Stars Will Shine Tonight

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Vince Edwards as TV doctor Ben Casey, from a 1964 episode with guest star Anne Francis.)

Here’s the second part of an unstructured ramble through the archives to find more TV themes that became radio hits. To read the earlier part, click here

—A couple of TV themes are so iconic that it seems as if they must have been big chart hits, but they weren’t, really. Gary Portnoy’s recording of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Theme From Cheers)” has 19 listings at ARSA, all but six from WNBC in New York City, where the song peaked at #10 during the summer of 1983, after it had run to #83 on the pop chart in the spring, at the end of Cheers‘ first year on the air. Steve Carlisle’s recording of “WKRP in Cincinnati” has a single listing at ARSA, from WIEL in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, at the end of 1981, at about the same time it went to #65 on the Hot 100. (Both Portnoy and Carlisle scraped onto the AC chart at #28 and #29 respectively.) Portnoy and songwriting partner Judy Hart Angelo also wrote the Mr. Belvidere theme; Carlisle was a native of Akron, Ohio, but is pretty obscure otherwise.

—The medical shows Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare are linked in history, premiering five days apart in the fall of 1961. The Ben Casey theme, by pianist Valjean Johns, ran to #28 on the Hot 100 in the summer of 1962. Valjean also recorded the Dr. Kildare theme, but it was Kildare himself, Richard Chamberlain, who hit with it, taking Three Stars Will Shine Tonight,” co-written by Jerry Goldsmith and backed by David Rose’s orchestra, to #10 on the Hot 100, also in the summer of ’62.

—One of the earliest TV themes to become a significant hit was also from a doctor show, Medic, starring Richard Boone, which ran on NBC from 1954 to 1956. Its theme song was written by Victor Young, who wrote such famous songs as “When I Fall in Love,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “Stella by Starlight,” as well as literally dozens of film scores, which gained him 22 Oscar nominations. In 1955, a few months after Medic premiered, Young’s frequent collaborator Edward Heyman wrote lyrics for its theme, and the retitled “Blue Star” was recorded by Felicia Sanders. Sanders had sung on Percy Faith’s “Song From Moulin Rouge,” which did 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Best Sellers chart in 1953. Her “Blue Star” went to #29.

—The Ventures cut a version of “Blue Star” in 1966, but their TV theme claim-to-fame is “Hawaii Five-O” in 1969. They got some airplay with a version of the Green Hornet theme (mentioned in my earlier post) in 1966, and the theme to the short-lived legal drama Storefront Lawyers (later retitled Men at Law), which ran in 1970 and 1971. In 1974, they hit the adult-contemporary chart with “Main Theme From The Young and the Restless” two years before the more famous recording of the same song by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. known as “Nadia’s Theme.” In 1977, they recorded a single with the theme from Starsky and Hutch on one side and Charlie’s Angels on the other.

—Following up his #1 hit single “Calcutta,” Lawrence Welk took a version of the My Three Sons theme to #55 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1961. Nashville bandleader Bob Moore, best known for the instrumental “Mexico” that same year, also charted in a few places with his version. It was a Top-10 hit at WRIT in Milwaukee and Top 20 at WLS in Chicago. (The greatest version of the My Three Sons theme, however, remains this one.)

—I’ll bring this discussion of TV themes to a close with Merv Griffin, who was a big-band singer before he became a talk-show host and TV mogul, and who once wrote a lullaby for his son. When Jeopardy! went on the air in 1964, Griffin repurposed that lullaby into the program’s theme music. (It’s apparently closest to its original form when it’s used as the “think” music during Final Jeopardy.) In 1970, he released it as a single titled “A Time for Tony,” on an album called Appearing Nightly. It didn’t get much airplay anywhere, but I am guessing Merv didn’t care. That single piece of music is estimated to have earned him something like $80 million over the years.

This series of posts on TV themes was based on a reader request. If you have a request, send it in. 

