COLLECTING TV SPY MUSIC
By Wesley Britton
Before listing what I consider the hits and misses of "spy music," I must confess there are those who don't see secret agent themes as a genre unto itself. In 2002, I SPY theme composer Earl Hagen told me, “If there is a 'secret agent' genre, I am not aware of it . . . When you analyze the themes and scores to shows like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and compare them to SECRET AGENT or THE AVENGERS, you have to come to the conclusion that the film dictates the style of the music.”
However, a number of composers have indeed shaped a distinctive tone and feel for television and film spy projects. In America, Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schfrin, and Mort Stevens were especially significant in the '60s; in England, Edwin Astley, Ron Grainer, and Laurie Johnson were equally influential. Many do see themes and motifs in musical styles that identify them as "spy music" beyond their being included in soundtracks and as incidental tracks for the large and small screen. (For a fuller discussion on these points, see "SPY GUITAR: FROM VIC FLICK TO SPY-FI" at this website.)
Of course, sampling these melodies is but a mouse-click away--from title music posted at YouTube to downloadable ring-tones for your cell phone. Below are notes and suggestions for collecting the old-fashioned way--on CD and even vinyl. I welcome your responses--write me at--
In 2004, EMI Music released the first soundtrack for 24 by composer Sean Callery. After winning two Emmys for his work on the show, Callery then issued 24: Seasons Four and Five to wide critical acclaim. Callery had earned his role as composer after distinguished scores for Le Femme Nikita. He later contributed his music for the 2004 James Bond video game, Everything or Nothing and 24: The Game created for Sony's
PlayStation 2 in 2006.
Alias: Original Television Soundtrack (Touchstone Television Prod., 2003) mainly includes tracks by composer Michael Giacchino, although the main title theme was written by series creator, J.J. Abrams. The Hollywood Studio Symphony performs the varied menu, which should surprise no one familiar with the pumped-up beat for Agent Bristo's smash-mouth fight and escape scenes. In the liner notes, Abrams praises Giacchino saying his music adds a "high-budget" movie feel to each episode of the series.
Perhaps. One disappointment is the extremely short title music which is well worth a longer version for a CD like this. Listening to the short cut, I remembered a few sentences composer Earl Hagan shared with me regarding TV scores: "music for films is now vastly superior to music for TV. Composers in TV no longer have the time or money to indulge in a decent sized orchestra. Most TV shows are done with synthesized music. An average main title is now less than a half minute where shows in the sixties had a full minute. It makes an enormous difference in making a statement.”
Laurie Johnson’s The Avengers title music has long been a favorite for collectors, and it has been available on a number of compilations in various incarnations (see below). Leika and the Cosmonauts, a Danish instrumental band, issued one unique version of The Avengers theme on their “Colossal Band” CD (Upstart Rec.) in 1995. The most recent and extended version was on the soundtrack to the 1998 film. Like the soundtrack for the film version of THE SAINT, the CD includes collectible title music along with a number of songs not in the movie and are obvious "padding" to justify issuing such albums.
Some material available on old-fashioned vinyl may never appear on CD. For example, one unusual version of THE AVENGERS theme appeared on one album by CBS group, Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats. A mix of gunshots and Murad playing the Johnson melody on the harmonica, this track belongs on a future CD of the oddest renditions of spy music. Lauri Johnson issued an "official" soundtrack likely in 1977. This project was more a promotion for two then new series Johnson had commercial interest in, THE NEW AVENGERS and the sister cop show production, THE PROFESSIONALS. One side of the disc has AVENGERS and NEW AVENGERS music and the other features THE PROFESSIONALS.
The GET SMART theme, along with the comic "Max" and "99" by Barbara Feldon, are on the Raven Records GET SMART CD, a reissue of the original LP. Not a soundtrack collection, this souvenir of '60s popular culture is primarily a collection of audio-clips from the series linked with added narration by Don Adams. Details about the CD, along with the cover art, are on a collectibles page:
Thanks to Film Score Monthly, an excellent two-CD set of original I Spy music was released in 2003. According to I Spy expert Debbie Lazar, theme composer Earle Hagen published his book, Memoirs of a
Famous Composer-Nobody Ever Heard Of, by Xlibris Press in 2003. According to Debbie, the discussion on I Spy music runs "way over 40 - 45 pages . . . He begins with the round the world
trip he and his wife took with Sheldon Leonard and his wife, while scouting locations before the actual filming began until the final days when the show was canceled."
