Thursday, July 3, 2014


DEBORAH CROMBIE: Last week I was re-watching the first season of Endeavor on Masterpiece Mystery, in anticipation of Season 2 beginning on Sunday night, and as I listened to the opening bars of Barrington Pheloung's gorgeous, evocative score, it occurred to me that I could not imagine Morse, Inspector Lewis, or Endeavor without that signature music. (If you are Masterpiece Mystery fans, you're hearing it in your head right now.)

And then I started to think about all the movies and television shows that are inseparable from their soundtracks. Just start with John Williams: Can you imagine Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Harry Potter (just to pick a few plums from the Williams catalog) without the music? What about Star Trek without Michael Giacchino's score? The X-Files without Mark Snow's eerie whistled opening?

I loved Gabriel Yared's score for The English Patient so much that I tried to learn to play the piano. (And inflicted the same on poor Gemma, who has, at least, had marginally better results.)

Or if you're old enough (and will admit to being old enough,) just think of Rawhide, or the Andy Griffith Show. (I dare you to get that one out of your head...)

As writers, we try to convey all the senses because those cues pull the reader into the story, but I think music is the hardest thing to describe in words. Most of the time we settle for trying to portray the feelings that music invokes, and perhaps we forget just how effectively music gives us mood and emotion.

So, REDS and readers, what springs to your minds when you think of movies or television shows that just wouldn't be the same without their theme music? (No musicals allowed! That's a different challenge altogether!)

(Oh, and by the way, isn't Shaun Evans, who plays the young Morse in Endeavor, fab???)

And just in case you've never heard the theme from Morse, here it is.


  1. Soundtrack music . . . I think you've mentioned most of the ones that instantly spring to my mind.
    It's amazing how a few bars of music can become so associated with a film or a television show.
    I guess there's a whole generation of television viewers who hear the William Tell Overture and immediately think of the Lone Ranger . . . .

  2. Gone With The Wind.

    And Hawaii Five-O.

  3. My favorite John Williams soundtrack is from Superman: The Movie. (1978? Seriously?) When I hear the movie's opening fanfare, I smile and think of Christopher Reeves. Great music to write to!

  4. Thanks a lot, Debs - now I've got Gilligan's Island theme tinkling away in my head. Trying to replace it with Twilight Zone. Or Star Trek.
    Or the theme for public TV's new mystery which I'm enjoying: Death in Paradise.

    I've been watching Endeavor, too. And old Inspector Morses with Colin Dexter. And, is it okay to say this out loud because I adore Morse and Lewis... am I the only one who notices how the plots are so convoluted and fraught with coincidence?

  5. Hallie, everyone in Endeavor looks like everyone else; having a hard time telling them apart, especially when they're bloodied.

  6. The X-Files, yes, memorable and wonderful. I really miss the X-Files.

    This may be sacreligious, but I find the opening music to Downton Abbey annoying. Band of Brothers, on the other hand, had wonderful music. I gave the CD to my mom for her birthday. She listens to it all the time, and sometimes cries, she tells me. Not quite the result I intended.

    Pirates of the Caribbean would not be the same without the terrific score. I play it in my car on long driving trips. It does make me exceed the speed limit in certain parts.

    I have a CD from the old movie The Alamo, which is great listening for a mindless project. Halfway through, John Wayne's voice booms in with a rah-rah speech.

  7. Midsomer Murders theme. Eerie and appropriate . . . And hard to shake if you've been binge watching.


  8. I'm a big Morse, Lewis, Endeavor fan, so that music immediately began playing in my head.

  9. Kathy Lynn mentioned one of the first that came to my mind, Midsomer Murders. Another is the old Hercule Poirot series with David Suchet. (My son once pointed out it was the best use of a bassoon ever.) Neither of these next two are exactly soundtrack (nor highbrow) but the opening themes to both Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory are pretty amazing. Oh, and thank you for the Andy Griffith Show earworm!

  10. Sharing Mike Courtemanche's post to my Facebook page...
    The ones I'm still singing 30+ (40+?) years later include "The Brady Bunch," "The Jeffersons," "Flipper," "Good Times," and "One Day at a Time." For a good chuckle, search YouTube for a "Family Guy" clip about the long version of the "Maude" theme song. Hilarious.

  11. Hawaii Five 0, especially since it's back! As a kid, I helped a friend choreograph a majorette routine for tryouts, using that theme song. Now, every time I hear it, I'm 14 again.

    Then there's M*A*S*H - of course. I'm still in love with Hawkeye.