From Somewhere to Somewhere Else

We all talk about 70s music and 80s music, but those numbers are arbitrary, and nothing shows it better than the Radio and Records National Airplay 30 from this week in 1981 (nicked from the great Radio Rewinder Twitter feed; click the chart to embiggen it). That’s a 70s chart. Whatever makes the musical 80s into The Eighties, capital-T, capital E—apart from the numeral 8—is almost entirely absent. Steve Winwood, Smokey Robinson, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, and the Who all came up in the 60s. Seventies icons include James Taylor, Steely Dan, and Styx. There’s a great deal of music that fits into that little post-disco/pre-MTV adult-contemporary pocket I’ve discussed here before: “Morning Train,” “Angel of the Morning,” “Living Inside Myself,” “I Love You,” “Somebody’s Knockin’,” “Say You’ll Be Mine,” and “What Are We Doing in Love. ” The 80s icons present—Hall and Oates, John Cougar Mellencamp, the Police, and Phil Collins—do hint at the future to come. In that moment, certain artists had an idea of where music needed to go but hadn’t yet figured the best route to get there. It took a second British Invasion and the birth of MTV to show it to everybody. And a lot of those 60s and 70s icons would never matter in the same way after that.

And that’s 1981 pretty much in a nutshell—a year in-between, on the way from somewhere to somewhere else.

Continue reading “From Somewhere to Somewhere Else”

Blues of Different Hues

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: the original cast of Hill Street Blues.)

A while back reader Wesley suggested I rank some of the most successful TV themes on the pop charts. But there are lot of rankings like that to be found on the Internet, and many of them are more interesting than anything I might write. Those lists contain lots of familiar suspects: themes from Hawaii Five-O, SWAT, Welcome Back Kotter, Happy Days, Friends, Greatest American Hero, Miami Vice, Laverne and Shirley, and so on. (One especially comprehensive list is here, with not just pop-chart hits but other iconic themes.) So I decided to cruise through the database at ARSA and find some other TV themes that strike me interesting.

—Henry Mancini wrote famous TV themes from Peter Gunn (although his recording didn’t chart) and Mr. Lucky in the 50s to Newhart in the 80s. In the 70s, he released singles featuring themes from Charlie’s Angels and the Glenn Ford western series Cade’s County, as well as “Bumper’s Theme” from The Blue Knight, a cop show starring George Kennedy. He also wrote and recorded the theme for the NBC Mystery Movie. If you watched Columbo, McMillan and Wife, or any of the other detective shows under that umbrella title, that music is likely to take you back to your parents’ living room on a Sunday night. Or maybe that’s just me.

—Mike Post turned three TV themes into hit singles: “The Rockford Files” (#10 in 1975), “Theme From Hill Street Blues” (#10 in 1981), and “Theme From Magnum P.I.” (#25 in 1982). He co-wrote “Theme From the Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not),” which went to #2 for Joey Scarbury in 1981. “Theme From L.A. Law” ran to #13 on the adult-contemporary chart in 1987 without making the Hot 100. (The latter is best heard in its TV configuration; the record that got played on the radio loses something in translation. I think it’s the slamming of the car trunk. Seriously.) Lalo Schifrin is best known for “Mission Impossible” in 1967, but his “Theme From Medical Center” got a tiny bit of airplay in 1971. Dave Grusin scored a number of TV shows and movies, but his only TV theme to became a radio hit was “Theme From St. Elsewhere,” which went to #15 on the AC chart in 1984.

—Two versions of the Batman theme were big hits in the spring of 1966: the Marketts went to #17 nationally (and #1 at WNDR in Syracuse, New York), and bandleader Neal Hefti, who wrote the theme, took it to #35. The producers of Batman put a spinoff on the air that fall, The Green Hornet (which famously starred Bruce Lee as Kato). Versions of its theme by Al Hirt, the Ventures, and B. Bumble and the Stingers all got a bit of airplay, but none made the Hot 100.

Some of the themes mentioned at ARSA are a bit unusual:

—In 1960, bandleader Al Nevins released “Blues for G String.” In 1962, RCA reissued it as “Night Theme,” after it became a “TV late movie theme song,” as Billboard put it in a capsule review that February. I have seen at least one source that says it was the theme for NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies, and I’m inclined to think that may be true. Saturday Night at the Movies premiered in the fall of 1961. It was the first network series to show relatively recent theatrical movies in color, and it became a big ratings hit.

—In 1966, there came an album called Bob Crane, His Drums, and His Orchestra Play the Funny Side of TV: Themes From Television’s Great Comedy Shows. The album features Crane’s Hogan’s Heroes co-stars Werner Klemperer and John Banner on the cover, and includes not just the Hogan’s Heroes theme (which was released as a single backed by the F Troop theme),  but themes from Get Smart, My Three Sons, The Green Hornet, Candid Camera, and others. None of it charted, but you can probably understand why Epic Records took a chance on it.