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Noted composer Jerry Goldsmith scribed two important spy themes including the frequently anthologized OUR MAN FLINT film title and the original music for The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. in 1964. For years, Goldsmith's original tracks were popular bootlegs in the collector's market while the two "official" MGM vinyl soundtracks were known more for their covers than contents. In 1997, the best of the MGM tracks were released on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK AFFAIR CD (BMG). I recommend it for the rousing Hugo Montenegro rendition of the title melody, although the rest of the album pleases few U.N.C.L.E. fans.
In 2003, two outstanding 2-CD sets of original U.N.C.L.E. themes and incidental music were issued by Film Score Monthly after their successful CD of original music from I SPY, also released that year. Widely praised by fans, FSM issued two more sets, Volume 4 released in December 2006. Serious collectors will appreciate the detailed liner notes in these releases describing the many composers who contributed to the flavor of the series.
In the 1990s, a short version of the U.N.C.L.E. title music Was part of a TV theme medley on THE SOUNDTRACKS OF JERRY GOLDSMITH (Deram/Decca Rec.). In 2000, he conducted yet another version of the U.N.C.L.E. theme on his THE FILM MUSIC OF JERRY GOLDSMITH (Telard SADD). Film buffs should enjoy either of these collections, but only diehard collectors should seek out the alleged soundtrack album for THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. (MGM, 1968). Male voyeurs will appreciate the go-go boots in the leggy cover art, but not one track on the vinyl album came from the series, not even the lackluster mutation of the title music. For display, not replay.
While there are numerous offerings of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE theme, the best is, appropriately, The Best of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (GNP/Crescendo). This CD is a compilation of the two albums issued by Lalo Schfrin in the 1960s, music from the 1988 remake, and live versions of the title track. An added feature is an interview with Peter Graves who discusses the music of the series, production of the 1988 revival, and his other work. (Lalo Schifrin also wrote for The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and samples of his work can be heard on the Original Soundtrack Affair CD.)
Of special interest are three soundtrack albums of music from the short, 17 episode British series, THE PRISONER (Silva Screen Records). The genesis for these recordings began with the most influential and prolific fan club in the spy genre, the “Prisoner Appreciation Society” or “Six of One.” In November 1978, they got principal composer Ron Grainer to re-master his original tapes, and for some time only members of this club had ready access to the soundtrack albums. Now more available through internet sales, most critics praise the first two collections, dismissing Volume 3 as a mere anthology of classical music heard in the series.
For the record, as it were, rock group Iron Maiden made two references to THE PRISONER in their music. On their album, Power Slaves, one cut was called “Back to the Village.” Another song, “Number of the Beast,” begins with the opening title music of the show. A thorough look at the music in the show and links to more research areas can be found at:
Secret Agent/Danger Man and The Saint
One of the most recognized, and most re-worked, spy melodies was the television theme to SECRET AGENT, the American title for the British series, DANGER MAN. American hit-makers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri (responsible for 1960s hits for Barry McGuire and the Grassroots, among others) crafted the guitar-driven "Secret Agent Man" title as sung by Johnny Rivers. In subsequent years, the song was redone at least 26 times by various artists such as Devo and was used in films such as AUSTIN POWERS, INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY.
One non-Rivers version is on SECRET AGENT (Bmg, 1997), the official and excellent soundtrack performed by composer Edwin Astley who wrote all the show's music beyond the American hit. Some of this music appeared on a 1966 vinyl album, SECRET AGENT MEETS THE SAINT, as Astley was responsible for both series. On CD, THE SAINT (BMG, 1997), also conducted by Astley, offers genuine music from the series, with a program of genuine musicality and international flavor. The 1998 soundtrack for Val Kilmer’s THE SAINT includes an excellent, percussive extended re-interpretation of Astley’s television theme by Orbital, although this theme was only heard in the film for less than a minute.
