Original Music Off the Telly

TJ Worthington with OTT’s guide to TV tie-in records

First published September 2004

Unless you’re on an auction website and engaged in a bidding war against a would-be DJ who has been seduced by the promise of “moogs funks breaks” hidden within Roland Rat – The Cassette Of The Album, a wide variety of TV-related soundtrack albums can be picked up quite easily by the curious listener. Ranging from the first stirrings of a television service to the present day, and from cynically created attempts to create genuine pop stars under the flimsiest smokescreen of a television show imaginable to the sound of massed spectators at televised sporting events, there are a literally innumerable amount of albums and singles featuring music – and indeed sometimes not any music at all – from “the popular TV series.”

Hardly surprisingly, such releases vary wildly in quality. Some are essential collections of short but perfectly formed pieces of music that delighted generations of viewers before slipping into cultural obscurity. Some feature nothing more essential than poorly-arranged cover versions performed by musicians who sound as though they would rather have been somewhere else, and deserve little more than to be thrown very hard at the nearest wall. And some, to be blunt, are a waste of time and money. With this in mind, OTT presents a guide to fighting your way through 15 of the most popular genres currently languishing in a charity shop near you, highlighting the best and decrying the worst of each.

If you’re looking for moogs, funks or breaks then we can’t help you, sorry, but if you want to know which albums are worth listening to from start to finish and which are worth avoiding, look no further. Come on, let’s get past this skatey bit … once we get into them grooves we’ll be alright.

1. “What the…?”

File Under: Releases for which there was no clear musical, commerical or logical reason

On the Listening Post: Running Loose

Stretching to two series over the late 1980s, Yorkshire Television’s Running Loose was an innovative and award-winning children’s drama serial that was partially improvised by its non-professional cast. Although generally favourably received, the show never really caught on to a significant extent, and so it remains something of a mystery as to why the modish synthesized mock-reggae soundtrack was considered to be a viable enough commercial prospect to be granted a full-length album release. While it certainly makes for pleasant listening, the music is hardly either distinguished or exciting enough to make the reasons for the album’s existence obvious, and quite who it was believed would rush out to buy a tie-in album for such a relatively low-key series is unclear.

There have been many other releases of which the point remains utterly elusive, although unlike Running Loose most of these were confined to the length of a single. The Snow Spider, Danny Chang’s atmospheric but not exactly catchy theme from HTV’s Saturday afternoon serial of the same name, was plugged on television but sold in such small quantities that it is now almost impossible to find; the undistinguished theme from Albion Market showed up on 7″ just as Granada decided to pull the plug on the unpopular series; Rod Argent and Peter Van Hooke’s theme from lacklustre Channel 4 post-apocalypse sitcom Not With a Bang lacked the punch of their other themes from the same era; and the annoyingly repetitious Saturday Banana was not exactly one of Bill Oddie’s more commercial moments. However, even the most insatiable follower of Doctor Who must surely have been left baffled by two of the most inexplicable spin-off records ever to be associated with it, both of which were largely the work of Ian Levine; a full-length single release for the theme from K9 and Company, an underwhelming instrumental lent an absurdist sheen by John Leeson chirruping “K9!” at regular intervals, and Doctor In Distress, a woeful hi-NRG workout protesting against the mid-1980s “cancellation crisis”. Everyone involved in the production must have been acutely aware that it was likely neither to trouble the charts nor to force Michael Grade to change his mind, and there is no small irony to the fact that it was released under the somehow appropriate moniker Who Cares?. Sorry Ian. We liked All Over The World by Chuck Jackson, if that’s any consolation.

2. “Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Elaine Paige”

File Under: Collections of performances by musical guests on television shows

On the Listening Post: Later Presents… Brit Beat

The natural assumption would be that compilations of live musical performances on television shows have no place in this multimedia age, which it is why it may come as a surprise to some that our key choice here is a surprisingly recent one. Released in 1996, Later Presents … Brit Beat gathered together choice performances by Britpop bands who had appeared on Jools Holland’s show over the last couple of years, presenting a vivid musical snapshot of an exciting time and capturing some fleetingly brilliant bands at the height of their powers. Elastica, Pulp, Blur, The Charlatans, Suede and Oasis are all present and correct alongside such less well-remembered figures as The Auteurs and The Bluetones, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how Edwyn Collins managed to recapture that guitar sound on A Girl Like You live then look no further. Brit Beat was followed soon afterwards by Slow Beat, an equally impressive set that concentrated on innovative dance artists like Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack.

From two decades earlier, the two volumes of The Old Grey Whistle Test arrived just before punk rock did, and so are taken up with performances on the show by homegrown progressive rock outfits and visiting American AOR performers, while going back even further in time, the deliriously obscure soundtrack to BBC Wales pop music show Disc a Dawn is a fascinating glimpse into an otherwise remote world of Welsh language Leonard Cohen covers, and performers like Meic Stevens, Heather Jones and The Henneys who were presumably megastars in their homeland but virtually unknown elsewhere. Scott Walker Sings Songs From His TV Series is exactly what the title suggests, and has the dubious distinction of being simultaneously the rarest and the least sought-after aspect of his 1960s output, while The Sandie Shaw Supplement performed a similar function but is a much more palatable listen. More interestingly still, the soundtracks of a great many shows and performances that were not considered worthy of commercial release at the time of broadcast are now being issued to eager collectors, amongst them a respectful rounding-up of Marc Bolan’s final television performances on Granada’s Marc, and muddy off-air recordings of The 13th Floor Elevators appearances circa 1996 on Sump’n Else, an American magazine show of which the video masters have presumably long since been wiped. Mention should also be made of the various early BBC2 jazz shows including Jazz 625 and Jazz at the Maltings, which did not inspire any commercial releases at the time but are now seen as invaluable records of performers of the day and surviving soundtracks frequently find their way onto retrospective collections.

