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TV Themes: The Partridge Family

June 28th, 2012 25 comments

Forty years ago, it was one of the biggest TV shows in the world. Today The Partridge Family has a rather unfortunate and, I might add, unjustified reputation as tacky TV, but back then teenage girls swooned over the handsome David Cassidy, teenage boys looked in to perv at Susan Dey (and no doubt were delighted when the actress did a nude scene in the now forgotten 1978 film First Love), the moms could identify with mother Partridge Shirley Jones, of whom the dads surely approved as well, and little kids like myself followed with anticipation the adventures of Danny.

One would hesitate to call The Partridge Family a revolutionary show. To begin with, its concept borrowed from The Monkees; though, unlike that series, it was inspired by the real-life story of a family band called The Cowsills, who were still performing when The Partridge Family was at its peak.

But The Partridge Family occasionally captured and reflected a new Zeitgeist; it did so from the start, with its premise of (unexplained) single motherhood. In its first season, the show dealt with sexism (a bit clumsily but with good intentions). Better yet, in an episode starring Richard Pryor and Louis Gosset Jr as Detroit club owners who, due to a management mix-up, got the Partridge Family instead of The Temptations, the Black Panthers (though they are not called that) are portrayed sympathetically, with their local leaders inducting Danny as an honorary member. You almost expected Mom Partridge and Angela Davis to swap recipes.

There was some fine farce as well, for example the farce when, after a bureaucratic error, ten-year-old Danny is drafted into the army. Make no mistake, little Danny Bonaduce had excellent comedy timing.

Danny becomes an honorary Black Panther (though they are not called that) as Richard Pryor and Louis Gossett Jr look on

The show is now, inevitably, dated. But even now, watching it as an adult, it is still entertaining, mildly amusing and quite charming. There is also great fun in spotting the occasional celebrities and future stars making cameos. In the first episode, Johnny Cash introduces the Partridge Family on his show. At different times, three future Charlie”s Angels (Smith, Facett and Ladd) make an appearance. Others include a young Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Jackie Coogan, Slim Pickens and Dick Clark. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz, played the Partridge kids” grandfather.

The show”s music is usually disregarded as disposable TV pop. Indeed, if one already treated, say, the Carpenters with suspicion, then one would not give The Partridge Family, with a kid drummer and ginger Danny on bass, a fair shot. And that is unfortunate, because often the music was of fine standard.

Obviously, the drums were played by neither incarnation of little Chris (in the first season played by dark-haired, fright-eyed Jeremy Gelbwaks, thereafter by blond and blue-eyed Brian Forster), and Danny couldn”t play a note, as actor Bonaduce has cheerfully acknowledged. The songs were in fact recorded by the famous Wrecking Crew, the collective of elite studio musicians who, in various combinations, backed everybody from Nancy Sinatra to the Carpenters and the Mamas & the Papas to Simon & Garfunkel and many Phil Spector productions. Wrecking Crew members also appeared on the Beach Boys” Pet Sounds and the uncompleted Smile albums.

The Wrecking Crew accompanied David Cassidy”s fine vocals and his real-life stepmother Shirley Jones” harmonies (with the Dave Hicklin Singers) beautifully. And the songs, especially by 1971″s Season 2, were often outstanding, some in the style one would soon associate with Elton John. The album of that series, Sound Magazine, is excellent throughout, and should be regarded as a pop classic of the early 1970s.

The songs were produced by the man who wrote most of them, Wes Farrell. As a producer, Farrell ranks among the great hitmakers; he also won an Oscar for the score of the film Midnight Cowboy.

Farrell wrote the long-running theme of The Partridge Family, C”Mon Get Happy, which replaced the original theme. We have the theme from the pilot (ripped from video), as well as the wah-wah dominated opening sequence of the pilot, during which mother Partridge is driving that funky bus through Hollywood, leading up to Johnny Cash introducing the family band on his show.

