THE JOY OF MY YOUTH, PART 2: BOY MUSIC

I’ll be traveling from 4 AM my time until late afternoon, en route to the Creative Lives Writing Away retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado. I therefore will be largely unavailable for responding to comments for at least the first half of the day — sorry.

I’ve therefore chosen a light topic, pure entertainment, beaucoup de fun, for your enjoyment. Chime in, please — “feel free to converse among yourselves” — and I’ll try my best to get back to everyone before the end of the day.

I wonder how much the music we associate with any particular type of story influences our attraction to it.

For example, I grew up when westerns seemed to be everywhere, and though there are memorable themes from such movies and TV programs — most notably those for Rawhide (composed by noted Cossack cowpoke Dmitri Tiomkin), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (by the fabled spaghetti saddle-buster Ennio Morricone), and my personal favorite, The Magnificent Seven (above, composed by Elmer Bernstein, the High Plains Hebrew) — by and large the tunes didn’t stick. They were as wholesome and hokey as the programs themselves. (I tried to go back and watch an episode of Have Gun, Will Travel, for example, which I loved as a kid, and found it godawful: predictable, sentimental, and paced like a glacier).

And though movies based on WWII were still all the rage — Bridge Over the River KwaiThe Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape (all, interestingly, with themes by Mr. Bernstein again) — and the music from those films not just inspired me but often brought me nearly to tears (cut me some slack, I’m a boy), it also had a back-glancing quality, straining for epic, as though to say the best of manhood was a dead letter.

Not exactly what a guy teetering on the brink of his teens wants to hear.

In contrast, the music for more contemporaneous crime and espionage shows always seemed to be sleeker, hipper, edgier — more conspicuously if fatalistically alive —  even for a show that actually reached back further in time than the war, The Untouchables:

This theme was written by the ubiquitous Nelson Riddle, also famous for the quintessential road theme of the early 60s, Route 66:

Or consider the quirky, short-lived Johnny Staccato (“TV’s jazz detective”), featuring John Cassavettes, who played a jazz pianist PI — a program so forced in its artiness it was often unwatchable  — but what a perfect theme (by Elmer Bernstein again; the dude got around): 

I was a boy in central Ohio, I’d already found my way to a guitar, I had garage band aspirations and far-away dreams. I wasn’t looking to the mythic cowboy past for inspiration, but to the cosmopolitan present, and the music I heard on crime shows spoke not of mesquite canyons but smoky barrooms and shrill casinos and deadly back streets, of twisted hearts and savage dreams, of power lurking in a shadowy boardroom I’d never know, of lonely men and lovely women and an itch you can’t scratch, a hunger you never satisfy, an empty palm at the end of the mind.

Everybody tap your toes!

Where did it begin? All roads lead back to Perry Mason, I suppose, with a theme that managed to be driving, lyrical, passionate and dissonant all at once — and distinctly urban:

Little did I know that Paul Drake would be the model for my later incarnation as a real-life private investigator — and Drake is to my mind the most accurate portrayal of a PI ever on TV (though a little dim-witted and unambitious next to the massively mental Mr. Mason).

Henry Mancini’s vibe was a bit more cool and urbane, but he provided two of the most seminal inner anthems of my boyhood. I loved (and envied) the effortless masculinity of Mr. Lucky, despite — or perhaps because of — the ice-rink organ effects:

A spin-off tune from Mr. Lucky was Mancini’s sumptuous “Lujon,” which has inspired filmmakers ever since, cropping up in movies as diverse as Sexy Beast and The Big Lebowski:

And no kid who picked up a Gibson didn’t rush to learn the opening riff from Peter Gunn, a bit of reverb-cranked Mancini-esque testosterone reminiscent of John Barry’s 007 theme:

Guitars, of course, lead us to the Ventures, and though I was far more enamored with hits like “Journey to the Stars” and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” their theme for Hawaii Five-O had a hook so compelling it’s single-handedly responsible for the show’s current reincaration on network TV (imho):

That theme would become almost as much a part of that time’s aural fabric as the theme from Mission Impossible:

Argentinean exile Lalo Schifrin — who in Buenos Aires played piano for the master of the nuevo tango, Astor Piazzolla, and went on to work with Clint Eastwood on the Dirty Harry films — was responsible for the MI theme, which was ripped off shamelessly for The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a second-rate show in almost every regard (which I loved, naturally).

As testimony to the power of music, the most memorable part of the film version of Mission Impossible for me was the midpoint action sequence when this theme finally kicks in with a vengeance — I got chills the instant I heard that unforgettable intro. Still do.

But the shows that truly registered with me came from Britain, and not surprisingly their music was very much a part of that impact.

The first was Secret Agent, which ironically changed both its name (from Danger Man) and its original theme — which emphasized a somewhat manic harpsichord rather than the distinctive, slicing guitar of Johnny Rivers:

Even more compelling was The Prisoner, like Danger Man/Secret Agent starring Patrick McGoohan, and perhaps the darkest, strangest, most paranoid show from that era — or any era:

But the show that stole my boyish heart was, of course, The Avengers.