As it happened, the first whistle-tune for THE SAINT was actually composed by Simon Templar's literary creator, Leslie Charteris, for the radio versions of Saint adventures. For those wishing to hear the short, original Charteris theme, there are numerous cassette tapes and MP3 editions of the radio shows issued by various companies. The video releases of the 1938-1941 films also include the whistle theme, and the films starring George Saunders feature him walking into scenes whistling the signature bars.
The Wild Wild West
As of this writing, no soundtrack album for the original series of THE WILD WILD WEST was ever released, but Mort Stevens and Richard Markowitch’s theme can be found on many compilation albums including those noted below. It also appears on the 1999 GREATEST SCIENCE FICTION HITS
IV SOUNDTRACKS (Crescendo). (Morton Stevens, a principal composer for W3, also worked for U.N.C.L.E., and samples of his music can be heard on the ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS AFFAIR CD discussed above.)
Two CDs were released with music from the film version of THE WILD WILD WEST, but Elmer Bernstein's score isn't highly regarded, and the Will Smith raps are more for fans of this musical genre and contribute nothing to spy music. The theme to the original series appears briefly, and late, in the film. After Film Score Monthly released its first two sets of music from THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a number of fans requested that THE WILD WILD WEST be considered for similar treatment, so perhaps FSM will be the company to remedy this gap.
THE X-FILES: SONGS IN THE KEY OF X (Warner Bros., 1996)is one of the most imaginative TV soundtracks issued to date, and it is also the easiest to track down. After the Mark Snow theme, the album includes songs used in the series along with material written for the album by Cheryl Crow, Fu Fighters, Soul Coughing, Nik Cave and the Bad Seeds, Filter, Mean Puppets, Frank Black, Danzig, Alice Cooper, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, among others. The late Beat poet William S. Burroughs provided one of his last gravel-voiced readings, backed by REM, shortly before his death. The album also includes the “hidden track” by Chris Carter 10 minutes and 15 seconds after the last listed song. It's a strange disc, perhaps more appropriate for folks into Goth, spooky things, and sci-fi.
Without question, spy music has been most popular on vinyl and CD compilations of theme tunes, both on collections of more general interest and those geared for spy music buffs. Some collections are of original recordings, others remakes in a variety of styles.
In the former category, The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., GET SMART, The WILD WILD WEST, and virtually every American TV theme melody are on various volumes of TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS (TeeVee Records). Varying in sound quality, each theme is only the original, short title music, usually one minute or less.
TV CLASSIC THEMES (Breakable Records, 1998) not only features themes from U.N.C.L.E., I SPY, THE PRISONER, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but spoken word clips from the stars introduce most themes in full album-length cuts, including an extended spliced tape rendition of the 3rd season version of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
Interesting interpretations of the U.N.C.L.E. theme and other spy title tunes are also available on various collections by the instrumental guitar group, The Ventures. Doing the old band one better, Thomas Pervanje's Ohio-based "Spy-Fi" has issued two tributes to the surf sound and spy themes. Volume One, Music for Spies, Thighs, and Private Eyes: The Thigh Who Loved Me (Silve Records, 2003) is indispensable for those loving this genre. Volume Two, AKA Music for Spies, Thighs, and Private Eyes: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Silve Records, 2003)contains similar material including medleys of classic TV themes. A detailed review of these discs, and ordering information is in "SPY GUITAR: FROM VIC FLICK TO SPY-FI" at this website.
Compilations of strictly spy music include vinyl and CD versions of SECRET AGENT FILES (GNP/Crescendo, 1992) with some lively re-workings of both movie and TV spy themes. A collection of special interest is JAMES BOND AND BEYOND: CLASSIC THEMES FOR SECRET AGENTS (Spyguise Inc., 2002). Arranged by Michael Boldt, the CD includes excellent versions of 007 title tracks, TV themes, and a number of original radio spots promoting THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., OUR MAN FLINT, and the Robert Vaughn feature film, THE VENETIAN AFFAIR. This treasure-trove is only available through the SpyGuise website, the world's largest distributor of vintage and new spy products.
