Home > Funky, TV > The many lives of a TV show theme…

The many lives of a TV show theme…

Originally posted April 16, 2010.  Some edits to content and new links.

I like to think I’ve watched more 60’s and 70’s television than most people my age, but most of my exposure was as a result of reruns being shown on various cable networks in the early 90’s – for example, when fX was a new network, they had a great bloc of shows including Mission: Impossible and Vega$ (and I realize calling Vega$ great is an incredible stretch of the truth).  A few years earlier than that, Nick at Nite had Get Smart and, yes, Dragnet.*

But I never watched Baretta – Robert Blake’s icky trial notwithstanding, it was never really on my radar.  But even the cheesiest 70’s TV show can be rescued for the annals of history by a good theme – or, in this case, a good cover of a theme.  Given that Sammy Davis Jr. was involved in the original, it’s no shock that someone came out with a better version – but Henry Mancini?  That’s surprising.

Mancini was well-known for his movie scores (The Pink Panther, anyone?) but not exactly known as a purveyor of funk.  By 1976, though, the big band was on the way out, and one suspects that decline had some influence on Mancini’s jumping on the funky train.  After all, even if people like Lalo Schifrin put out some incredible themes themselves**, this was more the exception than the rule.

But the nice thing about some of these more mainstream bands is that they had the chops to tackle funky if they wanted to (on guitar, for example: Lee Ritenour), and had recording budgets that clearly exceeded their more earthy contemporaries.  Even if the result is lacking the last 5% of funk that would really push it over the edge, there’s enough to like.  See this comprehensive overview of Mancini in the 70’s if you want a bit more context.

Mancini’s version of the Baretta Theme is a boon for bassists (some sick, Jaco-like fretwork from Abraham Laboriel).  While the song goes a little cornball in the bridge (strings make the arrangement “safe” for your square parents to enjoy), overall the song is solid.

I discovered this song on a promotional LP put out by Maxell advertising their recording and cassette audio tape products.  I think I bought it in a junk shop in Boston and it can’t have cost more than a buck – good thing, since it had damaged grooves.  Nevertheless it induced me to search out the album the Mancini cut came from.  The song as posted is from the Spanish CD.  The rest of the CD is okay- a few good tracks, including a breakbeat and synth heavy “Police Woman,” a great “The Streets Of San Francisco” that bounces back and forth from funk to big band jazz, and a very sample-able “Rockford Files.”  There’s even a break at the beginning of “Kojak.”  Downside?  Nobody needs a cover of Hawaii Five-0.  And “Mystery Movie” is near-comically insipid.

[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24311319-a50.mp3]


PS: Note that I can only say this is the second best version of the Baretta theme I’ve ever heard.  While doing research for the article I discovered Ron Carter had beaten it up something fierce:

* although I must admit my ironic appreciation for Dragnet ’67 has increased, I may have left my fondness for Get Smart behind at age 10 or so

** Lalo’s oeuvre is incredible – Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Enter The Dragon…look for a track or two from him later in the game.

Categories: Funky, TV
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