Sanford & Son theme song

February 26, 2006 at 10:47 pm | Posted in Music | 8 Comments

The unsettling sense of chaos at the beginning of this tune got me listening to it a bit more closely, and it’s crazy!

It starts with just bass, and you assume the first note is the one; but then the organ kicks in a half beat off, and you realize that that first bass note was a grace note a half beat *before* the one. But when the bass phrase repeats a second time, you’re off by a half beat again! They’ve inserted an extra half beat just before the second phrase, again tricking you into thinking of it as the one, which is reinforced by the added repetition of the last note two times.

Finally the actual theme starts, with the first note on the second beat of the bass line; at least to me, this adds yet another unexpected hiccup, since it makes the last low bass note sound like it’s a half beat after the one. After that it’s more straightforward, but full of all kinds of cool little tricks and trinkets.

A weird twist on this is that most versions online (e.g. here and here) seem to be slightly different: they skip the extra half beat before the second phrase. Which is the real tune, and why are two versions floating around? Maybe Quincy Jones will pay a visit one day and explain…it’s amazing how much talent and creativity went into a lot of these little TV snippets, and how many people remember them so many years later.



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  1. Alright! I wholly agree. What a mish mash of a beginning. I listened to the beginning thirty times before I half got my head wrapped around it. I think the confusion for me was that I had the melody wrong initially–the opening of the melody actually has two grace notes before it, as evidenced by the refrain at the end (so that it’s: “4 and 1 and”). Working backwards I have that initial bass figure also starting out on the four with two grace notes (“4 and 1 and”) and then I get it lining up from there.

  2. Yeah, I agree that the melody has two grace notes before it (“4 and 1 and”); but the bass line starts a half beat *before* the melody. So if you start counting on the first note of the tune, it would be “and 4 and 1 and.”

    Plus, in the version I have here, if you keep counting you end up off again when the phrase repeats. I wrote above that they inserted a half beat, but now that I listen again, they actually *skip* a half beat. So just before the second phrase you have to go “1 2 and 3” so that the second bass line again is “and 4 and 1 and.”


  3. I refuse to listen to that song again. I must’ve rewound about fifty times and counted it through, beads of sweat and all. To add to it, I have this bad feeling that if you give it to a good drummer, he’ll clap his way through it first or second time with a shite eating grin on his face that says “it’s all so very simple! Look at me!”. So maybe I’ll have my buddy Leo listen to it and see what he says…

  4. Here’s what my good buddy Leo the drummer says on the matter:
    “so that theme song threw me for a loop at first.
    But I think Adam’s explanation is a little over complicated. In my opinion this is what’s happening. You have to count the time at the eighth note level, (ie. the bass line at intro is thought of as quarter notes, not eighths) so
    that you eliminate all this talk about half-beats, that’s just a little confusing. I counted out the tune and it consists of the following bars starting with the bass pick up, the first note of which is on beat one. There are four bars of 4/4 time followed by one bar of 3/4 followed by
    11 bars of 4/4 followed by one bar of 3/4 and then 4/4 from there on. The only other deceptive thing is that the melody stresses beats 2 and 4 of the
    bars instead of the classic funk soul feel of 1 and 3. anyways, That’s my take.”

  5. I love this theme. I will often tune to the
    show just to hear the theme. Great. Once you
    hear it, you never forget it. Quincy!

  6. Are there any lyrics to the theme song for Sanford and Son?

  7. Nope. Take a listen.

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