“Our next act says he’s only semi-professional. That’s okay, because we’re only quasi-interested.” — Chuck Barris
Chuck Barris Presents Themes From TV Game Shows is a long out of print rarity which has been “reissued” on an Australian label, TV City. Its original sleeve has been cropped down to the New Treasure Hunt panel and a still from The Gong Show (which didn’t air until 1976) is in place of the original back cover — the redesign so slickly done that many online and offline stores have been convinced that this is a legitimate reissue. Unfortunately, the Themes From TV Game Shows CD is a bootleg, transferred from a less than pristine vinyl copy of the original 1973 LP (Friends SAR 1001).
Barris wrote (or cowrote) nearly all of the music he used for the themes to his innovative game shows. His songwriting accomplishments predate his success in television. Barris wrote “Palisades Park” in the early 1960s shortly after receiving a promotion to ABC’s daytime programming department. When the song’s unexpected sales (it became a #2 hit for Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon) almost got him fired for conflict of interest, he was compelled to sign a letter stating he would never compose music so long as he remained employed by ABC. (Ironically, he’d started at ABC as a watchdog for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.) He humourously wrote another song that evening, using a pseudonym; according to his autobiography The Game Show King Barris wrote over a dozen songs under assumed names over the next 5 years, two of which he indicated were hit singles. (He has never revealed the titles.)
The success arising from The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game provided Barris with many opportunities to exploit his songwriting muse. In addition to the singles he released in 1968, he launched numerous TV projects, providing theme music for each series. The themes to unsold pilots like People Poker and Cop Out and failures like How’s Your Mother in Law were reused as incidental music in ongoing game shows (the “True Grit Winners Theme” and “People Pickers Theme” are instantly recognizable), and music from his singles also turned up instrumentally in later series (e.g. “Too Rich” became the “Family Game Theme”). Having authored all the themes, Barris was in the unusual position to issue a compilation by 1973 (the next collection of game show theme songs didn’t happen until late in the 1990s).
The CD cleverly adds 4 rare Chuck Barris singles as bonus tracks. Regrettably, they’re also taken from subpar vinyl sources.
“Theme Theme From Gene Gene”/“Lovee’s Come Back”
(Gong Show GS 100, 1978):
The most endearing of the Gong Show’s many “fake” acts was of course stagehand Gene Patton, aka Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, immortalized for dancing onstage to Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” Unusually, Barris used an instrumental of “Lovee’s Come Back” for the Gong Show theme instead of using one of his own compositions. Released in 1978 on a custom Gong Show label, the rights were presumably retained by Barris. In the unlikely event a legitimate reissue of Themes From TV Game Shows happens this single would be the only guaranteed addition, since the rights to the “bonus” tracks on the TV City edition are split between MCA and Capitol.
“Baja California”/“Donnie” by The Chuck Barris Syndicate
(Dot 17137, 1968):
The Game Show King contains a photo of the Chuck Barris Productions staff used in the print ads for this single, which is a group vocal (unlike the other singles included here which feature a Barris vocal) not unlike the Association and no doubt influenced to some degree by The Mamas and The Papas. The melody was later reused as the Parent Game theme. The wistful love song “Donnie” is not a Barris composition; its significance indiscernible.
“Too Rich”/“I Know A Child” (Capitol 2536, 1968):
The only Barris vocal single unconnected to his game shows, although the instrumentation is not dissimilar to the familiar Dating Game and Newlywed Game themes. The single (on Capitol’s short-lived 1968 Target design with the original dome logo!) combines one of Chuck’s pet rants, bemoaning the stress of modern life (“This too rich underfed overdone cookie batter called life”) and a gentler lament, “I Know a Child.”
“Sometimes It Just Don’t Pay To Get Up”/“Why Me Oh Lord”
(MCA 41245, 1980):
Two country blues songs from the soundtrack of The Gong Show Movie. Barris had originally envisioned a tour with the Gong Show Band (Milton DeLugg and the Band with a Thug rechristened the Hollywood Cowboys). He decided instead to make a film based on The Gong Show itself; its relative failure was one of the factors that led to Chuck’s departure to St. Tropez. Apart from a few abortive attempts, a Chuck Barris Productions retrospective (Anything For a Laugh) and two wickedly funny autobiographies, he hasn’t reemerged since. If the Confessions of a Dangerous Mind movie gets made the music on Themes From TV Game Shows will make a killer soundtrack... until then, the many fans of Chuck Barris will have to content themselves with this facsimile.
©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Don Hilla for the Count Basie correction.