Monday, May 23, 2016

Television’s Most Beautiful Music


The most beautiful music ever written for television was composed to underscore a commercial for a Canadian tea manufacturer.


But before we finish that story…

One of the more interesting aspects of growing older is how it changes your perspective on any number of things. Some people change political parties. Some move closer to or further away from religion. Some discover the joys of golf after racquetball becomes too strenuous.

My change of heart concerns what used to be called “muzak,” particularly by me in my teenage years.

I used to hate it. Now the lush instrumentals of Ray Conniff, Percy Faith and Paul Mauriat have become a peaceful refuge from a world that keeps growing louder (Dear everyone: I have no interest in your cell phone conversations; why are you forcing me to listen to them?).

Sirius XM channel 69 (“Escape”) – no better way to chill out after a stressful day. 



Television has inspired many serene compositions that would fit comfortably into the easy listening genre. Some of my favorites include:

Quentin’s Theme (Shadows of the Night)
Bob Cobert’s melancholy waltz, introduced on Dark Shadows, was recorded by more than 20 artists, including Andy Williams, and earned a Grammy nomination in 1969. 



You’re My Greatest Love (Theme from “The Honeymooners)
Written by series star Jackie Gleason, this romantic orchestral piece admittedly seemed at odds with the thunderous arguments in so many episodes. 



Angela (Theme from “Taxi”)
I’ve been a fan of smooth jazz artist Bob James for years. This is his best-known composition. As with The Honeymooners it’s a gentle theme for a volatile show, but somehow it works. 



Laura’s Palmer’s Theme (Twin Peaks)
Angelo Badalamenti’s music is too ominous for relaxation, but one cannot deny its sway. The sadness of the subject is expressed in somber, heartbreaking tones, with piano interludes that bring some hope of light amidst the darkness. When the piece ends, however, you know which side won. 



But for me, the most beautiful song ever written for television (See? I didn’t forget!) is “The Homecoming,” written by Hagood Hardy and introduced in a 1970s commercial for Salada Tea.

 

It can be difficult to put into words why a piece of music resonates – or fails to resonate. I guess that’s why in nearly 40 years of rating records on American Bandstand, almost every answer to Dick Clark’s question about a new single was, “I like the beat, and it’s easy to dance to.”

In this case neither of those attributes apply. “The Homecoming” has no beat and I doubt anyone has ever danced to it. It’s more Mantovani that Mozart but there is a sublime classical quality to the piece that is part of the reason it appeals to me. The opening strains in particular remind me of a Debussy nocturne. I love the gentle, wistful melody. I love the glissando of strings at the 1:46 mark. I love that it sounds like a walk through a forest.

I’m still not sure what it has to do with tea. The original commercial in which it was introduced is not on YouTube, but I hope to see it one day and fill in the rest of that story.

The music also has no connection to The Homecoming, a 1971 made-for-TV movie of the same name that introduced the Walton family to television. It’s still worth watching if you can get past Patricia Neal as a much bigger sourpuss than Michael Learned ever was as Olivia Walton.

Hagood Hardy’s musical legacy includes one other gift in his contribution to the revered 1985 television adaptation of Anne of Green Gables



Composing music as spectacular as the series’ Prince Edward Island setting was a formidable challenge. I think he succeeded. 



Sadly, Hardy died in 1997 at the far-too-young age of 59. His 2012 CD “All My Best” is recommended for anyone who shares my appreciation for his work.

What do you think is the most beautiful music written for television?

5 comments:

  1. I like your selections here. I also emotionally connect with the theme to "Family." The Rubinsteins know their way around a good tune.

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    1. I was in L.A. last month and drove by the 'Family' house. Still looks the same! And the show did have a memorable theme. Sorry now I didn't mention 'The Incredible Hulk ('The Lonely Man')' as well, as someone suggested on my Facebook page.

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  2. I believe Valjean's "Theme From 'Ben Casey'" deserves an honorable mention.

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  3. Though I've never been a fan of DARK SHADOWS, I am impressed that it's so well-preserved compared to its contemporary soaps. I love QUENTIN'S THEME as both instrumental & vocal. My favorite vocal version of the song is not Andy Williams' version but that of his then-wife, Claudine Longet. I couldn't find it on YouTube when I last looked for it, but her French accent helps add to the song's mysterious sound for me.

    Thanks for alerting me to THE HOMECOMING theme. I think it's fantastic. I'm sure I've heard it before, but like a lot of instrumentals, it's hard to know their names, since they're never mentioned in the song.

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    1. I don't think I've heard the Claudine Longet version, but I am intrigued to do so now!

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