Adventures in TV Audio: Theme Songs

Television is a visual medium. It’s got the word “vision” right there in the name. Television without video is basically radio. Try listening to an episode of your favorite TV show without watching the action on the screen and there’s a good chance you’ll be confused. Nevertheless, audio plays an important role in preserving television history. Over next three weeks I’ll be examining some of the TV audio in my collection.

A 50-Year-Old Recording

Today’s installment of Adventures in TV Audio is all about TV theme songs. I love theme songs. A lot of people do. Many theme songs are catchy. Many are instantly identifiable–even iconic. Some you can’t get out of your head. Others you never want to hear again.

One of my relatives loved television growing up and loved TV theme songs as well. He was a kid in the mid-1960s and enjoyed watching Batman, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, and plenty of other well-known TV shows from that era. For reasons he can no longer remember, he decided to start recording TV theme songs in 1967 or 1968 using a reel-to-reel player. He held a microphone up to the speaker instead of connecting directly to the back of the TV set, so the audio quality isn’t great. Not that I’m complaining.

My relative recorded audio on four tracks (two on each side of the tape) in order to maximize the amount of material he could fit on the tape. When the reel-to-reel tape was first transferred to cassette tape in the mid-1990s, only two of the four tracks ended up on the cassette. It was only years later that I discovered the other two tracks and more than 30 additional theme songs.

Picture of a reel-to-reel tape and box.

One of my relatives used this reel-to-reel tape to record TV theme songs in the late 1960s.
Copyright © 2017 Television Obscurities

As you can see from the picture of the box, the earliest theme songs were supposedly recorded in 1967. However, this could be a mistake, something written long after the recordings were made. Initially, my relative announced which theme songs as they were recorded and provided the date. According to the voice on the tape, the “first taping” took place in January 1968. The first theme song is from The Lucy Show. The sitcom was wrapping up its sixth and final season at the time.

If any theme songs were in fact recorded in 1967, they were later recorded over. The last theme songs on the tape date from 1972.

A Few Examples

Last year, I digitized all four tracks as best I could using an old reel-to-reel player. Here’s a January 1968 recording of The 21st Century theme song:

Here’s a March 1968 recording of the Star Trek theme song:

Here’s a 1969 recording of the theme song to The Debbie Reynolds Show:

And here’s a 1972 recording of the M*A*S*H theme song:

As I said, the audio quality isn’t great. Perhaps someone with more experience and better equipment could do a better job. On the other hand, the tape itself is now 50 years old. Plus, remember the recordings were made with a microphone. They’re never going to sound pristine.

Because the themes were recording using a microphone, occasionally a cough or a voice can be heard in the background.

Over 100 Theme Songs

In total, there are 101 theme songs on the tape. Here’s a complete list:

  • The Lucy Show
  • The Jackie Gleason Show
  • Get Smart
  • Hogan’s Heroes
  • Petticoat Junction
  • The 21st Century
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
  • The FBI
  • The Mothers-in-Law
  • The Smothers Brothers
  • Mission: Impossible
  • The Monkees
  • Andy Griffith
  • Family Affair
  • Carol Burnett Show
  • I Dream of Jeannie
  • Jerry Lewis Show [closing theme]
  • The Invaders
  • Lost in Space
  • The Beverly Hillbillies
  • Green Acres
  • He & She
  • The Jonathan Winters Show
  • Batman
  • The Flying Nun
  • Bewitched
  • That Girl
  • Dragnet 1968
  • The Wild Wild West
  • Star Trek
  • The Hollywood Squares
  • The ABC Sunday Night Movie [?]
  • Bat Masterson
  • Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color
  • Bonanza
  • McHale’s Navy
  • Rat Patrol
  • NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies
  • The Avengers
  • The CBS Thursday Night Movies
  • Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.
  • Good Morning, World
  • Here’s Lucy
  • Adam-12
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
  • Mannix
  • Land of the Giants
  • F Troop
  • Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In
  • I Love Lucy
  • The Munsters
  • Here Come the Brides
  • Hawaii Five-O
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • The Name of the Game
  • The Tonight Show
  • Mayberry RFD
  • Perry Mason
  • Julia
  • Gidget
  • The Good Guys
  • Hazel
  • Judd for the Defense
  • My Three Sons
  • The Doris Day Show
  • The Queen and I
  • Daniel Boone
  • Death Valley Days
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • My World And Welcome To It
  • The New People
  • Gilligan’s Island
  • The Debbie Reynolds Show
  • The Good Guys
  • Mannix
  • Lassie
  • The Bill Cosby Show
  • The New People
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • McCloud
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • The Addams Family
  • The Men From Shiloh
  • The High Chaparral
  • The Headmaster
  • Bonanza
  • Alias Smith & Jones
  • Make Room For Granddaddy
  • The Odd Couple
  • The DA
  • All In The Family
  • The Good Life
  • The New Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Bearcats
  • The Night Gallery
  • The Jimmy Stewart Show
  • Cannon
  • Anna & The King
  • M*A*S*H
  • 12 O’Clock High [Formerly Unidentified Theme Song]
  • Maude

