Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rant #1,123: TV Themes

I often "Rant and Rave" about the quality of today's television fare, especially compared to what we had in past decades.

It stinks, period. I won't change my mind on that point.

And while some people could argue with me on that point, one thing that I will never, ever get an argument about is on TV theme songs.

Either they are non-existent today, or are so in the background that they barely exist.

Being a baby boomer, being born in the late 1950s and growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I was in the real prime time for TV theme songs.

There were just so many memorable ones--from "Peter Gunn" to "Gilligan's Island" to "The Monkees" to "The Mod Squad." Each one of them had something to them that you just had to listen to them, and you pretty much knew what was coming.

The late Sherwood Schwartz, the creator/producer of "Gilligan" and "The Brady Bunch," said that he basically sold his shows based on the theme songs that he wrote for them. And he said his greatest TV theme song was for the show in between those two memorable shows, one that did not catch on, "It's About Time," about astronauts breaking the time barrier and meeting up with cavemen.

Anyway, I want to profile today a lesser know theme song, but a tune that was hugely popular in its time.

"The Theme From Ben Casey," was by Valjean, a single-named pianist in the shadow of Liberace. Actually, his full name was Valjean Johns, and he was born in Oklahoma. That is the only thing I know about him.

In 1962, medical dramas were all the rage, and "Ben Casey" was one of the most popular of the genre. Starring Vince Edwards, the show was gritty, timely and paved the way for later medical shows, including "Medical Center" and "St. Elsewhere."

So in 1962, at the height of the show's popularity, little Carlton Records released the single version of the theme song, an instrumental which reached #28 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Released in a plain picture sleeve that simply highlighted the name of the song, the single actually featured a bonus--the "B" side featured Valjean's take on the "Dr. Kildare" theme song.

So you had two competing television medical shows' themes on a single record! Pretty ingenious, I must say.

The "Dr. Kildare" theme did not chart, but it, also, pretty much wraps itself around the show, another sort of true to life melodrama that was quite popular at the time, and which starred Richard Chamberlain.

Valjean had one more Hot 100 placement, "Till There Was You," which barely got into the chart, reaching #100 the same year.

That was it for Valjean as a hit recording artist, and I have no further information on this performer.

Getting back to TV theme songs in general, the last major, new theme song that I liked was the theme to "The Nanny," which also set the pace for the show.

And I see that the new version of "Hawaii Five-O" retains the classic theme song by the Ventures. I guess you can't have that show without that theme song!

The days of TV theme songs may be just about dead, but at least the past period was a fertile ground for these tunes.

Me, I love just about every one of them, because they set the tone for the show that follows them.

Heck, if I could whistle, I would do my own version of "The Andy Griffith Show" theme.

Maybe it's better off that I can't whistle ...

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