The Man From U.N.C.L.E., overall, had some excellent scores over its 105 episodes. The series employed composers of varying styles and music was a major asset for the series. Here is a look at the composers. Text © 1997-2015 William J. Koenig.
Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith (1929-2004) had a long and successful career as a film and television composer. He was hired by Norman Felton to score the pilot for what was then to be called “Solo.”
Goldsmith delivered big time, not only providing a compelling score but also the distinctive theme music. He only provided three original scores but he has a huge presence in Season One via stock music scores, where music was recycled rather than having a new score written. Goldsmith’s music greatly enhances scene in the pilot where Thrush agents invade UNCLE HQs, especially because there’s no dialogue in the sequence.
In Season Four, Goldsmith scores were re-recorded and used as part of the “back to basics” movement of producer Anthony Spinner. Goldsmith was credited with only one score (Eps. 97) but his stock music would also appear in Eps. 98-103. One of his first post-UNCLE projects was scoring another spy vehicle, the 1965 movie, “Our Man Flint.”
Hidden treasure: With so many movie scores, you’d think virtually everything Goldsmith has done would be available on CD. Here is one exception: His theme to “Archer,” a 1975 series with Brian Keith as Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. Goldsmith scored one episode as well. “Archer,” alas, only lasted six episodes.
Morton Stevens. Stevens (1929-1991) was the first composer to follow Goldsmith on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He only did four original scores (Iowa Scuba, Double, Finny Foot and Yellow Scarf affairs) but also did the arrangement of the theme used in the second half of Season One (Source: Jon Burlingame liner notes for the Film Score Monthly CDs). But the high quality of his work caused the producers to re-use his compositions throughout Season One.
Often, Frank Anderson, the music editor/supervisor would use Goldsmith and Stevens music together in stock scores. Their styles complemented one another’s quite nicely. Stevens’ “Chase” (called “Wild Bike” on a 1965 MFU music album that wasn’t an original soundtrack) originally composed for Eps. 8, was one of the most frequently recycled pieces during Season One. In Eps. 20, for example, it was used twice.
Stevens’ greatest fame was as composer of “Hawaii Five-O.” Not only did he write the world-famous theme music, he won and Emmy for the score of “Hookman,” the first episode of Five-O’s sixth season. Stevens also appeared on the series as a musician who dies of a drug overdose. The composer did work on Five-O periodically throughout its 12-year run, including an excellent score for the otherwise lackluster 1980 final episode. He also composed the theme for “Police Woman.” Author Jon Burlingame, in a 1995 book, writes the latter simply inverted the “Flint” theme of his good friend Jerry Goldsmith.
RELATED: 45th anniversary of the best TV theme, a Sept. 20, 2013 post on The Spy Command.
Walter Scharf (1910-2003). Scharf was a workhorse during Season One. He had six original scores (Quadripartite, Shark, Giuoco Piano, Project Strigas, Deadly Decoy and Love affairs). His music isn’t as distinctive as either Goldsmith or Stevens, but he always did a steady job and his music usually enhanced the scene. Scharf had a long career, with movie credits going back to at least the 1940s.
Lalo Schifrin (b. 1932). Composed only two MFU scores but his work is pretty good. Schifrin (b. 1932) would also rearrange the Goldsmith theme and this version would run during Season Two and sounds similar to the “Mission:Impossible” theme he would later compose. Besides “M:I,” he would also compose another memorable TV theme, “Mannix.”
Hidden treasure: Both M:I and Mannix were produced by Bruce Geller and ran on CBS. In 1975, CBS figured the third time would be the charm, so the network ran “Bronk,” a Geller-produced police show starring Jack Palance. It only lasted one season but Schifrin’s theme was very good.
Gerald Fried (b. 1928). First composer of Season Two, Fried (b. 1928) had a very strong debut with Alexander the Greater Affair. He would go onto to be MFU’s most prolific composer, working into the beginning of Season Four. His work is more up and down than the others. It seemed if the episode were really good (like Alexander), he would deliver a strong effort. If a show were overly silly (My Friend, the Gorilla or Hot Number affairs), his score matched it. Fried did the arrangement of Goldsmith’s MFU theme during Season Three. In 1983, he was hired to score The Return of the Man From UNCLE. Reportedly, writer/executive producer Michael Sloan was unaware Fried had ever written any MFU music. Fried’s best work probably is the original “Roots” mini-series. Quincy Jones had scored the initial segment. Fried took over. Fried produced the stirring “Roots” main theme. In the titles, this music was shown over a series of drawings that summarized the entire mini-series.
