ARCHIVES: A life story reduced to one word: Nananananananana

This pre-Franorama World post was from the Fresno Beehive Oct. 15, 2008, 1:40 p.m. PDT:

From The New York Times’ obituary page today: the death of composer Neal Hefti, who passed Saturday at his Toluca Lake home at 85.

He was a trumpeter and a well-respected, forward-thinking jazz composer who came up with new arrangements for Woody Herman tunes (including “Woodchoppers’ Ball”) in his two-year stint with the First Herd in the mid-’40s. After short spells playing with Harry James and composing for Buddy Rich, he spent most of the ’50s composing for Count Basie; the best-known of his works was “Li’l Darlin’.”

But forget all that high-class stuff. He’ll forever be known for one 43-second piece of pop fluff that had an impact on kids everywhere.

Hefti’s son Paul told The Times that, despite his jazz credentials, “He felt his true work was done for the movies and television,” because he wasn’t restricted by a band’s instrumentation.

Despite that, he had the damndest time coming up with the theme for ABC’s new action series in 1966, based on the “Batman” comics. He once said it was so campy that it took him six weeks to compose these immortal 43 seconds.

His son Paul told The Times, “He told me he tore up more paper on ‘Batman’ than on any other work he ever did. He had to find something that worked with the lowest common denominator, so it would appeal to kids, yet wouldn’t sound stupid. What he came up with was a 12-bar blues with a guitar hook and one word.”

Well, two words, if you count “Batman!”

Of course, after writing one of the most recognizable melodies in pop culture, Hefti didn’t stop. He also composed the themes for some well-known Neil Simon works: “Barefoot in the Park,” “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” … and there was that one sitcom that preceded “The Honeymooners” in rerun land on Channel 11 in New York in my growing years.

I always thought that all someone had to do was just write the right one or two songs to become immortal and rich. Look at Sonny Curtis, the onetime member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets who wrote “I Fought the Law” and the “Mary Tyler Moore” theme. Or Ed Cobb, who wrote “Dirty Water” for The Standells and “Tainted Love” for Gloria Jones (then saw it become a worldwide smash for Soft Cell years later). Hefti might have topped both of them and everyone else — 43 seconds and the barest minumum of lyrics. A full life of music reduced to one word, maybe two …

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