“Lou’s Blues (Theme from Lou Grant)” by Patrick Williams charted for two weeks at WBLK in Buffalo at the end of 1982.

“Score,” the original theme for ABC’s Monday Night Football, written by Charles Fox, was released as a single in 1972, but it doesn’t seem to have charted anywhere.

I have more TV themes on my list, so stay tuned for a future installment along this line.

We Are the Champions

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Queen, 1977.)

Over at Kent Kotal’s Forgotten Hits, he’s just announced the results of a poll that determined the 3,333 most essential classic-rock songs of all time. The list started with reader nominations and votes at Classic Rock Essentials, then factored in classic-rock radio airplay and download statistics to yield what Kent says is not the opinion of radio or rock critics about which songs are most beloved, but that of listeners around the world.

The depth and breadth of the list is remarkable, from Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley in the 50s to new-millennium songs by Coldplay, Green Day, and others. All the classic-rock warhorses are present, and a fabulous array of deep cuts, including a handful even I have never heard of. The list includes a fair amount of R&B, which album-rock radio would have played in the 70s but classic-rock radio doesn’t play today. There’s also a lot of pop music, especially from the 80s and 90s, that you might hear on some classic-hits stations, as distinct from straight-up classic-rock radio. There are a few acts I wouldn’t consider either classic-rock or classic-hits radio acts, but with 3,333 songs on the list, the net is cast wide by definition, and there’s little point in quibbling about it.

Given today’s deeply conservative radio programming philosophy—attract a well-defined sliver of an ever-more-fragmented audience and then do nothing that remotely risks driving away a single listener—no terrestrial station would play all of them. As Kent remarks, classic-rock stations seem to play only about 300 of the listed songs. But if an Internet operator were looking to start up a station, he or she could do far worse than to base their list on Kent’s list.

The complete list is far too daunting for me to attempt a deep dive. But since we recently had a lively discussion here and on Facebook regarding the top four classic-rock warhorses, we can discuss how Kent’s list treated some of those songs.

My opinion is that “Stairway to Heaven,” “Free Bird,” and “Layla” constitute the classic-rock top three, and the consensus of our recent discussion of what should be #4 settled on “Hotel California.” Kent’s top four turned out to be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Hotel California,” “Layla,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” He says that the final top two changed positions more than 50 times over the course of the voting. “Layla” was #1 after the first day of voting, but never at any other point. “Stairway to Heaven” wound up at #6 and “Free Bird” was at #18.

“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones was #5 on Kent’s list, which seems entirely too high to me. Four other Stones songs placed among the top 13: “Satisfaction” (#7), “Start Me Up” (#10), “Honky Tonk Women” (#12), and “Brown Sugar” (#13), any one of which seems a more likely candidate for top Stones tune. Others in the top 13 not heretofore mentioned are “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (#8), “Dream On” (#9), and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (at #11, which again seems entirely too high to me).

My earlier post mentioned some plausible candidates for the fourth spot behind my personal big three. Here’s how they ranked on Kent’s list:

“Light My Fire” #16
“Born to Run” #17
“More Than a Feeling” #20
“Don’t Stop Believing” #31
“Hey Jude” #37
“A Day in the Life” #44
“Pour Some Sugar on Me” #81
“Come Sail Away” #99
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” #110
“Smoke on the Water” #143
“Rhiannon” #182
“Nights in White Satin” #204
“Money” #207
“White Room” #232
“Aqualung” #318
“Roundabout” #387 
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” #1139

In most cases, each of these songs represented each performer’s highest-ranking hit. Exceptions are Fleetwood Mac, with “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” and “Landslide” ranking higher; Cream, with “Sunshine of Your Love”; and Yes, with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” (Higher than “Roundabout”? Sorry, that’s just wrong.)

The highest-ranking Beatles songs were two nobody mentioned in our earlier discussion: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at #14 and “Here Comes the Sun” at #19. A song I considered at #4 for a while before leaving it out of the post entirely, “Rocky Mountain Way,” came in at #156.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery within Kent’s list any more than I already have. You will certainly want to poke around in it for yourself. If you notice anything that interests you, let me know. And let Kent know, too. I am guessing the list will provoke some discussion.

Legal Fine Print: Research and final tabulations conducted by Kent Kotal/Forgotten Hits/Classic Rock Essentials, © 2020, Forgotten Hits Publishing.

Late-but-Timely Addendum: Bill Withers has four songs on the list: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Use Me,” and “Lovely Day.” Sounds about right.

The Way Up

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Stevie Nicks in ’86.)

During the week of February 22, 1986, the Philippines’ People Power Revolution forced President Ferdinand Marcos from office in favor of Corazon Aquino. Also that week, future professional basketball player Rajan Rondo was born and hockey star Jacques Plante died. At the end of the week, Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was assassinated, a murder that remains unsolved today. Return with us now to that week to see what was happening below the Top 40 featured in a recent American Top 40 post.

43. “Goodbye Is Forever”/Arcadia. How many different Duran Duran spinoffs were there, anyway? And does anybody remember any of them now?

44. “No Easy Way Out”/Robert Tepper. The original cue sheet for the 2/22/86 AT40 show includes the text of promos Casey voiced to run the week before it aired. Two of the four promos mention potential new songs on the chart, name-checking Tepper and “No Easy Way Out,” a weird choice given that nobody outside of his family would have had the slightest idea who Robert Tepper was at that moment. “No Easy Way Out” was from the Rocky IV soundtrack, which had two singles on the chart already, “Burning Heart” by Survivor (at #9 in this week) and “Living in America” by James Brown (at #5). (The “No Easy Way Out” video wasn’t intended to be funny in 1986, but it’s hilarious now.)

51. “The Super Bowl Shuffle”/Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew. This is down from its chart peak of #41 the week before. There are only 11 listings for the song at ARSA, all but one from Chicago. WLS had the song at #1 for the week before the Super Bowl in January; their FM sister, Z95, listed it at #1 for four weeks in January and February and two more weeks in the Top 10 after that. My station’s programming syndicator never added it, but I seem to recall that we got a promo copy somehow—or maybe I went to the record store and bought it. We were in Illinois and a plurality of the students at the local state university were from the Chicago area, so we had to play it.

52. “Kiss”/Prince and the Revolution
60. “I Can’t Wait”/Stevie Nicks
These are the two highest debuts of the week. “Kiss” would hit #1. “I Can’t Wait” would eventually top out at #16, and its shiny 80s production makes it sound as dated as ragtime.

56. “Live Is Life”/Opus. “Live Is Life” is a triumph for catchy-but-brain-dead simplicity.

57. “Addicted to Love”/Robert Palmer
79. “Your Love”/The Outfield
80. “Something About You”/Level 42
95. “What Have You Done for Me Lately”/Janet Jackson
Some big, iconic hits, on the way up.

61. “Somewhere”/Barbra Streisand. On the 2/22/86 AT40, Casey took note of a new entry in the Book of Records. With The Broadway Album, Barbra had set a new record for longest time between #1 albums—22 years—breaking a mark Frank Sinatra had held since 1966.

67. “Caravan of Love”/Isley Jasper Isley
71. “Secret”/OMD
There’s a whole list of records that got on my station for only a few weeks but never entirely left my head. OMD released two of them in 1986: “Secret” and “Forever (Live and Die).” “Caravan of Love,” meanwhile, is completely in the pocket for 1986 but a nice throwback to the glory days of soul music at the same time.

75. “The Power of Love”/Jennifer Rush. A number of people have opened up the firehose on this song, including Celine Dion (who took it to #1 in 1994), Air Supply, and Laura Branigan. But this is the original, which was #1 in the UK and many other countries around the world in 1985. It would get to #57 on the Hot 100.

77. “Lying”/Peter Frampton. “Lying” was Frampton’s first Hot 100 hit since “I Can’t Stand It No More” in 1979, and would be his last one to date, although he would make what Billboard now calls its Mainstream Rock chart as late as 1994.

Thanks to social media, I have recently reconnected with my partner on the morning radio show I was doing in 1986. After I left the station at the end of the year, Mitch continued his career as a news reporter for a few years, but he eventually got out of radio and is now a teacher, author, and coach in his home state of Michigan. We were thrown into a partnership by circumstance, but we were both willing to make it work, and by the summer of 1986, we would develop some chemistry, which we did on our own, because we got no coaching or critique from anybody.

