I’ve frequently mentioned my fondness for old TV theme songs, and perhaps I should finally explain why those tunes provoke my nostalgic feelings. You see, when I was growing up many years ago in Portland, Oregon, my very proper mother (herself the daughter of a very proper British former schoolteacher) thought it incumbent upon her to safeguard my brother and me from the damaging affects of too much American television. Therefore, she insisted that we be in bed or otherwise engaged before the “worst” programs appeared on our toaster-size black-and-white TV set. This meant turning off the television, or at least turning it over to my father by the stroke of 9 p.m.
Unfortunately, many of the crime dramas I most wanted to watch were broadcast after that witching hour. Therefore, if I was to enjoy, say, Columbo or The Streets of San Francisco or Ironside, I had to find some way other than simply flipping on the tube. My solution: a TV-band radio. That thing was about the size of Pittsburgh (be thankful for the present age of miniaturization), and it belonged to my dad, so I had to be extremely sneaky about smuggling it into my bedroom, and then prevent my mother from catching me with the earphone plugged into my head.
Many a night in the 1970s I spent either in bed, in the dark, listening to TV series that were often barely comprehensible without seeing the action as it transpired onscreen; or else sitting up in a chair, with a book in front of my face but that radio earphone concealed beneath my long hair (hey, this was the shaggy 1970s, after all) and the unit itself secreted behind me. Amazingly, my mother never once caught me at this entertaining pastime--or if she did, she never said anything about it.
One of the consequences of my having had to resort to these measures in order to enjoy TV crime series of the ’70s, is that I am now left with strong memories of the introductory music employed on those shows. For instance, I can still whistle the themes from the NBC Mystery Movie, Barnaby Jones, Cannon, and myriad other shows, even though I haven’t seen most of those series in 30 years. It’s interesting nowadays to revisit, on DVD, some the programs I only listened to originally, and watch them through for the very first time. Just hearing their main title themes makes my heart beat faster.
Which is why I was so excited to discover a French Web site called Coucoucircus.org. In addition to music from international cartoon and anime series, it also features a wealth of themes from U.S. and British TV programs--many of them crime shows.
You want to shut your eyes and revisit the Mike Connors private-eye series Mannix? Just click here. How ’bout The Mod Squad? Click here. Coucoucircus.org’s collection of themes runs the spectrum from the famous (Peter Gunn, Hawaii Five-O, Miami Vice, and Mission : Impossible) to the forgettable (Kojak, Joe Forrester, and Vega$). Some of the shows represented here were so short-lived, that it’s likely you’ll have trouble remembering that you ever heard their title music, no matter how terrific it was (Dan August, City of Angels, Banacek, The Magician, and Assignment Vienna being good examples); others ran long enough that it’s hard to forget the tunes that introduced them (The Avengers, Cagney & Lacey, The Streets of San Francisco, Ironside, and NYPD Blue fall into that category). You’ll find here not only the theme from Spenser: For Hire, but also one from its disappointing Avery Brooks spinoff series, A Man Called Hawk; the original 1951 Dragnet theme as well as the 2003 Mike Post retooling of that march-like melody; and the introductory music from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. along with the modified version that welcomed viewers to The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. I found that, while I couldn’t immediately dredge from memory the title tunes associated with, say, the Eddie Albert-Robert Wagner series Switch, or Gene Barry’s stylish cop show Burke’s Law, or David Janssen’s The Fugitive, I did immediately recognize all of those upon first hearing at Coucoucircus.org. The same goes for the themes from Cannon, I Spy, McCloud, Adam-12, and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Curiously, the intro tunes from The Rockford Files and Ellery Queen and McMillan & Wife, all of which I would have found much more familiar, aren’t to be found on this French site.
But many non-crime series themes are available here, too. Including those from Bonanza, The Munsters, China Beach, Here Come the Brides, and a number of more easily forgotten shows such as Claude Akins’ trucker drama, Movin’ On, James Arness’ post-Gunsmoke western, How the West Was Won, and Mel Brooks’ truly awful Robin Hood sitcom, When Things Were Rotten. (That theme is pretty damn rotten, as well.)
Browse to your heart’s--and your ears’--content. I know I shall.
LISTEN UP: Still more TV tunes can be found on Mark Little’s MyThemes.TV, Tellytunes.com, and the Wave Themes Home Page.
READ MORE: “The Onion Picks the Openings that Fit Their Shows Perfectly,” by Bob Sassone (TV Squad).