Thursday, 3 February 2011

Great Theme Tune...Shame About The Show

The sad news of the composer John Barry's death led me back to my CD collection and his Greatest Hits. Boy, could that man write a tune. His scores for Out of Africa, Born Free, Dances with Wolves, The Lion in Winter were magnificent. Then there was the early 'pop' hits with the John Barry Seven, the shaping of the Bond soundtracks - would 007 have been quite the hit without him? - the Bond songs: Goldfinger, Thunderball (and the song that didn't make it Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) You Only Live Twice, We Have All The Time In The World, Diamonds are Forever. Then there was  The Ipcress File, The Deep, Robin and's a long an impressive list, some back catalogue.

In amongst the film scores he also found time to pen some memorable TV theme tunes; The Human Jungle, Orson Welles' Great Mysteries and The Persuaders - the latter ranking in my top five TV theme tunes of all time (what, you don't have a top five?)

I'm pretty sure one of the things that first drew me to spend far too much time in front of the TV were the theme tunes that introduced shows: Rossini's March of the Swiss Soldiers from the William Tell Overture signaled my favourite masked man was about to cry "Hi-yo, Silver! Away!"  ...." and off we'd gallop on another Lone Ranger adventure. Close my eyes and I can hear the band playing as Big Tim Champion and his performers marched down the street announcing that Corky, the Circus Boy, Uncle joey and all his friends had come to town.
I can still sing all the words to the Casey Jones song and Maverick and F Troop. I can hear the sonar ping and tempo changes in the theme from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and the ticking clock in the background of the music that introduced The Time Tunnel. I could hum you BOTH themes to Lost In Space...

All the detectives seemed to have catchy hooks to draw us in to their mysteries; Kojak, Cannon ("a Quinn  Martin production") Ironside (and Ryamond Burr's other crime-fighting character, Perry Mason), Magnum P.I., Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files...
 I knew that nose-waggling magic was on the way when I heard the theme to Bewitched, that groans were on the way when I heard the theme to Gilligan's Island, that my weekly fix of classy comedy was coming when Johnny Mandel's theme for M*A*S*H hit the airwaves.

And I could be sure of some wise-crackling, action packed fun when I heard John Barry's theme for The Persuaders.

Of course looking back on these shows you realise that some of them creaked like a four-hundred year old door. They had plot holes you could drive a coach and horses through and were far from the classics you remember. What does linger is the music. I'm not sure 'the golden age of television' was all that it was cracked up to be, I can point to ten series currently showing that would easily fill an all time top 10 chart (you don't have one of those either? Come on, get with the programme). But I do think that the old TV themes were much better at signaling what was to come and therefore have become more memorable.

For those interested check out the box set of 100 Greatest TV themes.

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