Partridge Family – Opening sequence of pilot episode (1970).mp3
Partridge Family – Having A Ball (1970, theme of the Pilot Episode).mp3
The Partridge Family – C”mon Get Happy (1970)
The Partridge Family – I Think I Love You (1970)
The Partridge Family – Brown Eyes (1971)
The Partridge Family – Summer Days (1971)

Luke Skywalker and Laurie Partridge ponder the identity of their respective fathers.

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TV Themes: ’80s family shows

July 7th, 2011 2 comments

There aren”t many sitcoms about families on American TV anymore. It”s not like it was in the 1980s. Leaving aside the bizarre living arrangements of the dreadful Full House (for which Bob Saget has made ample reparations lately), the nuclear family or variations thereof ruled the ratings. There were Family Ties (hippie parents vs Reaganite kids), Growing Pains (vaguely creepy dad vs a bunch of kids nobody can really remember), and Who”s The Boss (Tony Danza vs humour), and a TV series starring Jason Bateman whose character”s mother had died. Whatever it was called, it was nothing like the next great family show that starred Bateman: Arrested Development.

Bateman”s sister Justine was the airhead daughter in Family Ties, in which Marty J McFox played a Republican who pitches his wits against his cartoon hippie parents. Usually it was more comforting than amusing; familial love always won out and every crisis ““ Alex disappoints the parents; the parents don”t trust the kids “” ended with a metaphorical family hug. The show jumped the goldfish when the drippy father grew a midle-class beard. Family Ties really went past its sell-by date when the even drippier mother had a fourth baby. New babies in TV shows almost invariably signal the writers’ desperation, and for us provides the cue to switch off. So almost every viewer will have missed Courtney Cox”s stint as Alex”s girlfriend.

The show had more than its fair share of guest stars who”d become more famous: Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christina Applegate and Crispin Clover, who”d later play Michael J Fox”s father in Back To The Future.

Family Ties“˜ theme tune was as cheesy as the storylines, ending with the über-drippy “sha la la la”. Or, rather, the part which we heard was drippy. In the full version of Without Us, the duet by the marvellous Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis, the “sha la la la” signals a turn towards some serious slow-funk fusion, with a cool bassline and a saxophone backing which I presume to be by co-writer Tom Scott. The saxophonist”s writing partner was Jeff Barry, erstwhile husband of Ellen Greenwhich with whom he wrote such classics as Leader Of The Pack, Doo Wah Diddy, Be My Baby, Chapel Of Love and, as we saw in last week’s instalment of The Originals, Hanky Panky.

Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams – Without Us.mp3
Family Ties Theme.mp3


Another family show with a theme song sung by two well-known singers was Growing Pains, wherein we first witnessed the thespian gifts of a juvenile Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a permanently scowling “troubled but essentially good kid”. He thus stole the show from Ben, the bizarre looking son (not the evangelical militant nutcase Kirk Cameron; the other one).

The series started from a low base ““ it never was very good ““ and, the occasional clever gag notwithstanding, went on to justify the second part of its title. Of course, Growing Pains had the obligatory late baby that was supposed to rescue the show (and I don”t mean DiCaprio). It couldn”t. Nor could a succession of not yet famous guest stars that included Brad Pitt, Matthew Perry, Hilary Swank, Olivia d’Abo, Heather Graham and, best of all, Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis (who administered the weird-looking kid’s first kiss).

Growing Pains” dad, Alan Thicke, had written a couple of sitcom themes himself ““ for Diff”rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life ““ but the father of pop singer Robin Thicke had nothing to do with the theme for his own show. That was written by John Bettis and Steve Dorff. You will have sung along to many of Bettis” lyrics, especially if you like the Carpenters. He wrote the words to their Top Of The World, Only Yesterday, Goodbye to Love and Yesterday Once More, as well as for Madonna”s Crazy For You, Michael Jackson”s Human Nature and more. Steve Dorff has written mostly for country artists, but he also composed the themes of Murphy Brown and Murder She Wrote.

The Growing Pains theme, As Long As We Got Each Other, was first sung y BJ Thomas, then by BJ Thomas and serial-theme duetist Jennifer Warnes, then for one season (the fourth, in 1988/89) by BJ Thomas and Dusty Springfield, and later by some random singers.