As suggested by the above releases, such compilations are the almost exclusive preserve of serious-minded rock music shows, aimed at the sort of fans who are likely to see the appeal of otherwise unavailable live recordings. Collections of small-screen performances by the sort of middle-of-the-road acts who used to regularly appear on comedy and variety shows are unsurprisingly somewhat thinner on the ground – most tie-in releases by the likes of Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson and Peter Fenn were in fact made up of studio recordings – and unless someone is planning to issue a Maggie Moone box set in the near future it will hopefully stay that way!

3. “Rick, Julie and Jonathan sing songs from…”

File Under: Collections of songs featured in a particular television show

On the Listening Post: The New Goodies LP

It’s always difficult to gauge whether a television show with a heavy song-orientated slant had been conceived with a commercial release in mind, or whether somebody simply realised later on that all of those catchy pop songs would make a good album. Nonetheless, the latter is certainly true of The Goodies; after all, Bill Oddie had been releasing singles and albums to little attention for the best part of a decade by the time that the series came about, and it’s probable that they simply intended to use his compositions as an artistic device. Inevitably, some Goodies releases did eventually appear, and to the surprise of many the trio enjoyed a great deal of chart success in the mid-1970s. Released in 1975, The New Goodies LP (recorded “Almost Live” at the Cricklewood Rainbow) is a perfect example of how such an album should be handled, from the subtle jokes at the expense of the “proper” recording industry on the sleeve (“Back To Mono!”) to the contents, which mixed hit singles with songs that had appeared in the show, and new compositions designed to take full advantage of the creative possibilities afforded by the medium. The sublime Custard Pie in particular is a rare example of a comedy song that manages to be funny despite concerning itself with strictly visual subject matter, caked in over-the-top funk inflections and ridiculously crude sound effects.

The two albums released to cash in on the success of Spitting Image and the surprising chart-topper The Chicken Song, namely Spit In Your Ear and 20 Great Golden Gobs, are well thought-out collections of songs from the series that work well without their visuals, and are still amusing despite some of the targets of their humour having long since slipped from the public radar. Now virtually forgotten, Vic Reeves’ I Will Cure You is an entertaining collection of his self-composed numbers from Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out with a few bizarre cover versions thrown in for good measure. Often these are given extended workouts that diversify into even more surreal areas than they had done on television, notably a superb reading of I Remember Punk Rock that includes a guest appearance by Jonathan Ross. The same goes for Neil Innes’ The Innes Book of Records, which takes the opportunity to present more polished versions of songs that had to be tailored to match quasi-narrative films for the series itself.

Away from comedy, the back catalogue of The Monkees speaks for itself; they may still be sneeringly derided for “not playing their instruments”, but their numerous singles and albums are full of some of the best guitar pop of the 1960s, including some oft-overlooked experimental comedy numbers like Zilch and Gonna Buy Me a Dog. Reissues of the albums have incorporated bonus tracks in the form of songs that had been heard in the series but had not previously appeared on record, many of which are every bit the equal of their hit songs. It is dubious as to what extent S Club 7′s releases could be considered to be strictly “tie-in”, but they are worthy of mention here as they not only formed an appropriate backdrop to their onscreen adventures (and at times even became part of the narrative), but are also sparkling collections of well-above-average pop music.

Slightly less successfully, the various musical acts on Thames Television’s long-running Rainbow were responsible for a number of albums that veered distractingly between excellent pop songs and twee unlistenable nonsense, making them difficult to listen to from start to finish. Offering a slightly different slant on the same problem, the many albums based on Play School and Play Away display a noticeable drop in quality over time. Early efforts such as Bang On a Drum are infused with the frustrated musical ambitions of various presenters and are full of hidden gems, whereas later releases stick strictly to a songs-for-children-by-numbers template and are musically quite drab.

Similarly, the apparently endless procession of albums based around various animated “pop groups” from American shows of the late 1960s and early 1970s (see The Archies, The Banana Splits, Josie and The Pussycats, The Groovy Ghoulies, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, Lancelot Link and The Evolution Revolution and countless others) tend to contain one or two lost classics alongside 10 or 11 unmemorable slabs of throwaway filler. The one notable exception to this, oddly, is the double-set issued by Animal Kwackers, featuring unexpectedly soulful Glam Rock-tinged readings of everything from recent pop hits to hymns. Not bad for musicians wrapped in huge cartoony animal costumes. Speaking of which, an honourable mention must be made here of The Wombles; their songs may never have actually appeared in the television show, but they have worn a lot better than might reasonably be expected of novelty records from the mid-1970s.

Bottom of the pile in every sense is The Glam Metal Detectives, a frankly awful collection of dull musical pretentiousness with very little melody or humour, which even the show’s stars now recoil at the memory of and probably cost a lot more to record than it ever made back. On this evidence, it is no longer difficult to understand what caused a likeable sketch show with a reasonable degree of inventiveness to go down in the history books as a resounding failure.

4. “I am important pop star – I make record”

File Under: Original soundtracks of television programmes, given a slight refit to suit the audio medium

On the Listening Post: Hedgehog Sandwich

In the days before home video became a practical reality, it was not unusual for fans of television comedy shows to be catered for by albums that lifted material directly from the soundtrack of the programme. Curiously, the best example of this practice is also one of the last to appear before the advent of home video; all of the albums based around Not The Nine o’Clock News make for superb listening, with material re-edited and rearranged in a manner that gives a fresh flow to the humour and leaves the listener wanting more – and Hedgehog Sandwich is the most successful of the lot. The fact that it contains some of the strongest material, including the “Racist Policeman” sketch and a number of excellent songs like “England My Leotard” and “Baronet Oswald Ernold Moseley”, should not be overlooked, but all the same this is a brilliantly compiled and crafted set that is easily on a par with the television originals.

For some earlier comedy programmes such as At Last The 1948 Show and Not Only But Also, the soundtrack albums serve a dual purpose; they not only successfully recapture the brilliance of these pioneering efforts, but also feature the only known recordings of superb sketches that have long since been wiped. Others feature a minute amount of “new” material, such as the Fawlty Towers albums which have their more visual aspects explained by Andrew Sachs, in character as Manuel and supposedly narrating events as a letter home to his mother.

