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August 15, 2003
Faithful arrangements of TV themes are rare on CD
by Phil Grayson

The trouble with television themes on record is that nobody ever seems to get them right.

Don't even get me started on TVT Records' TV's Greatest Hits CD series, whose first three volumes were riddled with idiotic synthesizer renditions of some great orchestral themes. Just try listening to the "timpani" in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or the shoddy-sounding "brass" in The Wild Wild West.

But then producer Steve Gottlieb, who has since turned his TVT (Tee Vee Tunes) label into a mecca for hip-hop, isn't famous for his research capabilities. He didn't know that the It Takes a Thief theme on his Volume 5 wasn't Dave Grusin's TV theme (it was Benny Carter's music for the pilot) and somehow didn't notice that the harpsichord was missing from The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and the recorder wasn't there in Please Don't Eat the Daisies before he mastered the albums without them (the solo instruments were overdubs, common practice in MGM recordings of the '60s). The tapes were available; he just didn't do his homework.

This is what happens when people who don't know what they're doing try to make albums. And it happens too often. Gratefully, there are exceptions to this all-too-common rule. One of them is Johnny Gregory, and the other, believe it or not, is Time-Life.

Johnny Gregory was a British composer, arranger and broadcaster who produced four LPs of TV themes in the '60s and '70s. He was a talented guy who believed in retaining as much as possible of the composer's original concept while extending it from 60 seconds to a two-to-three-minute album length. Gregory was the TV composer's best friend – especially in cases where the great themes never got another chance.

Mission: Impossible and Other TV Themes (Mercury 532 986-2), credited to "John Gregory & His Orchestra," contains faithful renditions of several '70s crime show themes including Jerry Fielding's McMillan and Wife, Oliver Nelson's Six Million Dollar Man, David Shire's McCloud, Billy Goldenberg's Banacek and Morton Stevens' Police Woman.

In 1996, Time-Life Music issued three CDs of TV themes (from the '60s, '70s and '80s) that included a stunning number of composer-arranged themes, several from 45 rpm singles that are not just obscure but, frankly, impossible to find in any condition (and that assumes you still have a turntable in working condition that plays 45s).

The '60s volume (MSD-37021 R130-32) includes Earle Hagen's The Andy Griffith Show (wrongly credited to Andy Griffith), Jack Marshall's The Munsters, Curt Massey's Petticoat Junction, Lionel Newman's Dobie Gillis, Hugo Montenegro's I Dream of Jeannie, Frank DeVol's My Three Sons and Al Hirt's classic rendition of Billy May's The Green Hornet.

In the '70s edition (MSD 37022 R130-34, recently reissued as Sounds of the '70s: TV Themes MDS-35957 R840-02) are Mike Post's The Rockford Files (co-written by Pete Carpenter, but Post's record was definitive), Joe Harnell's own version of his Incredible Hulk, Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton singing "Those Were the Days" (by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) from All in the Family, and Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby's original "Hikky-Burr" from The Bill Cosby Show.

The '80s edition (MSD-37023 R130-30) contains an amazing rundown including Gary Portnoy's Cheers, Post's L.A. Law and Magnum, P.I., Dave Grusin's St. Elsewhere, Steve Carlisle's WKRP in Cincinnati, Bill Conti's Dynasty (okay, admittedly all-synthesizer, but at least it's Conti's own version), the vocal from Steve Dorff's Growing Pains by B.J. Thomas and Dusty Springfield, Stewart Copeland's The Equalizer, Waylon Jennings' Dukes of Hazzard, and Jack Jones doing Charles Fox and Paul Williams' The Love Boat. Now, honestly, can you imagine a better compilation? (Actually, yes. They should have included the flip side of Conti's Dynasty 45, which had his even better Falcon Crest theme. But nobody asked me.)

Two years later, Time-Life issued a two-volume, four-disc Treasury of the West that featured several unusual TV tracks. On Volume 1 (A2-33721 R124-06) are Frankie Laine's original vocal from Rawhide (which made more money for Dimitri Tiomkin than anything he ever wrote for movies), Johnny Cash's The Rebel (penned by Richard Markowitz pre-Wild Wild West), Hugh O'Brian singing The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (by Harry Warren and Harold Adamson), David Rose's classic version of Bonanza and Johnny Western's "Ballad of Paladin" from Have Gun – Will Travel.

Volume 2 (TCD 815 R124-08) has Revue music director Stanley Wilson's definitive version of Percy Faith's The Virginian, the Sons of the Pioneers' Cheyenne (by William Lava and Stan Jones) and, perhaps best of all, Herschel Burke Gilbert's The Rifleman theme.

It's fun stuff, and it's as close as you're likely to get to the originals we all remember so well. I hereby urge you to track down these obscure compact discs, because some things are worth a little detective work.

Editor's note: This author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of The Film Music Society, its Board of Directors or its members.

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