B.J. Thomas & Dusty Springfield – As Long As We Got Each Other.mp3
Growing Pains Theme (BJ Thomas & Jennifer Warnes).mp3



Who”s The Boss had a couple of things which other family shows didn”t have. A saucy grandmother, for example. And an unconventional habitation arrangement. And in Alyssa Milano one of the few really good child actors. But it also had Tony Danza (are you also singing “Hold me closer”¦”).

When Who”s The Boss appeared, two of the actors had already been in big hit shows: Danza had been part of the dazzling ensemble of Taxi, saucy granny Mona”s  Katherine Helmond had been the mother in the brilliant S.O.A.P.. This did not mean, however, that Who”s The Boss would become a triumph of levity. The dynamics between Danza and Milano were at times interesting, and Mona had one or two moments. Mostly it was trite ““ and it eventually resorted to the baby option (though in this case the pitter patter was that of a virtually adopted five-year-old). Still, people watched.

And if they watched, they heard the theme tune, with the catchy whistling sounds. There were several versions of the song composed by Robert Kraft and ex-Crusaders guitarist Larry Carlton (who played the guitar on the theme of Hill Street Blues and the solo on Steely Dan”s Kid Charlemagne). The first was sung by Larry Weiss, writer and original singer of Rhinestone Cowboy (see The Originals Vol. 5). Country singer Steve Wariner sung it during the show”s golden run, 1986-90.

Larry Weiss – Brand New Life (Who’s The Boss).mp3
Who”s The Boss (Steve Wariner).mp3

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Intros Quiz – TV Themes edition

May 30th, 2011 2 comments

We’ve seen the TV shows, but how well do we remember their themes? Here are twenty intros to TV themes fromUS shows that were internationally syndicated. I know that all of them were shown on South African TV, and most, if not all, on German TV as well. The oldest goes back to the 1950s, but most of them come from the 1970s-’90s. Each is  5-7 seconds in length.

The answers will be posted in the comments section by Thursday (so please don”t post your answers). If the pesky number 19 bugs you, go to the Contact Me tab above to request the answers, or  better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here.

Intros Quiz ““ TV Themes Edition

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Origleenals: Songs that Glee borrowed

March 14th, 2011 3 comments

“What, the show for kids?” my colleague, the one with an extravagant collection of adidas tracksuit jackets, replied when I asked if she watched Glee. It”s a frequent mistake to confuse Glee with High School Musical, and therefore to presume that the interpretations of the songs covered on Glee must be intrinsically inferior to their originals. Fact is, in several cases the Glee versions are equal to their originals, and sometimes they exceed the high bars set by the versions they draw from.

The best example of this is Glee”s cover of the Bacharach/David medley One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home, originally a quite stunning duet of Barbra Steisand with herself on the 1971 Barbra Joan Streisand album. On Glee, the utterly wonderful Kristin Chinoweth and Matthew Morrison (as teacher Will Shuester) improve on Streisand”s template, with Chinoweth”s strong and vulnerable voice leading and Morrison shining with is restraint. It is one of the best pieces of musical television I have seen. See it here.

Glee is about the music; the drama is generally incidental. The action is set in McKinley High School in Ohio, and it”s not a stretch to presume that Glee draws some of its dramatic inspiration from the sadly short-lived but excellent series Freaks And Geeks, which was also set in an Ohio school named McKinley High. Glee“s dramatic narrative is not always a vapid device used to propel the narrative from song to song. Some episodes are very much plot-driven. The “hey kids, let”s put on a show” contrivance of the MGM musicals (which the producers clearly love) and periodic  use of soap opera mechanisms may be used liberally, but Glee does deal with real issues, aiming to raise consciousness.

When the show succeeds in that ““ the record is patchy ““ it does so extremely well, especially in addressing subjects such as bullying, homophobia and prejudice. The character of Kurt, played by the superlative Chris Colfer, is a vehicle by which to explore homosexuality. The female football coach, unkindly but descriptively named Shannon Beiste (pronounced “beast”, played beautifully by Dort-Marie Jones), is being excluded, socially and romantically, because of her size and looks. A scene in which Will Shuester gives Beiste her first kiss is as tender as anything one will see on TV.

