Monday, July 25, 2011

"Rome, Italian Style" Track of the Day: The John Gregory Orchestra, "The Avengers"

Honor Blackman switched to leather outfits because during a fight scene, she split open her pants. An even better solution to that wardrobe malfunction would have been pantsless fighting, a.k.a. trousersless fighting, which would have made the show's ratings go up 1000 percent.
I gave myself an assignment for the entire month of July: I've been writing one post per weekday in which I say a few words about a selected track from A Fistful of Soundtracks' "Rome, Italian Style" block of imaginary soundtrack music and covers of '60s and '70s film and TV themes. Sometimes, I've found myself not being able to say much more than "It's dope" or "It's shiny," and other times, the TV series where the piece of music originated from is a more interesting subject to write about than the music itself, which is the case with today's post. The "'Rome, Italian Style' Track of the Day" series concludes this Friday, but the block will continue to air Mondays through Thursdays from 11am to noon on AFOS.

Song: "The Avengers" by The John Gregory Orchestra
Released: 1961
Why's it part of the "Rome, Italian Style" playlist?: It's a faithful cover of the other Avengers theme, the lesser-known one from the British spy show's pre-Emma Peel seasons that was composed not by Laurie Johnson, but by the late British jazzman John Dankworth. Those rarely seen (due mostly to the British TV networks' love of throwing their archived shows away) and shot-on-videotape first three seasons were more serious in tone, and Dankworth's crime-jazz theme reflected that harder-edged tone.

A show that's turned 50 years old (!) this year, The Avengers started out as a total sausage fest, with Patrick Macnee's John Steed partnered with Ian Hendry's David Keel, a doctor seeking vengeance on the drug dealers who murdered his fiancée. When leather-clad anthropologist/judo expert Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) arrived as a replacement for Keel (Hendry, the show's original lead actor, decided to bounce after the first season to pursue a film career), the once-grim procedural gradually evolved into the eye candy-filled, sexy and playful spy-fi classic we know and love today.

"When the women came, it coincided with the rise of women's lib. So women were totally excited to see, in what was after all a comic strip type show, a woman [who] actually does things," said Macnee in 1998, when he was promoting his memoir The Avengers and Me. "At that time, to see a women like Diana Rigg, with that beautiful auburn hair throwing men over her shoulder, then tossing her hair out of her eyes, smiling and saying 'Where do we go next?' was highly attractive--particularly to young women. And to young men, particularly with the clothes, because they were... err, revealing and interesting. Suddenly a woman was vibrant in a medium in which [that] normally didn't happen."

The Avengers 50th Anniversary Press Launch from Avengers 50th on Vimeo.

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