All I need is a TV show, that and the radio

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, the tale of a fateful trip…”

Of all the TV theme songs that have come and gone over the decades, probably none has been so ingrained into our minds as the theme to “Gilligan’s Island.”  The show lasted only three seasons (1964-1967), but the combined music and lyrics created an insidious “ear worm” that burrowed its way permanently into the subconscious of anyone who grew up in the ’60s, and even some in the ’70s and ’80s as well.

And there were others.  The ’60s and ’70s were full of programs with theme songs with Vintage TV - Addams Family - blue screenlyrics that basically explained the shows’ premise in a catchy, sing-songy way:  “Petticoat Junction” (1963-1970), “The Patty Duke Show” (1963-1966), “Green Acres” (1965-1971), “Flipper” (1964-1967), “The Brady Bunch” (1969-1974), “Mister Ed” (1961-1966), “The Addams Family” (1964-1966), “F Troop” (1965-1967), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977), “All in the Family” (1971-1979), “The Jeffersons” (1975-1985).

Yet none of these songs ever proved popular enough to be played ad infinitum on the radio, but then again, they weren’t really meant for that.  Other theme songs, on the other hand, turned out to be far more suitable as Top 40 hits, sometimes because they were intended as such, more often not.

Most involved lyrics, but a select few instrumental pieces also made the charts.  I’ve chosen 15 TV theme songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that I found either appealing to me or noteworthy enough to examine in more detail.  As I often do, I add a list of “honorable mentions at the end, followed by a Spotify playlist.

If you watched as much TV as I did back then, you I think you’ll find this musical trip very entertaining.

And here we go:

“Happy Days”

Happy-daysWhen the “Happy Days” sitcom debuted in early 1974 as TV’s answer to the film “American Graffiti,” the show used Bill Haley and The Comets’ 1955 classic “Rock Around the Clock” as its opening theme song.  Over the closing credits was an early version of “Happy Days,” written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, and sung by Jim Haas.  By Season 3, the song was re-recorded with different lyrics by the team of Pratt & McClain, and used in both the opening and closing credits for the remaining seven seasons of the show’s run.  When it was released as a single in 1976, it reached #5 on the Top 40 charts.

“Secret Agent”

268x0w-1P.F. Sloan, a successful pop songwriter who wrote more than 20 hits for various ’60s artists like The Turtles (“You Baby”) and Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”), came up with the iconic guitar lick that was selected for use on the American broadcast of the British spy show “Danger Man,” retitled “Secret Agent” by CBS.  Initially, the producers wanted just a 20-second snippet for use in the show’s opening, but eventually Sloan and partner Steve Barri wrote the full length song entitled “Secret Agent Man.”  Famed producer Lou Adler brought in Johnny Rivers, who’d already had four Top Ten hits by then, to record the song (with extra verses) live at the Whiskey A Go Go club on the Sunset Strip.  That recording went to #3 on the Top 40 charts in 1966.

“Welcome Back, Kotter”

MI0000742688When producer Alan Sachs was putting together a Gabe Kaplan sitcom in 1975 to be titled “Kotter,” he wanted a theme song that sounded like one of his favorite ’60s pop groups, The Lovin’ Spoonful.  As luck would have it, Sachs’s agent also represented former Lovin’ Spoonful singer-songwriter John Sebastian, and he brought the two together.  Initially, Sebastian struggled trying to write lyrics that included the Kotter name, so instead he focused on the idea of the series’ premise of a teacher returning to the high school where he’d grown up.  Sachs was so pleased with Sebastian’s song “Welcome Back” that he changed the show’s title to “Welcome Back, Kotter.”  A scaled down version was used for the opening credits, but Sebastian’s full-length recording included two verses, a chorus, and a harmonica interlude, and that version reached #1 on the charts in May 1976 and eventually sold a million copies.

“The Monkees”

Single Spain RCA 3-10357 Monkees Theme pwIn 1966, producer Don Kirshner was tasked with the job of coming up with a TV series that mimicked the zaniness of The Beatles’ 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night.”  He held auditions and signed one true musician (guitarist Mike Nesmith), one struggling musician (bassist Peter Tork) and two actors who could sing (Davy Jones and Mickey Dolenz) to become The Monkees (derisively known as “the Prefab Four”).  Kirshner employed staff songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to write not only the group’s infectious debut single “Last Train to Clarksville” but also “Theme From The Monkees,” which introduced each episode of the show, which ran for three seasons (1966-1968).  Released as a single in early 1967, “Theme From The Monkees” reached the Top Ten in Mexico, Australia and Japan, but curiously, it didn’t chart in the US, pushed aside in favor of the enormous hit “I’m a Believer” and its follow-up, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.”  Still, it gets a fair amount of radio play on oldies stations even today.

“Dr. Kildare”

R-1526198-1392323700-4638.jpegThe fictional character Dr. James Kildare was created in the 1930s for a literary magazine, then made into a series of theatrical films in the 1940s, a radio program in the 1950s before becoming a Top Ten-rated TV show in the early 1960s.  The instrumental theme music used for the series was written by Jerry Goldsmith.  Although it was never heard as part of any “Dr. Kildare” episode, the theme music had lyrics and the parenthetical title “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight.”  Actor Richard Chamberlain, who had a decent singing voice as well, took a shot at recording the full version and releasing it as a single, and lo and behold, it peaked at #10 on the Top 40 charts in 1962.

“Laverne & Shirley”

maxresdefault-22“Happy Days” proved to be so wildly popular that it successfully spun off another sitcom starring two supporting characters, Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, who became stars in their own right on “Laverne & Shirley.”  A young lady named Cyndi Grecco was tapped to sing the theme song, “Making Our Dreams Come True,” written again by Normal Gimbel and Charles Fox, the same songwriting team behind the “Happy Days” hit tune.  Grecco’s rendition reached #25 on the Top 40 charts in 1976.

“Miami Vice”

R-160921-1408974527-7861.jpegJazz-rock keyboard virtuoso Jan Hammer came up with a catchy synthesized instrumental piece that swayed the producers of Miami Vice to make it their theme song beginning in autumn 1984. The show, which used a lot of rock music in its soundtrack, was conceived by NBC honcho Brendon Tartikoff in two words he wrote on a napkin one evening:  “MTV Cops.”  The original “Miami Vice” soundtrack LP, which included Glenn Frey’s #2 hit “You Belong to the City” as well as “Smuggler’s Blues,” was the #1 album in the country for six weeks in November/December of 1985.  Hammer’s “Theme From Miami Vice” also topped the singles charts that year.

“Peter Gunn”

MI0002958720The original “night in the city” music, written by the great Henry Mancini.  He said he was trying to evoke a mysterious “danger lurking” feeling that has been imitated hundreds of times since, most notably by John Barry when he wrote the James Bond Theme three years later that has been used in every Bond film since.  Meanwhile, Ray Anthony and His Orchestra recorded a full-length version of the 45-second theme music used in the show (which ran from 1958-1961), and it ended up #8 on the Top 40 charts in 1959.  Mancini’s original soundtrack album “The Music from Peter Gunn” won an Emmy for Album of the Year in 1959.

“Moonlighting”

R-1171786-1266736043.jpegThe punchy dialog and sexual chemistry between David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) made “Moonlighting” one of the most popular shows of the 1980s, although it lasted only four seasons (1985-1989).  The Los Angeles locale required a jazzy, jet-setting theme song, and who better suited than singer Al Jarreau to co-write and perform it?  His recording of “Moonlighting” reached #23 on the Top 40 charts in 1987.

“Hawaii Five-0”

H50-Retro-Cover_100510It’s no surprise the the producers of a detective show called “Hawaii Five-0” would want to use surf music as the basis for its theme song.  Morton Stevens, a successful film and television score composer, wrote the instrumental music in 1968 for the show’s first season, played by the CBS Orchestra.  It became so popular that it was soon re-recorded by the California pop group The Ventures and released as a single.  It reached #4 on the Top 40 charts in early 1969.  “Hawaii Five-0” lasted another 11 years (and was recently revived in a new prime-time version, so the theme music has become a dominant soundtrack in popular culture.

