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The Music from Peter Gunn


The Music from Peter Gunn, 1959.

Who knew that this album would bring up such memories and send me down so many rabbit trails.

Another of pop’s old record club albums, The Music from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini is one that I listened to a lot as a kid.  As kids, elementary aged kids, the only records we had were children’s records and my folks’ old records. It wasn’t until 5th grade that I received my first three singles of contemporary music.

I remember one vignette from childhood.  I don’t remember who the older kids were, a boy and a girl if I remember right, but their parents were visiting ours. I think I was in the third or fourth grade. We were all sitting around the record player, and the girl, the older of the two, was disparaging our record collection, all kids records, meh. I reached for one of dad’s old records, Thereby Hangs a Tale by Eddie Arnold. This is another record that my brother and I listened to a lot, and had the A side pretty much memorized, especially “Tennessee Stud,” “Battle of Little Big Horn,” and “Wreck of the Old 97.” My brother probably still has those songs memorized. So I put Eddie on the turntable. “How’s this?” I asked, already reaching for another in case this one didn’t receive her approval. I remember her nodding her head along with Eddie. No, this good. Even then I remember being a little surprised. It was the 70s, I guess, and the folk/country sound was pretty prevalent in popular music. Or maybe her dad listened to Eddie Arnold too.

Anyway, in revisiting the Peter Gunn album, I was surprised how much I remembered of this album. When one song ended, I was able to hum the opening bars of the next tune during the space between. That’s something that is mostly gone in the days of shuffle and Pandora. Too bad.

And this is great jazz music. It’s popular.  It was popular at the time–in 1959 this album was the first to win a Grammy for album of the year.  And it’s certainly stood the test of time. The Library of Congress entered this album into the National Recording Registry in 2010.  But perhaps more tellingly, search YouTube for covers of the Peter Gunn theme, and you’ll find a lot of them, some of them quite bizarre.  Try to look away from this.

This popularity can make some of us snobby folks suspicious.  But this music is really beautiful, fun, and of course the main theme may make you want to drive a long car into a seedy neighborhood to shake down a punk for information on a recent kidnapping (or put on your go-go boots and go for it). Of course that may just be me.  The best thing to do, of course, is to listen to it. Here are a handful of tunes from this album.  Enjoy.