Tag Archives: Earle Hagen

The man behind the theme

You may not know his name, but you know his songs. Earle Hagen composed some of the most recognizable instrumentals of the 20th century.

Hagen, who was 88 when he died Monday in California, wrote the themes to these 1960s TV shows, each expressing the essence of the show and its setting in less than a minute:

“The Andy Griffith Show,” 1960-68. Everyone knows this one. Everyone loves this one. Whistle along as you head out to the country.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show,” 1961-66. The sophistication of TV’s early days. Tom over at One Poor Correspondent offers some background on the opening segments that accompanied this tune, all involving Van Dyke navigating that pesky ottoman.

“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” 1964-69. A clever riff on military marches.

“I Spy,” 1965-68. Hagen works gunfire and explosions into the middle of this classic bit of post-007 secret agent music.

“That Girl,” 1966-71. One of Hagen’s best themes, perfectly fitting a young Marlo Thomas’ wide-eyed, innocent romp around late-’60s Manhattan as the show opens.

“The Mod Squad,” 1968-73. Andrew over at Armagideon Time had this great line about this theme last summer:

“If this tune doesn’t instill an irrational desire to chase a cheap hood down a dirty alleyway (that oddly resembles a studio backlot) full of empty cardboard boxes then there’s something seriously wrong with you.”

I learned Earle Hagen’s name long ago, seeing it almost every night in the credits. My dad loved — and still loves — TV sitcoms, and we watched all those mentioned above.

Hagen also wrote one of the classic jazz instrumentals, “Harlem Nocturne,” while playing the trombone for the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1939.

DJ Little Danny over at Office Naps wrote about this tune in his last post before heading back to school and offered a Latin version of it. (Go get it!)

Here’s the most familiar version of the moody “Harlem Nocturne,” done by the Viscounts in 1959. Don’t know where I got this from, but thanks to whoever put it out there last summer.

(For 41 other versions of “Harlem Nocturne,” check out Clinton’s post over at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog.)

I’ve touched only on the most familiar aspects of Hagen’s career. The Los Angeles Times’ terrific appreciation of Hagen’s work is a must-read.

All of the Hagen TV themes are from “Television’s Greatest Hits” and “Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume II,” which appear to be out of print on CD. Those rips are from my vinyl LPs, released in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds

Spinning wheels, spinning records

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Come 7 a.m. Saturday, I’ll be in Two Harbors, Minnesota, trying to stay warm — the overnight low is expected to be 31 — and waiting to start the NorthShore Inline Marathon.

We skate 26.2 miles from the outskirts of Two Harbors into Duluth, most of it along Lake Superior on old Scenic Highway 61. When we get into Duluth, we skate the last 3 miles on the southbound lanes of Interstate 35, which is closed to its usual traffic just for our event.

This will be my 12th marathon, and my 10th in Duluth. I’m not an elite skater. Far from it. The elite skaters usually cross the finish line when I’m only halfway, still 13.1 miles out. I train all summer, and still I go slow.

(The photo above is from the start of the 1998 NorthShore Inline Marathon, my first one. I’m the guy in the bright gold Packers shorts at lower right.)

Some of my fellow skaters have their iPods on their belt and their earbuds under their helmet. Not me, and solely for safety reasons.

Much as I would love to have tunes while skating, it’s more important that I hear someone coming from behind, or from the side. Especially while skating on a two-lane road with 3,200 people.

If I did burn a mix that would get me through more than 2 hours of skating, it would be heavy on TV and movie themes. You know, the dramatic, often upbeat music that pulled you into the show. Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when TV intros ran at least a minute each and the outros weren’t banished to a tiny portion of the screen.

Whether for the music or the show or both, hope these bring back some memories. All the albums and CDs mentioned below are out of print.

“Theme from S.W.A.T.,” Rhythm Heritage, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1975 to 1976. I found this cut a while back over at Palms Out Sounds.

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The next three cuts are from “Television’s Greatest Hits,” a 1985 double-LP compilation of 65 TV themes from the ’50s and ’60s.

“The Mod Squad,” Earle Hagen, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1968 to 1973.

“Mannix,” Lalo Schifrin, the TV edit from the CBS-TV show that ran from 1967 to 1975.

“The Jetsons,” Hanna-Barbera, with Bud Brisbois on that wild trumpet, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1962 to 1963, then forever in reruns. Perhaps the best cartoon theme ever. This version might be the intro and the outro edited together.

The next two cuts are from “Crime Stoppers: TV’s Greatest P.I. Themes,” a TV Land compilation, 2000.

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“Mannix,” Lalo Schifrin, a more complete version of the song.

“Harry O,” the John Gregory Orchestra, from the ABC-TV show that ran from 1974 to 1976.

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“The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest,” Hanna-Barbera, from the Cartoon Network show that ran in 1996. It was a bad revival of the cartoon that originally ran on ABC in 1964 and 1965, but it had a great new theme. This cut is from “Cartoon Network Cartoon Medley,” a 1999 compilation of 38 cartoon themes from the ’40s to the ’90s.

The last two cuts are from a Mojo magazine compilation, “Mojo 2002-06: The Score.”

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“The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” David Shire, from the 1974 film of the same name. The soundtrack was issued on CD in 1996.

And, finally, one of our favorites (or guilty pleasures):

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“Truck Turner,” Isaac Hayes, from the 1974 film of the same name. The soundtrack was issued on CD in 2002.

Roll credits: The title of today’s post is adapted from an original idea by Evan Ash.

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Filed under September 2007, Sounds