This tactic of presentation was also favoured by releases based on children’s shows, including one particular example that narrowly missed out on becoming the listening post selection for this category. The albums that accompanied Gordon Murray’s “Trumptonshire” shows present Freddie Phillips’ superb musical tracks in full, often revealing previously unheard sections, and boast fresh linking narration provided by Brian Cant. While it would be stretching the imagination somewhat to describe these albums as featuring new stories as such, the manner in which they weave between characters and songs is certainly imaginative and entertaining. The same tactic was employed by Derek Griffiths on Heads and Tails, and by Tom Baker for a heavily truncated version of the Doctor Who” story Genesis of the Daleks, although some other speech-heavy shows such as Animal Magic and Jackanory saw their vinyl editions simply omit the more visual aspects – along with, sadly, much of the music.

Wooden spoon in this category goes to whoever decided it would be a good idea to issue straight dubs of the soundtracks of frequently repeated shows that are also easily available on a commercial basis like I’m Alan Partridge and Only Fools and Horses, and indeed to whoever believes it is a good idea to buy them. It is pointless releases like these that are primarily responsible for the current dearth of imagination in television soundtrack albums.

5. “New adventures in hi-fi”

File Under: Original cast recordings based on the popular television series

On the Listening Post: Another Monty Python record

Recorded for BBC Records in 1970, the first vinyl excursion for the Monty Python team was a disheartening experience, basically consisting of little more than straight re-performances of television sketches recorded in mono in front of an unsympathetic live audience. Determined to do a better job next time, the team got a proper recording contract and booked time in a proper studio. The process was reportedly somewhat arduous, but the extra effort paid off and the resultant album, Another Monty Python Record, succeeded in applying their deconstructionist lunacy to a sound-only medium. The album is much more than a straightforward transfer of the television shows; characters and entire sketches are disassembled and reworked into completely new formats, plenty of opportunities are taken to indulge in sound-only jokes (for example the wonderful “Be A Great Actor”) section, and the set pointedly concludes with the controversial “Undertaker” sketch, which the team had recently been informed would be cut from any future repeat runs. Later albums featured more famous sketches and more inventive lunacy, most notoriously on Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief (the world’s first three-sided record), but Another Monty Python Record is the best overall and more importantly definitive proof of the worth of “new” recordings.

Doctor Who and The Pescatons, an original story written by former series script editor Victor Pemberton and starring Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen, is surprisingly gripping and graphic and incorporates an impressive original electronic score; it certainly works a lot better than the rather too densely packed Genesis of the Daleks. The numerous TV21 story EPs based around Gerry Anderson’s most popular shows are often superior to the actual televised episodes, and also boast exclusive music and original cast narration – small wonder, then, that they are so eagerly sought after by collectors today.

In the same manner as present-day ongoing variety and game shows that record special editions specifically for video/DVD release, it was not uncommon for similar shows to find themselves represented on vinyl by what was, to all intents and purposes, a special edition tailored specifically towards the audio format. Crackerjack cut out the presentational and game show segments but made the transition with its live studio audience and spoof versions of recent pop songs intact, and the early Sally James vehicle Saturday Scene gave rise to a curious artifact that essentially captured an entire show in sound only, consisting mainly of interviews with various pop stars. Mention of Sally James brings us around to what is surely the greatest of all the albums in this vein – Tiswas Presents … The Four Bucketeers, a riotous collection of John Gorman’s songs mixed with witty banter, and even the “Telly Selly Time” jingle thrown in for good measure.

Similarly successful were the numerous albums based around The Muppet Show, which perfectly captured the anarchy and mayhem of their small screen counterpart. Less so, however, were the albums based on their close relatives over at Sesame Street. Bereft of many of the most famous songs and jingles (and even characters), the records come across at best as a misguided attempt to “make learning fun” without the visual aid of puppets, and at worst unlistenable attempts to surf the waves of the disco boom. The programme that gave the world Oscar The Grouch and the “12345-678910-11-12″ song – itself shockingly unrepresented on vinyl – deserved much better.

6. “The haunting theme is presented here in its original version”

File Under: Immaculately presented compilations of the original recordings of sought-after themes

On the Listening Post: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Although single releases for television themes were commonplace as early as the 1950s, it took surprisingly long for the concept of full-length albums made up of the original versions of said themes to catch on. The pioneers in this field were almost certainly BBC Records, who from the mid-1970s onwards began to issue a long series of excellent themed compilations. The numerous volumes of BBC Children’s Themes are probably the pick of the bunch, retaining old favourites alongside newer shows as time went by. Indeed the track listings make for interesting reading from a present day perspective, stretching from the universally familiar (Blue Peter, Postman Pat, Doctor Who and so on) to the hopelessly forgotten (Ring-A-Ding, anyone?). Quite how the theme from the adult-orientated sci-fi drama Moonbase 3 ended up on one volume, though, is anybody’s guess. Also worthy of mention are the surprisingly cohesive BBC Detective Themes, where funky wah-wah grooves sit comfortably alongside sedate odes to ordinary coppers; the numerous volumes of Top BBC TV Themes, which gathered together any popular themes that didn’t really fit anywhere else, from Angels to The Body in Question, Mastermind and Parkinson; the superlative On The Air, which gathered together practically every well known signature tune from the BBC’s first 60 years; the icy celestial blend of classical music and Radiophonic Workshop sounds on BBC Space Themes; and the sheer exhilaration of BBC Sporting Themes, arguably the greatest collection of library music ever assembled and packed to bursting point with hammond organs and overpowering brass.

Since the arrival of both compact disc and the burgeoning nostalgia market, such compilations have, if anything, become even better, with specific tiles tailored towards specific audiences and tracks selected on the basis of their musical value rather than popularity. A true pioneering effort was Silva Screen’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., issued with the assistance of TV Zone magazine in 1992, encompassing not only familiar ITC and American detective show themes but also the entire commercially released Supermarionation catalogue alongside the rare Stingray incidental track March of the Oysters and the surprisingly good dance mix of Joe 90. Plus, for the first time ever the superlative previously unavailable theme tunes from The Tomorrow People and The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

EMI’s The Great Sporting Experience was essentially BBC Sporting Themes but even better, pulling in all good themes from all four terrestrial broadcasters. Even BBC Worldwide have raided their archives to great effect, coming up with the impressively broad World of Sound which collected favourite TV and radio themes from the 1950s to the present, and the excellent Hello Children … Everywhere, effectively a “best of” the old BBC Children’s Themes albums. Some key tracks were omitted (where were Grange Hill and Play School, for starters?), and the more obscure selections sadly but predictably failed to make the transition, but when you’ve got so many mostly rare themes in gorgeous remastered sound quality, who’s arguing?

