Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Vic Mizzy

Golden age TV composer Vic Mizzy died on Saturday. He should be as famous as Henry Mancini, but he isn't. Life's unfair like that sometimes. So maybe not everyone knows his name, but they very likely know his music.

I love Vic Mizzy's stuff. No one did comic film scoring better than him. Every composition crackles with eccentric flair and good old-fashioned chutzpah. That patented Mizzy mixture of loungy jazz rizzs and fidgety percussion is as distinctive as a thumb print, and his offbeat orchestration and playful tongue-twisting lyrics are second to none.

I first heard Vic Mizzy's work on The Addams Family when I was a child and was hooked by the end of the opening titles. I think my love of that show initially stemmed almost entirely from his music. I remember thinking that someone with a name as mad as Vic Mizzy just had to be a fun person to be around, and by all accounts he was. I taped the theme on a cassette player and played it endlessly. Like all his jingles, it's effortlessly catchy and instantly welcomes you into the show.

In the 1960s, Mizzy was the go-to guy for a killer theme tune. From Green Acres to The Pruitts of Southampton, more than any of his contemporaries, he understood that special fusion of words and pictures that sell a show to a first-time viewer, and he pitched each one with economy and an engaging best buddy warmth. Take Mizzy's masterpiece Addams Family theme... "So get a witch's shawl on... A broomstick you can crawl on, we're gonna pay a call on, the Addams Family." Simple, no nonsense stuff, but there's a touch of pure genius in literally inviting the viewers to come along for the ride. And what kid watching didn't picture themselves haphazardly weaving through the night sky towards the Addams mansion? With few words, that static sitcom was suddenly transformed into an adventure. It's that childlike exuberance that marks Mizzy out. His lyrics are cheeky and conspiratorial – not many people can make "museum" and "scream" rhyme effortlessly, but he could – and they're delivered with the kind of unselfconscious gusto that television could use a lot more of.

Percepto Records have done a great job of making Mizzy's music available commercially in recent years, but his best work is the long out-of-print Original Music from The Addams Family soundtrack LP. It's a winning mixture of mordant melancholy and pure sixties kitsch – all cooing female backing singers and catchy refrains. Someone really needs to re-issue that album.

The Addams Family, The Ghost and Mr Chicken, Green Acres – have a listen... they're all still brilliant. So here's to Vic Mizzy. A bona fide talent and owner of the best showbiz name ever.

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