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TV Themes: Hill Street Blues

During the recent Social Living Top 5 craze on Facebook (are you my friend yet. If not, click here), I was confronted with the urge to list my five all-time favourite TV series. Topping my list was Hill Street Blues “” not because it is intrinsically superior to my other all-time favourite TV dramas, such as The West Wing or Homicide: Life On The Streets, but because it was the first TV show other than Sesame Street I truly, deeply loved.

hillstreetbluestitle

From the moment the female CB radio voice would dispatch the cops from the Hill Street precinct to another venue of malfeasance to the last note of Mike Post”s beautiful theme, I”d be mesmerised by the chaos and overlapping storylines.

Hill Street Blues did not invent the ensemble TV series, but it invested into the characters multi-dimensional complexity. Detective Neal Washington was my favourite character, but the most interesting of the lot was his partner J.D. LaRue (played by the late Kiel Martin), a man whose best attempts at being virtuous were undercut by his human frailties. Before Hill Street Blues, the viewer was not meant to root for flawed characters. But I rooted for LaRue.

Hill Street Blues could shock us, not only with its harsh depiction of the realities of urban decay, but also by the use of severe dramatic devices. When Joe Coffey (played by Ed Marinaro) died in the line of duty mid-series, it came as a sharp shock to the viewer. It was as unexpected to us as it was to the characters to whom we had grown close.

Every show has its moral centre. Hill Street Blues had several moral centres, all of them in some way or other flawed. Sometimes there would be conflicting moral centres “” often embodied by the lovers, Captain Frank Furillo and public defender Joyce Davenport. Furillo was not as complex as most of his underlings. He was a leader because he knew what he stood for. Of all TV characters, he reminds me of my father, not physically but in his exacting but essentially kind demeanour, honour and pragmatism.

The Hill Street Blues theme is also one of my all-time favourite title tunes. It was written by Mike Post, who scored several other Steven Bochco shows, including L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and the criminally underrated Murder One. He also wrote such great themes as those for the wonderful Quantum Leap, Magnum PI, Law & Order, The Rockford Files, CHiPS and Doogie Howser, MD. The distinctive guitar on the Hill Street Blues theme is by fusion musician and one-time Crusaders member Larry Carlton, who played the solo on Steely Dan”s Kid Charlemagne.

Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (full version).mp3
Mike Post – Hill Street Blues Theme (title version).mp3

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  1. June 3rd, 2009 at 12:13 | #1

    I loved HSB to, and when I was a kid, I was desperate to learn how to play the theme on the piano. Fortunately, it’s a slow and simple arrangement that even I could master (almost!)

  2. June 3rd, 2009 at 13:48 | #2

    I’m glad you decided to do this! I enjoyed reading this.

  3. jb
    June 3rd, 2009 at 13:57 | #3

    Very well said.

    There’d never been anything like Hill Street on TV before it debuted, and there hasn’t been anything like it since. If Kojak or the Hawaii Five-O cops ever said anything remotely humorous, it was always in the last 30 seconds of the show, but Hill Street Blues was laced with comedy. Most dramatic shows were self-contained with few or no story elements carrying over from week to week—now most of them have story arcs, a concept Hill Street pioneered. And the fact that the show didn’t have the typical brassy cop-show theme song was just icing on the cake.

    Only the first two seasons are available on DVD in the States, which is a crime calling for investigation.

  4. June 3rd, 2009 at 17:53 | #4

    HSB is probably my all-time favorite show, as well. One of the better gifts I’ve ever gotten was the DVDs of the first two seasons. I wait anxiously for more. Nice post about an amazing show and good theme.

  5. Liz
    June 3rd, 2009 at 22:52 | #5

    HSB’s theme tune always makes me cry.

    Admittedly, I never watched it (I was too young). But I remember lying in bed, listening to the theme tune and listening to my parents watch it.

  6. Stuart Kaufman
    June 3rd, 2009 at 23:17 | #6

    One of the joys of watching NCIS is getting to see Joe Spano doing guest spots. Thanks for this entry.

  7. GARY
    June 9th, 2009 at 16:17 | #7

    Without a doubt, the finest show EVER on television. Wish they would show reruns!!

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