Originalls posted on October 24, 2009:
I’ve written before about how my love for soundtracks and movie themes predated my interest in rock and pop. Well, forty years later, as I continue to expand the boundaries of my rock and pop universe, I continue as well to listen to soundtracks, renewing acquaintances with previously heard composers, artists and works, as well as finding new folks and music to hear. And I still find myself digging, from time to time, into television themes, a category that seems to divide itself into three subfolders: those themes I heard while watching favorite shows in years gone, those I hear while watching favorites these days, and those themes I’m aware of – both then and now – that come from shows I don’t recall seeing.
When I search for “television theme” on the RealPlayer, I get back a list of eighty pieces. (That doesn’t yet include the more than one hundred mp3s from television westerns I found and wrote about the other day; those have yet to be sorted and indexed.) And a run through the titles can be quite a trip:
The earliest television theme I have is Miklós Rósa’s unmistakable piece for Dragnet, which first went on the air as a radio drama in the late 1940s and then came to television in 1951. The radio version lasted until 1957, the first television version ran until 1959, and the show was revived on television from 1967 to 1970. The mp3 I have is, I think, the theme from the early television show. (One of the difficulties in dating and sorting television themes is that the themes are often tinkered with from one season to the next, and it’s difficult to know which season’s theme one has.)
The most recent comes from 2006: the evocative theme by W.G. “Snuffy” Walden for Friday Night Lights, whose new season starts this week on DirecTV. We don’t have that service, so we’ll have to wait until next spring, I think, to see the new episodes on NBC. I will have a hard time waiting; I truly think that Friday Night Lights is one of the great television dramas ever made.
Between those extremes in time fall a lot of good themes, a lot of very dorky bits of music, and a number of tunes that lay right into the middle. A while back, I offered a selection of television themes, and I might do so again in the next few weeks. But this morning, I’m thinking about one theme in particular.
Late last evening, while the Texas Gal was studying, I scanned the DVD shelves and pulled down a box that I’d set aside when we moved and hadn’t gotten back to since: Hill Street Blues: The Complete First Season, a gift – with its companion second season – from the Texas Gal a few years ago. Back in the 1980s, when each week’s episode of Hill Street Blues was essential watching at my house, I would have put the drama—edgy for its time – in the top spot of my list of best television series of all time.
Since then, there are some television series that have been better, although not many. A few that I’m sure of are The West Wing, The Sopranos and Deadwood. I’ve never watched The Wire nor Homicide, omissions that will be remedied, but they might belong in a list of the top ten television dramas of all time; I know that the Texas Gal will reserve a spot for ER, and I’d likely concur. I mentioned Friday Night Lights above, and there are other recent dramas that might push HSB down the list a little further, but without actually pulling that list together, I’m pretty certain that Hill Street Blues stays in the top ten.
Even if that’s not the case, it doesn’t take away from the quality of the show or the pleasure I – and others, I assume – get while watching the first season unfold on my screen, with the second season box waiting for me to get to it. (A check at Amazon this morning showed no other seasons currently available; I hope that will change. There was a link to a firm offering a box set of the full series, but I have a hunch that’s a counterfeit.)
And that pleasure includes the little shiver I still get from the introductory piano chords of Mike Post’s theme for the show. Whether it’s the version from the show itself with the voice of the dispatcher and the sound of sirens or the version released as a single – it went to No. 10 during the autumn of 1981 – that little shiver is still there. And here they are, today’s Saturday Singles:
“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, television theme 
“The Theme from Hill Street Blues” by Mike Post, Elektra 47186 
(Featuring Larry Carlton on guitar)