More variable but worth it for the rarities – even the barely listenable ones (has anyone ever sat through all five minutes of the When the Boat Comes In theme?) – are Play It Again’s four volumes of The A-Z of British TV Themes. Particularly recommended are volume one, which raids the Pye Records archive and comes up with all manner of fascinating pieces, and volume two which is a veritable treasure trove of otherwise difficult to find tracks. Volumes three and four lean more towards charting the careers of a handful of individual composers, but still make for compelling listening. Meanwhile, Virgin’s long-running Cult Fiction series represents both the best and worst excesses of the approach. At one end of the scale is the double set This Is … Cult Fiction Royale, an essential collection of the actual on-air versions of classic ATV and ITC series, most of which had never been commercially available before then. At the other, however, is the woeful This Is … The Return Of Cult Fiction, a predictable collection of obvious choices aimed squarely at the tacky nostalgia market, and worse still many of the tracks are edited or faded out early to allow more to be fitted onto the disc.

7. “Not the original artists”

File Under: Faithful and not-so-faithful renditions of themes by hastily assembled “orchestras”

On the Listening Post: Time for TV by Brian Fahey

Believe it or not, there was a time when albums television theme covers were more commonplace than collections of original recordings. Many of these were bland, in-one-ear-and-out-of-the-other arrangements that even the least discerning of listeners must have felt somewhat cheated by. Some, however, make for much more interesting listening. Pick of the bunch is one of the very earliest examples of the genre – Time For TV by Brian Fahey, which features sturdy renditions of just about every big action series theme from the mid-1960s. These impressive performances are in some cases good enough to rival the originals.

Also from 1967, The Tilsley Orchestral’s Top TV Themes is a fascinating period piece featuring typical arrangements for the era – sounding almost as though they might have been recorded in a spare half hour at the end of a recording session for a top 10-bound pop single – of the themes from now long-lost shows such as The Informer and The David Frost Programme. From the same era, the ridiculously named Famous TV Themes by The Graham Walker Sound (actually a pseudonym for real life television theme composer Alan Hawkshaw) features surprisingly funky takes on some very unlikely tunes, including a version of Crossroads that has to be heard to be believed. The same is true of Cy Payne’s Children’s TV Themes, notable for lending a funky tinge to such unexpected groovers as The Adventures of Rupert Bear and The Magic Roundabout.

However, such hidden gems were sadly in the minority. Most of these albums were put together on the cheap, and the same circumstances that gave rise to brash jazzy arrangements bashed out in a hurry also led to an overwhelming flood of insipid, unimaginative orchestral readings. Sometimes, seemingly unpromising collections can be buoyed by the surprise inclusion of one or two unmissable tracks. Geoff Love’s various late 1970s TV themes albums, for example, contain wonderfully tacky discofied renditions of the likes of Wonder Woman and Jason King amongst acres of trash. Similarly, Jack Parnell’s More TV Times Top TV Themes contains a fantastic and imaginative reading of the Man About The House theme after two sides of mediocrity (not to be confused with Parnell’s earlier TV Times Record of Your Top TV Themes, which has no such redeeming qualities), and a scorching version of Knight Rider is hidden amongst synthesised dross on the Silver Screen Orchestra’s ITV Children’s Themes.

And those which should be avoided at all costs? Far too many to be listed here, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it). Particularly noteworthy offenders include The Powerpack Orchestra’s sterile A is for Action, which gives some idea of how the Dempsey and Makepeace theme might have sounded as a backing track for a Tina Turner song, and Stanley Black’s near-unlistenable ITV Themes, which takes a great selection of late 1980s themes from the channel (Blockbusters, Hannay, Highway, Minder et al ) and completely fails to do them any justice whatsoever.

Needless to say, such albums are now very much a thing of the past. However, the absolute worst example is in fact a much more recent effort – the London Theatre Orchestra’s Great Sports Themes, which makes an absolute dog’s dinner of several pieces of music that had previously been believed to be compositionally impossible to demean. Why anyone (and that includes several people at OTT!) would have bought this when it was literally next to The Great Sporting Experience in the racks is frankly beyond comprehension or explanation.

8. “Original original soundtrack”

File Under: Proper soundtrack albums for previously neglected archive series

On the Listening Post: The Clangers

Most television programmes are not made with a soundtrack album in mind; their musical score is there to enhance and complement the on-screen action, and the idea of a commercial release may never even have crossed the mind of the composer. Yet the some of the best and most evocative small-screen scores have a habit of remaining in the minds of viewers long after they were made and broadcast, and sometimes this has led to a full soundtrack album being released decades after the shows themselves first saw the light of day. For a perfect example, see Trunk Records’ Clangers. Lovingly compiled and presented, this album is a true labour of love (in fact, Jonathan Benton-Hughes’ account of his endeavours to assemble the album can be read on this very site), featuring all of the brief but beautiful musical cues from the series in their original on-screen order, followed by a real treat – the same music and effects rearranged into a new story (or “opera”) by none other than Oliver Postgate himself.

Similar praise must be afforded to Silva Screen’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a sweeping orchestral score that is curiously more interesting and exciting than the overlong monochrome serial itself ever was, their long series of releases of music related to The Prisoner, and their long-overdue collections of Barry Gray’s soundtracks for Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. The latter two are particularly notable for their concentration on musically valid pieces rather than the more perfunctory stings that were simply there to emphasise the action, resulting in a far more pleasurable listening experience than many might have expected. Hopefully there will be further Gerry Anderson-related releases of similarly high quality in the future. Long unavailable, but no less worthy, are Julian Knott’s three exceptional collections for the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, featuring incidental music composed by Dominic Glynn (Black Light) and Paddy Kingsland (The Corridors of Eternity), and the wonderful library music tracks used in the early black and white stories (Space Adventures).

