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Today’s TV tunes not worth a whistle

POSTED: August 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The name of Earle Hagen may not ring a bell, but you more than likely know his music.

Hagen was the composer of "Fishin' Hole," the theme from "The Andy Griffith Show." Not only did he write it, he whistled it, too. His son did the finger snaps.

Hagen, who died last week at the age of 88, wrote the theme songs for a number of classic shows from 1953 to 1986, including "Make Room for Daddy," "The Mod Squad," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Eight Is Enough" and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

He may be the most hummed and whistled composer of a generation.

For the past 30 years, I've played the keyboard at horse shows. One of my regular tunes is Fishin' Hole. When I play the tune, it is so instantly recognizable that people smile. Occasionally, someone will pucker up and blow along with me.

Today, television is so pressed for commercial time that there are few memorable theme songs.

Play along with me in your mind. If you hear those first two drawn out notes of the Dick Van Dyke theme, you can visualize Dick coming through the door. A few seconds later, the sliding riff tells you that Dick just fell over the ottoman. You don't have to be watching.

When the marching theme of "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C." is played, you can see old Gomer with that goofy grin, shaking his head side to side while Sgt. Carter is yelling at him full bore. Earle Hagen wrote that one, too.

When I did a little research for this column, I found a tad of controversy.

It seems that Fred Lowery, considered by many to be the greatest whistler of all time, claimed that he was the one who whistled the Andy Griffith theme.

Fred, who was blind, came to our school in Social Circle one day for a program. He whistled "Fishin' Hole" and to my fifth-grade ears, it sounded like the real thing. I just couldn't imagine poor old blind whistlin' Fred would tell us a story.

I hope his mama - who, of course, would be Whistler's Mother - never found out. (Please forgive me for the previous sentence, but it was just too good to pass up.)

Fred spent most of the program doing bird calls.

"This is the red-breasted whipporwill of North Dakota," he said. Nobody in Social Circle school had been north of Rock City, so we assumed Fred wasn't blowing smoke, just bird calls and tunes.
Unfortunately, all the records show Earle Hagen was the Griffith whistler.

I've lost so much sleep over this that I've written the school district and asked for my 50 cents admission to be returned.

In addition to writing theme songs, Hagen also wrote the score for the shows. There is nothing better than the pseudo-dramatic theme that was played whenever Barney was up to no good. There was also that folksy, bouncing theme that set the pace for another day in Mayberry.

What made classic TV themes so good is they actually had a verse, a chorus, a little turnaround and a close. Most songs now are what I call "7-11" songs. They consist of seven words repeated 11 times.

Sometimes even today's unimaginative and brief themes conjure up lyrics in my mind. Take that "American Idol" theme; every time I hear it, I hear "Turn the channel ... now."

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.



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