MORE TOP TELEVISION THEME SONGS – Rich Paschall

Western Division, Rich Paschall


While westerns may have fallen out of favor in recent decades, there were a lot of them in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.  Many brought great theme songs to television and I will offer you my favorites here.

If I could not recall the tune without finding it online, I could not consider it for my Top 10.  I did uncover quite a few that I had forgotten.  Perhaps you can suggest more in the comments below.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Lone Ranger had a great theme, but it was actually Gioachino Rossini‘s Guillaume Tell, better known as The William Tell Overture.

Gene Autry and Ray Whitley wrote Back in the Saddle Again, not to be confused with the Aerosmith tune, Back in the Saddle.  Autry’s 1939 song was so much associated with him that it seemed logical to use it for his 1950’s era television show.

Roy Rogers Show. Dale Evans wrote Happy Trails which was used for the Roy Rogers radio and later television show in the 1950s.  The show starred Rogers and Evans who were married and extremely popular country and western stars.  The song was released in 1952 and has been covered by many artists.

TOP TEN COUNTDOWN

10. The Wild, Wild West.  Nope, not the one by Will Smith for his movie version of this television series. This one is a classic.

9. The High Chaparral. The television series began on NBC in 1967 and had a theme that invoked the great outdoors. This music would have fit nicely into many of the great western movie epics.

8. Bat Masterson “Back when the west was very young…” a cool guy used his cane rather than a gun. I could sing along with this one every week.

7. Wagon Train. Wagons Ho was actually the third theme for this show. The season one (1957) theme gave way to another in season two and that was changed to an instrumental version as the season went along. Season three introduced the theme you probably would remember.

6. Zorro was “The fox so cunning and free.” The Disney produced show premiered in 1957 and only lasted two years but the song lives on.

5. Have Gun Will Travel. The Ballad of Paladin. This was actually the closing theme, written by Johnny Western (a stage name, perhaps?), Sam Rolfe and the show’s star, Richard Boone.

4. The Big Valley  This western was not only in a big valley, it had a big name cast led by movie star Barbara Stanwyck.  The theme was by George Duning.

3. Maverick  “Who is the tall dark stranger there?”  Well, the cast of Mavericks kept changing.  Initially it was James Garner and after 8 weeks a brother played by Jack Kelly came along.  There were  4 brothers and a cousin (Roger Moore) by the time they were through.  The theme was by David Buttolph and Paul Francis Webster.

2. Bonanza, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.  These two were well acquainted with hits, including the famous Mr. Ed.

1. Rawhide.  The hit tune sung by Frankie Laine was famously covered by the Blues Brothers in their first movie.

See also: “The Television Western,” rjptalk, Sunday Night Blog.

THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF THE SHORT WESTERN – RICH PASCHALL

My Top Ten Half Hour Westerns, By Rich Paschall

Previously on Top Ten Lists, the half-hour dramas were pursued and captured by our list makers after a mighty struggle with the internet.  The hero of our saga had to hunt down the short dramas of yesteryear because the present day folks had completely abandoned the idea of getting to the point quickly.  These stories were rounded up one by one and displayed in Too Much Drama, an episode from a couple of weeks ago.  Now the tale of the half-hour drama resumes with the Western division.  Our hero will ride off into the sunset looking for horse dramas that actually had a plot and moved right along.  Saddle up and follow us down the trail.

In the early days of television, the western was a staple of programming.  Many shows were radio broadcasts that became a television series.  With an abundance of radio scripts that could be filmed, it was a natural progression of the media.  While you may remember the famous one-hour westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, they were preceded by a short western with a somewhat simple plot where the bad guy was always caught.  “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver!” The half hour western rides again!

Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain

10.  Rifleman starring Chuck Connors.  Lucas McCain brings law and order to North Fork with a modified rifle.  Johnny Crawford played his son and by the end of the series in 1963 he was a true teenage heart-throb.  This added to my interest, I suppose.

09. Trackdown starring Robert Culp.  The series attempted to tone down the violence prevalent in other westerns.  Steve McQueen appeared as Josh Randall in the series and Wanted Dead or Alive became a spin-off in 1958.

08.  Cisco Kid starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo.  It was the story of an American hero, the Cisco Kid, and his slow-witted sidekick, Poncho.  Renaldo was arrested in 1934 for illegal entry into the US (before DACA) and ultimately pardoned by the President.  Carrillo was of Spanish descent.  

07.  Wanted Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen.   McQueen plays bounty hunter Josh Randall for three seasons.  His character didn’t seem to be in it for the money, however, as he gave much of the earnings away.  It could be said this series launched a huge movie career for McQueen.