Other times, the treatment of issue-lines is on the heavy-handed side. Artie”s disability more often than not is a plot device (whatever happened to the walking gadget from the Christmas episode), and the recent sex-ed episode was as ambitious as it was shallow (and Gwyneth Paltrow has a way of going from adorable to annoying in double time).  Such moments are often saved by great song selections, such as Stevie Nicks” Landslide to articulate and instance of unrequited (bisexual) love.

And then there is Jane Lynch as adidas obsessive evilton Sue Sylvester, who gets the show”s best lines, and shows a massive dose of humanity when she interacts with her sister, who has Down”s syndrome. If there was no other reason to watch Glee, Jane Lynch would provide a most persuasive argument to do so anyway.

Still, Glee is mostly about the music, so here is a compilation of 21 songs that have been covered on Glee. Some of them are not originals, but covers from which the Glee versions drew (such as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole”s ukulele-driven version of Over The Rainbow or  Sammy Davis Jr”s version of The Lady Is A Tramp). Others are versions I thought readers might enjoy, such as the Stones” live version of You Can’t Always Get What You Want from 1969″s The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus show, the late Ronnie James Dio”s cover of Aerosmith”s Dream On, and Bobby Darin”s take on Don”t Rain On My Parade, which in Lea Michele”s rendition obviously draws from Streisand. Also included is Streisand”s duet with Judy Garland on the latter”s TV show in 1963, which was pivotal in setting Streisand on the path to superstardom (of course, she would have made it anyway).

The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. To look up when the songs were performed on Glee and by whom, look here for Series 1 and Series 2 (episodes are below in brackets behind the years). PW in comments.

TRACKLISTING:
1. Journey – Any Way You Want It (1980) (22/1)
2. The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (live) (1969) (13/1)
3. Ike & Tina Turner – River Deep, Mountain High (1966) (4/2)
4. Parliament – Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) (1975) (21/1)
5. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Tell Me Something Good (live) (1983) (21/1)
6. Bill Withers – Lean On Me (live) (1972) (10/1)
7. Barbra Streisand – One Less Bell To Answer/A House Is Not A Home (1971) (16/1)
8. Bobby Darin – Don’t Rain On My Parade (1966) (13/1)
9. Dean Martin – Sway (Quien sera) (1954) (8/2)
10. Julie Andrews – Le Jazz Hot (1982) (4/2)
11. Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1949) (10/2)
12. Sammy Davis Jr. – The Lady Is A Tramp (live) (1963) (18/1)
13. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – Over The Rainbow (2006) (22/1)
14. The Pretenders – I’ll Stand By You (1994) (10/1)
15. Fleetwood Mac ““ Landslide (1975)  (15/2)
16. Ronnie James Dio & Yngwie Malmsteen – Dream On (1999) (19/1)
17. Kiss – Beth (1976) (20/1)
18. John Denver – Leaving On A Jet Plane (1969) (1/1)
19. Dionne Warwick – Don’t Make Me Over (1962) (11/1)
20. Diana Ross – Home (1978) (16/1)
21. Judy Garland & Barbra Streisand – Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again (1963) (4/2)
BONUS TRACK: George Thorogood & the Destroyers – One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (1977) (14/2)

GET IT!

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TV Themes: The Big Bang Theory

January 31st, 2011 11 comments

It is difficult to reconcile the notion that the quite wonderful sitcom The Big Bang Theory comes from the same people who inflict upon the viewing public the hilarity-bereft smugfest that is Two And A Half Men. Both are Chuck Lorre shows, as was the utterly appalling Dharma And Greg, the slightly more tolerable Grace Under Fire (the title of which unforgivably punned on the protagonist”s name), and the mostly pretty smart Cybill, which featured the wonderful Christine Baranski, who in turn has a most welcome recurring guest spot on The Big Bang Theory.

