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TV Themes: The Golden Girls

You can imagine the initial pitch for The Golden Girls: “It’s like the Brady Bunch only they are 60 years older and without the boys.” It is quite amazing that any network bit. It took a great deal of courage, I think, to commission a show about four widowed or divorced women of a certain age (and then some). Not only that, but they still had S-E-X! As we know, the gamble paid off, and a sometimes very good sitcom was born. Of course, sometimes it was also very bad, especially when romantic liaisons interfered with the lives of our four heroines (hello, Witness Protection Guy). Or when the gay brother storyline impaled itself on the fence upon which it perched so delicately in a bid not to unambiguously condemn homophobia.

GoldenGirls

Still, generally the set-up worked well, through a finely aligned division of idiosyncrasies. Dorothy did the sarcastic, reasonable duty. Her mother Sophia was responsible for mad-cappery (often involving the hilarity of a 119-year-old woman having a libido); Blanche was in charge of general promiscuity (what would Big Daddy — or Beurg Durddy, I could never be sure — have thought of that?), and Rose headed the stupid department. And didn’t Betty White play the latter role well, never showing much frustration at her character exhibiting the erudition and cynicism of Big Bird after a few joints? Of course, she would have had little cause for complaint: she was tagged orginally to play Blanche, and Rue McClanahan (who had appeared with Bea Arthur in the latter’s hit show Maude) was supposed to be Rose. Fortuitously, the actresses swapped roles, to good effect.

So distinct in temperament were these women, they shouldn’t have survived living together in the same house. But they did and every episode ended with a group hug, literal or otherwise — unless a few minor chords in the soundtrack alerted us that the huggery would be deferred for a cliffhanger.

The Golden Girls eventually did split when the marvellous Bea Arthur — whose recent death at 86 set off an epidemic of celebrity croaking — left the show. With Dorothy married, the remaining golden girls vacated Blanche’s splendid house, for reasons I don’t care to remember, and took over a hotel instead. Alas, they forgot to pack the humour and charm of the original series. The Golden Palace starred a yet unknown Don Cheadle, playing the straight man to all manner of superannuated capers; the lack of comedy this afforded him happily directed him towards more dramatic roles, rather than trapping him in a Martin Lawrence career arc. Cheadle is one of the finest actors in Hollywood today. As for the show, it was dismal and got cancelled after only one season.

cheadle

The future Buck Swope gurns his way through The Golden Palace.

Just as The Golden Girls could be at once charming and feckless, so was the show’s theme song. Written and released by Andrew Gold when the Golden Girls were still nubile — well, in 1978, as Gold’s follicular adventures on the Dutch single cover below clearly suggests — it had enjoyed some US chart success, reaching #25, though Gold is better remembered (though not necessarily fondly) for his hit of the same year, Never Let Her Slip Away, and for Lonely Boy, a hit in 1977.

andrew goldGold came from a family of musical pedigree: his father was movie composer Ernest Gold (whose credits include the soundtrack of Exodus); his mother was Marni Nixon. Nixon’s name or face might not be well-known, but her voice certainly is: she dubbed the singing for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, for Deborah Kerr in The King And I, and for Natalie Wood in West Side Story (unlike any of them, Nixon is still alive). And she was the angelic voices in Ingrid Bergman’s Joan Of Arc.

Gold later became one half of the ’80s duo Wax, with Graham Gouldman of 10cc (Bridge To Your Heart, anyone?). But none of this is as impressive as this: Andrew Gold’s is the first human voice to have been heard — in as far as any Martians were listening — on Mars when in 1996 when his rendition of the theme of Mad About You served as wake-up call song for the Pathfinder probe, presumably chosen because of its title: Final Frontier (NASA obviously aren’t great Donald Fagen fans).

Gold’s version of Thank You For Being A Friend is on the first mix of full TV theme songs.

As Golden Girls fans will recall, it wasn’t Gold that sang the theme song: the female singer bragging about bringing the biggest gift with attached card was one Cynthia Fee. See the titles here.