As such releases tend to be the work of longtime fans of the shows in question, there are not really any that fall short of the mark or are in any way substandard. Bagpuss – The Songs and Music is not exactly the original score, featuring re-recordings of the musical segments from the series (punctuated, confusingly, by some excerpts from the original soundtrack in noticeably inferior sound quality) by Sandra Faulkner and John Kerr, the musicians who took the parts of Madeleine and Gabriel in the original series. Some have commented that the more expansive sound of the modern day recordings lacks the spindly, archaic quality of the originals, but as updated facsimiles go this is better than most and this is only a minor observation rather than an actual grumble.

Special mention must be made here of Tunes from the Toons, a budget-price collection of themes and incidental music from literally dozens of Hanna Barbera cartoons (mostly from the masters and without the overdubbed sound effects) that somehow slipped out with little fanfare in the late 1990s, and the two volumes of original BBC Test Card music interspersed with announcements, BBC musical signatures and even mercifully brief blasts of tone that appeared on CD courtesy of Chandos. Bullet’s dynamic funk-based score from The Hanged Man doesn’t really come under this category, given that a full soundtrack album was released at the time of the series’ early 1970s broadcast, but that release failed to catch on and itself became the stuff of legend and led to an almost unprecedented CD reissue. And although they appeared while the show was still a going concern, the brilliant Songs in the Key of Springfield and The Simpsons Go Simpsonic effectively represent this approach on a smaller scale, responding to popular demand by gathering up even the briefest of musical numbers from The Simpsons that had become familiar through endless repeats

The relative boom in belated soundtracks has left most fans catered for, but one glaring question remains – when is someone going to organise a release for Don Warren’s fantastic jazz score from Mr Benn?

9. “Themes in disguise”

File Under: Compilation albums that, without signposting the fact, feature impossibly rare television themes

On the Listening Post: The Sound Spectrum

Most people would probably be in agreement that if you were looking for television themes, then the first place to look would be an album that professed to contain television themes. This is of course both true and sensible, but at the same time there are some themes that have found favour outside of their supposed “genre” as pieces of music in their own right. Very occasionally, some have found their way onto compilations aimed at entirely different markets, sandwiched between excavated old soul singles or modern dance music tracks, their presence only confirmed by the track listing (which often makes no mention of their televisual links whatsoever).

The brief “easy listening” boom of the mid-1990s perhaps unsurprisingly saw a great many themes given an effective new lease of life, and the various cash-in compilations that appeared around that time were a veritable treasure trove for those who had been hunting for obscure recordings for years. Sequel’s The Sound Spectrum, for example, was largely made up of music from obscure film soundtracks, yet sandwiched between these selections and concealed by their “real” titles were the themes from Catweazle, Budgie and staggeringly The Adventures of Don Quick, an obscure short-lived LWT series from 1970. Though none were quite on a par with The Sound Spectrum – which featured plenty of outstanding archive discoveries besides and more impressively still sold at budget price – other similar collections featured equally hidden treasures. Worth noting amongst them are The Sound Gallery (the Dave Allen at Large theme and the music from The Two Ronnies‘ Charlie Farley and Piggy Malone sketches), The Sound Gallery Volume 2 (Man About the House and The Ratcatchers alongside the theme and gallery music from Vision On and the “Tag Theme” from The Avengers), In-Flight Entertainment (Eurotrash), and the first two volumes of The Easy Project (more monochrome ITV serials than can realistically be listed here).

Meanwhile the more recent Magpie, compiled by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley, is a collection of early 1970s “junk shop” soundtrack items that includes, alongside some more obvious selections (Top of the Pops, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, Nationwide and of course Magpie), the deliriously elusive themes from The Family and Ace of Wands. Sequel’s Those Pesky Kids! is a two-CD set that many may have disregarded on first glance. The first is a collection of 1960s children’s records (although the majority are by celebrities and worth a listen in their own right for their glorious awfulness), but the second is made up of children’s TV themes from the same era. Virtually the entire Supermarionation canon from Stingray onwards is represented, alongside the would-be chart hit pop song themes from the various midday shows produced by ATV/ITC in the 1970s (including the almost unheard of single version of the Pipkins theme). If that wasn’t enough, there are also some hilariously bad cover versions of other familiar themes.

10. “New entry at number 38″

File Under: BBC records and tapes’ semi-successful chart assault of the 1980S

On the Listening Post: Hong Kong Beat

For the first decade of its existence, BBC Records (the “and Tapes” came later) coasted along quite happily, issuing albums and singles by the shedload with an eye on sustained long-term sales rather than any kind of significant commercial impact. In the late 1970s, however, a couple of their single releases unexpectedly crept into the top 40, and suddenly everything changed. The label sharpened up its approach, giving their releases a far more commercial sheen and in some cases major publicity pushes, putting out just about any piece of music that letter writers to Points of View had expressed even moderate interest in.

If one album above all others exemplifies this approach, it is Hong Kong Beat, a collection of television music by Richard Denton and Martin Cook. The title track, a laid back Pink Floyd-soundalike instrumental, had actually been one of the first singles on the label to dent the charts back in the late 1970s. The album ably demonstrates the duo’s versatility, pulling in themes of disparate musical approaches and indeed disparate genres – the attempt to emulate the funky, moog-heavy approach of Stateside detective thrillers in Quiller, the eccentric synth-pop of The Great Egg Race and the quite remarkable New Order-like electronica of Tomorrow’s World – alongside some slightly less memorable pieces of incidental music from various shows. Though there are moments when proceedings are allowed to descend into repetitive tunelessness, it certainly all hangs together well, and “works” as a proper album in its own right. But like all of its labelmates, it is hampered by the generic packaging that BBC Records and Tapes adopted at that time, which fails to provide the casual observer with any evidence that this is anything more than just another collection of television music.

