When I saw the news that TV’s favorite Batman Adam West had passed today, I was sadder than I thought I would be. The 1960s television version of Batman is often ridiculed for its cartoonish action, ham-handed moralizing, and general silliness. People of my generation grew up on this version, but we were indoctrinated into the Dark Knight school of Batman characterization in the 80s and 90s; our then-teenaged psyches found more to love in the troubled, vengeful version that is so ubiquitous today than we did in the brightly-colored uprightness of our childhoods. But Adam West’s portrayal of Batman as a decent man who fought crime because it was the right thing to do became a pop culture touchstone, and made West an icon.
Adam West did a lot of other acting besides Batman, but that character is what he will be most remembered for. One of the things I loved is how he embraced it and how he in turn used it as a base for much of his recent work. West did voice acting for a number of cartoons, and he used the same cadences and phrasings he did as Batman. It made him easily recognizable and, I think, brought a lot of warm feelings to those who remembered that voice from Saturdays in front of the TV.
So I bid a fond farewell to West with the Batman theme, a tune almost as iconic as his portrayal of the Caped Crusader. Composed by jazzman Neal Hefti, the catchy “na na na na na na na na” riff runs throughout and is really what makes it such an effective ear worm. (Seriously. Try to get it out of your head. I dare you.) Because this version of Batman relied so heavily on the comic book version of the character that was popular at the time, this is exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear if a comic book could play music when you opened it. With its jazzy and surf undertones, it was perfect.
So long, Mr. West. Thank you for bringing so much happiness to so many people.
Not that long ago, I posted the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show as interpreted by Minneapolis Punk band Husker Du. Now I’m posting it because Mary Tyler Moore has left this plane of existence. (I hate saying “died.” Yes, her physical body has died, but her spirit and energy will always be a part of the Universe.)
I like this clip because it includes just a bit from the final episode. You can here the rest of the WJM gang singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as Mary takes one last loving look at the newsroom before turning out the lights and closing the door. It was a great good-bye then, and it’s a great one now. So long, Mary. I’ll be sure to laugh as hard for you as your TV namesake did for Chuckles the Clown. (And please, jukebox listeners, for your own sakes track down the episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust” if you haven’t seen it. You will never be sorry.)
One of the things I love most about music is that there is a never-ending treasure trove of incredible, wonderful songs to discover. While watching Jeopardy! today, I discovered this little gem from Husker Du. It might sound a little familiar to sitcom fans.
Yes, that’s the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show performed with fuzzy guitar and whipcrack drums by one of the darling bands of the post-Punk 80s. Husker Du, for all their rage and raging sound, could be surprisingly gentle and tender. This is one of the most optimistic songs ever about one of the most optimistic TV heroines ever, played by one of its most wholesomely appealing stars. But while Bob Mould and company manage to keep that optimism and wholesome appeal intact, they can’t help but add a slight edge of Lou Grant style curmudgeon. “You got spunk. I hate spunk.” There is absolutely nothing about this I don’t love.
My first crush was Fonzie on Happy Days. I was five, and he was the coolest. It was one of my favorite shows, right up until it was cancelled in 1984, long after it had literally jumped the shark. (For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, Happy Days introduced the phrase “jump the shark” for a TV show that had kind of outlived itself when they had an episode where Fonzie waterskiied over a shark tank. I think that was one of the episodes set in Hollywood.)
My child’s heart, and my adult heart for that matter, mourns the death of Happy Days creator Garry Marshall. His vision of the world may have been hopelessly anachronistic and unrealistic. (No, millionaires do not fall in love with and marry the hookers they solicit.) But it was a sweet, good-hearted vision. He liked to portray the fairy tale happy ending. While my version of the fairy tale might be a little different, I think the world needs a few more happy endings. Thanks for all the happy days, Garry.
I really enjoyed It’s Garry Shandling’s Show back in the 80s. (It was on Showtime the same night as Brothers, which was also really funny and had a great theme song.) It was kind of odd and subversive and had a great deal of fun with subverting the sitcom genre. I even remember the words to the theme.
I never watched his other show, but I know it was much more popular and much more bitter and sarcastic. I’d like to remember him best as a good-natured goof who made me smile. Thanks for the laughs, Garry. I hope you join Robin and all the other great comics during the stand-up interludes at the Great Concert of Eternity. (Hey, the musicians need breaks once in a while.)
Am I the only one who thinks this is the coolest theme song to come around in years?
Television theme songs might be a dying art form, but don’t tell Jean Batiste & Stay Human that. This music swings and grooves and funks along like nothing else I’ve heard in a long time. I included a clip of an actual opening from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but if you want to hear the music without any of the surrounding stuff (crowd cheering, guest line-up, or really awesome graphics), click here. It’s even funkier, even if the clip is reallllly boring.
I don’t pretend to fully understand how my brain works. Although I can usually connect the dots between Point A and Point B, sometimes the route is so twisted and obscure that even I can’t make it out. Sometimes I end up at Point B without ever even knowing where Point A was. Case in point (as it were): Yesterday, for no apparent reason, this song popped into my head.
I admit I watched and enjoyed The Love Boat as a kid. I’ll also admit that the theme song is one of the most recognizable TV themes ever. Beyond that, I admit nothing since I’m not entirely sure what I’d be admitting to.
On a semi-related note, did you know that Fred Grandy, aka Your Ship’s Purser, aka Gopher, used to be a United States Representative for the good state of Iowa? My father’s family is from Iowa, but none of them had anything to do with electing Gopher to the House of Representatives. We’re strange, but not quite that strange.
Maverick (the original TV show, not the movie). Move Over, Darling. The Great Escape. Murphy’s Romance. Victor/Victoria. What do these things have in common? The wonderful and talented James Garner. (They’re also some of my favorite performances by him.) Garner’s screen presence was such that you liked him the moment you laid eyes on him. You trusted him. You knew that even if he was pretending to be a bad guy, he’d do the right thing in the end, even if it meant he would lose. The real James Garner, of course, didn’t lose; he had a long and successful career, and a happy personal life. But his charisma, personality, and presence made him perfect for the role that will always define him in my eyes.
Jim Rockford never did seem to catch a lucky break, but he never let it get him down. Not for long anyway.
James Garner died yesterday at 86. It’s a celebrity death that hits me pretty hard. Not just because I liked Garner, but because enjoying his work was something I had in common with my father. It was a link between us. I hope in whatever afterlife there is, Garner will have a drink and a laugh with my dad. I know the real man was just as personable as he was on-screen, so I think they would like each other.
While the rest of us have lost a great talent and nice guy, I know his family and friends have lost so much more. My heart goes out to all those who loved the man.
I have a confession to make. I’ve been watching way too much Scooby Doo lately. Boomerang, the channel where old Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network shows go to be endlessly rerun, has been playing the most recent weekly incarnation of the Mystery, Inc. gang, and I’ve gotten hooked.
The next thing I have to acknowledge is that Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated is actually pretty good. The show ran on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2013, and it managed to update the characters to current times without diminishing the innocent charm of the original. There’s more realistic problems plaguing the gang in addition to the usual monsters and mysteries–things like romance and friendship and parents. People who were kids when Scooby and company first burst onto the scene could watch with their kids, and everyone would have something to identify with (which I suspect was kind of the point).
One of the things that got me interested (besides the multi-faceted story arc that seems to run through the entire show) was the way they pay homage not just to the Scooby gang’s past, but to other kids-and-a-nonhuman sidekick mystery shows that sprung up in the wake of the success of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Classics like Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, and Captain Caveman were worked into one episode. The gang’s past mysteries were part of a Spook Museum that Velma’s mother ran. But the shows writers also cleverly worked other pop culture phenomenon into the show (the Twin Peaks references were my personal favorites. For a Scooby Doo cartoon, this was pretty highbrow stuff.
The only thing this version lacks is a catchy, top-notch theme song. They got Pop maestro Matthew Sweet to compose the opening music, but it just didn’t have the same pop as other Scooby songs have had. The show really did have a long history of incorporating music that wasn’t half bad. Well, at least we still have the original theme (and it was even performed by Matthew Sweet for Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits).
The mystery will finally finish tomorrow afternoon, when the latest string of airings shows the last episode of Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated, and I’m looking forward to it. If you’ve got cable (or if Netflix/Hulu/streaming service of your choice), I suggest you try this version out. It’s a lot more fun than you might think.
I’ve been a little heavy lately, so I thought I’d lighten things up a bit. I’ve also been kind of anti-social. There’s several blogs I regularly read and comment on, but I haven’t been for several days. (There’s one or two I’ve been keeping up with, but mostly I just haven’t wanted to engage.) I know I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I do come back. Soon.
But right now, I just want to go back to Saturday mornings and tap my toes to some surprisingly good theme music.
Josie and the Pussycats began life as a spin-off from Archie comics. The cartoon was apparently quite different from the comic book (maybe I’ll look up some old issues just to see how different), more like another famous Hanna-Barbera show (ruh-roh!) The cute all-girl band and their friends were constantly chasing various criminal elements bent on taking over the world. The chase sequences were set to some pretty catchy tunes that a lot of bands in the 60s would’ve given their eye teeth for. (Here’s a link to one I really enjoyed.) Since the characters were in a band, the music made sense. Too bad they didn’t put as much effort into the animation and other elements; the show might’ve been more successful.
It’s something of a cult classic now. Boomerang was airing the show after midnight during the week until just recently, but I don’t think there were enough episodes to keep that up for very long. A movie version came out in the early 2000’s, but everything I saw told me that the “updated” version just didn’t cut it. Josie and the Pussycats was probably always going to be an also-ran, but I thought it was pretty keen when I was a kid.