The bulk of the theme songs are from TV shows that were in their original network runs. A handful of theme songs from TV shows in off-network syndication were recorded as well: I Love Lucy and The Munsters in 1968, Gilligan’s Island and The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1969, and The Addams Family in 1970.

Rare Theme Songs

I remember listening to the cassette tape with some of these theme songs on it when I was a kid. Among my favorites were The Good Life, The Men from Shiloh, and The Headmaster. I doubt many kids my age enjoyed listening to old TV theme songs. Clearly, this reel-to-reel tape played a role in fueling my passion for rare and forgotten television.

I made MP3s of some of these theme songs in the late 1990s. When I launched Television Obscurities in 2003, a handful of themes from the reel-to-reel tape were featured. The themes in my articles about The New People and The Headmaster as well as my Spotlight on San Francisco International Airport are from the reel-to-reel tape.

(I previously used theme songs from the reel-to-reel tape in my articles about The Good Life and The Good Guys but others have provided higher quality versions.)

For several years, the fact that two different theme songs from The New People are on the reel-to-reel tape confused me. I eventually determined one is in fact the closing theme song.

I should point out that none of the material on the reel-to-reel tape is unique. None of these shows are lost. Some of the theme songs could be considered rare, in my opinion. Rare in this case meaning not available on YouTube, which has unfortunately become a measure of for rarity. I believe Television Obscurities is the only place on the Internet where you can listen to the opening theme song from The New People, for example. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has copies of all 17 episodes and the original film elements are (hopefully) safely stored somewhere.

Unidentified Theme Songs

If you read over the list of theme songs closely, you may have noticed that I marked two of the themes as unidentified. My relative announced the name of about a third to a half of the TV show theme songs he recorded. After that, it’s just theme after theme after theme. With one or possibly two exceptions, I’ve identified all of them. It helped that the he recorded the themes chronologically.

The first unidentified theme song may not actually be unidentified. It’s supposed to be the theme to The ABC Sunday Night Movie but the announcer is cut off during the word “Sunday” and I think a portion of an entirely different theme song starts playing.

Listen for yourself:

Here’s what I think happened. Either recording of The ABC Sunday Night Movie that was interrupted or, as I said, it’s a few seconds of The ABC Sunday Night Movie theme followed by another theme song. If it is another theme song, I can’t identify it even though it sounds familiar. Does anyone recognize it?

The other unidentified theme song is the second-to-last theme on the tape. That means it was recorded in 1972. It’s on the tape between the theme song from M*A*S*H and the theme song from Maude.

Here it is:

I’ve listened to this countless times trying to identify it. It also sounds very familiar. I’m sure someone is going to hear and instantly know what it is and then I’ll feel pretty dumb for not figuring it out.

[February 2nd, 2017 Update: In the comments, Michael and JE identified this as the closing theme song from 12 O’Clock High. That series ran on ABC from 1964 to 1967, so in 1972 it would’ve been in syndication.]


Be sure to check back next week for another installment of Adventures in TV Audio. I’ll discuss a collection of reel-to-reel audio tapes from the production of The New People (ABC, 1969-1970).


16 Comments

  • Michael Spadoni says:

    The unidentified theme song recorded in 1972 sounds like “12 O’Clock High” to me. I suspect it was an off-network repeat that was recorded, but the theme is indeed “12 O’clock High.”

  • JE says:

    Yes it is the theme from 12 O Clock High that play’s as the credits are scrolling at the end of the show. I love 12 O Clock High. I know it’s the end of the show because the actors names are voiced in along with the name of the episode at the beginning.

  • normadesmond says:

    I’ve only wanted to hear NBC Saturday Night at the Movies theme for ever as well as the station break timpani roll.

