Audio Vault: Alternate Theme to NBC’s Bonanza

I can’t claim to be an expert on Bonanza, although I’ve certainly enjoyed a fair share of episodes over the years, so I don’t know all that much about this “alternate” version of the Bonanza theme song. I have found only one reference to it, in a September 1970 article in The Los Angeles Times:

A new Bonanza theme music will be introduced when the western returns for its 12th season on NBC, Sept. 13. David Rose wrote and arranged the new theme, which is soon to be available in a stereo album.

I apologize for the quality but it was originally recorded back in the early 1970s using a reel-to-reel player, transferred to a cassette tape decades later and then digitized. Perhaps a better version can be found on the stereo album mentioned above.

I doubt this has been seen on television since the end of the 1971-1972 season (Bonanza‘s 13th) when it was replaced by the original theme, according to Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa. The show would run for only half of its 14th season before being canceled.

If anyone out there has additional information on this theme song, please let me know.

“Inside TV.” Los Angeles Times. 3 Sep. 1970: G24.

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66 Replies to “Audio Vault: Alternate Theme to NBC’s Bonanza”

  1. Could this have been the theme to “Ponderosa”-the repackaged syndicated Bonanza reruns while the original was still airing? Either way, I swear I’ve heard that before, but not with Bonanza

      1. You mean that the Dallas TV show with JR Ewing theme sounds like the Bonanza theme, as Bonanza came first. ;)

      2. You’re wife is wrong, it was never used on Dallas.
        After Bonanza, Michael Landon recycled the music for Little House On The Prairie.

  2. I THINK (but I’m not 100% sure) that when they stop using the classic theme and the “burning map” opening in the season before the last, this is what it was changed to. Viewers complained though, so for the last season the classic theme and “burning map” opening were put back.

    1. Why would they change the original dynamic theme song for the slight, forgettable ambience that followed?

    2. it was a great move as the new theme song for a few seasons just didn’t fit the show. The original theme and burning map just always was part of the show and needed to stay that way.

      1. The new theme song was only used during the next to the last season of Bonanza, because of complaints they put the original song back but then the series was cancelled.

  3. The burning map visual never disappeared — they kept it through the use of the title theme discussed here. The theme was used for two seasons (12th and 13th) before being replaced by the original tune for the final season, but there’s no evidence that this was due to viewer response.

    1. I know it has been a year since the last post on this subject, but BINGO, I’m glad I found it. Loved Bonanza and I knew there was another theme music and even though it was maybe bolder sounding, it never matched the original.

      1. The new bonanza song is just bloody awful .
        I watch and love the show but it not bonanza anymore!
        I will not watch it.

  4. I just watch an episode on MeTV, S12, Ep9, 8 Nov. 1970, “The Love Child” and it used that alternate opening theme version. I was quiet surprised as I didn’t know they changed the theme song and this alternate version does not have the appeal or feel as the original.

    1. Dear sir, and everybody else out there who dislikes the alternate version, I absolutely love the alternate version song! Sure it lacks the guitar but those strings and staccato Brass are brilliant David Rose . I love It ! Freey Willy

    2. I was starting to watch “Bonanza”. A boy grabbed a paper from another boy in school and a fight started. Then I felt glad the burning map & song was going to come on… But this horrible song came on and killed the mood! I shut off the TV and guess I will never find out what was on that paper or how the regular stars get involved. How horrid they took away the best part of the show for a couple years!

  5. I’m watching an episode right now on MTV and that’s what prompted me to Google this information about the alternate theme..
    It’s heart warming and a nice melody…

    1. same thoughts!! watch re-runs on MeTV and of course have noticed the theme music was that;s why I ‘googled’ this info…the show was very successful–over 14 seasons!!

  6. I just saw an episode with this changed theme song…. And I’m with you all now too.
    Not “Bonanza-esqe” at all.

    1. Dear Dan , I understand what that original theme meant to us all but the alternate theme is classic David Rose and the Brass intensity is something I enjoy cause I sat first chair trumpet in marching and stage band in the finest highschool band in the country back in ’77. It is very diff to hit those notes and staccato that fast ! I also played guitar and that riff was so simple anyone could play it.