    Also Gilligan's Island and Cheers are favorites, and I love, love, love the opening music to NCIS.

  12. 1713John Williams really is the master. Because of the 9 year-old kiddo, I'll add the themes from Superman, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit.

  13. Oh, LordAMercy - the earworms!!! LOL!

    This is fun!


  14. M.A.S.H.!!! Of course!!! And I love the music from Poirot, and Midsummer Murders, and NCIS. Ramona, I, too, find the Downton music annoying, but am going to listen to Band of Brothers.

    I probably should have included the Masterpiece fanfare itself. And how could I have left out Doctor Who and Sherlock?

    And Pirates of the Caribbean with the wonderful Hans Zimmer score? If you're not familiar with Hans Zimmer, have a look at his credits in IMDB:

    My favorite of his--maybe, hard choice--is the music from The Holiday.

    Yes, I will forever hear The William Tell Overture when anyone mentions The Lone Ranger.

    And I gave myself the Andy Griffith earworm. Have to go listen to something else now!

  15. Susan, I agree with you about John Williams, but Hans Zimmer runs a pretty close second.

    Love the scores from The Hobbit and LOTR. But they aren't yet engraved in my brain.

  16. So many songs I hadn't thought about in ages! Can the *doink, doink* sound from Law & Order qualify as the world's shortest tv soundtrack?

  17. Yes, Barrington Pheloung is a genious! Another I like is the theme to Call the Midwife, and for a golden oldie, how about Dallas?
    And Gilmore Girls' Carol King number?

  18. In addition to most of those mentioned, my new fav is the theme from "Orange is the New Black." That is one tough theme song. :)

    Ann in Rochester

  19. So I went to hand out my laundry, and for some reason the triumphant music of CHARIOTS OF FIRE was going through my head. No idea what triggered it.

    And last week I had that theme from "Working Girl"-- is it called "Let the River Run"?-- with me for a couple of days. I even googled it-- mistake, because beyond the big hair (did anyone REALLY wear their hair like that back then????) there were the twin towers coming into view. I never liked them (I used to work downtown and go to the Fulton Fish Market, and I don't like heights so I never went up in them), but that doesn't mean I don't get all emotional seeing them.

    I didn't expect to tear up from "Let the Rivers Run." More likely from "If it takes forever" (Umbrellas of Cherbourg) or "Two for the Road." Or so I thought.

  20. The theme from the old Miss Marple with Joan Hickson was so evocative of what it was.
    And Poirot, of course.
    And Downton Abbey...
    can you tell I'm glued to PBS?

  21. Oh my gosh, Debs! I thought I was the only one who listens to the English Patient music. and how about the Out of Africa and Last of the Mohicans soundtracks. Those are terrific. Last night I was watching Endeavour and they were playing Brahms Requiem during the opening. That brought back some memories. I was in a college choir (eons ago) that performed that piece and it has stayed with me ever since.

    As for TV theme songs, my favorites were always the Henry Mancini ones. Anyone remember Peter Gunn? I read an article a few years back that no new show that had a Mancini theme was ever a failure. Quite a recommendation.

    Rhys, I'm with you on the Joan Hickson Miss Marple, both the music and the actress. She was superb. And I'm also glued to PBS. Masterpiece and Mystery are my favorites and I've been watching lots of old ones on Netflix. They're so good!

  22. I agree with Ellen: Hawaii Five-O. I think it's the best TV theme EVER! There are definitely other good series songs out there (Mary Tyler Moore comes to mind), but I love the instrumental ones.

    Oh, and Batman!

  23. Out of curiosity, would you say that the soundtrack music matches the introduction of the film or television show?

    Someone or two people in this JRW group mentioned hearing losses. I wonder if the soundtrack music sounds different to people who have partial hearing loss in comparison to those who have zero hearing loss?

    Debs, the Endeavour actor is awesome. I was thinking that he looks like one of the Manga drawings with these big eyes.

    Rhys, I am glued to PBS too. I can imagine the soundtrack to the Poirot mystery series. The introduction has this awesome images with the train and the art deco designs.

    Someone mentioned Midsomer Murders. I was watching the DVDs. They mentioned that the theme music is called tremenin (sp?). This music was invented ? by a Russian named Tremenin.

  24. Pink Panther, anyone?? One of my all-time faves! So many other great theme/soundtracks mentioned here!

    As for writing about music--have you read Louise Penny's brilliant "The Beautiful Mystery"? My God, if the page could sing!

