As a fan of 1950s American television, I was intrigued by this record, from a show I had never heard of, M Squad (RCA LPM 2062, mono). The cover told me all I needed to know about it, however. A hard boiled Lee Marvin, with pistol in hand, blasting away at some unseen criminal. Marvin, a terrific actor, could play a role like this easily, so I bought the LP and hoped for the best. The music, like Marvin, was excellent.
It reminded me of a more famous TV show from the same time period, Peter Gunn. Dark, smoky jazz, set in a simpler time. There were criminals, sure, but most of them were small time hoods, looking for a quick buck.
The record leads off with M Squad Theme, apparently written by Count Basie! It’s a medium fast paced blues that grabs you with its bright horns. In fact, each song is credited to some of the greatest names in music. Basie, Benny Carter, John Williams (Star Wars!) and finally, the less well known Stanley Wilson. Wilson conducts the orchestra that play the songs on the record.
The Chase follows, by Williams, then a tune called The Search, by Carter. Side B opens with The Mugger, again by Carter. The song titles alone tell you a lot about the music. Although the songs were written by different people, Wilson does an excellent job of bringing them all together in a very cohesive sounding experience. Thematically, several of the songs sound similar, but it doesn’t get boring because of that. Given that the music is from a TV show, it should have similar melody lines throughout, just like a movie soundtrack would.
It’s just the kind of stuff you would expect from the great musicians who often inhabited Hollywood during the 1950s and 60s. Fabulous players who could get it right on the first take. There’s plenty of feeling and mood in every song on this LP, all of it taking you back in time to some dingy neighborhood, where the police have to get tough or get run over…while sipping on a martini and smoking a cigarette.
A Lady Sings The Blues is a nicely done ballad, the melody line played on a tenor sax…perhaps by Benny Carter himself? Mid song, a cadre of horns come in and remind you that this is essentially big band jazz, played by what I’m guessing is a relatively small band, perhaps 15 or so musicians. They don’t lack power, though.
The show ran from 1957 to 1960 and apparently solidified Lee Marvin’s career. Based on the music, the show is probably worth seeking out, particularly if you enjoy film noir drama.
The record’s sound quality is good. Not nearly up to what Roy DuNann was doing at Contemporary, mind you. Nicely balanced, the recording engineer did a good job. The instruments aren’t mushed together in the mix, despite being in mono.
Just how good is Wilson? I didn’t know a thing about him, but this LP won him a grammy for “Best Soundtrack Album and Background Score from Motion Picture or Television.” He wrote tons of music for television and movies and I’ll be looking for his name attached to other LPs.
Actor Lee Marvin sums it up well in the liner notes on the LP’s backside. “For me, then, this album of music from “M Squad” is fine drama. More than that, it’s great music!” said Marvin. “I think the listener will hear what I mean.”
Check out a brief medley of tunes, direct from my LP!