      1. Something that’s more complicated is not usually better, since the impact is strained through understanding. The alternate theme should have been used for a drawing room comedy, not an action-based show.

      2. If you like this theme, just go watch Little House. Banana needs it’s theme back. Please.

  7. IIn response to Troy Turner’s comment in October of 2912…I think, but am not sure that where you may have heard the “new” Bonanza there song was on “little House on the Prairie. At least that’s what I hear in my head whenever I hear the new theme song. Maybe Michael Landon really liked it and wanted to use it for his show. Just a guess.

    1. I actually like “The Big Bonanza”, the titale of this alt. theme. DAvid Rose composed it. I think part of the reason they reverted back to the original theme for season 14 was due to the death of Dan Blocker. Also, I was watching one of the episodes and the background music ( it was during a roundup) was the music that was later used as the theme for Little House, also David Rose.

  8. Just saw a reference to my suspensions regarding this theme being used for Little House on the Prairie… They used it as the closing theme at the end of each show…so I guess I heard it right in my head…it’s been bugging me for weeks.

  9. this theme is used for the “lost” episodes of BONANZA (episodes from 1966-73 that weren’t included when the reruns went into syndication-they’re currently being seen on ME TV)

  10. There was also some versions of the music used in a few episodes, that actually was the exact same theme as Little House. But the alternate theme also sounded very close. It may have been the same composer used on both shows. Not only did they chnage the theme for those years, but they changed the show as well. The story-lines became much more personal interest, and a lot less about the traditional wild west theme. Sappy stories with swelling violins in every scene. The wide sweeping locations were gone, replaced by mainly interior stage or local film ranch shoots. Even the opening credits were boring. No horses or anything. It was not their best period in the show. Viewers obviously didn’t like it either, because they went back to the traditional style after that.


  11. I has always assumed that the copyright on the original theme had expired. On a side note, am I the only one that seems to remember a Chevrolet logo being used as a brand burning through a map as well?



    1. Thank You very much . I agree . The more I hear that theme the more inspired I get! David Rose not only wrote great music but he also married little ” Dorothy” .

  13. I like the old Bonanza theme song,but I also am partial to the alternate theme song. It is probably known to some as Ponderosa. I recognized it as the “Little House On The Prarie” theme song. Does not surprise me as the last years of Bonanza were mostly written by Michael Landon as were Li5tow House on The Prarie.I might be a little biased as I am related to Laura Ingalls Wilder via the Wilder side.

  14. Old thread but you should all watch season 2 (Amazon Prime has it now). It has yet another theme song

  15. This theme just played tonight on INSP. Season 12 episode 1. I also remember it played during after school reruns during the 1970’s but I can’t remember what year. I had originally thought that it was the original theme song because shortly after hearing this theme song for several episodes, the episode portraying silver finally being discovered in the region (I distinctly remember the miner who discovered it was actually looking for old but kept complaining all he could find was “this danged blue stuff!”

    The next distinct memory I have of that is that the very next episode that played the following day featured the theme song we are all so very familliar with. At the time, I did recalled only seeing “Ponderosa” on the burning map at the winning of the show, so I thought that was the name of the show. When the show following the discovery of silver in Virginia City aired with the more famous theme song, I thought the show had been renamed due to the silver strike being featured, along with a new theme song (which I now know was actually the orginal theme song).

    It’s fascinating to me how reruns and rewriting of history can actually mess up our perceptions and memory of actual history!

    1. Please excuse the numerous typos above. Stupid spell correctors get it wrong all the time. I hope you can all interpret it properly.

      1. By the way, this is worth mentioning for context. I was born in 1960 and we didn’t have a television in our house until this show was already in reruns. As if to add insult to injury, and a crap ton of irony, our TV’s, when we finally got one, were all black and white!

        For those of you who are too young to know why that’s ironic: Bonanza was the first TV show to air in living color. I never saw it in color until the 1980’s!!! When I bought my own first 19 inch color Phillips Magnavox! And I’ve never bought any other brand since!

