If I ever make a bucket list, one thing I’m afraid will never get scratched off would be: write a TV theme song. This is mostly for 2 reasons – 1. TV shows rarely have themes these days (don’t wanna take away from that precious advertising time) and 2. I’m not Mike Post. Yes I know that Mike didn’t write every title song on TV. But he wrote just about every one that you remember and sing in the shower. That is, if most of them had words. I guess a lot of the time you’re just going ‘duh-nah-nuh da-nah-nuh, da-nah-nuh-nah-nuh, dan-nah-nuh’ That’s supposed to be the theme to Hill Street Blues which was Mike’s 2nd Top 10. The Rockford Files was his first.
Many don’t know that Mike had already won a Grammy before he ever got into theme show writing. In 1968, he won one for arranging Mason Williams’ Classical Gas, which he also produced. Mason was the head writer of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, so really Mike broke into the music & TV worlds at the same time. This led to a stint as the musical director for the Andy Williams Show. And I’m sure once he heard how lousy that them was, he knew what his calling would be. His destiny was made even clearer when he met Pete Carpenter, who had written the themes to Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show. (stop whistling, I’m telling a story here). Pete, a trombonist, was 30 years older than Mike, but he saw some raw talent in him and took him under his wing.
Their first theme show gig was for a crime drama named Toma in 1973, which only lasted one season. When that show was cancelled two important things happened. One was that the show was retooled and relaunched as a Robert Blake comeback vehicle named Baretta, with a theme written by Dave Grusin. The second was that during a writer’s strike while filming Toma, a new character and show was created during a hiatus. The character was Jim Rockford and the show was The Rockford Files. So when Toma got the axe, writer Steven J. Cannell (you know who is because at the end of his shows during the end credits and types something on a typewriter, pulls it out and it floats into a Stephen J. Cannell Production title card) moved on to his new project and already asked Post & Carpenter to come up with a new theme song about a gruff unorthodox ex-con private investigator. obviously inspired by that description, Post wrote that awesome Minimoog riff, which is as 70s as it was recognizable, not to mention being offset by a bluesy harmonica counter riff and on the 45 version, a nice little solo by Larry Carlton. The idea was to get the viewer’s attention when this came in and it sure did. The Rockford Files was a hit on TV for 6 seasons.
Mike & Pete won a Grammy for Best Instrumental performance and Mike had the chance to release it as part on his 1975 LP, Railhead Overture. The song hit the Top 10, a year after the show debuted. It would be Mike’s biggest solo hit, but the biggest hit he ever wrote. That would be The Greatest American Hero by Joey Scarbury in 1981, which reached #2. Mike & Pete collaborated until Pete’s death in 1987. You can view the list of themes here.
But that’s nothing compared to the gig which probably pays for everything in his life including his retirement. When he was asked to write the theme to a show called Law & Order, he was probably hoping it would last a few years. Over 900 episodes later, spread over 5 shows in the franchise, a TV movie and 5 video games, Mike is indeed a very rich man. And the King of TV show themes.