TV Show's Theme Is Major Pop Single



NEW YORK Here's an unusual formula for pop chart success: put your recording and session playing career on indefinite hold and start composing music to videotape images of crime scenes and high-fashion car chases. The result, musically and commercially, might just be something like the No. 1 "Miami Vice Theme" single.

Jan Hammer, the Czech-born multi-instrumentalist, had been amassing a long list of credits since the early 1970s with his own Jan Hammer Group and Hammer projects (on Nemperor and Elektra, respectively), on two duet albums with Journey's Neal Schon and on albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck and Al DiMeola, among dozens of others. All this activity ended rather abruptly, and Hammer hasn't played a record session in a year and a half—the last being for Mick Jagger's "She's The Boss."

Instead, he's been spending days and nights sequestered in a New York studio, screening final or near- final cuts of "Miami Vice" episodes sent to him weekly on videocassettes, and returning finished half- inch stereo tapes of score music directly to the show's music editor.

Hammer writes, performs and even engineers every second of the show's music, except, of course, for the usage of hit singles, which had been the TV series' other trend-setting stroke. As musical director, Hammer also has full say over the placement of his music.

Hammer maintains that it's the theme's ability to stand up with other hit singles that sets it apart from the rest of the "easy listening, prefab sounding" television themes that haven't become radio hits. "It's the first time an honest-to-goodness piece of real rock music became a theme. It's the only one that sounds 'real.' "

It was "just a chance meeting" that connected Hammer with "Miami Vice" executive producer Michael Mann (who co-produced the MCA album along with Danny Goldberg). But the compatibility of both parties was immediately evident: "I 'clicked' instantly with the look and the feel of the show," Hammer recounts. "Just from the first few descriptions, I was able to play him something."

Hammer's one-man operation and the standing order for 20 minutes of new, original music every week keep him under time pressure, but don't necessarily exhaust him creatively.

In fact, Hammer's manager, Elliott Sears, notes that this is the first time Hammer has been freed of the categorizations that previously applied to his career, and has been able to play any genre of music, be it reggae, pop, rock or ethnic.

Hammer's quick turnover does, however, preclude the use of orchestral music. "You can't (duplicate) that with digital, but why should you? I don't feel the need for that kind of sound. I'm doing something different."

The "Miami Vice" album was originally conceived as primarily instrumental. But aside from the usual concerns surrounding the marketing of an instrumental album, the opportunity for cross-marketing was one that MCA, fresh from its double-platinum success with "Beverly Hills Cop," couldn't pass up.

As a result, five Hammer compositions were placed on the album— along with new and recent cuts by frequent "Miami Vice" visitor Glenn Frey (also bulleting in the top five with "You Belong To The City," which debuted on the program), Chaka Khan, , Phil Collins and Tina Turner.

Accidentally, Hammer was given fifth billing on the first million album jackets, ”but that was rectified at the end of October, when MCA shipped new album and cassette sleeves moving Hammer's name up to first position. Album sequencing was also changed, with Hammer's cuts consolidated to lead off side two.

Hammer did manage to escape the studio recently to jump on a London-bound plane and perform "Miami Vice Theme" on Britain's "Top of The Pops." The single had sprinted from 30 to 10 on the U.K. charts even though the TV show has been on between-season hiatus, without reruns, since June. Its prospective return to the British airwaves in January has led to suggestions that a second "Miami Vice" album might be in order, timed for March, 1986, reports Sears.

Demand for Hammer's services is now understandably high, but because of "Miami Vice" he has chosen just a couple of new projects, including the score for the film "Secret Admirer," released this past summer. Hammer's first sound- track involvement had been on the score of 1983's "A Night In Heaven." His other work in progress is for an ABC-TV movie, about a policeman in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.