  • Lurky McLurkson says:

    Being a hardcore Euro-western fan, ‘The Men From Shiloh’ theme has always intriqued me. It’s unknown if Morricone wrote it specifically for the show, or just used a rejected film theme. Would also, of course, love to hear the full version, but it has yet to surface.

  • Karen Martin says:

    Lucky McLurkson, go to You Tube and search from “Men From Shiloh theme.” Chuck Cirino has posted a 2:37 long audio called “The Men From Shiloh Theme from the TV Series by Ennio Morricone.” Most of the longer themes on You Tube seem to endlessly repeat what was heard on TV but this one is different. Perhaps it is what you are interested in.

    • Lurky McLurkson says:

      Karen:
      Thanks for the tip. Cirino’s version is recent recording, but it’s faithful to Morricone/Nicolai’s arrangements. I imagine the original was done in Rome, sent over, then edited (I’m sure those whip cracks were added Stateside) without saving the original material.

      • Karen Martin says:

        Sorry I spelled your name wrong. I was careful to not let Spell Check rearrange the letters of the composer’s name, but didn’t notice it “helped out” by changing your first name to Lucky.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Karen.

      You are quite correct the longer ones on you tube are very repetitive.
      I should know I did them.

      In my own defence there is only 90 secs of both the intro and the outro available unfortunately.

      But I’m with you ..would love… LOVE to hear the original recording longer than 38 secs!

  • Robert says:

    Michael and JE, thanks for identifying the 1972 theme song as the closing theme to 12 O’Clock High. I suppose I shouldn’t feel dumb for not figuring it out because I was convinced the theme was from 1972 and never considered earlier shows.

  • Mike Doran says:

    This is a little tricky, so follow:

    In one of its late-’60s or early-’70s seasons, The ABC Sunday Night Movie tried for a “mod” look in its opening title sequence.
    After a short promo for the night’s featur..e, announced by ABC’s promo man of that time (his name,if I remember correctly, was Joel Crager), there followed a quick-cut sequence of stylized still shots of movie stars, accompanied by that “plunkety-plunk” track, slowly giving way to a “light-bulb” animation which eventually spelled out The ABC Sunday Night Movie as the fanfare came up at the end.
    Lousy description, I know, but if you were to see it, you’d know what I was talking about.

    Hope this helps.

    • Sam Sanders says:

      If you get Real Player you can play a kinescope version of the night this was called the “The ABC Sunday Night Special” with “Guys and Dolls.” The theme was written by Winston Sharples, who scored most Popeye cartoons in the 50s and 60s. The segment began with an edited cinema preview promo of the movie of that night, then the rapid-fire pictures of different features of Hollywood stars—the eyes of Audrey Hepburn, the lips of Marilyn Monroe, the face of John Wayne, until a montage of Hollywood faces quickly morphed into a collage of colored circies that formed the words “The ABC Sunday Night Movie.” The word “Sunday” would be flashed close up and out several times before the first commercial.

  • James Shell says:

    This brings back memories… I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was a kid that I got as a Christmas present, and I remember recording audio off the TV. I recall recording The Smothers Brothers, The Green Hornet, Andy Griffith, Candid Camera. A few years later I got a cassette recorder and recorded TV and radio audio on it. I recall recording a lot of baseball games in the early seventies. Wish I still had the tapes.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    “THE 21st CENTURY’ is sponsored by UNION CARBIDE…..’The Discovery Company’.”

  • Patrick McNamara says:

    I was big into collecting theme songs when I was younger around the 70s. I started by taping on cassette using a mic but quickly moved to plugging into the TV’s headphone jack and running it into the recorder’s mic. The audio was mono but it was as clean as possible. I later transferred these to digital.

    When the TVT records came out I bought all of them. The first four on vinyl and the rest on DVD. The collection covers most of the major theme songs.

    Most of the music I recorded from TV was on the records. There’s a few things I’m not sure of but nothing of significance.

    I don’t really bother much with anything now mainly since they dropped the theme music from TV shows. I think the last one was Westworld. And it’s easy enough to find the themes for TV shows as well as full title sequences. And if the show is big enough there’s an album available.

    Before TVT started producing TV theme records nobody put any value in theme songs. Now they’ve become commercial properties and if a show does use a theme it’s often a popular song. There’s almost no new theme songs being produced now.

  • Stuart Cook says:

    Here is what is on the ABC Sunday Night Movie piece: It sounds like a few seconds of the second theme, then the older them with the rhythm followed by a short fanfare follows. That was the theme used beginning in 1964. It is possible the owner began recording over it and caught themselves a few seconds in.

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