Courage’s royalties for Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry wrote some lyrics to the theme music, so that he could claim to be co-composer. The lyrics however were never used.

The Twilight Zone. This too is a very distinctive and unusual at the time, Theme. It was written by a Romanian-born French composer, Marius Constant.

Dallas, Jerrold Immel. He also wrote the theme for the Dallas spin-off Knot’s Landing.

Perry Mason. Fred Steiner wrote this theme as well as the theme music for The Rocky and Bullwinkle show – that’s a pair to draw to.

The Fugitive and Run for Your Life, Pete Rugolo

Fraiser, Bruce Miller, he also wrote the theme for Wings. The lyrics to Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs were written by Darryl Phinnesse

Barney Miller and Charlie’s Angels, Allyn Ferguson and Jack Elliot.

Gunsmoke was written by Rex Koury. He had written the theme originally for the Radio version, which starred William Conrad as Matt.

The songs:

Cheers, Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo. "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", but not theirs.

The Beverly Hillbillies. The theme song was written by the show’s creator, Paul Henning. It was sung by Jerry Scoggins with the backing of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Henning also created two other ‘rural’ TV comedies though did not write the theme songs. See next.

Green Acres, Petticoat Junction. Vic Mizzy wrote both of these songs as well as Mr. Ed, The Addams Family, and the themes for F Troop, The Snoop Sisters and Quincy.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. I was just going with some that came to mind as I was thinking about this.

You probably have some favorites that I have left out or missed.

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