Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Settling a new score: The Streets of San Francisco

La-La Land celebrates autumn’s arrival with the third volume in its Quinn Martin Collection series: a stylish two-disc set of Patrick Williams’ scores for the popular 1972-77 TV series, The Streets of San Francisco. This marks the debut of any sort of soundtrack album; the sole previous release was a 1975 Capitol Records single, with its even more dynamic arrangement of Williams’ kick-ass title theme.


Williams began his film and television career in 1967. Although (among many other things) he delivered episode scores for cop/crime shows such as Dan AugustThe Name of the GameMannix and Cannon— several for Quinn Martin — in the early 1970s he was best known for his lighter sitcom themes and scores for The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Sandy Duncan Show and The Bob Newhart Show.


(He also scored a 1970 big-screen film with the improbable title of The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker … something I definitely need to track down.)


Streets was an opportunity for Williams to strut his impressive jazz/funk sensibilities, and he responded with one of the decade’s most explosive cop show themes (attached to one of the decade’s finest cop shows). As soundtrack journalist/historian Jon Burlingame notes in his extensive booklet essay, Williams’ reputation for jazz composition always attracted industry heavyweights, when it came time for a Streets scoring session: among them Pete Candoli and Buddy Childers (trumpets); Vincent De Rosa (French horn); Jerome Richardson, Tom Scott and Bud Shank (saxes); Dick Nash and Frank Rosolino (trombone); Laurindo Almeida and Larry Carlton (guitar); and John Guerin (drums).


“Pat’s writing is breathtaking,” noted veteran music critic and author Gene Lees, in a quote reproduced in numerous obituaries when Williams died, in July 2018. “He’s just one of the finest arrangers and composers who ever put pen to paper.”


Williams scored Streets’ two-hour pilot and five first-season episodes, followed by an additional episode during each of the subsequent four seasons. He established a propulsive “urban swing” template that dominated the show during its entire run; additional original scores — by Richard Markowitz, Duane Tatro, Tom Scott, John Carl Parker, QM stalwart John Elizalde and others — were faithful to those origins. (As with most shows by this point, each season featured only a handful of original scores; all other episodes were tracked with existing library cues.)


As merely one highlight of this splendid package, it’s marvelous to hear Williams’ title theme unencumbered by the characteristic QM voice-over announcer (Hank Simms) gravely intoning the stars, guest stars and episode title as the corresponding text appeared on the screen. (I always loathed that affectation … what, viewers couldn’t read on their own?)


This two-disc set features Williams’ score for the two-hour pilot, along with cue suites from all nine of his subsequent episodes. The traditional action-oriented nature of the series’ initial seasons eventually yielded to more serious dramatic fare, building to the fifth season’s grim two-part premiere, which depicted co-star Michael Douglas’ departure and Richard Hatch’s introduction as Karl Malden’s new partner. Williams’ scores correspondingly became darker over time, his cues more frequently dominated by unsettling piano filigrees and sinister strings, as opposed to the explosive brass and wah-wah guitar licks that powered his earlier efforts.


Two years after Streets solved its final case, Williams worked on what became the final TV show produced under the Quinn Martin banner: the insufferably dumb Robert Conrad spy series, A Man Called Sloane, which ran only 12 episodes before deservedly being yanked in late December 1979. Williams contributed the title theme and full score for the initial episode — which actually aired second — along with an additional 21 minutes of library cues that were tracked into subsequent episodes. This Streets package also includes the bulk of his score for that one episode (“The Seduction Squad”).


(I must say, the propulsive title theme is much more palatable — even with its silly synth effects — when divorced from the inane title credits sequence. And the rest of Williams’ score is far superior to the dim-bulb episode for which it was written.)


While you’re visiting La-La Land, be sure to pick up a copy of The Quinn Martin Collection Volume One: Cop and Detective Series, which features title themes and cue suites from CannonDan AugustMost Wanted and Barnaby Jones, along with title themes from The ManhunterCaribeBert D’Angelo: Superstar and Tales of the Unexpected. (Volume Two is devoted to The Invaders: great stuff, but off-topic here.)

On a final minor note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Volume Three’s booklet quotes a brief passage from the second volume of my Crime and Spy Jazz books. (Much obliged, Jon!)

No comments: