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Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers

Album: Greatest HitsReleased: 1966Charted:
3
  • This was the theme for a TV show called Secret Agent, starring Patrick McGoohan. Unlike many TV themes, the song held up on its own with a distinctive dueling guitar sound. (thanks, Dill - Alexandria, VA)
  • This is an example of "Spy" music. The sound implied action and was associated with James Bond movies.
  • PF Sloan and Steve Barri of The Grass Roots wrote this song. Secret Agent was a US adaptation of a hit show in England called Dangerman, and CBS needed a 15-second theme to replace the British version. Sloan wrote of the song (from his website): "Somebody thought I should do a full length instrumental of the song. So I did. Meanwhile the song was picked by CBS and Johnny Rivers recorded the quick 15-second song for the TV show. The Ventures, the genius guitar instrumental group, heard the demo and recorded and released the song way before Rivers even had a finished song. The publishers asked me to finish the song, Rivers recorded it, not one of his favorite songs back then, but he's happier with it now."
  • Some of the artists to record this song include Hank Williams Jr., Devo and Blues Traveler.
  • This was used in commercials for Wal-Mart and also for Chase credit cards. Some of the many movies to use the song include Repo Man, Bowfinger, Can't Buy Me Love, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.
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Comments: 15

The lyrics of "Secret Agent Man" clearly foreshadow "The Prisoner"

"They've given you a number/and taken 'way your name."

At least, fans like to think so.
Edward - Henderson, Nv
I saw Rivers play this song live at James Burtons (elvis band member) club in Shreveport, La in 1994 or so. Small cozy venue and i sat at the front dinner table. Late in the set, Rivers broke out a beautiful red electric guitar and started the song up. What a treat. He is 5 foot nothing...i was shocked, but plays and sings much bigger.Jim - Monore, La
Listening a long time ago to Johnny's "live"
at the Whiskey A-GoGo album(and it wasn't really live)
it sounds like Johnny played the lead on Secret Agent..it's in his style, or the purported style (supposedly him) of how he played on that GoGo album from '64
Steve Dotstar - Los Angeles, Ca
Has anyone ever noticed that there are times in the song when it sounds as if Johnny Rivers is singing Secret 'Asian' Man instead of Secret 'Agent' Man. When I first heard the song without knowing its title, that's what I thought he was singing!Steve - Los Angeles, Ca
Gustav is incorrect -- "Secret Agent" did not "return as The Prisoner." Although both series starred McGoohan and both dealt with a secret-agent-type theme they really had nothing else to do with each other.Grizzly - Panohai, Pa
The name of the guitar player is Jim Mesi. In the seventies he played with the band Brown Sugar. Today he lives in Portland Oregon where he teaches guitar theory and plays several gigs a week.Dan - Philadelphia, Pa
A few years ago "Secret Agent Man" was voted the official song of San Francisco bike messengers by the SF Bike Messenger Association. Change the words "secret agent man" to "bicycle messenger" and it's easy to see why.Isaac - San Francisco, Ca
In a 1998 interview with Vintage Guitar magazine, Johnny Rivers said the producers of the TV show wanted to launch in in the U.S. with a theme song that had lyrics. P.F. Sloane and Steve Barri were working with Rivers, they got the job and Rivers did the song. It originally was just a short TV theme song with a verse and chorus. People called radio stations asking to hear it, so they added verses and made a record.
He said they cut it live at Whiskey A-Go-Go but then added the solo (also the handclapping) in the studio. He said "we" redid the lead part, also double tracked the intro for that sound. Not perfectly clear if "we" redid the lead means he played it or not, I bet he did.
The same article said Eddie Van Halen says he learned to play guitar to that riff.
Dill - Alexandria, Va
Who played lead guitar in studio recordingMike - Los Angeles, Ca
The riff from this song was obviously adapted (ripped off?) from the 007 theme riff in the Bond movies.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
This song was covered by The Guess Who (known for their biggest hit "American Woman") and Blues Traveler.Sean - Toronto, Canada
My pick as record with best pre-Hendrix guitar solo.Dill - Alexandria, Va
Was the theme to the Patrick McGoohan series in the United States on CBS . The show was about agent John Drake and was known as Danger Man in England where it was a huge hit and Secret Agent in the US. While doing the series McGoohan was twice offered the role of James Bond but turned it down. The series eventually returned as The Prisoner in the late 60's.Gustav - Brainerd, Mn
This song was also played in the 1997 hit film "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".Sean - Toronto, Canada
Geez, in 1966 every aspiring guitarist in America played the riff to this one, over and over. The show in question, Secret Agent, was called Danger Man in the U.K., and had as a theme song the snappy harpsichord theme you hear over the opening credits. This song was only used as the theme song in the U.S.Wes - Springfield, Va