Neal Hefti

Themes from TV's Top 12

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By the early '60s, Neal Hefti had already become a staple of the Los Angeles-based entertainment community. He initially gained recognition as a trumpeter in the respective big bands of Charlie Barnet, Horace Heidt, Charlie Spivak, and Woody Herman. However, it was his work as an equally luminous arranger and composer that would bring him to the attention of Charlie Ventura, Harry James, and Count Basie, just to name a few. Released in 1962, Themes from TV's Top 12 would be among the first long-players to give a musical arranger top billing -- which was typically reserved only for star vocalists or bandleaders. In fact, it is (for most intents and purposes) credited as Hefti's debut album. The dozen selections on this disc reiterate the continuing impact that the (still) new-fangled medium of television was having during the early '60s. Hefti's contributions go far beyond simply transcribing the theme songs and writing correlating parts for a pop orchestra. The recognizable refrains are placed into fresh and unique contexts -- with 40 guitars and eight pianos, or so proclaims the LP cover art. Although there was certainly no way to predict the popularity or longevity of the TV programs themselves, tellingly there is a correlation between the show and how anachronistic its theme sounds to modern ears. For example, the obvious "ridin' the range" motif of the opening "Wagon Train (Wagons Ho!)" comes off much less interesting when given a straight score. When compared to the equally rootin' and tootin' Western "Gunsmoke," Hefti's slightly off-balance minor-key arrangement gives the tune a more visceral and menacing presence. Nelson Riddle's bop-inspired "Route 66" is notable for its modern-sounding electric guitars, with their picked lines that were originally played by a much more formal and staid string section. However, the majority of the project doesn't stray quite as far, such as the post-bop interpretation of "The Flinstones (Rise & Shine)," which predates the familiar "Meet the Flintstones" by a good year. Hefti's reading rollicks steadily as the guitars and pianos trade off the catchy melody line. Indeed, there is nothing fancy -- just an easy, breezy, and jazzy take. Not to be missed are the upbeat and busy "My Three Sons" and the lighthearted folderol of "The Andy Griffith Show (The Fishin' Hole)." In 2007, Collectors' Choice Music licensed and issued Themes from TV's Top 12 on CD, making it available for the first time in over four decades.

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