The Soundtrack

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. VOL. 1 & 2

By • Nov 20th, 2004 •

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Composers: Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried, Walter Scharf, Morton Stevens, Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Nelson Riddle.

As you may know I’ve been collecting TV themes and filmusic for over thirty years. It’s a lot easier now to get that obscure track what with CD releases of old archive material, internet searches and so on, but throughout those long years, one particular theme always eluded me: The Man From UNCLE.

UNCLE was TV’s first serious attempt (sorry, did I use ‘serious’ and ‘UNCLE’ in the same sentence then?) to cash in on the success of the Bond phenomenon. Creator Sam Rolfe initially even had Bond’s creator Ian Fleming on board, and it was actually he who came up with the main character’s name, Solo (actually the original title for the series), and the recurring premise of having an innocent suddenly caught up in a roller coaster ride of espionage and intrigue (a la North By Northwest – also arguably in itself another influence) before being returned to their normal humdrum life. The Bond camp of course didn’t like Fleming being involved with what they saw as competition, and Fleming, obviously knowing where his bread was buttered, pulled out. They also wouldn’t allow the use of Solo as the title, as a character of this name appeared in Goldfinger. So the character’s name was retained but the title changed to The Man From UNCLE.

Anyhow, back to the music.

Sure, you got versions of the theme played by bands like ‘Hank Wamster & the Figpuckers’ or some such like, but none of the versions heard on the TV (and there were four to choose from) were to be found. I had versions by The Ventures (awful), the Brian Fahey Orchestra, Roland Shaw & his Orchestra, the French-Canadian Ray Martin & his Orchestra (oh brother), Warren (Bewitched) Barker and yet another orchestra, and others. As a consequence of my relentless quest I also amassed a vast collection of dreadful versions of other TV themes as I kept buying albums simply because there was a version of UNCLE on them, and you never knew, this one might just be OK – But they never were. Even the ‘Official’ UNCLE albums by Hugo Montenegro, released in the 60s, claiming falsely to be the ‘original music’, were comprised of expanded, jazzed up arrangements of what were originally short musical cues, and certainly, though close, was not what was heard on the box, and Montenegro’s take on the theme bore no resemblance to anything heard on TV.

Therefore, dear reader, imagine my reaction when, last year, one of those random internet searches stumbled across Vol. 1 of this set. At last, the music I’d been searching for these many years, and not just a theme, but all four variations, plus around 140 minutes of incidental music. ‘Buy it quick’ I thought, ‘before I either wake up or the mirage fades…’

Now, along with the very welcome Vol. 2, these limited edition (3000 worldwide) two disc sets from Film Score Monthly bring you the opening and closing title themes from all four seasons, the expanded theme from the theatrical release One of Our Spies is Missing, plus a rejected fourth season theme by Gerald Fried, and over 280 minutes of incidental music from all four seasons, presented in suite form from named episodes. Written for these specific episodes the music would then be re-used throughout the series and become indelibly etched onto our memories.

As the mood of the series changed from season to season, like Solo’s hairstyle, the music would also. From Goldsmith’s strident, moody, straight forward first season thriller themes, through Schifrin and Fried’s funky jazzy themes, and back to the slightly more serious Drasnin and Shores themes for the final season. The most obvious change was in the main theme itself. Goldsmith’s militaristic first season theme was inspired and memorably, and unconventionally, written in 5-4 time. Then, for the second season, Lalo Schifrin got hold of it and, much to Goldsmith’s disgust, radically rearranged it, changing the time to the more conventional 4-4 and adding that driving beat we are now familiar with. The time change itself is interesting as, curiously, Schifrin would later use 5-4 time for his own Mission Impossible theme. For the third season Gerald Fried developed Schifrin’s arrangement even further adding screeching brass and Hammond organ (because ‘organs were in’). Fried came up with an even wilder arrangement for the fourth season, which was rejected in favour of a more ‘back to basics’ theme, the producers thinking that perhaps they were getting a little too ‘far out’. The rejected theme however has been rescued and can be found on Vol. 2 of this set, and I think the producers were right.

Much of the music from the series would also of course end up in the theatrical releases of our heroes’ adventures. These were originally two part episodes, sometimes with additional footage and music. The pilot episode The Vulcan Affair would become To Trap a Spy; The Double Affair – The Spy With My Face; The Alexander the Greater Affair – One Spy Too Many; The Concrete Overcoat Affair – The Spy in the Green Hat; The Prince of Darkness Affair – The Helicopter Spies; The Seven Wonders of the World Affair- How to Steal the World. Music from all these episodes and movies are to be found on these discs, plus additional music commissioned for One of Our Spies is Missing and The Spy With My Face.

To top it all the albums are also accompanied by sumptuous 20-plus page, full colour booklets featuring stills, poster art and comprehensive notes on the series, the music and the composers by Jon Burligame (Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety).

These long awaited albums are sheer delight for any Man From UNCLE fan and for anyone interested in the art of scoring for a major long-running and influential television series. They also showcase some of the early and brilliant work of some of our greatest filmusic composers.

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