Secret Agent Man (song)

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"Secret Agent Man"
Single by Johnny Rivers
from the album ...And I Know You Wanna Dance
B-side "You Dig"
Released 1966
Format 45 rpm
Genre Rock and roll
Length 2:58
Label Imperial 66159
Writer(s) P. F. Sloan, Steve Barri

"Secret Agent Man" is a song written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. The most famous recording of the song was made by Johnny Rivers for the opening titles of the American broadcast of the British spy series Danger Man, which aired in the U.S. as Secret Agent from 1964 to 1966. The song itself peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

History[edit]

According to composer P.F. Sloan, the American television network that licensed Danger Man, CBS, solicited publishers to contribute a 15-second piece of music for the opening of the U.S. show to replace the British theme, an instrumental entitled "High Wire".[1] Sloan wrote the guitar lick and the first few lines of the song, with Barri (Sloan's songwriting partner) contributing to the chorus.[1] This fragment was recorded as a demo by Sloan and Barri, submitted to CBS, and, to Sloan's surprise, picked as the show theme, which led to Sloan and Barri writing a full-length version of the song.[1] The original demo of the song used the "Danger Man" title, as shown by the surviving demo of the song, which Sloan sang.[2] When the show's title was changed, the lyrics were also changed. Ultimately, "High Wire" was also retained by CBS, as it played over the episode credits following the "Secret Agent" titles.

Sloan and Barri's publisher/producer, Lou Adler, also produced and managed Rivers, so he was chosen to add the vocals for the TV show. Rivers' original recording was merely the show theme, with one verse and one chorus. Later, after the song gained in popularity, Rivers recorded it live, with two more verses, and the chorus repeated twice more. The live version was recorded in 1966 at the Whisky a Go Go, but not released until after a few studio production touchups were done by Adler shortly after. The song evokes secret agents both musically (making use of a memorable guitar riff) and through its lyrics (which describe the dangerous life of a secret agent). The lyric "They've given you a number and taken away your name" referred to the numerical code names given to secret agents, as in "007" for James Bond, although it also acts as the setup to the "continuation" of Danger Man, the cult classic The Prisoner.

Cover versions[edit]

Devo[edit]

"Secret Agent Man"
Single by Devo
from the album Duty Now for the Future
B-side "Soo Bawlz", "Red Eye"
Released 1979
Format 7"
Genre New wave
Length 3:37
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(s) P. F. Sloan, Steve Barri, Mark Mothersbaugh
Producer(s) Ken Scott
Devo singles chronology
"The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprize"
(1979)
"Secret Agent Man"
(1979)
"Girl U Want"
(1980)

In 1974, the song was recorded by Devo and again in 1979 on the Duty Now for the Future album with a jerky, heavily modified arrangement and significantly altered lyrics (sung by guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh). The 1974 recording was featured as a music video in Devo's independent short film, In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution. The song was a favorite of Devo fans, entering the setlist in 1977 and remaining until 1980 (and returned to the band's setlist in 2006). This Devo cover was in turn covered by the Japanese band Polysics in the 2000s.

Other covers[edit]

Mel Tormé had a minor contemporary hit with a cover in 1966, the same year Rivers released the song.

Also in 1966, THE VENTURES had a mild, but very popular hit (#54) with an instrumental version taken from their '66 album, "Go With The Ventures".

A Spanish version, "Hombre Secreto", recorded by The Plugz, features on the soundtrack to the film Repo Man. "Secret Agent Man" was also covered by Bruce Willis on his album The Return of Bruno. The song opened with the sounds of a car door being opened and closed, footsteps, and a single gunshot. The original Johnny Rivers version of the song was used in the film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery as a nod to Danger Man. In 1978, Detroit MI-area punk-styled band Cinecyde recorded an aggressive but authentic cover version for their Black Vinyl Threat EP on Tremor Records, a recording later collected on their CD You Live A Lie You're Gonna Die.

The band Blotto recorded a live version of the song in the mid-1980s, which was eventually released on their Then More Than Ever album in 1999.

This song was also covered by The Toasters and included on the 1996 album Hard Band for Dead.

It has also been covered by surf punk pioneers, Agent Orange in 1984 on the When You Least Expect It EP.

Heavy metal band Cirith Ungol covered the song on their Servants of Chaos compilation.

The Pagans, a punk band from Cleveland, covered the song live and it appears as the B-side of the "Dead End America" 7" as well as on the "Live Road Kill" compilation.

The theme song for T.U.F.F. Puppy and Special Agent Oso are parodies version of this song.

On February 23, 2000, a Japanese cover by Secret Agent (including members such as Noriyuki Higashiyama, Ryo Nishikido, and other Johnny's Juniors) was released.

Mexican band Psychotic Aztecs recorded a Spanish cover as "Agente Secreto" on their album Santa Sangre.

The song has been covered by Rachael MacFarlane on her 2012 debut album Hayley Sings.

One-Man-Band Instrumentalism Project covered an instrumental version on YouTube.

Use in media[edit]

Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for the episode "The Chipmunk Who Bugged Me" from their TV series.

The song was used in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! episode 'On Her Majesty's Sewer Service', appropriate for a Bond themed episode (since the title is a parody of the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Koopa's alter ego 'Koopfinger' is a parody of the villain from the 1964 Bond movie Goldfinger of the same name). It was, owing to copyright issues, later replaced with an instrumental version from a song from an episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 - 'My Karubi' from the episode 'Super Koopa' (even though 'Karubi' should be 'Kuribo').

The song was illegally used as the ending credits song on a NES pirate game in 1991.

In 1995, this song was played by Blues Traveler in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, in a version which was faster than the original. In 2000, an updated version, recorded by Supreme Beings of Leisure, was used for the opening credits of the UPN series Secret Agent Man. This led to some media coverage erroneously calling the series a remake of Danger Man/Secret Agent. This is one of the few songs that has been used for the opening credits of more than one unrelated series.

The 1987 Exidy game "CrackShot" features the original version's opening riff (actual digitized sound) as background music for the "Police Alley" minigames.

The theme song to the cartoon Teen Titans, performed by Puffy AmiYumi, uses similar chords to "Secret Agent Man" -- minus the chorus—with different lyrics appropriate to the Teen Titans.

The song was played at the end of Bowfinger, in the film-within-a-film where Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) plays a secret agent/action hero much like John Drake or James Bond, with Jiff Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) playing his partner. When they are attacked by a group of ninjas, the songs segues into a cover version of "Kung Fu Fighting".

In 2000, the song was featured on the soundtrack to the film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. A new edition of the sheet music for the song featured a cover showing the characters from the film. The soundtrack for the film was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, which famously covered the song.

In a U.S. commercial for the video game Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, this song is featured, with lyrics changed to fit with Kirby.

The song has been adapted by Walmart for use in a previous TV commercial with the lyrics changed to "He's the rollback man."

In Phineas and Ferb, Perry the Platypus has his own version of this song.

The cast of The Secret Life of the American Teenager has made a music video of this song with Allen Evangelista as the titular "agent".

The song was featured in the episode "Skin Deep" of the season 4 of NCIS: Los Angeles.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c P.F. Sloan. "P.F. Sloan: In His Own Words -- The Stories Behind the Songs". Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  2. ^ Matthew Greenwald. "Danger Man (Secret Agent Man)". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 

See also[edit]