  16. Some episodes of Bonanza have been screened recently here in the UK. They were random and not in any series order.
    I was surprised to hear the alternative theme during the opening credits of some of the productions.
    The original theme is iconic, but the alternative does have some merit.

  17. I know the alternate theme was used at the time Mitch Vogel joined the cast in 1971 as Jamie Cartwright. He was 15 then. Now he’s 62.

  18. Listening to the new theme episodes now on Australian cable tv. The new theme was dreadful and just sounds like any generic tv theme. Whoever changed the original was hopefully unemployed soon after.

    1. I have been watching the reruns on Ride TV and don’t like the theme music. It is still not clear why the theme changed. I assume it has something to do with the original rights. Does anyone have the answer?

  19. I remember my father telling me at the time, in 1970, that he read in the paper that the original Livingston/Evans theme was being ditched because they asked for more money. This would likely have been in the L.A. Times.

    The title theme used in the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons was known as “The Big Bonanza”, and was composed by David Rose, who did most of the music for the show throughout the series. The Evans/Livingston theme returned, in a third arrangement, for the final 1972-73 season.

    I believe the theme which later became the title theme to Little House on the Prairie was first heard on Bonanza in “Top Hand”, the 17th episode of the twelfth season. This episode featured Ben Johnson, who later starred as Bronc Evans in two of the post-series TV movies.

    I remember the “Ponderosa” re-titled reruns from the early 1970s, while the show was still in first-run on NBC. They were shown on KTLA here in Los Angeles, and the original title theme was used. However, the later seasons were not in syndication, at that time. I know that Bonanza was unofficially released on home video without the original title theme music, and may have appeared in syndicated reruns that way.

    There were three main versions of the original theme. The first was used in the first nine seasons, between 1959 and 1968. That’s the electric guitar version. The second version was used in the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons, and featured horns and reverb. This is, far and away, my favorite. As mentioned previously, after the 1970-72 break, there was a third version used for the foreshortened last season.

  20. Just watched 1972’s ” Lonely Love ” (a Hopsing story) on Me-tv that’s what brought me here. The theme music once again sounds like I’m watching a bad pirated version from the Hopsing market. No offense intended..the music just seems so out of place, I can see why the fans were in a hissy fit! Thanks for clearing up that history Roy!

  21. Watching Bonanza season 12 on MeTV, Just noticed, after all these years, the theme song was changed. Whatever the rationale was, at the time, it was a huge mistake. How do you take away one of the most iconic pieces of TV music and think it would fly with their adoring viewers?

    1. Bravo Lisa !! I couldn’t put it any better myself !! That change from the old classic theme to that ersatz Hallmarkesque channel mush was a really bad “new Coke” idea if I ever heard one.

  22. The reason that “Bonanza” never got a legitimate D.V.D. release (aside one disc of a collection of various episodes from Republic Home Video and inferior public domain releases with new music in place of the main title song) was the music rights, which except for the main title song composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, are owned out right by the estate of David Rose (though Walter Scharf and Harry Sukman scored some episodes as well). Rose composed the theme that was heard in the 13th season as well.

  23. been a fan since day one bonanza and followed to little house. highway to heaven has the same music but slower. little joe just couldnt get it out of his mind lol i enjoy listening to it each day on hallmark,up tv and cozi. hope everyone having a good day.

  24. Recently purchased a DVD set of “Bonanza, the lost episodes”. The theme played is neither the original nor the season 12 & 13 version. It is a TERRIBLE piece and is not much more than low grumbling tones. I figure they couldn’t get copyright permission on the other two. So bad I have to use mute during the intro.

  25. According to Bonanza producer/creator, David Dortort, it was the cast (Greene Blocker Landon) who complained & did not like the new theme at all, so the original tune was brought back with dispatch. (Source: David Dortort interviews, Television Academy Foundation)

  26. I’m guess I’m one of the few who really liked the alternate version of the theme which started being used in season 12. As others have mentioned, the theme that would become the Little House on the Prairie theme was played numerous times as background music to the season 12 episode called, “Top Hand”. That particular episode by the way is my all-time favorite Bonanza episode. More like a sprawling Western movie than a typical Bonanza episode. Beautifully directed!
    Highly recommended viewing!!

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