This Songfact will self destruct in 5…4…3…2… Written and performed by Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin, this jazzy instrumental, also known as "Burning Fuse," was the theme to the classic spy TV show Mission: Impossible, which ran from 1966 to 1973. He originally wrote a different theme but series creator Bruce Geller wasn't satisfied, preferring another piece Schifrin composed for an action sequence.
Schifrin recalled Geller's directive for writing the theme. "He said to me, 'I want you to write a theme that's exciting, promising, but not too heavy. Make some fun out of it,'" he told NPR. "'But at the same time, make it like a promise that there's going to be a little bit of action. When people go to the kitchen and get a Coca-Cola, I want them to hear the theme and say, 'Oh, this is Mission: Impossible.'"
Instead of the more common three to four beats per measure, this was written in 5/4 time. During a press conference in Vienna, a journalist asked him why he wrote the theme in 5/4, and Schifrin famously quipped, "Everybody knows that there have been beams from outer space coming because of interplanetary flights. The people in outer space have five legs and couldn't dance to our music, so I wrote this for them."
The journalist didn't get the joke and several outlets printed the quote. "The lady believed it," Schifrin told the New York Post, "and all the magazines in Vienna published it... my European agent called me and said, 'What are you trying to do?!'"
A secondary theme, "The Plot," was used in the body of the show. "While they are going through problems - you know, suspense, tension - I have another theme," Schifrin explained. "That's really the theme of Mission: Impossible. Things are really impossible for them. The other one, the one that everybody knows and that became popular, is actually 'Mission Accomplished.' Because by that time, they win. They made it."
Schifrin's Music from Mission: Impossible album peaked at #47 on the albums chart and #11 on the Jazz albums chart, with the theme song landing at #41 on the Hot 100.
Schifrin one two Grammy Awards for his work on the TV show: Best Instrumental Theme and Best Original Score For A Motion Picture or TV Show.
Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy recorded this for his 1967 album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space. A couple years later, Nimoy joined the cast of Mission: Impossible as a magician-turned-spy.
The 1996 movie adaptation of Mission: Impossible, starring Tom Cruise, was scored by Danny Elfman and included a techno makeover of the title theme by U2's Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen. This version went to #7 on the Hot 100. For the sequel, Limp Bizkit recorded a nu metal-inspired theme called "Take A Look Around."
John Williams, the composer behind the iconic themes to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Superman, and E.T., was originally set to score the Mission: Impossible movie, but wanted to create his own theme. Director Brian De Palma was adamant about sticking with Schifrin's classic opener and enlisted Batman composer Danny Elfman instead.
The six films in the franchise have had five different composers: Danny Elfman (Mission: Impossible), Hans Zimmer (Mission: Impossible II), Michael Giacchino (Mission: Impossible III, Ghost Protocol), Joe Kraemer (Rogue Nation) and Lorne Balfe (Fallout). Kraemer and Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie, in particular, wanted to pay homage to Schifrin's original works from the TV series.
"For Joe and I, it was a very simple course of saying, well, if we're going to do something different from all the other films, let's lean into it," McQuarrie told NPR. "Let's really embrace the theme, and let's embrace the theme going all the way back to the TV show."
He explained how they broke down and rebuilt the theme. "It's really interesting, because Joe and I broke it down measure for measure, and recognized fully that there were elements of it that are campy," McQuarrie explained. "We had such a shorthand, and had compartmentalized the different beats of the theme song, so that we could avoid ever becoming too heightened."
With more than 200 composing credits to his name on IMDb, Schifrin also created the theme songs to the TV shows Mannix and Starsky & Hutch and composed music for classic films like Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, and the Dirty Harry series.
A 2010 commercial for Lipton tea depicted a young Lalo Schifrin composing the theme at his piano while gaining inspiration through sips of the brand's Lipton Yellow Label.