TV Show’s Theme Is Major Pop Single



NEW YORK Here's an unusual formula for pop chart success: put your recording and session playing career on indefinite hold and start composing music to videotape images of crime scenes and high-fashion car chases. The result, musically and commercially, might just be something like the No. 1 "Miami Vice Theme" single.

Jan Hammer, the Czech-born multi-instrumentalist, had been amassing a long list of credits since the early 1970s with his own Jan Hammer Group and Hammer projects (on Nemperor and Elektra, respectively), on two duet albums with Journey's Neal Schon and on albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck and Al DiMeola, among dozens of others. All this activity ended rather abruptly, and Hammer hasn't played a record session in a year and a half—the last being for Mick Jagger's "She's The Boss."

Instead, he's been spending days and nights sequestered in a New York studio, screening final or near- final cuts of "Miami Vice" episodes sent to him weekly on videocassettes, and returning finished half- inch stereo tapes of score music directly to the show's music editor.

Hammer writes, performs and even engineers every second of the show's music—except, of course, for the usage of hit singles, which had been the TV series' other trend-setting stroke. As musical director, Hammer also has full say over the placement of his music.

Hammer maintains that it's the theme's ability to stand up with other hit singles that sets it apart from the rest of the "easy listening, prefab sounding" television themes that haven't become radio hits. "It's the first time an honest-to-goodness piece of real rock music became a theme. It's the only one that sounds 'real.' "

It was "just a chance meeting" that connected Hammer with "Miami Vice" executive producer Michael Mann (who co-produced the MCA album along with Danny Goldberg). But the compatibility of both parties was immediately evident: "I 'clicked' instantly with the look and the feel of the show," Hammer recounts. "Just from the first few descriptions, I was able to play him something."

Hammer's one-man operation and the standing order for 20 minutes of new, original music every week keep him under time pressure, but don't necessarily exhaust him creatively.

In fact, Hammer's manager, Elliott Sears, notes that this is the first time Hammer has been freed of the categorizations that previously applied to his career, and has been able to play any genre of music, be it reggae, pop, rock or ethnic.

Hammer's quick turnover does, however, preclude the use of orchestral music. "You can't (duplicate) that with digital, but why should you? I don't feel the need for that kind of sound. I'm doing something different."

The "Miami Vice" album was originally conceived as primarily instrumental. But aside from the usual concerns surrounding the marketing of an instrumental album, the opportunity for cross-marketing was one that MCA, fresh from its double-platinum success with "Beverly Hills Cop," couldn't pass up.

As a result, five Hammer compositions were placed on the album— along with new and recent cuts by frequent "Miami Vice" visitor Glenn Frey (also bulleting in the top five with "You Belong To The City," which debuted on the program), Chaka Khan, , Phil Collins and Tina Turner.

Accidentally, Hammer was given fifth billing on the first million album jackets—but that was rectified at the end of October, when MCA shipped new album and cassette sleeves moving Hammer's name up to first position. Album sequencing was also changed, with Hammer's cuts consolidated to lead off side two.

Hammer did manage to escape the studio recently—to jump on a London-bound plane and perform "Miami Vice Theme" on Britain's "Top of The Pops." The single had sprinted from 30 to 10 on the U.K. charts even though the TV show has been on between-season hiatus, without reruns, since June. Its prospective return to the British airwaves in January has led to suggestions that a second "Miami Vice" album might be in order, timed for March, 1986, reports Sears.

Demand for Hammer's services is now understandably high, but because of "Miami Vice" he has chosen just a couple of new projects, including the score for the film "Secret Admirer," released this past summer. Hammer's first sound- track involvement had been on the score of 1983's "A Night In Heaven." His other work in progress is for an ABC-TV movie, about a policeman—in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 


JAN  HAMMER  scores  a  hit
‘Miami Vice’ composer rocks prime time

By John Milward
Special for USA TODAY

  NEW YORK—Jan Hammer's parents, who remained in Czechoslovakia after their son emigrated to the USA in 1968, can't quite get a handle on the TV show whose score their son composes.
   "I tried to translate the word vice for my father," says Hammer. "At first he thought it was wise, as in wisdom, then vice, as in vice president."
   Outside the Eastern Bloc, Miami Vice is known as the first TV show to fully exploit pop music.
   The sound track album is No. 1, with two top-10 singles— Hammer's Miami Vice theme and Glenn Frey's You Belong to the City.
  "I picked up the phone last week," says Hammer, 37, sitting in a Manhattan warehouse where a crew is building sets for a video of his first hit record, "and it was Henry Mancini calling to congratulate me." The reason: Miami Vice is the first TV sound track to hit No. 1 since Mancini's 1959 The Music From Peter Gunn.
   Besides spawning hit records—including Frey's earlier Smuggler's Blues, which became a hit for the ex-Eagle after it inspired a Vice episode— the show has given new emphasis to instrumental scores. And Hammer, who produces about 20 minutes of new music for each week's program, has brought rock to prime time.