“Batman”

118321The theme song to the campy TV version of the Caped Crusader story was basically an infectious guitar riff that was part spy movie score and part surf music, with “Batman!” shouted ten times by a female chorus.  Neal Hefti wrote the three-chord blues structure and gave it to The Marketts, a popular Hollywood-based surf music combo of the mid-’60s, who had already scored a #3 hit with “Out of Limits,” based on the “Outer Limits” TV series.  The “Batman!” song ended up reaching #17 on the Top 40 charts upon its single release in the fall of 1966.

“S.W.A.T.”

220px-Theme_from_S.W.A.T._-_Rhythm_HeritageComposer Barry DeVorzon, who also wrote “Nadia’s Theme” for “The Young and the Restless and “Bless the Beasts and the Children” for The Carpenters, wrote “Theme From S.W.A.T.,” a disco song used in the short lived “S.W.A.T.” series in 1976.  DeVorzon’s orchestra recorded the short version used during each episode’s opening, but the full length version, recorded by Rhythm Heritage, had a dance arrangement and catapulted to #1 on the Billboard Top 40 chart in late 1976.  The song is remembered far more than the series that inspired it.

“The Rockford Files,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The Greatest American Hero,” “Magnum P.I.”

281738874500Mike Post is one of the most successful writers of television theme songs, winning multiple Emmys and Grammys for his work over four decades.  It’s Mike Post’s music you heard on each episode of “Law and Order,” “Law and Order: SVU,” “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law,” “Quantum Leap,” “The A-Team,” “Murder One” and “CHiPs,” among many others.  His breakthrough came in 1974 with his “Theme From The Rockford Files,” an instrumental piece that ended up reaching #10 on the Top 40 charts in 1975.  In 1981, the music he co-wrote with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton as “Theme From Hill Street Blues” also reached #10 on the Top 40 charts.  One of Post’s few theme songs which had lyrics was “Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not),” co-written by Stephen Geyer, which became a #2 hit single in 1981 for one-hit wonder Joey Scarbury (although he later had success as a songwriter on the country music chart).  Finally, in 1982, Post’s “Theme from Magnum P.I.” charted at #25 on the Billboard Top 40.

“Makin’ It”

220px-David_Naughton_Makin'_It_singleDon’t recognize this TV show?  You’re not alone.  If you blinked in 1979, you missed it, because it aired for only eight episodes.  Created to capitalize on the popularity of the “Saturday Night Fever” film and the disco craze, the show was a victim of poor timing, debuting as the public’s love affair with disco was dissipating.  The show starred actor David Naughton, who later starred in the 1981 film “An American Werewolf in London,” and it was also Naughton who sang the show’s disco-based theme song, written by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren.  Naughton’s recording of “Makin’ It” reached #5 on the Top 40 charts in May 1979, two months after the show’s cancellation.

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“Friends”

R-1015660-1426612606-2484.jpegFrom 1994 to 2004, there was “Friends,” and then there were all the other shows.  Wildly popular, the show about six friends based in Manhattan still pulls in a billion bucks a year in syndication residuals.  Danny Wilde and Phil Solem, savvy music veterans who had been writing and touring as a duo called The Rembrandts, were signed to write and record a theme song for this new sitcom.  In 1995, a Nashville DJ looped the one-minute theme into a longer version and put it on the radio, where it proved so popular that The Rembrandts had to go back into the studio and re-record it as a proper single.  “I’ll Be There For You” reached #1 in Canada and #3 in England, and it reached #17 on the US Top 40 that year.

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“The Beverly Hillbillies

886444229869_1080W_1080HPaul Henning, who also wrote the “Green Acres” theme song, wrote “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song that tells the story of how Tennessee hillbillies came to live in a Beverly Hills mansion.  Bluegrass musicians Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs recorded the song, with two verses, for the show opening, with Flatt handling the vocals, then recorded the third verse as a separate bit for the show closing.  The single version released to radio, merging the opening and closing lyrics, ended up at #1 for three weeks on the Top Country Hits.

