January 28, 1996

Television Theme Recordings: An Illustrated Discography, 1951‑1994.  By Steve Gelfand.  Ann Arbor, MI: Popular Culture Ink, 1994.  332 pp.  ISBN: 1‑56075‑021‑9.  $75.00.

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

Television theme music is one of those familiar corners of contemporary popular culture that get very little respect.  This both unfair and unfortunate, because the music is so well known, turns up in so many other places, and is occasionally simply good music (the TV work of Henry Mancini, Count Basie, Mike Post and Richard Rodgers comes to mind).  When I set about compiling a listing of hit TV theme songs for the first edition of my Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, in 1979, I found that there simply was no source of information on the subject.  Even the TV networks generally omitted themes from their program credits.

Fortunately, times have changed.  In the 1980s a collector named Steve Gelfand began compiling discographies of the music, and in 1984 he self‑published a thin, photo‑copied volume titled “Television Themes on Long Play.”  In 1990 another collector, Craig W. Pattillo, published the first book‑length study of the field, TV Theme Soundtrack Directory and Discography (Portland, OR: Braemar Books).  Now we have an even larger study, Gelfand’s elaborate Television Theme Recordings.

The book is accessible, thorough, and rather entertaining.  The main section consists of 227 pages of listings sensibly organized by program name, from ABC Fun Fit to Zorro.  Covered are all series shown in the U.S., whether of U.S. or foreign origin.  Under each program, we find the song title (if different from the name of the series), composers, and all known U.S. recordings of the main opening or closing theme.  Anomalies are noted, for example variant titles on different releases, multiple themes for the same series, etc.

The recording information given is basic: artist, label, release number and year.  The author has not attempted to trace such discographical detail as recording dates, personnel, matrix numbers, etc.

A second 35‑page section lists foreign recordings of themes from series shown in the U.S.  Why these were not incorporated into the main listings is not clear, unless the author was simply embarrassed that this section is not as complete as the section on U.S. releases.  From the reader’s perspective, it is a nuisance to have to look for the same program in two different places, to see if there were foreign as well as U.S. recordings of its theme.  There are a number of other shorter sections of varying usefulness, including charted TV themes, parodies and interpolations, “false” TV themes (which sound from the title as if they are connected to a TV show, but aren’t), themes recorded by a cast member, Grammy Award winners, and a suggested basic LP collection (this may be a little out of date in the CD era!).

There are also three very useful indexes, by composer, recording artist, and song title.

A large number of illustrations of album covers and cast members adds to the appearance of the volume, although frequent “TV Theme Quizzes” and trivia sidebars simply clutter things up.  The latter are not exactly inconspicuous, taking entire pages which interrupt the flow of the listings.  Some of the information in these “sidebars” is rather useful and would be better placed under the heading for the show to which it applies.  For example, were you aware that of more than 50 recorded versions of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” only one‑‑by Fred Waring‑‑contained all 20 verses of the song?  Play that when you want to clear out the house after a party!  I checked some of the more obscure theme recordings in my own collection and files against the record listings and found no omissions.  Gelfand’s compilation appears to be quite complete.

One other reservation must be noted, however.  The scope of this book is  only those TV themes that were recorded, whereas the earlier Pattillo book identifies all themes whether or not they were recorded.  While Gelfand clearly lists more recordings, his omission of unrecorded (or not yet recorded) TV themes is a serious shortcoming, and a reason why the Pattillo book is still important to have.  For example, under M‑Squad Gelfand tells us that the famous theme written by Count Basie was “theme 2,” and was used only during the 1958‑1959 season.  So what was “theme 1”?  For that we have to turn to Pattillo, who reveals that during the first season a theme by the show’s musical director, Stanley Wilson, was used, but not recorded.  On the other hand, Gelfand lists 16 recorded versions of the Basie theme to Pattillo’s 13, even though the three that the latter misses were released prior to the publication of his book.  In other cases the discrepancy in number of listings is even greater: Gelfand lists 72 versions of Henry Mancini’s popular Mr. Lucky theme, to Pattillo’s 25.  (Gelfand of course had the advantage of being able to refer to Pattillo’s earlier publication.)

Despite its occasional shortcomings, Television Theme Recordings is a major advance in the documentation of television music.  It will be a most useful volume for libraries and collectors interested in this field.  It was the winner of a 1995 ARSC Award for Excellence in the field of Popular Music.


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