Did Henry Mancini Invent Spy Music When He Composed/Conducted The Music From Peter Gunn in 1958?

by James Wallace Harris, 9/20/22

The Music From Peter Gunn was composed and conducted by Henry Mancini and recorded on August 26, 31, and September 4, 29, 1958 for the TV show Peter Gunn that premiered on September 22, 1958. The original soundtrack was released in 1959 and won the very first Grammy award for Album of the Year that year, beating out Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Van Cliburn.

The soundtrack was very popular, eventually earning a Gold Record. And the song, “Peter Gunn” has become iconic, inspiring many covers and interpretations. The album was so successful that RCA came out with More Music From Peter Gunn later that same year.

You can listen to a rearranged compilation of those two albums here while you read on.

But this brings up my second question for this essay: How many songs were recorded in those original sessions for the Peter Gunn TV show? The tunes on the YouTube video sound slightly different from the original album, and the lineup of songs are different too.

I have found these two albums that call themselves complete, but they are different. The first has the original two albums, plus two more albums on two CDs. The full description is here. The second is just the original two soundtracks on one CD.

The first album is described at Discogs as:

This release contains the complete original Henry Mancini albums "The Music From Peter Gunn" and "More Music From Peter Gunn", scores for the Blake Edwards' "Peter Gunn" TV series. Also included two further complete LPs presenting alternative versions of this music by Pete Candoli and Ted Nash, plus a single tune omitted from the companion volume "Shelly Manne & His Men Play Peter Gunn"

The second two albums are a mystery to me, even though I once owned the Nash LP. I now wish I hadn’t given it away. If anyone knows why the Ted Nash and Pete Candoli albums are considered part of the complete Peter Gunn, let me know below. Were they connected with the show? Were these songs alternated arrangements for the show?

I’ve heard a lot of reissues and even the ones that are supposed to be the Mancini originals often sound slightly to somewhat different from the original LPs, with a different lineup of tunes, and song titles. One thing that’s really confusing on Spotify, is the album they list as The Music of Peter Gunn & More From Peter Gunn is actually the soundtrack to the 1967 film Gunn … The One! – which has newer versions of some of the songs they used on the TV show, along with newer songs for the movie.

The original album feels like a special subgenre of cool 1950s jazz, the kind of jazz that people who hate jazz thinks of jazz and loves to hear. Mancini in his autobiography said, “The Peter Gunn title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz.” But the rest of the album does sound like jazz. I do wonder if all the guys who recorded at Blue Note considered it jazz? And did they resent its success?

The first LP I bought with money I earned (from cutting lawns) when I was fourteen was the soundtrack from Our Man Flint, with its music composed by Jerry Goldsmith. I quickly acquired soundtracks for Goldfinger and Thunderball, composed by John Barry, and the soundtrack for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which was arranged and conducted by Hugo Montenegro, but I believe at least the title tune was composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

I loved the music on these soundtracks and thought of them as Spy Music. I’m not the only one that uses that label. You can find playlists on Spotify under the title Spy Music, and even the All Music Guide has it as a category. The songs on these albums sound a bit like jazz, but I don’t know if the music would really be considered jazz. But I do like this music a lot.

When I started trying to find out how many songs were recorded for the original Peter Gunn show it occurred to me that Mancini’s music might be the origin of what I call Spy Music. It’s gotten me back into listening to Spy Music. When I get time I’m going to make my own playlist for Spotify. Some of the Spy Music playlists I’ve listened to use cover tunes. That bugs me. I want the originals, well, at least the songs from the original albums.

This bit of research is also making me want to research soundtrack music. For movies and TV shows, each scene only uses pieces of a song. Do composers write whole songs and then the editors clip out what they want. Or are composers given clips of scenes and asked to compose music just for them? Are soundtracks fleshed-out clips? And why are so many soundtracks missing from Spotify?

That’s why I wondered just how many songs were composed for the Peter Gunn TV show? Did Mancini just create a batch of tunes for Blake Edwards? Were Nash and Condoli on set arrangers? This blog quotes the whole chapter on Peter Gunn from Mancini’s autobiography, but it doesn’t answer all my questions. I’d love it if some YouTuber researched all of this and produced a 30-minute documentary that answered my questions.

Update: 9/22/22:

I got The Music From Peter Gunn – Complete edition, a 2-CD set in from Discogs today. Its booklet answers some of my unanswered questions.

The Pete Candoli and Ted Nash albums were recorded in 1959. It says the recording location for all the albums was Hollywood. I wonder if it was in the same studio? The first two albums were from RCA but the other two were from Dot and Crown, but they all could have been recorded in the same location. Many of the musicians were the same. Was the 1959 recording done to give the musicians their own album and chance to earn additional money, or were they extra recordings for the TV show?

JWH

3 thoughts on “Did Henry Mancini Invent Spy Music When He Composed/Conducted The Music From Peter Gunn in 1958?”

  1. I can vaguely remember watching Peter Gunn on TV. Although I’ve watched a few episodes on YouTube so my memory is corrupted. He had a beatnik informant. Donald Fagen talks about the influence of Mancinin on him in Eminent Hipsters.

    1. I’ve mainly heard Mancini’s greatest hits and these four albums of Peter Gunn music. But I’m going to listen to a bunch more. I really like his stuff.

      This is all part of my efforts to revisit the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and later and discover the music I missed when I was growing up.

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