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Other notable “honorable mention” theme songs that got radio play:

Theme from Taxi (Angela),” Bob James, 1978

Theme From Bonanza,” (1959-1973) Al Caiola & Orchestra, 1961

Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless),” Johnny Mandel and The Mash, 1972

Theme From Cheers (Where Everybody Knows Your Name),” Gary Portnoy, 1982

 

 

 

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I reminisce about the days of old

I can never get enough of the thrill I get when I dip into the bottomless foot locker of fabulous rock songs from the ’60s ’70s and ’80s that I call “lost classics.”

In this installment (#12), the dozen selections hail mostly from the ’70s, with a couple in Vinyl-Record-Storagethe ’80s, but God knows there are still plenty of choices remaining from the ’60s, and even from the ’50s, for future visits to the vault.

I hope you enjoy listening to these tracks (via the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post) and getting reacquainted with them, or learning them for the first time.  And I hope you’ll send me your ideas and suggestions for candidates for future “lost classics” blog entries.

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“Marie Marie,” The Blasters, 1981

The_Blasters_(album)Brothers Phil and Dave Alvin formed The Blasters in L.A. in 1979, and the foursome quickly evolved into a remarkably tight unit, playing a smart blend of rockabilly, early rock ‘n roll, blues, country and roadhouse R&B they dubbed “American music.”  They enjoyed an enthusiastic cult following, and critics praised them as well, but they struggled for any sort of mainstream success.  Their second LP, “The Blasters,” made it as high as #32 on the Top 200 album charts in late 1981/early 1982, but none of their succinct, catchy singles made a dent.  “Marie Marie,” which had appeared on the group’s debut album and then re-recorded for the second album and released as a single, should’ve been huge, at least as big as the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” but it was curiously overlooked.  British artist Shakin’ Stevens had a #19 hit in the UK in 1980 with his cover version, and The Blasters’ original was used in the 1986 Tom Berenger film “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

“Dolly Dagger,” Jimi Hendrix, 1971

R-525926-1199655363.jpegIn the wake of Hendrix’s death in October 1970, the floodgates soon opened, and the market was inundated with all manner of unreleased (and often ragged and unpolished) recordings that sullied the musician’s otherwise sterling catalog.  The first two posthumous releases, though — “The Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge” — were pretty damn great, and have held up well.  They include songs now considered among his essential tracks (“Freedom,” “Ezy Ryder,” “Room Full of Mirrors,” “Angel,” “Earth Blues”) and were intended for “First Rays of the New Rising Sun,” a double LP he was working on at the time of his death (and finally released, as such, in 1997).  Perhaps the best of this batch is “Dolly Dagger,” a great rocker that chugs along nicely with Jimi’s fine guitar work and vocals.  It was recorded in 1970 and wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on his ’68 masterpiece “Electric Ladyland.”

“Get It Right Next Time,” Gerry Rafferty, 1979

Night_Owl_(album)The Scottish musician’s first attempt in the music business came in the early ’70s with compatriot Joe Egan in a group called Stealers Wheel, and they hit the Top Ten with “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  Then the lawyers and record executives started suing and countersuing, and Rafferty was “stuck in the middle,” unable to record for four years.  Once free of old contractual ties, he recorded “City to City,” a solid album that soared to #1 in the US in the summer of 1978 on the strength of the monster #1 hit “Baker Street” with its unforgettable sax riff, and “Right Down the Line,” which peaked at #12.  His follow-up LP “Night Owl” leveled off at #29, and produced two modest singles, “Days Gone Down” and “Get It Right Next Time,” which both made the Top Twenty, but you rarely hear them anymore.  I’m partial to “Get It Right Next Time” because of the way the song creeps up on you and offers another fine sax part by Raphael Ravenscroft.

