I Can Name That Theme In....
I still remember the day an insider at Game Show Network told me in late 1994 a CD of quiz and game show themes "might sell about 30 copies." Today, I can't offer enough praise for the three men most responsible for the second such offering in three years.
Cary Mansfield, David Schwartz and Jim Pierson have done a yeoman's job of assembling The Best Quiz and Game Show Themes, a 20-theme collection which many of us feared were lost and gone forever, save our old scratchy off-the-air cassettes and some bootleg copies which have surfaced here and there.
Some of these gems would not cut it in today's electronic, hip-hop environment. However, as a long-time music aficionado (and a small-time musical game show host), I have an acute appreciation of how every piece of music has to be judged from its era.
Without question, Bob Cobert may rank as the all-time game show theme genius. He was a master of both originality and adaptations. His To Tell the Truth theme of 1961-66 was not the show's original music. However, Cobert's version was a more upbeat variation on that 1956-61 theme which was strictly from a generic production album.
Same with his 1982 alteration of the original Pyramid theme (Ken Aldin's "Tunin' Up," which is included in the new CD)----and one finds interesting how veteran game show fans choose up sides over which version they like better.
However, my two favorites on the CD are Cobert's legendary theme for The Price Is Right from 1961-65 and that classic swing band theme from Password (1963-67).
The Price theme was always preceded with a huge fanfare (omitted on this disc) and was so beloved, NBC resuscitated it for its 1967-69 Snap Judgment.
The Password theme was one of the highlights of the summer of '63. While the prime time quizzes of the '50s offered live editions by full orchestras, this was the first original big band piece for a daytime show and one never forgets Allen Ludden's perennial finger-popping at the midbreak and show's end. The late Bob Crane even seriously considered recording it.
When I get to cut 19 on the CD, I feel as if it's 12:30 all over again and I've either in my dorm room or home at summertime watching Split Second with my father. When that dramatic fanfare cranks up, I can almost hear Jack Clark describing the Pontiacs up for grabs. And I think of my man Tom making that friendly entrance.
You learn Monty Hall's wife Marilyn co-composed the original Let's Make a Deal theme with Sheldon Allman (who gave us those legendary themes from Superchicken and George of the Jungle). This version is played with the tempo from the nighttime syndicated edition in the early '70s.
You will also find yourself quickly remembering (and singing along with---you can't help it) the lyrics to the short-lived Monopoly, from which Merv Griffin's late '50s-style malt shop composition is arguably the most significant memory.
One of the few weak cuts is from the ABC and syndicated version of Break the Bank, which sounds more like a fuzzy off-air transcription. The only error in the liner notes is about the Cobert Truth theme, which was---in fact---not used in the final CBS daytime season (1967-68), when the network revamped the set and switched to an electronic Score Productions instrumental.
However, I take my hat off to the three producers for what had to be a monumental task in assembling these tunes. Over the past year, I had been told of several more themes they wanted and could not either find copies of or gain clearance to use.
Dave Schwartz tried valiantly to find the Paul Taubman themes from Twenty One and Concentration and they simply could not be found. I know personally how much Schwartz wanted a clean copy of The $64,000 Question, Norman Leyden's dynamic composition and the greatest theme of the '50s, but the original was not available. The only thing remotely close was the weak disco version recorded as The $128,000 Question in 1976 by The Charles Randolph Grean Sounde for Ranwood Records.
Few of us realize how difficult music clearance is today, both from an availability and a cost factor. To assemble this kind of collection in a genre as narrow as game shows is nothing short of amazing. Sadly, some of our favorite songs are lost and gone forever. Just as some of the videotapes and kinescopes of our favorite games are lost, some composers did not realize how fondly their work would be remembered. I could have croaked during a recent online conversation with Tommy Oliver when he said his brilliant Name That Tune theme had never been recorded.
This entire montage is an over-30 game show fan's delight and revives some of the happiest memories of our childhoods, the college years and early adulthood if you're from my era.
I promise you one thing. I've had enough of these young bucks flying next to me on a four-lane with their 500-watt woofers blasting hip-hop and rap to the point of creating a mini-earthquake. If you ever drive alongside my minivan, I'll roll down my window and burst your eardrums with the second theme from the original Hollywood Squares. If you're over 30, I challenge you to tell me you don't remember it.
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