I don’t have any tapes of our show, which is almost certainly a good thing.

Fragments of a Bygone Afternoon

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Lionel Richie in the early 90s.)

I cleaned off the desk in my home office the other day. It wasn’t exactly the Augean Stables, but I found a lot of buried stuff. One was a handwritten list of songs on a few sheets of legal pad headed “Top 10 AC/not on Hot 100.” If I’m recalling correctly, it’s the product of an afternoon killed shortly after I got a copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Adult Contemporary 1961-1993. What follows is not the whole list, but some notable entries.

I wrote a few years ago that I could find only one song that went all the way to #1 on Billboard‘s AC chart without hitting the Hot 100: “Cold,” by crooner John Gary, which spent two weeks at #1 starting on December 23, 1967. Three other songs from 1967 went to #2 without cracking the big chart: “Step to the Rear” by Marilyn Maye, “Timeless Love” by Ed Ames, and “You Made It That Way” by Perry Como. This doesn’t seem to have happened again until 1990, when Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” and Smokey Robinson’s “Everything You Touch” went #2 AC without making the Hot 100. Those six records reflect a broader reality about the AC chart versus the Hot 100: throughout the 70s and 80s, the biggest AC hits tended to make the Hot 100 too, but in the late 60s and again by the early 90s, records could do big AC business without making the Hot 100 at all.

(Stewart put a version of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” from his album Atlantic Crossing into the Hot 100 in 1977; the 1990 version was recut for the Storyteller box set.)

I labored in the vineyards of elevator music and adult contemporary radio between 1987 and 1993, so a lot of records on this list give me flashbacks, and not always in a good way: “Better Not Tell Her” by Carly Simon, “Between Like and Love” by Billy Vera, Dan Hill’s “I Fall All Over Again,” “Set the Night to Music” by Jefferson Starship, “The Real Thing” by Kenny Loggins, and Michael Bolton’s “Steel Bars” are either songs I disliked or they remind me of radio days I did not enjoy. But some of them I liked a lot: Fleetwood Mac’s “Skies the Limit,” “My Destiny” by Lionel Richie, “It’s Alright” by Huey Lewis and the News (an acapella cover of the Impressions’ original not to be confused with Huey’s later cover of J. J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright”), and Hall and Oates’ superlative “Starting All Over Again.”

Several artists are on this list more than once: Neil Diamond, Kenny Loggins, Henry Mancini, Marilyn Maye, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, James Taylor, the Baja Marimba Band, Perry Como, and Barry Manilow among them. (One of Manilow’s songs is “When October Goes,” from 1984, which is pretty great.)

The most interesting stuff on this list is (wait for it) from the mid 70s.

“I Don’t Know What He Told You” – “Weave Me the Sunshine”/Perry Como (1974)
“Hot Sauce”/Jan Davis Guitar (1975)
“Ice Cream Sodas and Lollipops and a Red-Hot Spinning Top”/Paul Delicato (1975)
“The Last Picasso”/Neil Diamond (1975)
“Star Trek”/Charles Randolph Greane Sound (1975)
“Beautiful Noise”/Neil Diamond (1976)
“Gladiola”/Helen Reddy (1976)
“Every Time I Sing a Love Song”/John Davidson (1976)
“Goodbye Old Buddies”/Seals and Crofts (1977)
“Circles”/Captain and Tennille (1977)
“One Life to Live”/Lou Rawls (1978)

Paul Delicato and John Davidson are on the list of artists who made the AC chart the most without ever hitting the Hot 100. Greane’s Star Trek theme is a disco version, in case that’s something you think you need. I think I’ve said that “Circles” is one of my favorite things by the Captain and Tennille. “One Life to Live” is on Rawls’ album When You’ve Heard Lou, You’ve Heard It All. It’s not the theme to the TV soap; it’s a breezy bit of encouragement that may not be the greatest Lou Rawls song you’ve ever heard, but it’s Lou Rawls so shut up.

I don’t know if my list is complete or not. That would require me to reconstruct a bygone afternoon from years ago. But it serves as a reminder that what gets on the Hot 100 is only a fraction of the music that’s out there, and of the music that leaves impressions on the sands of time.