WKRP in Cincinnati has always been cool and will always be cool. The late-’70s / early-’80s sitcom has, in my opinion, one of the best-written comedy episodes of all-time: Turkey’s Away. It chronicled the station’s ill-advised Thanksgiving turkey drop, covered by the station’s crack newsman Les Nessman:
“It’s a dark object, perhaps a skydiver plummeting to the earth from only 2,000 feet in the air… There’s a third… No parachutes yet… Those can’t be skydivers. I can’t tell just yet what they are but… Oh my God! They’re turkeys! Oh no! Johnny can you get this? Oh, they’re crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible! Everyone’s running around pushing each other. Oh my goodness! Oh, the humanity! People are running about. The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Folks, I don’t know how much longer… The crowd is running for their lives.… Children are searching for their mothers and oh, not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this. I don’t know how much longer I can hold my position here, Johnny. The crowd…”
But not only was the writing top-notch, so too was the music. It featured heavily, and not just in the background. I’m thinking of Foreigner‘s Hot Blooded to accompany Nessman’s makeover, or burnout morning man Dr. Johnny Fever playing all 17 minutes of Dogs from “the new” Pink Floyd album Animals, while station manager Art Carlson wonders if indeed he hears barking. No wonder fans were outraged when the first release of the show on DVD sets didn’t include the original music due to licensing issues. So many scenes simply don’t work without the real stuff, so they eventually remedied that — but buyer beware if you’re looking to add this to your library.
Then there’s all the posters. OMG. Now-vintage and highly collectible promotional posters for all the big bands at the time — Journey, Boston, Bob Seger, etc.
But WKRP also had two original songs. I recently acquired a 45 of the opening theme, performed by Steve Carlisle in 1978:
This is basically Carlisle’s only song. It got to No. 65 on the U.S. charts. His Discogs profile gives his bio as “Backing singer on For the Working Girl by Melissa Manchester.” The song was written by show creator Hugh Wilson and songwriter Tom Wells. Wilson presumably took care of the lyrics and Wells the music, as he had a load of experience in that area. Wells did a few TV themes but wrote a pile of jingles for brands including Goodyear, McDonald’s, Dodge, Nissan, Vivitar and Delta.
I don’t care for the main opening theme, really. It’s the mysterious outro theme I love. You know — the rockin’ one with indecipherable lyrics.
So, here’s what I know about it. Wilson hired Atlanta musician Jim Ellis (not to be confused with either the lead singer of The Trammps nor the singer known as Orion) to do two things — write and provide orchestrations for the opening theme, and write a rock song for the outro.
Ellis is the one singing the closing theme, something which was intended to be a “scratch vocal” at best. What he really was doing was demonstrating the vocal melody, and imagining a saxophone. But when Wilson heard it, he decided to use the song as is, thinking the gibberish lyrics were funny and a bit of a piss-take on the indecipherability of many rock song lyrics anyway.
The song, sometimes referred to as This Tune, doesn’t seem to have ever been officially released, but some folks have attempted to come up with “lyrics” you can sing, should you and your band ever decide to do a cover.
“Mad tooth bar chin-up
Boxing outta her hair
Still do the modern day
Whack-a-Mole did ah-hah
I had a beer and then head out
I said I wouldn’t do it
If a poodle had a lid on.”
• • •
Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.