Similarly hampered was Enya’s mid-1980s soundtrack to The Celts, which failed to establish her as a major recording artist despite being virtually identical to her later work, and came in such a miserable sleeve that her record company later acquired the rights and put out their own properly packaged version. The same went for several other albums such as The Marksman, a thriller soundtrack featuring contributors as diverse as Richard Thompson and Craig Charles, and a great many singles that had at least a trace of commercial potential, amongst them The Tripods and Monkey. Yet there were indeed moments when this insistence on self-defeatism was somehow transcended, and there were a number of significant critical and commercial successes.

Simon May’s theme from Howard’s Way was a massive chart hit, the collection of music featured in The Singing Detective was very well received, and there were even a couple of compilations – namely the Children’s Hour-themed collection Hello Children … Everywhere and Attack of the Killer B’s, a fantastic spinoff from a Radio 2 series chronicling the long history of b-sides that proved to be more popular than their a-sides – that surpassed all expectations and climbed into the upper reaches of the album charts.

Of course, there were a great many BBC Records and Tapes releases whose existence served only to baffle, and one of the most prominent examples is also one of the least expected ones. Doctor Who – The Music and Doctor Who – The Music II may well have been lapped up by fans, but the fact remains that the title contains two words that in this context are mutually exclusive, given that much of the show’s score was intentionally not music in the accepted sense. There are some worthwhile moments, but there are also far too many others when it is difficult to pick out any trace of melody or even rhythm amongst the electronic atmospherics. It is not without some irony that one of the last ever releases during BBC Records And Tapes’ imperial phase was The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album, featuring the more deliberately melodic compositions of Keff McCulloch, and bringing the whole strange episode full circle by far more closely resembling Hong Kong Beat than it did either of its forebears.

11. “I can sing too”

File Under: Attempts by television stars to establish their credentials as “serious” musicians

On the Listening Post: Grange Hill – The Album

In 1986, to tie in with on-screen events concerning Zammo’s heroin addiction, The Grange Hill Mob released an anti-drug pop song entitled Just Say No. To be fair, it wasn’t quite as bad as people like to pretend; less mawkish than many similar efforts, the single was a huge hit and the priceless vocal contributions of Erkan Mustafa, Mmoloki Christie and Ricky Simmonds are amusing rather than awful. But then someone had the idea of getting the cast to record an album. Trailered by the frankly terrible single You Know the Teacher (What a Smash-Head) – a title that is still causing widespread bafflement even nearly two decades later – Grange Hill – The Album is little short of excruciating to listen to. The first side is taken up by original songs that, for the most part, make You Know the Teacher (What a Smash-Head) seem like a work of high art, including some drippy ballads and a sidesplitting attempt at heavy metal entitled No Supervision at Break. The second side is made up of covers of “pop standards” performed by various cast members. Thus despite never actually wanting to, we get to hear Fleur Taylor’s take on Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, “Banksie” doing unspeakable things to The Walk of Life, and the entire cast treating us to The Greatest Love of All. It’s not that the performances are bad – most of the cast were, after all, stage school children with a significant grounding in musical performance – but just that the whole idea stinks. Wherever Ricky Simmonds is now, he probably won’t appreciate being reminded of his rendition of I Don’t Like Mondays.

Grange Hill – The Album is a perfect representation of the mistake most commonly made with such ventures, namely that television stars have a habit of assuming that they will be instantly accepted as a “serious” musician, despite the fact that it’s not necessarily what the public wants to hear from them, and indeed not necessarily something that the majority are capable of in the first place. To illustrate this point, compare the two “singalong” albums released by the respective casts of television’s most popular soap operas. The EastEnders Singalong Album has no musical pretentions whatsoever; it’s nothing more than a standard cockney pub knees up with the cast handling the rowdy vocals. It’s lightweight but listenable, the cast sound as though they had tremendous fun recording it, and Letitia Dean gets the chance to prove that she has an amazing singing voice. The similar effort by the cast of Coronation Street is a different matter, full of straight-faced performances of straight-faced songs. Certain cast members are quite clearly more than happy to exploit their moment in the spotlight, and the whole experience makes for very unpleasant listening indeed.

Mention of EastEnders inevitably leads into the strange deluge of singles by cast members that appeared in 1986. Most people remember Anita Dobson’s Anyone Can Fall in Love, an insipid vocal version of the series’ theme tune that effectively put paid to what, on the evidence of some of her later efforts, could easily have been a successful career in MOR music. Nick Berry, who refreshingly was never anything less than derisory about his own vocal talents, topped the charts with Every Loser Wins and released a largely unnoticed album on the back of it. Less well remembered, but easily the pick of the bunch, was Letitia Dean and Paul J Medford’s Something Outa Nothing, a really quite good pop song that like Every Loser Wins had in fact featured in the show. Thankfully, the surprisingly numerous efforts of other cast members (amongst them Peter Dean’s I Can’t Get a Ticket for the World Cup and Tom Watts’ Subterranean Homesick Blues) did not come within an inch of the charts.

Most albums of this type are, to be fair, opportunistic efforts brought about by fame in another medium. More curious, however, is the recorded legacy of those who had clearly been harbouring musical ambitions for as many years as they had dramatic. David McCallum’s Music – A Part of Me and Music – A Bit More of Me at least show that he was skilled as an arranger and composer, even if they make for uneventful listening as a whole. Peter Wyngarde’s lone album almost literally defies description – weird, half-sung ballads with worryingly misogynistic overtones (which were strong enough to make at least one reissue company baulk at the idea of putting it out on CD) and comic spoken interludes, topped off with an incongruous cover of a flop psychedelic pop single from a couple of years previously.

Much has been written about the legendarily unhinged musical offerings of Star Trek stars Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. The latter’s work enjoys greater notoriety on account of his crazed vocal histrionics on covers of previously restrained pop songs, not to mention the pompous readings of poetry and prose, but for our money Nimoy’s work is intrinsically funnier precisely because he resists the temptation to go overboard and instead strives to make his name as a “straight” singer. His readings of Abraham, Martin and John, Where Is Love? and Both Sides Now never fail to raise a smirk, and the tracks that he performs vaguely in character as Spock (notably the wry Highly Illogical, the hilariously predictable sci-fi lament Visit to a Sad Planet and the truly unhinged The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins) are more ridiculous than it is possible to convey in words alone.

The worst examples of this genre are those that purport to be “proper” music but are instead nothing more than bland, cheap and nasty efforts with little or no musical merit. The few that do succeed on their musical merits (with the notable exception of Dennis Waterman, who has never been able to shake off the “always singing the theme tune” tag and now probably never will thanks to Little Britain) effectively cease to be “TV tie-ins” as they are never identified as such. For a textbook example of this see Just This Side of Love, a medium-sized early 1990s hit for Emmerdale star Malandra Burrows.

Those recorded by television stars who accept their own hopelessness but gamely struggle on anyway, on the other hand, are far more endearing. There are frankly too many to detail here, but one deserves special mention above all others – Reginald Bosanquet’s Dance With Me, essentially little more than the veteran newsreader narrating a series of pickup techniques over a hamfisted disco backing track. Not for nothing did this make the top of Kenny Everett’s legendary Bottom 30 chart in 1980.

12. “In character”

File Under: Semi-official spin off releases performed by the star and intended to capture “flavour” of a show

On the Listening Post: The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon

Sometimes – well, quite a lot of the time, in fact – television stars get the chance to make a record without any desire to prove their worth as a world-class crooner. Instead, they end up in front of the microphone to record a song more or less in character as their most famous small screen persona. Such efforts are usually hastily written and as songs have only the most tenuous connection to the programmes that they supposedly represent, but a surprising number are still quite listenable in their own way.

The golden age, for want of a more appropriate term, of the in-character recording was unquestionably the early 1970s, but once again we’ve gone for a more contemporary release for our key example. Portugese crooner Tony Ferrino was hardly one of Steve Coogan’s most successful creations, appearing in two muddled television specials before being quietly retired in the face of overwhelming public apathy. Their transmission, however, was accompanied by the release of a full album “by” Ferrino, and where the television shows had failed due to a combination of a lack of discernible parody and a plethora of forced and unfunny celebrity cameos, the album works brilliantly as a collection of very funny song pastiches. Sunday For Me, Silence of the Lambs, Lap Dancing Lady and the all-too-plausible Eurovision entry Papa Bendi make for consistently amusing and entertaining listening. The only point where the album lets itself down is with a straight reading of the easy listening standard Help Yourself, which like the specials suffers as a result of the “joke” not being entirely obvious. That Help Yourself was the album track chosen for release as a single is perhaps an encapsulation of how this potentially brilliant concept failed due to poor realisation.

Those that came earlier in time are legion, and if catalogued could probably fill an entire website in themselves. A sizeable proportion of these are of course barely listenable, but a small selection of more noteworthy examples would have to include Patrick McNee and Honor Blackman’s notorious Kinky Boots, John Inman’s Are You Being Served, Sir?, Harry H Corbett’s Junk Shop, Lenny Henry’s The (Algernon Wants You to Say) OK Song, and Tony Hancock’s sublime Hancock’s Theme, essentially The Lad Himself waxing lyrical about the exquisite orchestration of the signature tune from his rarely-seen ITV shows.

Some are just downright baffling – for evidence of this, look no further than Jon Pertwee’s ridiculous Worzel’s Song, which attempts to popularise an unfunny and frankly incomprehensible form of “crazy” spelling (“with a ‘wor’ after w and a ‘wor’ after o, and a ‘wor’ after r, and away we go …”), and Paul Henry’s almost unbearably maudlin Benny’s Song, a spoken word ballad with short bursts of disco that bears an uncanny resemblance to The Streets’ Dry Your Eyes. Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker recorded an entire album in the guise of their country and western singer characters Jehosaphat and Jones, which strangely appeared to be attempting to present the duo as real musicians and – apart from the cover photograph – contained not a single reference to Barker or Corbett on the sleeve.

Strangely, the 1980s saw such in-character releases become almost the exclusive preserve of alternative comedians, who perhaps as a result of their closer links to the music scene (something that was reflected in the overall higher quality of their output), enjoyed more chart success than any previous practitioners of the art. The Young Ones, for example, spawned no less than three top 10 hits in the form of Neil’s Hole in my Shoe, Alexei Sayle’s ‘Ullo John! Got A New Motor? and the assembled cast’s duet with Cliff Richard on Living Doll. The latter was the first example of the soon-to-be-annual Comic Relief single, which regularly saw alternative comedians team up with established chart stars with some semblance of a sense of humour, but had mixed results. Mel (Smith) And Kim (Wilde)’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree and Help by Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo (in other words Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke) still make for fun listening, but the same cannot really be said of Right Said Fred’s tuneless Stick It Out, Elected by Mr Bean and Smear Campaign, or Hale and Pace’s dismal The Stonk. From the same era Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney (Doin’ up the House) was nowhere near as funny as might reasonably have been expected from the fast-rising star, but Julian Clary’s Leader of the Pack succeeded as a result of its surprising comic restraint, while Paranoimia, a single “sung” by stuttering computer-generated music show host Max Headroom with the assistance of The Art of Noise, is an exceptional effort that has sadly since been largely forgotten.

Such singles still exist, of course, but nowadays they are more likely to be effectively “straight” performances by chart performers with the odd line shouted by a comedian, such as Gareth Gates and The Kumars’ Spirit in the Sky and Ali G and Shaggy’s Mi Julie, a dull and uninspiring practice that is almost enough to make most sane people start wishing for Jon Pertwee’s bizarre take on child literacy.

13. “Music featured in and inspired by the series”

File Under: Collections of pre-existing records used (and sometimes not used) in trendy “cutting edge” shows

On the Listening Post: Banzai

It is more and more common these days for television shows to have a soundtrack made up entirely of familiar commercially available music, no doubt conceived with an accompanying compilation album in mind. On face value there is little to be said about this practice, other than that in many cases it displays a dearth of imagination. However, on very rare occasions, the results can be surprising.

