Big Scores on a Little Box

Classic Scores from PI TV Shows

Of course, film noir is permanently linked, for better or worse, to jazz, ominous dischordant bass, wailing saxophones and all that. Somehow they just seem to go together. Not that other genres haven't left their mark in videoland, as well....

  • Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
    1957-60, U.S. Syndicated)
    "Riff Blues"
    Written by Dave Kahn and Mrelvyn Lenard
    Performed by Skip Martin
    The bluesy theme, played by Skip Martin "admirably calls to mind the slow, cool deliberateness of... Spillane's archetypal noir sleuth," according to Rhino's Crime Jazz: Murder in the First Degree.

    Available on: Music From Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer by Skip Martin
    . Buy this CD
    Includes the theme, plus various other tracks from the show, with such evocative titles as Corn Pone Woman , Coffee House, Bad Guys, Black Night, Lenox Avenue Strut and Hammer Blow. 

  • Peter Gunn
    (1958-1961, NBC/ABC)
    "The Theme from Peter Gunn"
    Written by Henry Mancini
    The inevitable and instantly-recognizable thomping thud of Mancini's theme from perhaps the coolest TV eye of all time. This tune packs its own sort of menace, while never letting us forget that, whatever treachery and deceit awaits Peter Gunn down those mean streets, he's always going to be stylish about it. And be back by the end of the show to Mother's to enjoy a cool beverage, dig some cool (but tasteful) vibes, and trade some witty banter with the incandescent and sexy-as-hell Edie Hart. The theme is instantly recognizable, and has passed into the cultural subconciousness, but the cool jazz of the score was highly influential, and showed up the potential of television soundtracks.

    Available on: The Music from Peter Gunn
    . Buy this CD
    This 1999 remastered CD features mancini's great theme, and a number of tasty solos by some pretty hot big band vets, including vibraphonist Victor Feldman, drummer Shelly Manne and even soundtrack-composer-to-be John "Jaws, Star Wars, etc,) Williams on piano. Cool.
    More Music from Peter Gunn . Buy this CD
    More of the same, plus some rarities. Still cool.
    Peter Gunn by Shelly Manne . Buy this CD
    This release, from Orig. Jazz Classics, features the theme and various other gems from Mancini's score from Peter Gunn as they would have actually been played at Mother's, not by a big band, and by a hot combo. Band leader Shelly Manne plays these tunes, not as soundtrack music, but just good swinging tunes. Pull up a barstool.
  • Mr Lucky
    (1959-60, CBS)
    Composed by Henry Mancini
    Available on: Mr. Lucky . Buy this CD
    This is a Japanese import release of the classic soundtrack originally released in 1960. a class act. some mancini fans think this is even better than his Peter Gunn work. Also out there somewhere supposedly is an album called Mr. Lucky Goes Latin.
  • Johnny Staccato
    (1959-1960, NBC)
    Music by Elmer Bernstein
    Buddy Morrow's loping, swinging treatment of the Elmer Bernstein theme for the late fifties P.I. TV show starring a very young and very intense John Cassavetes is all swagger and daring, the perfect thing to get you back on your feet and out on those mean streets.
    The show, partially set in a New York jazz club, featured numerous performances by the Pete Candoli combo, which featured musicians Ray Brown, Barney Kessel and Red Norvo at the time.

  • Mannix
    (1967-1975, CBS)
    Theme by Lalo Schifrin
    He's the man, this is his city, he's got a convertible. When you heard this big, balls of brass theme, you just knew heads were gonna roll... Mannix was the genuine article -- a no-nonsense, meat-and-potatoes kinda guy who knew when to work and knew when (and how) to play. The big brassy theme, composed by Lalo Schifrin, with its swooping, jazzy horns and jump-shot edges served notice that a new, tougher private eye was in town. Working class Joe, with his heavy tweed jackets and rugged charm, knew how to swing in a way plastic poseurs like Kookie could only dream of. And is it only me, or is there anyone else out there who thinks Joe and Peggy were getting it on during commercials?

  • The Rockford Files
    (1974-1982, NBC)
    Theme by Pete Carpenter and Mike Post
    From the album "Crimestoppers: TV's Greatest P.I. Themes".. Buy this CD
    Probably the second-best known TV eye theme songs of all time, this swirling, chunky synth and guitar workout, composed by Mike Post and Peter Carpenter, was released as a single and actually reached the number ten position in the charts in 1975. At times whimsical, the keyboards might well have wandered off into outer space like one of Angel's scams, if the raunchy, crunchy blues guitar hadn't pulled everything back down, sort of like good ol' down-to-earth Jim himself. Some found the theme a little too darn peppy, but the endless variations played during the show, usually much slower, acted as a sardonic counterpoint to Jimmy's woes.
  • Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer
    (1984-1987, CBS)
    "Harlem Nocturne" by Earle Hagen
    "Still the best theme music a private eye series could possibly have," according to James Reasoner.


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