Hoyt Curtin at his home office in Westlake, CA


Nearly every step of the translation of Gatchaman was a major undertaking and dealing with the music was no exception. Something that could have been so simple turned into one of the most involved portions of the entire production, eventually requiring the recording of a significant amount of brand-new material.

When Sandy Frank made the deal to purchase Gatchaman in late 1977, he received delivery of a large amount of material including films, audio tapes, photos, translations and other items that would assist in its production and promotion.

For the music, there were two types of Gatchaman tape reels delivered from Japan. The first were mono audio tapes of the compiled episodic music and effects (M&E) tracks. These tapes contained no dialogue, just the score and any sound effects that were present in the episode. There was one reel of M&E for every Gatchaman episode. The M&E tracks were on quarter-inch tape separate from the films. The films themselves included mono optical soundtracks with music, effects and Japanese dialogue mixed together and were therefore unusable for the American production. The other music delivered from Japan was a single quarter-inch tape of clean score pieces. Unfortunately, the selections on that tape were limited, amounting to about twelve total minutes of material.

This wasn't a problem when the initial pilot was done 1, since it merely used the original Japanese score music with a new American theme added on. It was clear from the very beginning that a new theme was going to be needed. After looking at the first film, Jameson Brewer made this note on the script, "Opening action shots, title song backing - This runs approximately 1:30 minutes and may be performed by an individual soloist in rock style or by a trio in semi-rock. Musically it will adhere faithfully to the Japanese original but will be scored to give it more of the rock drive rather than the oriental Japanese kabuki drive, utilizing synthesizer and other contemporary American instrumentation. The intent is to avoid the militaristic, samurai war chant effect and make it simply heroic, exciting."

Once again, Brewer and Alan Dinehart's long history at Hanna-Barbera was able to pay off. As their connections helped find a seasoned voice cast, they also helped in finding accomplished musical talent. Dinehart contacted his friend Hoyt Curtin, the gentleman who had been writing themes and incidental music for Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera for over twenty years at that point. His long list of credits included the themes for The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Top Cat and countless others. For more information on Hoyt Curtin, please check here.

Curtin agreed to create a new theme as a one time project. Sadly, the dates and exact times for the recording of the theme are unknown. No documents are known to exist that detail its creation. However, it had to have been done sometime in very late 1977 or very early 1978 as Sandy Frank had the pilot, complete with the show's familiar theme song, ready to present at the March, 1978 MIPCOM television conference.

When the series was sold and it came time to translate the rest of the episodes, it was hoped that the M&E tracks together with the extra tape of clean score would suffice for the production of the English language version. However, early experiments using the Japanese music 36, 21 as exclusive score proved to be less than adequate to the producers. The editing the series was found to require meant that much of the music on the M&E tracks would get cut at inopportune places, leaving harsh sounding transitions. The scant amount of clean score the producers were provided was simply inadequate for bridging the gaps over the course of an entire series.

Since repeating a few short pieces of music over and over again to cover the edits would not do, the producers decided a new musical library was necessary. This new library would act to supplement the existing score, since despite the edits that would be required, the producers hoped to leave as much of the original Japanese music intact as possible. The reason for that was simple; it would mean far less work if they didn't have to replace every bit of music. So the new American pieces would be used to add atmosphere to silent areas on the original soundtrack, to mask edits and in newly animated sequences.

When the request for new music was made, Sandy Frank gave the go-ahead and left the details up to the producers. Alan Dinehart went back to Hoyt Curtin, who was thrilled at the chance to write music for a dramatic cartoon. He had to request special permission from Hanna-Barbera though, since he was still under contract to them. Luckily there were no problems obtaining the approval to work on this major outside project and he was able to jump into Battle of the Planets with his full attention.

Curtin had earlier opportunities to write dramatic cartoon music for the moody and mysterious Jonny Quest and the adventurous and heroic Super-Friends projects, but Battle of the Planets was going to provide an even more ambitious challenge than both of these. Since it was set in the future, it would give Curtin a chance to explore a little, to give things a different sound from anything he'd worked on before.

He was shown some episodes of Gatchaman so he could get a general feel for the show. After that, he came up with what he called "hero rock" for Battle of the Planets, which called back to the initial thoughts on the theme from Jameson Brewer. "I felt that these were heroic people out in space." Curtin said, "I was looking for something that sounded a little avant-garde. Something 'spacey' (that) still had the heroic feel. (We) put the rock with it, so we called it 'hero rock,' which seemed to be what it needed."

Once he started the assignment, Curtin remembered, "...the compositions didn't take long. Ten days probably to get it all put together to record. When I compose, I write what's called a 'sketch.' The sketch has what the instruments in the orchestra are going to be and who's going to play what. I write out a few bars so my arranger can see what kind of sound I'm looking for." Once his compositions were completed, he handed them off to one of his longtime friends named Jack Stern to do all of the arrangements of the pieces. Stern would make sure the sounds Curtin was looking for could be easily read and duplicated by the musicians.

"You would pick a key where the musicians could comfortably play and that won't ruin their chops." Curtin continued about his compositions, "That's usually what you do. You set the keys where the band can play long, extended periods of time without ruining them.... although I never really worried about that (laugh)! But I did try to take it easy on them, and the tempos were pretty well dictated by the scenes, what was happening in the picture."

The hiring of the band was simple for Curtin. He remembered, "I used a band that I knew could do the heroic, I needed synthesizers for the eerie stuff and the rock percussion and group to give the tempo. So that pretty much spelled out what you were going to use for a band." He continued, remembering that there were probably "twenty-one or twenty-two" members in the band. "We had some fiddles, usually nine brass, three trumpets, three trombones, three french horns. Then a percussion group of at least five guys and two or three synthesizer players."

With all of the compositions and arrangements completed and the band hired, the next step was to assemble everyone to begin the actual sessions. Curtin chose some of the best studios in existence at the time and got down to work.

And now, on to the recording....


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