  25. Just about everything anyone has mentioned and Rocky!

  26. I always get chills listening to Elmer Bernstein's music for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

  27. I always get chills when I hear Elmer Bernstein's MAGNIFICENT SEVEN score.

  28. Years ago, I came across the definition of a highbrow as anyone who could hear The Grand Canyon Suite without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

  29. Earworms are certainly rushing in today, as many of my favorites have been mentioned already. As well as the Masterpiece Theater intro, I love the Edward Gorey driven into to PBS Mystery. I pretty much enjoy any PBS show music.

    I've always enjoyed the music played during Grey's Anatomy. If anyone remembers the show Northern Exposure, the theme song was a great part of it. Someone described it as calypso jam, and if you can forget that the music is for a show set in fictional Cicely, Alaska, then you can hear that.

    I enjoy the music from Masters of Sex, with the opening song being a sort of tango type number, which befits the two main characters, Masters and Johnson. "Love and Marriage" is a nice touch from season one, especially if you've watched the show.

    I always looked forward to the music in the House television show, with Hugh Laurie often adding his own musical talent.

    With motion pictures, there are so many that I love. West Side Story might be the first soundtrack of a movie I ever loved. I know it was a musical, but it was my first movie music love. A couple of more modern movies with various artists are Crash and Love Actually. Of course, John Williams is brilliant with his scores for Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. I love the quirky, creepy soundtracks by Danny Elfman, too. Beetlejuice is my favorite in this type of music by him.

  30. So many good ones: Pirates, Magnificent 7, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superman.

    Only one person mentioned Law & Order? While the "doink-doink" is a signature sound, there is also a theme song that plays over the opening credits - I don't know the exact instruments, but sounds like winds and an electric guitar. And it's been playing in my head ever since I saw this link on Hallie's FB page. =)

  31. Tish is so right! How could I forget Rocky?

  32. Debs... oh yes.... such beautiful Endeavor theme music! Steve and I had this same conversation triggered for us last week when we started to re-watch the first season! Combinine the music with the classic visuals of Oxford and nothing can make me pine for a place anything like it.

    Endeavor isn't the usual detective show, and the music highlights that sense of both otherworldly and grounded understanding of the mystery universe contained within the setting.

    The music for Endeavor reestablishes my love for inquiry as a feeling.

  33. Susan, I will have to look up the Hercule Poirot music. I played the bassoon in junior high and high school, and I love hearing it in music. Thanks.

  34. I watched some of Endeavour but can't remember the theme or the one from Downton Abbey. My favorite theme is from Indiana Jones -- very memorable. I have always loved the ones from the Pink Panther and Hawaii Five-0 (loved the old show but not the new one). I remember the Poirot theme and like that. The Jeopardy think music is good and sometimes I hum it (like when I'm waiting for the cats to decide if they want to go through the door into another room).

  35. I know most of these. I too am a big PBS person. :)
    I now have a HUGE mish-mash of earworms going. :D

  36. As for TV, the Miami Vice opening theme is unforgettable. Going WAY back, the Perry Mason theme (I was a child) was scary and impressive, while the Secret Agent theme became a hit!

  37. My older brother and I used to pool our money and buy movie soundtrack LPs. How the West was Won was a biggie. Also Lawrence of Arabia. Love Midsommer's theme song. What a county to live in. My sisters and I used to sing along with all the old Warner Bros westerns: Maverick, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, etc.

  38. John Barry: Out of Africa and Dances with wolves.
    Michael Nyman: The Piano
    Pink Panther, yes

  39. Sigh. All I'm coming up with is Sesame Street, and also Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago. Well, and 2001 Space Odessy. Quite the mix, no?

  40. My absolute favorite is the bittersweet theme for Campion on Masterpiece Mystery. Beginning with a pure violin in a slightly minor key, it transforms into a lively quickstep.

    I love the Sherlock soundtrack. Does anyone else find themselves humming the rest of the phrase of "The Game is On" after hearing the first two notes whenever your Windows computer 'wake up'? Dah Dum...

    And my phone ringtone is "I am the Doctor" from Doctor Who. Love that theme.

    Also... Hill Street Blues, anything by Henry Mancini and I do love the Pirates of the Caribbean score!

  41. I've just ripped through the first season of orange is the new black. Cannot get that opening out of my head. The animals the animals....

  42. So many TV shows wouldn't be the same without their theme song. Even the clock at the beginning of 24 is iconic. But think about Greatest American Hero, Mary Tyler Moore, Lavern and Shirley, Friends, and Big Bang Theory.