Remixing classic TV theme tunes is an act of creative rewiring that’s fraught with difficulty: the results will either delight or displease the fans of the original, while finding new fans who are completely unaware of the original context of what’s being remixed. For a test case, let’s revisit – and then hear numerous remixes of – one of 1970s TV’s most majestic theme tunes, The Man From Atlantis, composed by the great Fred Karlin (1936-2004).
To appreciate a remix, it helps to have a handle on what was being remixed – what it sounded like before the remix happened. That means going back to the original series theme.
Fred Karlin had already made his name composing music for TV movies such as The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman, The Trial Of Lee Harvey Oswald, and many others, as well as the pilot episode of the short-lived 1977 TV series Lucan. Karlin’s biggest calling card, however, was his score for the 1973 film Westworld. (He also scored its 1976 movie sequel Futureworld.) His theme for Man From Atlantis captures the flowing feel of the underwater photography perfectly; it’s an evolution of music that featured in the four Man From Atlantis TV movies that led up to the brief weekly series.
But the intricate guitar work and that flowing melody obviously struck a chord not just with ’70s TV aficionados, but remixers as well – whether they’re aware of the series or not.
And there are reinterpretations as well that rebuild the tune from the ground up, trying to maintain the ethereal feel of the original – if not crank the “ethereal” knob up to 11.
Others split the difference, starting out with renditions more faithful to the tune those of us of a Certain Age heard on TV in our younger days, before gradually modernizing it.
There are likely to be two schools of thought on remixes of classic TV and movie themes, and they’re like to break down into “love” or “hate” camps. But theme remixes are a fascinating thing: depending on what’s emphasized – the rhythm, the harmonies, the melody – you get a feel for what the remixer thought was the most memorable part of the tune. And in almost every case, remixes are a testament to how well-constructed the original piece of music was. Well-constructed enough that someone else can come along, 30 or more years later, redo it, and the heart of the original composition is still the backbone that keeps it all together.