First it was Earle Hagen. And now Neal Hefti. Those of us who love pop culture have lost another giant.
Hefti, who composed the themes to two classic TV shows — “The Odd Couple” and “Batman” — passed away Saturday. He was 85.
I’ll leave the details of his long, distinguished jazz career to those more knowledgeable than I am. As the Los Angeles Times reported today, Hefti was first a trumpeter and then one of the top jazz arrangers and composers of the ’40s and ’50s, working with Woody Herman, Count Basie and others.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Hefti did more work in film than TV, but those of us who came along later know him mostly for those TV themes.
Read the Times story, and you’ll learn just how difficult it was for him to come up with the “Batman” theme. It quotes “TV’s Biggest Hits,” Jon Burlingame’s 1996 book on TV theme songs:
“(Hefti’s) musical solution to a combined dramatic and comedic problem was perfect: bass guitar, low brass and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings ‘Batman!’ in harmony with the trumpets. It was part serious, part silly: just like the series.”
Although everyone knows the “Batman” theme, “The Odd Couple” is my favorite. It instantly summons a Midwest kid’s image of early-’70s Manhattan, much as Hagen’s underrated theme for “That Girl” does.
I think we’ll go for sophistication over superheroes.
“The Odd Couple,” Neal Hefti, 1970, from “Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II,” 1986. It’s out of print.