The set-up for The Big Bang Theory, if it needs to be explained, involves two physics geniuses (Sheldon and Leonard), one of them evidently touched by some kind of autism and extreme OCD, their two fellow “nerd” friends, and the entirely ordinary aspiring actress with generous cleavage in the adjacent apartment (one might call it “Four Half Men”). Much of it is as derivative as Sheldon characterises Leonard”s research. We have the short straightman with dark curly hair and his socially inept flatmate who says inappropriate things living in the same building as blonde female company. Why, it”s Cousin Larry and Balki from the unlamented Perfect Strangers all over again! It even has that show”s laugh track (or is it a studio audience conditioned to laugh at anything, no matter how unfunny?).

What sets The Big Bang Theory apart from the legacy of traditional sitcoms which it draws from is the whip-smart dialogue and, above all, the character of Sheldon (and arguably that of diminutive Howard Wolowitz, whose sartorial style and Beatles hairstyle seems to manically draw from the Swinging Sixtiesm, and whose mother seems to be related to Estelle Costanza)). But it”s Sheldon”s show, and therefore Jim Parsons”. Parsons takes off the obnoxious edges of what really is an insufferable individual by investing his evidently gentle personality and melodious and precise elocution in his character. Rather than being an annoying and intolerable type, Parsons” Sheldon is almost cute in his deployment of pompous condescension (which is really a defence against a world which he doesn”t quite understand).  Alas, there are incongruous passages when Sheldon regresses into an inconsistent state of childhood, such as when he returns from Disneyland wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. It is here that the show appeals to sitcom denominators which one might have hoped to be extinct, at least in more discerning comedies such as this.

And therein resides the quibble with the mostly brilliant scriptwriting (and a set design which takes care to ensure that the formulae on whiteboards are correct science): consistency is sometimes traded for a quick gag. It”s an unwelcome throwback to the traditional sitcoms which preceded The Big Bang Theory ““ such as the criminally mirthless Perfect Strangers. But these are minor objections and easily forgivable when so much of the show is so delightful. The show deserves highest praise alone for the invention of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock, a soundfile I have prepared below.

Sheldon, by the way, has a most excellent collection of t-shirts. I would kill (not literally, of course) to have the TV test-card t-shirt pictured right. There is also a splendid t-shirt showing the evolution of man, from primate to robot.

The Big Bang Theory“s theme song is suitably quirky, by the masters of quirk: Canada”s Barenaked Ladies. In about half a minute it outlines the evolutionary history of the world: “Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,” the theme explains, “then nearly 14 billion years ago expansion started. The Earth began to cool, the autotrophs began to drool, Neanderthals developed tools, we built a wall (we built the pyramids). Math, science, history, unravelling the mysteries that all started with the big bang!” In 2007, a longer single version (still only 1:45 long) was released.

Another Barenaked Ladies song, Be My Yoko Ono, appears in the show”s second season, when Sheldon has an overbearing groupie (the John and Yoko gag is repeated in the current season, the fourth, when Sheldon has a likeminded female sidekick). Apparently Yoko once was asked whether she liked the song, which mocks her singing. She said she did, but preferred the band”s If I Had $1,000,000. It is indeed the better of the two songs, though the Barenaked Ladies” grand opus surely is Brian Wilson.

Theme from The Big Bang Theory
Barenaked Ladies ““ Big Bang Theory (full version)
Barenaked Ladies ““ You Can Be My Yoko Ono
The Big Bang Theory – Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock

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TV Themes: How I Met Your Mother

September 9th, 2009 1 comment

Take a pinch of Seinfeld, wrap him up with Friends, add a touch of Raymond and a little bitty bit of original ideas (apologies if this gave you an unwelcome earworm). The stew would give forth How I Met Your Mother, one of the finest current comedy series, admittedly at a time when there are not many great ones around.

himym1

Neil Patrick Harris, a teenage TV star as Doogie Howser MD, is the perhaps the funniest man on TV right now. As Barney Stinson, his comedic timing and delivery is impeccable. More than that, his physical comedy is exceptional as he deftly sidesteps the perils of exaggerating for effect. His character may be over-the-top, yet there is much subtlety in Harris” performance. It is perfectly judged (and, indeed, awesome). Few characters in recent times have given birth to so many catchphrases. True story.

How I Met Your Mother would be poorer without Harris, of course, but not entirely lacking in appeal. Some of the show”s best setpieces have not hinged on Barney”s character. For example, Robin”s “80s style music videos are brilliantly observed. The snag is that Robin had her solitary Tiffany-lite hit in the “90s. The scriptwriters get around that anomaly by having her explain that the “80s didn’t come to her native Canada until the mid-“90s. The absurdity of the notion illuminates the gag. The two-minute date sequence from season 3 shows the progamme”s big heart

The theme is very brief, just 11 seconds long. It”s an catchy chunk from a song by The Solids called Hey Beautiful, a garage band type of affair that really belongs in the “90s (perhaps the “90s didn”t get to The Solids until the “00s). The song was written by Solids members Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who just happen to be the originators and writers of How I Met Your Mother, and on whom the series is loosely based. Minus the rock band antics.

The third track featured here (like the very brief theme, ripped from DVD)  is sung by Jason Segel, who plays Marshall Erikson in the show. Having won a bet, he has earned the right to slap the obnoxious Barney five times over any period of time. The third slap he saves up for Thanksgiving (or, as he calls it, “Slapsgiving”). Having visited the stipulated act of violence upon Barney, he sings a song he especially composed for the occasion (video).

Theme of How I Met Your Mother.mp3
The Solids – Hey Beautiful.mp3
Jason Segel – You Just Got Slapped.mp3

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TV Themes: The Golden Girls

July 8th, 2009 14 comments

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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TV Themes: Welcome Back, Kotter

June 24th, 2009 7 comments

It took the crazy success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease to bring Welcome Back, Kotter to German TV, cashing in on cast member John Travolta”s rise to fame at about the same time as the series ended its five-season run on American TV in 1979. The happy upshot of this was that by the time the show had jumped the shark “” after the third season “” it was passé even in Germany.

Welcome_Back_Kotter

As Vinny Barbarino, Travolta played the nominal leader of a quartet of high school underachievers in whom teacher Gabe Kotter, returning to his inner-city alma mater, recognises much of his younger self. His hope is that these four doofuses will complete their schooling and become successes in life, much as Kotter did. The teaching profession is indeed a noble and very undervalued vocation, but is the uniform of brown curdoroy jackets with elbow patches really an aspirational objective? The Sweathogs, as the school”s gang of remedial students are known, were founded by Kotter himself, so he has much empathy for the youngsters.

welcome-back-kotter-castAn unlikely premise rooted in cliché, clearly. Except that the main characters were based on people Gabe Kaplan “” Kotter in real life “” knew at school, with the names changed (except that of Arnold Horshack, he with the bizarre laugh). The notion of academic redemption resonates with me. For a variety of reasons, my underachievements in school would have relegated me to the Sweathogs, if there had been such a group. Alas, I had no teacher like Mr Kotter, so I made it my business to excel at failure, to meet what I thought were my teachers” low expectation and what I perceived to be their desire. Happily, I was able to climb out of that deep hole and eventually graduate from university.

The groovy theme song was written and sung by John Sebastian, who in the Mamas and the Papas” song Creeque Alley sat in The Night Owl with Zal and Denny, passing round the hat. The three and Cass Elliott and Jim Hendricks were the Mugwumps. Denny and Cass went on to become a Papa and a Mama, while John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky formed the Lovin” Spoonful (Hendricks disappeared from the scene). Sebastian”s theme song was a US #1 hit in 1976. The show itself, originally titled simply Kotter, was renamed in a nod to Sebastian”s chorus, which repeats the words “welcome back”.

More recently, Sebastian appeared on the Eels song Dusk: A Peach in the Orchard from the wonderful Blinking Lights and Other Revelations album. As for Gabe Kaplan, apparently he now works a commentator on televised poker. I”m sure the Sweathogs would approve.

John Sebastian – Welcome Back (Kotter)  (full version).mp3
John Sebastian – Welcome Back, Kotter  (title version).mp3

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And watch this great clip from the series, which also features James Woods as a preppy teacher.

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TV Themes: Hill Street Blues

June 3rd, 2009 7 comments

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