Hidden treasure: Try the theme song to “It’s About Time,” music by Fried, lyrics by Sherwood Schwartz, available on one of the TV Toons CDs.
Robert Drasnin (1927-2015). Produced eight original scores during seasons two and three. Not very well known but his MFU work is pretty distinctive. His debut score was one of the many highlights of The Foxes and Hounds Affair. One sign of the quality of his work was how often his music was used in stock scores. During Season Two, his compositions were re-used about as much as Fried’s, even though the latter scored several more episodes than Drasnin. Even in Season Three (where Drasnin only produced two original scores), his music shows up a fair amount in the stock music.
Drasnin also composed the memorable “Dr. Loveless Theme” used whenever the dwarf mad scientist showed up on “The Wild, Wild West” (Drasnin composed the score for the first Loveless appearance). A later credit for Drasnin is as music supervisor of the 1980 “More Wild, Wild West” television movie.
Nelson Riddle (1921-1985). Veteran composer, whose earlier work included “Route 66” and the theme for “The Untouchables,” was retained to score The Concrete Overcoat Affair, a two-part episode and the strongest effort of Season Three. Norman Felton was very dissatisified with the effort. Listening to the score, it sounds like Riddle was recycling some of the background music he composed for the Adam West “Batman” series. In part II, some reused Fried music was used in place of Riddle. Nevertheless, Riddle’s music from Concrete Overcoat would be used in stock music during the remainder of Season Three.
Richard Shores. Shores (1917-2001) was another veteran composer who often produced a very dramatic sound. Ironically, his first UNCLE involvement was on the light-hearted Girl From UNCLE spinoff. On GFU, that seemed like a mismatch (like the awful Montori Device Affair — good music, absymal story). Shores’ work fit right in with the plans of MFU Season Four producer Anthony Spinner. His initial effort, The Summit-Five Affair, was a highlight of the show. Perhaps his best UNCLE work was the music for the two-part Prince of Darkness Affair, especially during Act IV of part II. A correction from previous editions of this page: Shores did not do the Season Four arrangement of the Goldsmith theme, this version having a brassy sound. Jon Burlingame, who produced the 2002 MFU soundtrack for Film Score Monthly, documented that the arrangement was not his work. Shores’ work does appear in other series, including “The Wild, Wild West,” “Perry Mason” and “Hawaii Five-O.” To read a 2004 article by Jon Burlingame about the life of Shores, CLICK HERE.
Shores Links: To view a re-edited 1967 promo of “The Wild, Wild West,” click here. The minute-long promo features music Shores composed for “The Night of the Eccentrics,” the first episode broadcast during the 1966-67 season. Most of the clips are from the second half of the season, including “The Night of the Feathered Fury,” a sequel to “Eccentrics.”
Dave Grusin (b. 1934). Grusin scored the first GFU episode and did the arrangement of the Goldsmith theme used on the spinoff series. He also produced good work scoring several GFU episodes, especially The Mother Muffin Affair. Grusin began scoring films in the late 1960s. His credits include “The Graduate,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Firm.” He has one Oscar (for “The Milagro Beanfield War”) and several nominations. His TV credits include the theme music for “It Takes a Thief” and “St. Elsewhere.”
Hidden treasure: Grusin’s score for “Prescription: Murder,” the 1968 TV-movie that launched the career of Lt. Columbo, is extremely good. It’s very different from other Columbo scores and utilizes a variety of styles. Highly recommended.
Jack Marshall (1921-1973). Composed the score for one GFU episode, The Horns of the Dilemma Affair. Marshall also composed the theme for “The Munsters.”
Daniel Pemberton (b. 1978). English composer tapped to score The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie directed by Guy Ritchie and scheduled for release in August 2015. Pemberton updated followers on his Twitter feed in September and October 2014 about the recording of his U.N.C.L.E. score. Pemberton, though, did not reveal if he was using Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for the new movie.
UPDATE (Oct. 19, 2014): The Golden Anniversary Affair, a Los Angeles-area event for the 50th anniversary of the television show, included a band doing selections of U.N.C.L.E. music. The organizers of The Golden Anniversary Affair posted a selection of that live music on YouTube: