Right now, not so far away, John Williams is writing music for a galaxy far, far away. The film composer is again at work in the Star Wars universe, no doubt conducting themes that will soon be played by marching bands at college football games. The music for The Force Awakens promised to be evocative, whimsical, emotional, brassy and brilliant — because, well, John Williams music always is. Perhaps no other musician had penned as many well-known Hollywood themes.
But long before Williams was a Spielberg staple, he was jazz pianist "Little Johnny Love" Williams. His career stretches back six decades. He played in Henry Mancini's band. Before collaborating with Lucas and Spielberg on blockbusters, he was a go-to composer for visionary producer Irwin Allen.
You can hear John Williams at work on MeTV in shows like Lost in Space, Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky. To toast the 86-year-old maestro, let's highlight his greatest pre-1970 television output. Which is your favorite?
1. Peter Gunn (1958–61)
Williams certainly learned from a genius. Henry Mancini bridged the worlds of the pop charts and Hollywood scores with his smooth, colorful tunes. With arguably the coolest theme song of all time, Peter Gunn was a showcase for Williams the player. He really gets to flash his jazz chops through the P.I. series, playing on bop and bouncy scores throughout.
2. Mr. Lucky (1959–60)
Mancini's relaxed Mr. Lucky theme would not demonstrate Williams' skills as much as Gunn, but it's a great piece of music nonetheless.
3. Checkmate (1960–62)
Right off the bat, in his first major spotlight television theme, all of Williams' trademarks are present in a percussive, animated, suspenseful blast. Great stuff.
4. Wide Country (1962–63)
Short and bustling, the theme packs a lot in with little time. Hear this snappy number at the 7:17 mark in the video.
5. Kraft Suspense Theatre (1963–65)
If you're looking for a taste of Jaws in his early work, this underrated dramatic number might be it. The animated credits sequence is fantastic, as well. And here's some deep Star Wars trivia, fans. In the episode "The End of the World, Baby," Williams pairs with Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner.
6. Lost in Space (1965–68)
This is perhaps where John Williams became John Williams. The brilliant opening to the Irwin Allen sci-fi saga carries the DNA for E.T. and Indiana Jones. The tune was altered for subsequent seasons, as Williams added lots of twinkling bells and whistles and upped the tempo for season three.
7. The Time Tunnel (1966–67)
For this Allen creation, Williams captured the feel of spinning through a portal with its swirling strings. The nervy percussion is particular tasty here, too.
8. Land of the Giants (1968–70)
Yep, another special effects marvel from Irwin Allen. Briefly, in its anxious opening, this theme brings to mind Mission: Impossible, before it blossoms with bongos and meaty blasts of horns. While not as distinctive as the prior two, perhaps, it's still cinematic ear candy.