06.  The Roy Rogers Show starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  The show started in 1951 and ran for 100 episodes over the next six years.  It was heavily marketed to children with a glut of Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys” toys.  Dale Evans penned the popular closing song, Happy Trails.

05.  Zorro starring Guy Williams.  “Zorro, the fox so cunning and free,” ran for just 78 episodes, but seemed to us like it was on forever due to syndication.  It also had 4 one hour shows on the Walt Disney series.

04.  The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore and John Hart.  Although everyone thinks of Moore as the Lone Ranger, Hart covered the role for 52 episodes from 1952 to 1954.  The series overall output was 221 episodes and reruns featuring Hart were shelved for decades after Moore returned following a contract dispute (or creative differences, depending on where you hear it).  Like other short-form Westerns of the era,  the program was heavily merchandised to children.

03.  The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brien. The highly fictionalized version of the real-life western legend ran for 229 episodes over 6 seasons, yes they made a lot of episodes for a season in those years.  O’Brien held a slight resemblance to Earp which allegedly was an influence in the casting.  The series started in Kansas but naturally ended in Tombstone, Arizona years later.

02.  Bat Masterson starring Gene Barry.   This TV series is another highly fictionalized version of a legendary figure.  The real Masterson may have worn a derby hat in the Wild West days as Barry did in the series, but he may not have been as likely to deal with you by knocking you on the head with his cane rather than using his gun.  In any case, the series was very entertaining and Gene Barry was much better dressed than Masterson in any of the surviving photos.  An interesting side note is that the real-life Earp and Masterson were deputies together in Dodge City and met again later in Tombstone.

01.  Have Gun, Will Travel starring Richard Boone.  Although Paladin might prefer to avoid fighting and bloodshed, he would not hesitate to shoot you if necessary.  The San Francisco based hired gun had a strong sense of justice in 225 episodes.  As a kid, I had a holster and plastic gun like the one in the opening sequence as well as the business cards announcing “Have Gun – Will Travel.”  At that young age, however, I didn’t travel very far.

Do you have favorite half hour dramas?  Add them to the comments below.  For any opening hit the title above, or watch all the openings on the Playlist here.

Related:  Too Much Drama

TOP TELEVISION THEME SONGS III

Western Division, Rich Paschall

All of the comments over the last two weeks were proof that we should have had a Western Division.  While westerns may have fallen out of favor in recent decades, there were a lot of them in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Many brought great theme songs to television and I will offer you my favorites here.

As with the Drama and Comedy Divisions, if I could not recall the tune without finding it online, I could not consider it for my Top 10.  I did uncover quite a few that I had forgotten.  Perhaps you can suggest more in the comments below.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Lone Ranger had a great theme, but it was actually Gioachino Rossini‘s Guillaume Tell, better known as The William Tell Overture.

Gene Autry and Ray Whitley wrote Back in the Saddle Again, not to be confused with the Aerosmith tune, Back in the Saddle.  Autry’s 1939 song was so much associated with him that it seemed logical to use it for his 1950’s era television show.

Roy Rogers Show. Dale Evans wrote Happy Trails which was used for the Roy Rogers radio and later television show in the 1950s.  The show starred Rogers and Evans who were married and extremely popular country and western stars.  The song was released in 1952 and has been covered by many artists.

TOP TEN COUNTDOWN

10. The Wild, Wild West.  Nope, not the one by Will Smith for his movie version of this television series. This one is a classic.

9. The High Chaparral. The television series began on NBC in 1967 and had a theme that invoked the great outdoors. This music would have fit nicely into many of the great western movie epics.

8. Bat Masterson “Back when the west was very young…” a cool guy used his cane rather than a gun. I could sing along with this one every week.

7. Wagon Train. Wagons Ho was actually the third theme for this show. The season one (1957) theme gave way to another in season two and that was changed to an instrumental version as the season went along. Season three introduced the theme you probably would remember.

6. Zorro was “The fox so cunning and free.” The Disney produced show premiered in 1957 and only last two years but the song lives on in my brain.

5. Have Gun Will Travel. The Ballad of Paladin. This was actually the closing theme, written by Johnny Western (a stage name, perhaps?), Sam Rolfe and the show’s star, Richard Boone.

4. The Big Valley  This western was not only in a big valley, it had a big name cast led by movie star Barbara Stanwyck.  The theme was by George Duning.