Channel 4′s bizarre game show Banzai backed its dadaist betting segments with unlikely extracts from archaic-sounding pop records, and the accompanying soundtrack album is a suitably eclectic affair, bringing together such unlikely bedfellows as Todd Rundgren, Dusty Springfield, Jonathan Richman and MC Miker G and DJ Sven, suggesting that someone on the production team had both eclectic taste in music and an impressively skewed sense of humour. Dom Joly’s uninspired hidden camera antics in Trigger Happy TV were bolstered by a similarly eccentric soundtrack, and this has so far led to three surprisingly strong collections. However, while Joly’s championing of obscure and unloved music (most notably Captain Sensible’s Glad It’s All Over, which appeared on volume two) is to be applauded, it would seem that not everyone is keen on having their music used in this way. Conspicuous absentees from the Trigger Happy TV soundtrack collections include the series’ most significant archive discovery, Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind.

At the other end of the scale, which is where most releases in this vein tend to end up, are collections such as The Grimleys and Queer As Folk, which while well put together are little different from two-CD sets of 1970s pop hits and hi-nrg disco classics respectively. And that’s where the dividing line over the subgenre’s association with the main thrust of this article falls; there is precious little about such releases that could genuinely qualify them as “television related”.

14. “Hours of listening pleasure”

File Under: Strange one-offs and oddities aimed at a very specific audience

On the Listening Post: Doctor Who sound effects

Beyond the musical, narrative and musical narrative items that constitute the bulk of this listing, there is a miniscule subset of television tie-in releases that conform to the artistic and structural boundaries of neither, intended for some form of practical use rather than an actual listening experience. By far the most well known of these are the multitudinous volumes of the BBC’s Sound Effects series, which are nothing more than themed collections (ranging from Nature and Traffic to Out of this World and Death and Horror) of sound effects created for radio and television programmes. It’s more than likely that, despite the glorious joke about Dougal favouring the albums as listening matter in Father Ted, they were only ever really picked up by people who intended to use their contents in amateur artistic productions.

Yet there is one notable and glaring exception to this, and with wry inevitability it involves Doctor Who. Volume 19 in the sizeable library of BBC sound effects albums, Doctor Who Sound Effects contains one moment that could vaguely be described as listenable, namely the rarely heard full length version of the still-impressive TARDIS take-off sound effect; the rest, however, sees various barely-perceptible mechanical hums battle for space with that well-known dance floor filler Gallifreyan Staser – Three Blasts. Yet in the absence of anything much else in the way of Doctor Who-related records at the time that the album was released, a great many fans did quite avidly buy and listen to it, and bafflingly some still maintain that they actually used to enjoy the experience.

Doctor Who Sound Effects would be the last word on this category were it not for the existence of Trade Test Tone, an entire double CD set filled with prolonged bursts of the sort of electronically generated tone that used to accompany the various broadcaster’s test cards whenever they ran out of loungey Hammond Organ and brass instrumentals. Presumably they are intended to be used as background “music” while staring at a vintage test card (although whether or not it is “recommended” to mix and match mutually exclusive test cards and tones is not clear), which would seem utterly baffling if it wasn’t for the fact that the compilers clearly have a sense of humour about the whole enterprise, giving the tracks names like Cool Kettle and Mellow Pastiche and recommending the album both to those who would like to “enjoy the purity of sine waves without the expense of purchasing a generation” and those who would like to annoy their neighbours. This sort of tongue-in-cheek wit is almost enough to make the perplexed listener want to hear it. Almost.

15. “Tne next big thing”

File Under: Aspirant chart stars discovered through television

On the Listening Post: Hannah by Hannah Morris

Before the arrival of Popstars and Pop Idol, which are essentially built around the idea of winning a recording contract and as such do not really qualify as “TV tie-ins”, it was not always a given that a musical victor on a television talent show would instantly be granted the opportunity to pursue a recording career. Even mere months before the arrival of the aforementioned franchise, BBC1 were running Star for a Night, a series which promised nothing more than the implication of the title. The eventual “winner” of the series was Hannah Morris, a teenager from Bolton, who eventually got the opportunity to release a full album. Her selling point was her impressively strong singing voice, but this talent was sold woefully short by the contents of the album, little more than a collection of almost laughably predictable cover versions (My Heart Will Go On, Wind Beneath My Wings, The Greatest Love of All and more in the exact same vein) in arrangements that could barely be called distinctive.

Jayne McDonald, the presenter of the show and herself then only recently discovered after featuring regularly on the BBC docusoap The Cruise, has pursued a markedly similar musical path to some considerable success, as did Emma Boundy from fellow shopping centre-based docusoap Lakesiders who got to record an album full of yet more similar covers that failed to catch on to the same extent. Meanwhile Claire Usher, the youthful winner of Saturday Superstore‘s Search for a Superstar in 1986, followed up her lone hit It’s ‘Orrible Being in Love When You’re Eight and a Half with an album, Super Claire, on BBC Records and Tapes that was composed almost exclusively of similarly uninspired arrangements of late 1950s pop hits like Rubber Ball and My Guy. In fact, bargain bins the length and breadth of the nation are haunted by dozens upon dozens of similarly underachieving ventures, but there is one startling exception to this.

FMB, a noisy, raggedy indie band, briefly flirted with the big time as the subject of Channel 4′s fondly remembered 1993 series The Next Big Thing. Unfortunately for them, the post-Wonderstuff/Kingmaker/Ned’s Atomic Dustbin sound of the single that they released on the back of the show sank without trace in the face of the decline of grunge and the first stirrings of Britpop. Nonetheless, it was refreshing to see the television-related starmaking machine step outside the over-exposed arena of sequined torch singers for five minutes.

There have of course been a handful of performers who, after being discovered through a television performance, managed to break free of the restrictive forces of mainstream blandness and forge a high profile career for themselves. One name above all stands out – Sheena Easton, whose subsequent career scaled such heights that many people simply forgot that she came to prominence through the BBC documentary series The Big Time. Even then, her first single 9 to 5 was a likeable and well above average effort, enthusiastically championed by – of all people – John Peel. Which just goes to prove that there is no weirder nor more unpredictable musical world than that of the television tie-in record.