7 May 2010

The 70s again, through the lens of TV theme tunes

I’ve recently become somewhat fascinated by a number of 1970s TV themes. They’re not theme tunes of shows I ever watched, and not themes I remember. Rather, they’re tunes which have something odd or off-putting about them.

First up: The theme from LWT’s “Weekend World”. The YouTube clip is an 80s recording, but the same music was used in the 70s too; Wikipedia tells me it’s “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain, and that in the 80s the show used a cover version. It’s driving prog rock, slightly sinister, just like an out-of-control winter sleigh ride in Nantucket might sound. The weirdness here is that the show was sleepy Sunday afternoon political discussion. How did that music ever get chosen for it?

Next: Granada TV’s “World In Action”. A politically-focused documentary show. Again, the best YouTube recording is from the 80s, but the same music was used in the 70s as well. For best effect, imagine the music over the 70s titles. Creepy, depressing, a soundtrack for a country falling apart. Used to scare the hell out of me as a child.

The story behind how this music came to be used seems somewhat bizarre. It was improvised by Texan folk rock musician Shawn Phillips and another session musician, Mick Weaver. Producer Jonathan P Weston then edited the TV theme out of the jam session, and allegedly put his name as sole composer and performer because Phillips and Weaver weren’t members of the UK musicians’ union at the time. Apparently Weston then collected 30 years of royalty checks, and Phillips and Weaver didn’t see any of the money. Ironic, given the kinds of corruption the TV show used to investigate. And now I discover Shawn Phillips lives a few miles from me, here in Austin.

Finally: A John Barry composition, The Theme to “The Persuaders”. Again, to me this seems like a seriously creepy and sinister piece of music. It’s completely out of keeping with the TV show, too–to get a feeling for how inappropriate the mood match was, check a random clip from the series. The show was a lightweight action-adventure romp, with Roger Moore giving the kind of jokey tongue-in-cheek performance he later gave to the role of James Bond. They’d end on a laugh, and then suddenly the creepy music would play.

They don’t make TV show theme tunes like these any more.

© mathew 2017