“Little Girl So Fine,” Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, 1977

51RFJGZ5KVLBeing a part of the same New Jersey shore bar scene as Bruce Springsteen perhaps turned out to be both a blessing and a curse for Johnny Lyon and his fine bar band.  As Bruce rose to stardom, he helped Southside wherever he could, feeding him songs to record and occasionally showing up at his gigs to sing with him.  But some observers felt Southside was a hanger-on, riding The Boss’s coattails, an observation I firmly believe has no merit.  Southside was the real deal, a soulful singer of great R&B, surrounded by a great horn section and solid musicians, and their live shows were exuberant affairs that left you sweaty and drained afterwards.  The Jukes’ first three LPs were packed with so many high-energy songs — “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Without Love,” “The Fever,” “Talk to Me” — and also a few quieter numbers to balance out the repertoire.  One of the best was the Springsteen tune “Little Girl So Fine” with its bonafide Fifties sound.

“Out of the Blue,” Roxy Music, 1974

s-l300-2When I was in high school and college in the mid-’70s, Cleveland was fortunate to have WMMS, a trailblazing FM radio station that was responsible for introducing bold new acts and helping them break out nationally.  David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen both benefited from enthusiastic response in Cleveland, as did Britain’s Roxy Music, a truly eccentric band led by the ironically glamorous singer Bryan Ferry.  They were superstars in England, but it wasn’t until their fourth LP, 1974’s “Country Life,” that they first cracked the US Top 40 album charts.  I was slow to warm to Roxy Music; Ferry’s quivering voice was an acquired taste, and some of the band’s early songs were pretty dissonant.  Thanks to WMMS’s Kid Leo, I was finally won over, and the track that did it was “Out of the Blue,” which builds and soars majestically.

“Someday, Someway,” Marshall Crenshaw, 1983

51-K+vi5IML._SY450_Like a breath of fresh air, Michigan-born Crenshaw arrived in the early ’80s with a clean pop sound that owed more than a little to early Beatles.  Actually, that should come as no surprise — in 1978-79, Crenshaw mimicked John Lennon in the original national stage production of “Beatlemania!”  But the material Crenshaw developed on his debut and subsequent albums wasn’t just Beatles copycat stuff.  Critics called him a latter-day Buddy Holly, and that was perhaps closer to the mark than the Beatles comparison.  He had a knack for writing irresistible pop all his own, but with an ’80s twist of New Wave rhythm and echo production.  Sadly, only a couple of his singles and albums gained any traction on the charts, which I find inexplicable, given the radio-friendly nature of the music.  Take “Someday, Someway,” his only Top 40 single (#36 in 1982).  I dare you to sit still to this highly infectious tune.

“Can’t Take It With You,” The Allman Brothers, 1979

enlightened-rogues-51c584f3be053One of America’s finest bands in their original incarnation, The Allman Brothers Band took blues standards and some Gregg Allman originals and mixed it with a Southern sensibility and a few Dickey Betts countryish songs to create a genre all their own (though there were plenty of imitators).  Due to tragic deaths and drug-related disagreements, the group imploded in 1976, only to reunite (with lineup changes) in 1979, then threw in the towel again in 1982, then resurrected themselves a second time in 1990.  The first reunion included two forgettable LPs (hence the breakup), but their initial return on the 1979 beauty “Enlightened Rogues,” which reached #9 on the charts, is a worthy entry in the band’s catalog.  Marked by Allman’s ferocious blues vocals and organ, the guitar interplay of Betts with new guitarist Dan Toler and the always rock-steady rhythm section, “Can’t Take It With You” is the highlight track.

“Easy Livin’,” Uriah Heep, 1972

220px-Demons_and_WizardsNamed after the Charles Dickens character from David Copperfield, Uriah Heep emerged in 1969 and became durable players in Britain’s progressive rock scene.  Indeed, the group continues to perform these days, with founder Mick Box still at the helm, playing a mix of heavy metal and older prog rock classics.  In the US, their impact was far less prominent.  Three of their early ’70s albums — “Demons and Wizards” (1972), “The Magician’s Birthday” (1972) and “Sweet Freedom” (1973) — reached the Top 30 and went gold, but their fame here soon faded.  They are perhaps best known for “Easy Livin’,” a defiant rocker that just cracked the Top 40 in the autumn of 1972.  It clocks in at a neat 2:37, carried by strong vocals by long-time member David Byron and dominated by the organ work of Ken Hensley, who left the band in 1976.