I wonder how many boys, sitting enraptured before TVs around the world, had their erotic imaginations seared into focus by Diana Rigg:

The show played on Friday nights, I always watched it at my best friend Mike Enright’s house, and when that theme played over the ending credits I always felt a wistful sense of loss and longing. The weekend lay ahead but The Avengers was over, at least for a week.

How would I live until then?

* * * * *

So, Murderateros — what music from childhood stirred your imagination, quickened your pulse, insinuated itself into your dreams — marinated the twtchy tedium of puberty?

* * * * *

Jukebox Heroes of the Week: On a much, much goofier, weirder, cheesier level, there were freakish “supermarrionation”action shows when I was growing up, such as Supercar:

And Fireball XL5:

which in turn inspired the demented imaginations of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, with their singularly perverse and perversely wonderful Team America:

America. Fuck yeah.

 

16 thoughts on “THE JOY OF MY YOUTH, PART 2: BOY MUSIC

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    TV: I grew up loving the opening of Battlestar Galactica (the original) and the themes from Magnum PI., Simon and Simon, and Remington Steele (Try this for a deep dark secret: the great detective Remington Steele? He doesn't exist. I invented him. Follow…).
    Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, for sure. Star Wars.
    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    Reply
  2. Sarah W

    Oh, these themes . . . you've pretty much outlined my formative years in this post! I think the only one missing is The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And The Saint (and maybe Rio Lobo, and the Dirty Dozen).

    I just watched The Saint for the first time in decades on a retro-channel I didn't even know we had– I heard the theme song from another room and came running in to stop my husband from changing the channel.

    Good, good times.

    Reply
  3. Louise Ure

    David, thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. When I lived in France, my mother sent me a loop tape of the Perry Mason theme song, to diminish my homesickness. And at one time I decreed that the theme song of The Great Escape should be played at my funeral.

    Reply
  4. Gar Haywood

    David: This post was the biggest time-suck of the century. Old, familiar TV themes from the shows of one's youth are like Lays potato chips, goddamnit — you can't listen to just one. Thanks for blowing my entire morning and setting my output today back by about 3,000 words.

    BTW, that Man From U.N.C.L.E. theme you linked to was a total rip-off of Lalo Schifrin because it WAS Lalo Schifrin — he arranged the theme for the show's second season.

    Reply
  5. Thomas Burchfield

    I have to give it to Nelson Riddle for "The Untouchables." Also Maurice Jarre wrote a driving Bernstein-style theme for "Cimmaron Strip" western series starring Stuart Whitman (I was, and still am, a Western fan). But once I heard Ennio Morricone's theme "For a Few Dollars More" I felt done with TV themes (though interestingly EM wrote a theme for the "Man of Shiloh" spinoff of "The Virginian." ) Ditto on the rest–they were all great tunes. I believe Rhino Records did compilation sets of them back in the 1990s. Maybe they're still around.

    You're in Breckinridge!? I'm going to be down near Pagosa Springs/Durango starting tomorrow thru Monday!

    Reply
  6. Janet Dawson

    The Fugitive! A Quinn Martin Production! And Route 66, of course. My whole life I've lusted after a Tod and Buz Corvette. This from a woman who has the theme to The Magnificent Seven as her cell phone ring tone.

    Reply
  7. Allison Davis

    OMG, the Avengers, what a great show, I remember it so well, we made a thing out of watching it in junior high and went out for Halloween dressed at Emma Peel. All of these themes stir some deep and well etched memories. Nice trek and wonderful to have all of this music in one place. I'm in a deposition today so I can't find and attach some others (Westerns: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, the Big Valley or lighter fare, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dick Van Dyke show, I Dream of Jeanie — these are all a little later than Rawhide etc.). And don't forget the Rifleman with Chuck Conners. How about early cop shows — Highway Patrol with Broderick Crawford had a good theme song, Whirlybird? Really showing my age. Safe travels.

    Reply
  8. Reine

    Just read there was a RETURN OF THE SAINT . . . should I look that up, I wonder. Perhaps it sucks. Maybe that's why I never heard of it.

    I'd rather be at that retreat.

    Reply
  9. Mike Dennis

    I just learned how to play the Perry Mason theme ("Park Avenue Beat") on piano. I played professionally for 30 years and could never figure it out until the magic of the Internet. Great song!

    Reply
  10. PD Martin

    In terms of music, I remember more the music my parents had (records – the 'real' versions). For my Dad it was a mixture of classical and then Simon and Garfunkel featured heavily. And for Mum it was Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand.

    That's the music of my childhood, rather than TV. Although I think I kind of liked Lost in Space!

    Phillipa

    Reply
  11. Dick Lochte

    Count me in with the Saint crowd. I'm a big fan of Edwin Astley's soundtracks. He's responsible for the Secret Agent (Danger Man) track, too. What I particularly like about Astley's title song is his riffing on the original radio theme supposedly composed by the Saint's creator Leslie Charteris.

    Reply

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