Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Phantom melody, playing soft and low...

Midweek Music - The Charles Randolph Grean Sounde, "Quentin's Theme (Shadows of the Night)"

In 1969, Top 40 Radio was a hodgepodge of a format, still transitioning from the "Hit Parade" sound of the 1950s, increasingly finding room for rock acts identified with 67's Summer of Love, occasionally charting the random crossover country single, and spinning funk, bubblegum pop, and a variety of tunes from the movies and TV. Aural whiplash could occur, as the top of the Billboard chart would feature The Beatles one week, Dean Martin the next. And somehow...it all fit together. Audiences were not as sonically segregated as they are today. Thanks to an assist from television (think Ed Sullivan here), everyone got to know everything. They may not necessarily have liked every style of tuneage they heard, but no one could claim their musical tastes went unchallenged.

Forty years ago, an amazing 12 instrumental songs landed in the Top 40 within a calendar year, and
one of 1969's most successful singles came from a television show that, four decades later, remains sui generis in TV history. After three years on ABC afternoons, Dark Shadows, the Little Horror Soap Opera That Could, was at the peak of it cultural phenomenon popularity. Viewers had become obsessed with the supernatural shenanigans surrounding the Collins family of Collinsport, and Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid as the vampiric Barnabas made for an unlikely sex symbol. That's when creator/producer Dan Curtis decided to up the sexual ante with the inclusion of smouldering young actor David Selby as the cursed Quentin Collins; if the show had vampires, ghosts and witches, why not a werewolf? The gamble paid off, the ratings rose ever higher, and thus was launched a thousand "Barnabas vs. Quentin: Who Is Cuter?" competitions in the teen mags.

Curtis decided that his new character should have his own theme, a haunting waltz that Quentin would frequently listen to on an antique gramophone. He turned to series composer Bob Cobert and recommended the recycling of a tune that was written for a pub scene in Curtis' TV adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1968. Cobert asked frequent collaborator Charles Randolph Grean - who had arranged a number of songs for the Glen Miller Orchestra - to come up with lyrics, and so was born "Quentin's Theme (Shadows of the Night)."

That same year the Phillips label released an LP of music from the series, including the show's version of "Quentin's Theme" with Selby speaking the lyrics over the track. However, Lawrence Welk's record label Ranwood purchased the rights to release the song as a single to radio, and had Grean produce an orchestral arrangement. (Because it shared his label and signature sound, many mistook the song for a Welk production.) Clocking in at just a shade under two minutes, the waltz waltzed right up to the #13 position on the Billboard Singles Chart, and topped the Easy Listening chart that year as well. There followed dozens of cover versions by artists as varied as Henry Mancini, Andy Williams and - ulp - The Magic Harmonica. Grean later featured the song on a 1970 album that included his versions of other songs from the show. The tune remains a staple of "Beautiful Music" radio, and recently marked its one millionth airplay. The TV soundtrack album was a smash success, and as of 2008, remains in the Top Five best-selling television soundtracks of all time. (One of those albums was purchased by my parents, who gave it to me as a gift on my 7th birthday - and yes, I still have it.) I purchased my copy of the 45rpm from Bob's Musical Isle in Wausau, WI; two years prior, his establishment had been one of the first music stores in the nation to install vending machines for singles, an event that was covered in Billboard. Those machines were cool. They looked liked computers with big round knobs that you spun to dislodge the record inside...but they were too tall for me to reach, and Dad had to do the honors.

The original television instrumental remains under tight lock and key to Interweb listeners, but you can hear the LP version with Selby's narration here, and the Grean arrangement - complete with harpsichord, female "oooohs" and an electronic organ with rotating Leslie speaker - can be heard below...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stumbled on your very nice piece on Quentin's Theme. It's soo hard to belive that my favorite song came out 40 years ago this year. But alas the reflection in the mirror is no longer that of the 13 year old who plunked down 75 cents for Charlie Grean's version (my favorite)back in the day, Thanks again