“Heart of the Sunrise,” Yes, 1971

fragileyesYes was one of the top two or three progressive rock bands of all, both in its native UK and in the US.  This was dense, sophisticated stuff with often impenetrable lyrics, but the musicianship was usually dazzling.  The incredible “Heart of the Sunrise” never got much airplay, but since it lasts more than 10 minutes, it’s easy to understand why.  To my mind, it is one of Yes’s finest moments, from one of their best albums, 1971’s “Fragile.”  Singer Jon Anderson’s voice is magnificent here, showcasing his impressive range and command.  Yes featured its finest lineup at the time:  Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, and drummer Bill Bruford combined to produce a singularly extraordinary sound on every track they attempted.  Many listeners aren’t willing to stick with a song that lasts longer than maybe five minutes, but this one is well worth your time, I assure you.

“Soul Shoes,” Graham Parker, 1976

51yJqH4uL2LParker is all but unknown to the US rock music listening audience, and that’s a crying shame.  This British rocker with a biting soulful edge was the victim of poor promotion and management, at least in the States, when he was the leader of Graham Parker and The Rumor in 1975-78.  His two studio albums from that period — “Howlin’ Wind” and “Heat Treatment” — offered a wicked stew of raw rock, pub soul and punkish reggae well before those latter genres had yet taken hold.  Parker’s in-your-face performing persona predated the “angry young man” stances made popular by those who followed, like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.  Curiously, his 1979 solo debut “Squeezing Out Sparks,” which dumps The Rumor and its horn section, was his critical and commercial high-water mark, but I’m a fan of the hungry rock-soul sound of those two early LPs, exemplified in the short-and-sweet rocker “Soul Shoes” from “Howlin’ Wind.”

“And I Moved,” Pete Townshend, 1980

220px-EmptyglassAs the songwriting titan behind The Who’s monumental catalog of ’60s pop and ’70s rock anthems, Townshend has shouldered a lot of responsibility he may not have been capable of handling.  Indeed, The Who’s “By Numbers” LP in 1975 is riddled with songs that lay bare his insecurities and problems with drugs and alcohol (“However Much I Booze,” “How Many Friends”).  Keith Moon’s death in 1978 left the band unsure of its future, and Townshend, always writing and recording new demos at his home studio, decided the time was ripe for a bonafide solo album (he’d done one half-hearted attempt in 1972, “Who Came First”).  But for the absence of Roger Daltrey’s distinctive lead vocals, Townshend’s “Empty Glass” LP in 1980 sounded in many ways like a new Who album, from the opener (“Rough Boys”) to the closer (“Gonna Get Ya”).  The standout track for me, however, was “And I Moved,” with a dominant piano motif throughout.

“To the Last Whale,” Graham Nash and David Crosby, 1975

220px-WindonthewatercnThe debut of Crosby Stills and Nash’s self-titled 1969 album is still turning heads with its astounding three-part harmonies and gorgeous melodies and textures.  In its wake came the addition of Neil Young and the superb “Deja Vu” LP…but then the group splintered into four directions, each attempting solo albums, pairings and one-off projects that, while they had their moments, were hardly as strong as when the original trio first arrived.  What a delicious surprise, then, when Graham Nash and David Crosby put together “Wind on the Water,” the 1975 LP of gorgeous songs and stellar production that ranks among their most consistent work, certainly far better than anything since.  Stills’ fine guitar work may be absent, but the Crosby/Nash harmonies are in perfect form, especially on the album’s closer, “To the Last Whale,” with its “Critical Mass” a cappella choral opening and “Wind on the Water” main section.  Chills up the spine on this one.