Other compilations of note include the two CD set, CULT Files (Silva Screen Records, 1996), and MISSION: ACCOMPLISHED--THEMES FOR SPIES AND COPS (MCA Special Markets and Products, 1996). The latter is a mix of tracks from various soundtrack albums, lackluster versions of famous themes, original music from no film nor television score, and songs with a spy mentioned in the title. Similarly, MUSIC TO SPY BY, created for the International Spy Museum, has 19 tracks including Henry Mancini's "theme from "The Pink Panther," which seems as acceptable as PETER GUNN in terms of '60s cool, and the much, much overused song, "Agent
Double-O Soul". It can be ordered through the Acorn online catalogue or at:
One superior collection is THE ABC’s OF BRITISH TV (Vol. 1. Play It Again, 1992). On it, the themes to The Avengers, THE CHAMPIONS, DANGER MAN, The NEW AVENGERS, THE RETURN OF THE SAINT, THE SAINT, and Ron Grainer's highly treasured MAN IN A SUITCASE are contained in one Superlative package. Similarly, The Avengers AND OTHER TOP 60s TV THEMES (Sequel Records) is a two-CD set featuring the Emma Peel version of the theme as well as MAN IN A SUITCASE, DANGER MAN, THE SAINT, THE CHAMPIONS, THE SENTIMENTAL AGENT, DEPARTMENT S, and TOP SECRET’s Laurie Johnson title melody. (The TOP SECRET theme, “Sucu Sucu,” was a Top 10 hit in England in 1961.)
For the collector who wants it all, Barbara Feldon’s comic “99” and Nancy Sinatra’s Thunderball parody, “The Last of the Secret Agents,” are most readily available on the uneven SPY MUSIC (Rhino, 1994). Like other odd anthologies, this package is filled with popular tunes that use the word “spy” in the title, which ostensibly qualifies them as spy music. Not to me. However, this CD also provides excellent versions of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, Secret Agent, and PETER GUNN. As noted by many collectors, PETER GUNN wasn't a spy program, but Henry Mancini's trumpet fanfare does include many elements associated with secret agent adventure. Ironically, Mancini was surprised by popular reception to the melody, which he'd originally recorded merely as music to serve as background when the lead character walked from scene to scene in the series.
1. For those who still have usable turntables, or for collectors who enjoy cover art as much as the black vinyl discs they protect, there are many record albums out there I didn't mention here. My purpose was to review music most listeners can find and enjoy now on CD. For listeners who want it all, during the 1960s, a number of record companies issued a plethora of film and TV music albums, most cheap knockoffs of Bond themes, TV title music, and original instrumental tracks performed by both orchestras and big bands. Few are memorable.
2. One interesting insight into TV music can be seen in the fact that, during the '60s, the three networks regularly recycled music among the shows they made in-house. For example, music from first season HAWAII FIVE-O episodes can be heard in fourth-season WILD WILD WEST adventures. “Wave “ music from FIVE-O’s second outing, “Strangers in Our Own Land,” was re-used in “The Night of the Raven Part II” in WWW for one of the "box" pieces of music. ("Wave" and "box" refer to music just before the commercial break when each program would show its title logo). Many shows, like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., often recycled scores penned for one episode in later outings. As U.N.C.L.E. fan Janet Wilson noted, parts of the MFU episode music for composer Gerald Fried's score for "test-tube Killers Affair" were recycled for STAR TREK; the motif used for the climax of TTK appeared in a similarly climactic scene in the ST episode "Friday's Child." Reportedly, Lauri Johnson scored each episode of THE AVENGERS individually to give the adventures distinct feels. Many more notes on TV music can be found in my SPY TELEVISION. I hereby thank spy and music expert bill koenig for the information about "box" and "wave" music in HAWAII FIVE-O and WWW--he has many more examples of this overlap for those interested.
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