A very strange piece of music
Like most middle-class males of my age in Britain, I grew up with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was 12 when the radio version came out. I was 13 when the first book was published, and 34 when the final one came out. I was 15 when the TV version appeared. I was 39 when the movie version came out. And I was 34 when we lost Douglas Adams. Sometimes I feel like Hitchhiker’s is some kind of cultural childminder, watching over my development and careful of my towel.
And music being what music is, the trigger for nostalgic thoughts of Adams and Hitchhiker’s is always that theme tune. The strange minor-key banjo, the jaunty strings, the development from quiet to drama within seconds, the endlessly flexible use to which it can be put. I’ve always loved it so, so much. And last week I discovered I knew nothing about it at all.
I knew Bernie Leadon wrote it. I knew he’d been in The Eagles in their first incarnation. I’d always thought this was kind of interesting, and wondered how the BBC had persuaded an American rock god to write the theme for their little series.
Except of course he didn’t. Because the truth I discovered last week was this: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theme tune is an Eagles song.
Apologies if you already knew this. I did not know this. I am genuinely amazed by it. What an extraordinary mixture of heritages: a gawky middle-class boy from England writes a sardonic, witty and inventive spoof of science fiction, which is turned into a radio and TV series by similarly gawky and middle-class boys from the BBC, and to introduce it they find a piece of music by a band who by then were the byword for west coast rock pomposity and excess. And somehow they find the one piece of music that band recorded that sounds like British prog.
But listen to it. It’s amazing. It’s a six-minute prog rock track inserted into an album by a folk-rock band who were already breaking sales records. Imagine Leadon bringing it into the studio.
“Ok, guys. We’ve got love songs. We’ve got rockers. We’ve got a bit of country. But I want us to consider a six-minute banjo orchestration that, six or seven years from now, will be chosen as the theme tune for a British sci fi comedy.”
Maybe they were too out of it to notice. But applaud Leadon’s brilliance – first for writing and recording it, then for getting it on an Eagles album. And think of Douglas Adams putting that Eagles album on his turntable, seeing the title ’Journey of the Sorcerer’ on the track listing, sliding the needle over to it, and then…. mind blown.
Douglas Adams: by Michael Hughes from Wikimedia Commons
Bernie Leadon and Glenn Frey: from Wikimedia Commons