Friday, 12 November 2010
So with the advent of the cathode ray tube, music found itself being commissioned by programme makers either as an incidental background, or more specifically as an opening theme. TV theme tunes, despite being short and sweet (barely 2 minutes to cover the credits) have since taken on a life of their own and many are remembered with nostalgic affection. To create a brief, yet memorable theme that actually reflects the content of the ensuing programme is no mean feat, so as a tribute to the many composers of TV themes, here are my personal ‘six of the best’ choices.
Hawaii Five-O (Morton Stevens) – arguably the best TV theme ever. It brims over with a joie de vivre that is hard to ignore. Like all of the best TV themes it has since de-coupled itself from Hawaii Five-O, the TV programme, and is generally known as a great tune in its own right yet it still retains that alluring vision of sun and sea. ‘Book him, Danno!’
Mission: Impossible (Lalo Schifrin) – another massive theme tune and probably the only one written in the singularly lumpy rhythm of 5/4. Again, this theme now has a life of its own and is synonymous with derring-do in all its forms. It has become a staple for all programme makers who deploy it in the sort of situations that require a bit of tension and excitement.
The World at War (Carl Davis) – This strangely asymmetrical, yet grimly compelling melody, together with the stark images it overlays, lands an almighty emotional punch. I defy anyone not to be moved by its poignant grandeur, especially that gut-wrenching final chord. Interestingly, this theme has not broken free. If ever there was a permanent link between programme and theme, this is it. Quite haunting.
Dr Who (Ron Grainer arr. Delia Derbyshire) – who would’ve thought that this theme, cobbled together from taped samples of signal generators and home-made sound-effects would turn out to be probably the best known piece of electronic music? A masterpiece of arrangement by Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic workshop. And made in 1963 without a box of digital tech in sight!
The Virginian (Percy Faith) – A waltz has never quite had as much momentum as this western theme by the late Percy Faith. You can’t help but be swept along by its galloping beat and visions of the great windswept western frontier. Knocks other contenders like ‘Bonanza’ into a ten-gallon hat.
YouTube won't let me embed it here so click here to hear.
Jeeves and Wooster (Anne Dudley) – A fabulous pastiche of 1920s jazz/swing by pop keyboardist Anne Dudley (Art of Noise). To replicate the style of the roaring twenties is one thing but to make it sound as recklessly foolish yet endearingly familiar as the Wodehouse novels themselves is a real achievement. Try not humming this for days after hearing it. Again, YouTube won't let me embed the moving picture version so this static one will have to do. After all, it's all about the music!
I haven’t even scratched the surface here. Morse, The Sweeney, Batman, The Avengers, The X files…the list goes on and on. Which goes to show how we have taken these small, yet perfectly formed tunes to our hearts.