Chocka-Wocka 1970s Spider-Man
Sometimes I am asked, or even wonder myself, if there are any film scores still unreleased I really want to have.
And the answer is...not many. It’s been an amazing quarter-century of CD releases, and I’m proud of have played a part in that.
But there are, in fact, still things that I would love to have, and one that comes to mind is the short-lived, late 1970s attempt at a live-action Spider-Man series on CBS.
I know some fans have a lot of affection for this show. I’m not one of them. I was too young to see it first-run, but in the 1980s our local channel 6 from Providence had a morning movie show called “Dialing for Dollars”—here’s a clip:
I would watch this in the summer and when home sick from school, I think from 9–11am, leading into The Price Is Right at 11.
And sometimes they ran the two-hour “compilations” of Spider-Man episodes that were distributed internationally as theatrical films, or paired up for videocassette releases, e.g. “Night of the Clones and Escort to Danger.”
Even as a kid, I was like...“What is this crap?” The characters seemed catatonic compared to their comic book personalities—and the bad guys completely stock TV heavies—so the only thing to do was wait for the “Spidey action.”
And the “Spidey action” seemed to consist of long shots of stunt doubles running around rooftops, with the occasional web being shot—cut to: the bad guys covered in a giant net.
I remember being bored out of my head.
And yet I do have nostalgia for this show...home sick in your underwear, enjoying a ginger ale and Spider-Man on daytime TV...I mean, kid paradise, right?
Which brings me to the music: this is so totally the Zeitgeist of late 1970s television scoring, it’s a warm blanket of chocka-wocka fun.
There were three composers over the two years of sporadically produced episodes.
The 90-minute pilot movie, Spider-Man, which aired September 14, 1977, was scored by English bandleader Johnnie Spence.
I just looked up Spence for the first time, and he died of a heart attack August 15, 1977, before Spider-Man even aired. He was only 41. Wow, that’s terrible.
His score to Spider-Man has a main theme that is, alas, a rip-off of Rocky:
However, roll the above video ahead to 19:05 for some chocka-wocka fun as Spidey tests his powers by climbing over the outside of Aunt May’s house (in terrible process shots).
The ensuing series, known as The Amazing Spider-Man, never had a fixed time slot, but aired five episodes as a “season one” in the spring of 1978, and eight more over the 1978–79 programming year as a “season two.”
The spring 1978 episodes were scored by Stu Phillips, whose main theme was based on the syllables, “Spider-Man.” It’s at the top of this video:
But the best-known theme from the show is probably Dana Kaproff’s from the second season, which goes fully into the disco era with the “spidery” riff for what I think is electric clavichord (through a wah-wah pedal) with a groovy sax tune:
The entire run of the show is at this YouTube playlist, while another playlist (gotta love these devoted fans) offers up some choice music segments.
When I started the FSM label in the late 1990s, I called Charles Fries’ office (one of the producers) inquiring about the soundtrack rights.
I don’t remember the exact answer—so I don’t want to say something here that gets misconstrued—but my guess is that the only way this soundtrack ever gets released (if tapes are even available) would be with Disney’s approval.
And my suspicion is that this show is just so embarrassing, people would be afraid even to type the memo.
So we’ll just have to live with YouTube playlists of off-air rips. And maybe that’s the best way to remember it?