Jerry Fielding scored the pilot episode wherein Jaime Sommers took a tumble to the ground and had to have her ear, arm, and legs replaced by bionics (ahem), but the series was scored by a number of composers, ranging from Fielding, jazzman J.J. Johnson, John Cacavas, Luchi De Jesus, and Joe Harnell - the latter the longtime composer of the show's co-producer, Kenneth Johnson.
Unlike his straight-faced music for Johnson's The Incredible Hulk, Harnell had more room to inject a bit of humour, as well as some wonderful action cues with funky rhythms, since the whole idea of an injured person being willingly indentured to a government spy agency for the rest of her life after being given newfangled body parts is just ridiculous.
Fielding's title theme had a very different tone from the show's later episodes. The pilot was part of a romantic arc for Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin, and her initial death was a serious tragedy for Austin - worsened when Jaime not only survived, but was in love with her doctor.
Fielding's theme addressed two major aspects of the character: her breezy, lighthearted personality (conveyed through a soothing lullaby), and the dangerous fall and subsequent path she was more or less stuck taking as an agent (the percussion section, with triangle hits and piano figures). By the time the series' writers introduced the Fembots, the show was a lot more cartoonish than the pilot's dramatic demarcations, but the silliness of the ‘bots also meant Jaime could make light of the ridiculous villains and outlandish adventures, and that's where this suite of cues from “Kill Oscar” Parts 1 and 3 picks up. (Episode 2 was scored by Johnson.)
Harnell picked up on the Fielding's scoring nuances – groovy triangle chimes, lots of bongos, plenty of dissonant strings – and added his own funky sound (a really thick electric bass for the action cuts), as well as some atmospheric effects (metallic shimmering and other reverberating sounds) and what became the show's secondary theme, which is heard in Harnell's unused title theme that starts this CD.
In terms of an orchestral urban jazz rock sound (whew), Harnell's music has it all, and it ain't wrong to cite three chief influences of this amalgamation that dominated TV via its most versatile composers: starting with Lalo Schifrin (Starsky and Hutch) and the great Oliver Nelson ( Six Million Dollar Man), Fielding brought back some modernistic ideas, but one gets a sense that Universal's music department liked the sound because it allowed them to create a stock music library where cues – action, love, tension, whatever – from disparate episodes and series could be chopped up and edited into new scores for any future episode or series.
Like the orchestral jazz sound of animated sixties shows (Spider-Man, Jonny Quest), the infusion of some funk enlivened seventies action shows, and the suites on this CD show off Harnell's ability to adapt his own style to a series' signature. What's remarkable is that Harnell's ‘On the Move' theme, briefly heard in his unused title music, became the show's signature action theme, and appears twice on the CD as two 3 min. cuts. (None of the cues have any formal titles, so the first version appears as “701/02/2a,” and the alternate, up-tempo version that closes the CD is “701aa/01b/01c/02a.)
A bubbly fandango of fat bass, timpani, and shaken percussion, Harnell also overlays his own version of Jaime's theme using strings, but it's fair to argue that the action theme also follows Oliver Nelson's Six Million Dollar Man action music that was designed as a multipurpose cue, with a slow rhythmic build, rippling percussion textures, and a strained, semi-passionate theme to give the cue a potent urgency before it kind of unwinds, or fades out.
Harnell's full theme is also present in a beautifully jazzy suite on the composer's 2-CD promo set released in 1992. That version is quite similar to Nelson's action writing, with thickening percussion, and a short improv solo (here on piano). In addition to a deeper use of electric bass, there's more keyboards, and a mysterious closing section that eventually recaps the theme.
(Also unique to the promo set are suites from the episodes “Deadly Ringers – Part 2,” “Once a Thief,” “Doomsday is Tomorrow – Part 2,” “Sister Jaime,” and “The Return of Bigfoot – Part 2.” Harnell's new material is quite diverse, and each of these episodes certainly deserves its own complete CD presentation.)
In addition to Harnell's own end title music, there's a gallery of 6 electronic cues. The bulk are variations of a gradual fast-moving cascade of revolving notes, with different pitches and synthetic density, and a few are Bebe and Louis Barronesque sounds that rise from low drones to high shrills. (Unlike the more detailed liner notes for The Incredible Hulk companion CD, there's far less attention given to the cues, including the electronica.)
The release of these Bionic Woman scores will definitely bring back fun memories and a few chuckles for fans, because these cues are forever glued to beloved scenes in this cult show. It's grand that the term Fembots are part of pop culture, but it's even better to have the vintage sounds that made those goofy creatures so thrilling as a kid.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan