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A sad note on Christmas Eve. Jack Klugman, who died today at age 90, was not a musical personality per se. But the theme music from The Odd Couple — which was written by Neal Hefti — is one of the most recognizable in television history. Like the other TV music giant, Lalo Schifrin, Hefti had deep roots in serious jazz.
I was aware that Lalo Schifrin was a big deal in television theme songs. I did a post a while back in which it became apparent that he also was a serious jazz composer. This Blog Critics CD review posted at The Seattle PI, however, puts into context just how important and prolific Schifrin was:
Lalo Schifrin has had an amazing career in the fields of symphonic music, jazz, and especially soundtracks. Although his name may be more familiar to those of us who pore over soundtrack credits, I guarantee you have heard at least something by Lalo Schifrin. He has composed over 100 television and film scores, and a few of these include Mission Impossible, Mannix, Cool Hand Luke, Bullit, The Cincinnati Kid, The Amityville Horror, Enter the Dragon, four of the Dirty Harry films, and the recent Rush Hour trilogy. Believe it or not, even at over five hours of music, the new four-CD box-set Lalo Schifrin: My Life in Music barely scratches the surface of the composer’s incredible 50-year career.
While its true that films such as Enter the Dragon and The Amityville Horror were not known for their soundtracks, it is an incredibly impressive resume. Later on in the review, the writer discusses the respect Schifrin had in the jazz community, including several collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie.
Dennis Potter was an English screenwriter/playwright known for mixing fantasy and reality. His best known works — Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective — were BBC productions. The method is the same: The drama is interrupted by the cast spontaneously breaking into elaborately choreographed productions numbers that use scratchy recordings of contemporary pop tunes, to which they lip sync. The songs hint at the underlying tensions and sadness of the lives of the characters, as if they are coming from their unconscious. Potter at the same time is commenting on the growing influence of the media in everyday life, even then. It’s hard to describe other than to say that it’s brilliant.
The title character of The Singing Detective suffers from a horrific skin disease — as Potter did — and spends his days hallucinating from a hospital bed. The lead character of Pennies From Heaven (played in the BBC production by Bob Hoskins, who retired earlier this year after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease) is a traveling sheet music salesman. Steve Martin played the role in the American production, which got mixed reviews.
The song in the clip below starts at about the 6 minute mark.
Today, Mitt Romney made a lame birther joke about President Obama. The Obama campaign quickly responded that Born in the U.S.A. is the song of the day. One blogger, suggested, however, that the song above would have been a far more appropriate response. If you think about it, Born to Run wouldn’t have been bad, either.
A post on television show themes is an exercise in nostalgia for those of us old enough to have seen the series when they originally aired.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, there is far more to it then reminiscing. For one thing, program themes are the original music videos. They also are commercials: A television theme has to sell the show and set the mood. It has to do all this in about a minute. A bad theme can sink a good show, and a good one can at least delay the demise of a bad one.
The theme from WKRP in Cincinnati may not be in their league, but it has a great line (albeit one with some questionable grammar: I think “me” in the first line should be “I”). Regardless, it’s great:
Maybe you and me were never meant to be, But baby think of me once in a while.
Two masters of the genre – Neal Hefti (Batman, The Odd Couple) and Lalo Shifrin (Man From U.N.C.L.E, Mission Impossible) — were legitimate jazz heavyweights. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The talent involved in creating television theme songs is staggering and shouldn’t be overlooked.