And, finally, a free Golden Girls theme song for the first caller who can identify the Elvis impersonator in white at the back from a Golden Girls episode entitled “Sophia’s Wedding” in 1988:

qtelvis

EDIT: Reader James got the answer. So as not to spoil it, I won’t give it here; see the comments section. And here’s Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley as a girl scout in an episode from 1987 (she also appeared in a 1989 episode of Roseanne)

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  1. July 8th, 2009 at 10:15 | #1

    I dunno…

    Rik Mayall??

  2. July 8th, 2009 at 10:24 | #2

    Andrew Gold is Marni Nixon’s son? Well I never.

    Elvis in white at the back must be either Chris Isaak or k.d Lang.

  3. Rikkie
    July 8th, 2009 at 10:46 | #3

    Chris Isaak?

  4. July 8th, 2009 at 12:10 | #4

    Chris Isaak is a good call, but it’s so much, much better than that.

  5. July 8th, 2009 at 12:19 | #5

    Couldn’t wait – I Googled it…

  6. James
    July 8th, 2009 at 12:22 | #6

    Quentin Tarantino.

    Bonus goofy trivia – Jenny Lewis also appeared on an episode of Golden Girls (as blogged by brooklynvegan a couple of days ago).

    This is mean-spirited, but… Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell wrote a book called “The Worst Records of All Time.” Most of the book isn’t very funny and is more indignant and self-righteous than provocative, but the two writers do wittily analyze the lyrics of “Lonely Boy” and their dismissal of the record is hilarious (it’s one of the book’s few high marks).

  7. July 8th, 2009 at 12:33 | #7

    And James scores a hole in one. I can make an MP3 of me singing the Golden Girls theme, if you’d like to claim your prize. Though you probably don’t want to.

    Just found the Lewis clip myself, and duly linked to it in an edit.

  8. July 8th, 2009 at 14:25 | #8

    Tarantino is such an in-crowder. Chris Isaak or KD Laing would’ve been much cooler.

  9. July 8th, 2009 at 15:08 | #9

    I’ve never, to the best of my recollection, heard “Never Let Her Slip Away”, but “Lonely Boy” and “Thank You For Being A Friend” were HUGE, everpresent hits in the 70’s anyway.

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that Gold was Linda Ronstadt’s musical partner in crime during her early-mid 70’s heyday on such albums as Heart Like a Wheel and Prisoner in Disguise. He also was a member of Bryndle with Wendy Waldman and Karla Bonoff.

  10. Sam Howells
    July 8th, 2009 at 16:47 | #10

    This song has entirely more sinister connotations for a generation of Brits who lived through the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    In 1979, a cassette was sent to the police purporting to be from the killer, taunting the police for their failure to apprehend a serial killer who had then been active for five years. At the end of the tape the ‘killer’ played a short excerpt from Thank You For Being A Friend. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wearside_Jack#Wearside_accent)

    The tape was played repeatedly on local television and radio throughout 1979 as the police were convinced it was genuine.

    The Yorkshire Ripper was eventually caught in 1981 after murdering 13 women.

    When The Golden Girls hit the screen in the mid-80s, its title track sent a chill down many a spine!

    The tape was a hoax and the person responsible was eventually convicted and jailed in 2006.

  11. July 8th, 2009 at 18:38 | #11

    Wow, what a fantastically bizarre story!

  12. July 9th, 2009 at 05:28 | #12

    Oh I’m so glad to hear that “Lonely Boy” has been publicly ripped on for its stupidity. God, that has to be the dumbest song ever written. Pitching such an angst-ridden fit about the life-destroying event of one’s parents providing one with a sibling, good Lord.

    And I say that as an only child.

  13. opus
    July 10th, 2009 at 00:28 | #13

    still you linger on.

    great melody, melancholy lyrics, ebow guitar fills, and the turned-phrase “i thought the sadness gone, but still it lingers on… still you linger on” is true tunesmithing.

  14. Sarah
    July 14th, 2009 at 23:44 | #14

    It looks like you know good music. If you’re searching for great music, you should definitely check out Stefani Vara! Her debut album, Storybook Diaries is by faaaaar one of the best purchases of 2009! One of the songs was featured in the Lifetime movie “What color is Love.” iTunes http://bit.ly/1hWOzK and Amazon http://bit.ly/W0PIx

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