   Here's Hammer's week

•  On Monday or Tuesday, a courier arrives at his Colonial home in upstate New York with the initial cut of the next episode. It's usually about 60 minutes long, and will cut to 50.
   "I stopped reading scripts after the pilot," says Hammer. Instead, "I sit down and watch like a viewer, get caught up in the drama, and rely on that to goose me into action." Initially, that means jotting down notes on where major sections of music must be scored.
   The pre-existing pop songs leased for use on Vice are already on each week's sound track—they're chosen by associate producer Fred Lyle.
•  During the week, Hammer receives up to four versions of the program as it evolves. By Wednesday, his initial musical sketches are becoming more developed, and he's girding up for a pair of 12- hour days recording in his 2t track home studio.
   Hammer, primarily a keyboardist, first came to prominence with guitarist John McLaughlin's original Mahavishnu Orchestra. He later collaborated with guitarist Jeff Beck on a trio of fusion albums. His career has paralleled and profited from the development of synthesizers and associated computer technology.
   His prominent use of computer-generated sounds has drawn criticism from old school composers and pop critics alike. Hammer dismisses such criticism: "I've personally played every drum sound that's stored in my computer. ... And anyway, I'm a much better drummer in my mind than I am in person."
• Thursday and Friday are long days spent recording his musical tracks and making sure they're precisely timed to the final cut. The work is both exhilarating and exhausting, and Hammer says this might be his last season with the show. That's also because his TV success is spurring hot offers for film sound tracks.
   For now, each Friday night at 10 you can find Hammer and his wife, Ivona, sitting down to watch Miami Vice. "I have a stereo television, but since my two children are asleep by that time, we have to keep the sound down low."

Rolling Stone October 26, 1985


‘Miami Vice’ goes on record

LP features Glenn Frey, Chaka Khan, Jan Hammer

FROM ‘HAWAII FIVE-O’ TO Welcome Back, Kotter to Hill Street Blues, television shows whose theme songs have become hit singles are nothing new. But the hippest show of the Eighties, the show that will soon have its own line of shoes, that has people staying home on Friday night- that show needed something more. Miami Vice needed its own album.

Music from the Television Series 'Miami Vice' combines new material with songs closely identified with the show's first season. There are five instrumentals by Jan Hammer, who composes each episode's neon score. There are previously released hits by Glenn Frey, Tina Turner and Phil Collins, all of which were incorporated into past episodes. And there are three new songs that will accompany Crockett and Tubbs' gunfights this year: "Vice," a crackling rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel; Chaka Khan's "Own the Night," produced by Arif Mardin and co-written by Fran Golde, who penned the Commodores' "Night Shift"; and "You Belong to the City," by Glenn Frey.

"Last January," says one of the LP's executive producers, Danny Goldberg, "I said to Michael Mann (the series executive producer), 'You're showcasing all this music. Why not create some original music and have a hit record?' "

Phil Collins was too busy, but one artist who was eager to participate was Glenn Frey, whose song "Smuggler's Blues" was the theme song for an episode (in which he also appeared) this season. "They wanted me to write a song for the season opener," Frey recalls. "Because both Miami Vice and myself have mutually benefited from our relationship, I was more than happy to do it for them."

Since the two-hour opener is set primarily in New York, Frey  aimed for "more of an urban sound, a kick-ass disco record, but with intelligent lyrics, as opposed to 'Baby, baby, baby.' Frey says that it's "a very visual tune." When writing the song, he imagined "a rainy street, Sonny Rollins blowing on the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge."

"It's written from Tubbs' point of view," Frey explains. "He started out in New York on the very first episode, before going down to Miami and staying there. The song is about going back to a place where you lived before The tide means the city is something you can't get out of your blood."

Jan Hammer's "Miami Vice Theme," which he composed "accidentally" while fooling around with his Fairlight synthesizer, is racing Frey's "You Belong to the City" up the singles chart Remix masters Francois Kevorkian and Ron St. Germain have also turned it into a twelve-inch dance record, complete with squealing tires and police sirens - "all in tune," Hammer notes happily. The success is especially gratifying for the thirty-seven-year-old keyboardist, who left his native Czechoslovakia just before the Russian invasion of 1968. "When I met Jan, he was certainly going through a difficult period," says Goldberg. "He hadn't found an outlet for his genius. He was making solo records, but they weren't selling particularly well, and he wanted to get into scoring." A founding member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Hammer had already scored several movies (A Night in Heaven and Secret Admirer), as well as some foreign television shows, before we made him the Henry Mancini of the Eighties.

"Ever since the first episode"  he says, "I've gotten letters asking where people could buy the music. I've gotten letters from people in Nebraska, places you wouldn't think of as being hip, saying they love the music." Hammer spends up to eighty hours each week in his one-man studio in upstate New York, composing, playing, engineering and mixing the twenty plus minutes of original music that goes into each episode. The music ranges from calypso to hard rock to electronic - but Nebraskans like it all, Hammer believes, because of the melodic instinct that he has carried over from the Eastern European folk music he grew up on.

The last television album to top the charts was a soundtrack LP from Peter Gun, which spent ten weeks at Number One in 1959. But if Music from 'Miami Vice' becomes successful, there will surely be more TV albums. this will be the Flashdance of television, in terms of breaking new ground commercially," Goldberg predicts. - "If it works, it will be a whole new bastard genre of rock & roll." The possibilities boggle the mind: Molly Hatchet guest-starring  on Simon & Simon, Bryan Ferry recording a song for Dynasty
"It’ll happen," Goldberg says.  “And it will be awful.”   - Rob Tannenbaum