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Album: Greatest HitsReleased: 1966Charted:
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.
This is an example of "Spy" music. The sound implied action and was associated with James Bond movies.
P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who at the time were just starting the band 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.
P.F. Sloan wrote the riff for this song first, then came up with the lyric that went, "Look out Danger Man..." When the title of the show was changed to Secret Agent, he says it was a breakthrough. "That changed everything," he told us. "The lyric just came together in no time at all. It just worked immediately."
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.
According to P.F. Sloan, Johnny Rivers didn't like this song, and was content to record just the quick TV version until The Ventures charted with it. Both acts recorded for subsidiaries of Liberty Records, and the label was able to convince Rivers to record it.Sloan told us in 2014
that Rivers had clearly embraced the song. "I saw him about two months ago and I've got to say he did an absolutely killer version," he said. "Johnny must have sang that song half a million times, and he still sings it with so much gusto, and the audience goes nuts. That's something great to see."
The Ventures instrumental version peaked at #54 US on March 26, 1966. Rivers' version hit its peak on April 23. His rendition is substantially longer, running 3:03 vs. 2:17.