3. Maverick  “Who is the tall dark stranger there?”  Well, the cast of Mavericks kept changing.  Initially it was James Garner and after 8 weeks a brother played by Jack Kelly came along.  There were  4 brothers and a cousin (Roger Moore) by the time they were through.  The theme was by David Buttolph and Paul Francis Webster.

2. Bonanza, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.  These two were well acquainted with hits, including the famous Mr. Ed.

1. Rawhide.  Just like Bonanza we served this one up in the Drama Division before we realized we needed a Western subset.

Related: The Television Western, Sunday Night Blog

 

Heroes

Guy Williams as ZorroLife has been singularly bereft of heroes lately. Perhaps I’m just getting older and life is making me more cynical but I think it’s the world that’s getting more cynical. It seems to me there has been a continuing trend on TV and the movies that has accelerated in recent years to create heroes who are not entirely heroic, but rather more human. Less black and white, more gray. Despite how reasonable this approach may be, I prefer my heroes heroic.

I like my superheroes really super, solidly and clearly on the side of justice. There’s plenty of room in literature, film, theater and television for ambivalence and flawed heroes. At least in genres where my heroes fight evil to save the earth or a some piece of it, I want a clear and unambiguous line between good and evil. Life isn’t really like that, but that’s what escapism in the movies and on television is all about.Santa_Claus_1

Give me a masked hero, preferably on a horse, wielding a sword. I can make do with a six-gun if he only shoots them in the hand (the Lone Ranger never actually killed anyone).

Today being Christmas, my first question is whether or not Santa Claus counts as a superhero. I think the answer will depend on the age of the person answering the question. Probably “yes” below age 6. A solid “maybe” through around age 9, followed by a short period of  “I don’t think so.” I remember when my granddaughter was at the “switchover” age. She was reasonably sure there was no Santa Claus, but she figured she ought to hedge her bets, just in case.

She definitely didn’t want to alienate Santa should he turn out to be the bestower of gifts. Thus she “sort of believed,” but sort of didn’t. It was funny watching her work her way through her first major philosophical dilemma.

Personally, I’m a weenie for masked men. I’m a sucker for horses even without a rider, so it can’t be much of a surprise.  Depending on the level of heroism involves, I can compromise on the mask too. But LOTS of extra credit for the horse and if it is a particularly magnificent steed … ah, be still my heart.

I am almost as passionate about superheroes. I favor capes. Although I waited patiently, none of my heroes ever came to take me away. I love my husband and an orange 1970 (1969?) Dodge Challenger convertible, although not a horse, was certainly a better than average ride, but I did long for the mythos and might of my comic book and screen heroes and super heroes. Although I’m significantly more creaky than I used to be (maybe a buckboard rather than a saddle?) I’m still ready and waiting.

Superman was filmed in color, though I was well into my 30s before I saw it for myself. Until then, I never had a color TV so I remember all those early shows as black and white and am frequently surprised to discover they are actually in color. Zorro made my heart flutter and The Lone Ranger made me weak in the knees. Despite the fact that to this day, I cannot fathom how come no one recognized Superman when he wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses, I loved him anyway. Batman too, though Supe was really My Guy.

Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore
Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

I had some small issue with the whole phone booth thing since in New York, where I grew up, they had glass sides, so they were not exactly a private shelter. Why didn’t he just do it at super speed so no one could see? Who needs a phone booth anyhow?

I am glad that movie makers share my love for the super guys who filled the dreams of my girlhood. I was the only girl … hell, the only kid … I knew who had Lone Ranger wallpaper. Not on a computer. There was no such thing. No, I had it on my walls. Lone and Tonto, endlessly riding in a small circle around the same little patch of ground … “Hi yo Silver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again!” I always thought Tonto got rather short shrift and I thought his horse, Scout, was every bit as cool as Silver, but I would have settled for any kind of equine.

He could graze on our lawn, live in the otherwise unused garage, please mom? I’ll take care of him. You won’t have to do a thing.

She was immovable. How could I lead the fight for Justice without a horse? I tried flying, which worked for Superman, but all I got were scabby knees and elbows. No matter how hard, no leap got me over a single tall, or even medium-sized building.

So, return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Silver and Scout, Trigger and that fabulous black horse that Zorro always rode carried my heroes, with and without masks. I absolutely positively will NOT see the latest remake. Johnny Depp in heavy makeup and way too many feathers as Tonto? Hell, Jay Silverheels was at least a real Native American. Couldn’t we do as well in 2012?

We could use a few heroes now, could we not?

Maybe they are still out there … we just don’t seem to see much of them anymore.