In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
In an age of streaming media, it sometimes feels like there’s no more pop culture to be discovered. Part of this is the simple fact that whole swaths of cultural output are lost to the ages whenever new formats, standards, or means of distribution are introduced. By that logic, technological advances have a whittling effect: Not every motion picture committed to celluloid received a VHS release; some of the films that were available to rent at the local video store in the 1980s didn’t make the jump to DVD, and so on and so forth. There are works that survive these mass cullings, but they tend to be monumental, ubiquitous, or some combination of the two. Odds are there’s someone in your life who’s purchased Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on vinyl, 8-track, compact cassette, compact disc (this one multiple times, considering its myriad reissues), and MP3—and yet only the true collector would know where to look to find 78 rpm recordings of the old blues numbers covered by the Mac’s original lineup. With any luck, somebody’s uploaded them to YouTube.
That’s sort of how I stumbled upon “School’s Out,” the sunshiny theme song to the short-lived Stephen J. Cannell-Steven Bochco production Richie Brockelman, Private Eye. Any TV theme that’s longer than 30 seconds is a relic of a bygone age, but “School’s Out” is truly specific to its time: The faux-Beach Boys harmonies may peg it as a work of the 1960s, but Richie Brockelman hit NBC in the spring of 1978, subbing in for The Rockford Files near the end of an era of crime dramas defined by rumpled, unorthodox Cannell sleuths like Jim Rockford and Tony Baretta. It also does that classic TV theme trick of giving no specific details about the show that follows, its lyrics describing Richie’s California habitat without once referencing how he makes his money. Sandwiched between the instantly recognizable intros to Rockford and Magnum P.I. on the Mike Post compilation Television Theme Songs, “School’s Out” presented itself to me as a Rdio mystery, an unheard song from an unknown series. It was, in short, a rarity.
In truth, it’s not: Alongside longtime collaborator Pete Carpenter, Post has recorded some 1,800 hours of TV music. By the rule of pop-culture whittling, some of it had to get lost in the shuffle. “School’s Out” endured because it could fill out a side of vinyl alongside the blazing guitar work of the Magnum theme and the jaunty Rockford Files tune—but the melody and nonsensical lyrics of its verses are damn sticky, too. It ought to be, since it took two writers in addition to Post and Carpenter, Herb Pedersen and Stephen Geyser, to complete the tune. In a neat real-world echo of my online discovery, I recently spotted a copy of Television Theme Songs at Chicago’s Reckless Records and scooped it up without hesitation, eager to fight against the shaving off of pop-culture history—but mostly just excited about hearing those harmonies pour out of speakers that aren’t attached to my laptop.