Secret Agent Man

Album: Greatest Hits (1966)
Charted: 3


  • This was the theme for a TV series called Secret Agent, starring Patrick McGoohan. Unlike many TV themes, the song held up on its own with a distinctive dueling guitar sound. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Dill - Alexandria, VA
  • 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.

Comments: 22

  • Jewell from Portland OregonHello all!
    I was married to the late great guitarist, Jim Mesi of Pirtland, Oregon
    That's Jimmy's genius guitar & his riff, as well as the lead all the way thru that you hear, not anyone else
    Jim rode down to L.A. on a mitorcycle to record this track when he was only 17 years old
    Like I said, genius
    He played mostly in the early days of his long career with rhe Paul deLay Band & then in his own bands
    He was an incredible dedicated natural musicial prodigy from the age of 8
    Mesi could burn off a stingin, screamin guitar solo or play so tenderly it would break your heart
    He played a wicked pedal steele guitar too
    Among his admirers were his Hero, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, John Entwhistle & Billy Gibbons
    Jimmy was paid a flat fee but he never received any royalties from the song "Secret Agent Man"

    Sadly, Jimmy died last year at 71, on March 4th 2019, from emphasema & heart failure
    He will be sorely missed, he truly was one of the greatest guitar players ever & a warm, wonderful funny man
    Do yourself a favor & look up the Paul deLay Band featuring Jim Mesi (MEE-see) & get down with some Rhythm & Blues from the Pacific Northwest
  • Larry from Los AngelesI've heard the Jim Mesi story before. While Jim was a great guitarist, he would have been too young and not in Los Angeles at the time this was recorded. It's Johnny Rivers.
  • Seventhmist from 7th Heaven"I am not a number; I am a free man!"
  • Steven from Lockport UsaWas just listening to some oldies and still cannot understand why Johnny Rivers could not pronounce the word "agent"? The song will forever be to me, "Secret Asian Man".
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyP.F. Sloan died November 15th, 2015, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 70.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 2nd 1966, the Ventures performed "Secret Agent Man" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time their instrumental version was at #63 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; the week before it had peaked at #54 {for 1 week} and spent 7 weeks on the Top 100...
    Also on this day in 1966, Johnny Rivers’ vocal version of the song was at #15 on the Top 100...
    Between 1960 and 1969 the Ventures had fourteen Top 100 records; with three making the Top 10, they were "Walk - Don't Run" {#2* for 1 week in 1960}, "Walk - Don't Run '64" {#8 in 1964}, and "Hawaii Five-O" [#4 in 1969}...
    Sadly, two of the four original members of the quartet have passed away; lead guitarist Bob Bogle {1934 - 2009} and drummer Mel Taylor {1933 - 1996}...
    May they both R.I.P.
    * The week that "Walk - Don't Run" was at #2, the #1 record for that week was "It's Now or Never" by Elvis Presley.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 13th 1966, "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #60; and five weeks later on April 17th, 1966 it peaked at #3 {for 1 week} and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #4 on the Canadian RPM Singles chart...
    Between 1964 and 1977 he had twenty-nine Top 100 records; with eight of them reaching the Top 10 and one peaking at #1, "Poor Side of Town" for one week in 1966...
    He just missed having a second #1 record when his debut record, "Memphis", peaked at #2* {for 2 weeks} in 1964...
    * The two weeks "Memphis" was at #2, for the first week "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys was at #1 and for the second week it was 'Rag Doll" that was in the top spot.
  • Edward from Henderson, NvThe 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.
  • Jim from Monore, LaI 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.
  • Steve Dotstar from Los Angeles, CaListening 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's in his style, or the purported style (supposedly him) of how he played on that GoGo album from '64
  • Steve from Los Angeles, CaHas 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!
  • Grizzly from Panohai, PaGustav 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.
  • Dan from Philadelphia, PaThe 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.
  • Isaac from San Francisco, CaA 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.
  • Dill from Alexandria, VaIn 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.
  • Mike from Los Angeles, CaWho played lead guitar in studio recording
  • Joshua from Twin Cities, MnThe riff from this song was obviously adapted (ripped off?) from the 007 theme riff in the Bond movies.
  • Sean from Toronto, CanadaThis song was covered by The Guess Who (known for their biggest hit "American Woman") and Blues Traveler.
  • Dill from Alexandria, VaMy pick as record with best pre-Hendrix guitar solo.
  • Gustav from Brainerd, MnWas 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.
  • Sean from Toronto, CanadaThis song was also played in the 1997 hit film "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery".
  • Wes from Springfield, VaGeez, 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.
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