Sam Spence

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Sam Spence
Birth name Samuel Lloyd Spence
Born (1927-03-29)March 29, 1927
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died February 6, 2016(2016-02-06) (aged 88)
Lewisville, Texas, U.S.
Genres Film score
Occupation(s) Composer, musician
Years active 1966–1990

Samuel Lloyd "Sam" Spence (March 29, 1927 – February 6, 2016)[1] was an American soundtrack composer best known for his work with NFL Films.[1] His work has also been on the EA Sports Madden NFL football video games and many football-related commercials.


Spence was born in San Francisco. A former University of Southern California music instructor living and working in Munich, Spence was hired in 1966 to score the mini-documentaries that conveyed National Football League highlights and personalities to fans in the network-television era. Spence's music cues combined with the voices of announcers Pat Summerall, Tom Brookshier, Charlie Jones, John Facenda, and Harry Kalas to remarkable artistic effect, creating the now trademark style of sports highlights videos of the NFL. Spence, together with Steve Sabol and the NFL Films crew, can arguably be credited with a significant role in making American football the most popular professional sport in the United States.[citation needed]

Initially, Mahlon Merrick was asked to provide scores for NFL Films. A friend of Spence, Merrick asked Spence to help in the recording sessions. "Mahlon had written marches", said Spence. "Toward the end of that recording session, I stuck in a couple of different pieces – my own orchestral compositions with strings and woodwinds, more like a Hollywood film score. It turned out they were Ed Sabol's favorites and he offered me a three-year contract to write, conduct, and produce NFL Films' music."[2]

In Germany, Spence wrote several TV soundtracks with Hani Chamseddine, e.g., for the Francis Durbridge thriller Wie ein Blitz (de). After his retirement in 1990, he returned to Munich. He achieved unexpected fame in 1998 with the success of a CD compilation entitled The Power and the Glory: The Original Music & Voices Of NFL Films.[citation needed] Spence died at a Lewisville, Texas nursing center on February 6, 2016, at the age of 88.[3]


  • 1970: "Wie ein Blitz" – Main theme for the Durbridge series on German network TV (Single, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1971: The Art of the Synthesizer – Interesting, Unusual and Melodic Moog Sounds ( LP, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1972: Fantastic Sounds – TV Themes and Pop Covers (LP, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1998: The Power And The Glory: The Original Music & Voices Of NFL Films
  • 2007: Sam Spence – Our Man in Munich (2) (Allscore – Indigo)
  • 2009: Autumn Thunder: 40 Years Of NFL Films Music


In 2005, Spence's music was remade by the hip hop music group Da Riffs, which can be heard on several NFL Network shows and found in the soundtrack of the game Madden NFL 06. Along with the urban remakes, the original songs still play in the game's soundtrack. His music was also included in Madden NFL 07, Madden NFL 08, and Madden NFL 09, being remixed again by Da Riffs.

Music in popular media[edit]

His work "Roundup" was used in The King of Queens episode "Mean Streak" in the 4th season, in the "Funny Moments" segment in the WWE Raw 15th anniversary special, and in a NFL-themed Burger King commercial.

The tracks "Forearm Shiver", "Police Car", "West Side Rumble", "Ramblin' Man From Gramblin', and "The Lineman" were used in the Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy episode series on the Nick TV show, SpongeBob SquarePants. "Big Ed's March" (also known as "March to the Trenches") also appears in several SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, including "MuscleBob BuffPants", "The Fry Cook Games", and "Mrs Puff, You're Fired".

"The Equalizer" was also used by WWE for a few years to hype up the annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view with important numbers and statistics from Rumbles past in the days leading to the event.

His track "The Ultimate Victor" was used by MRN Radio in the 1990s in its race broadcast introductions.

His song "Forearm Shiver" was used in The Simpsons Episode 164, "The Twisted World of Marge Simpson" and a trailer for Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.

Another of his songs, "Whistling Tune" was used in Mexican's Chespirito Show, as the famous theme of the Los Chifladitos sketch in early 80s.

In spite of the commercial release of a compilation album in 1998, Spence is among one of the few composers of Associated Production Music to have tracks available for download on music downloading services.

Later appearances[edit]

Spence's music has been performed live several times, with the composer conducting guest residencies with regional orchestras. On June 14, 2008, he guest conducted a medley of his NFL Films hits with the Golden State Pops Orchestra in San Pedro, California, as part of the orchestra's "Pops for Pops" concert.[4] In November 2010, a concert devoted almost entirely to his football scores was staged in Green Bay, Wisconsin. An audience of nearly 1,000 turned out at the historic Meyer Theater downtown for a program that featured three local ensembles – The Civic Symphony of Green Bay, the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay Wind Ensemble, and a big band jazz ensemble – performing a wide range of Spence's football scores, from symphonic to jazz to pop.[5]


One of the hallmarks of Spence's music is its intangible familiarity. Two film score enthusiasts have pointed out the similarity of his more popular themes to several contemporary film scores; one has criticized them of "get[ting] too close to their obvious film inspiration".[6] They have lauded some of his compositions as "cool homage[s]",[6][7] while describing others as "barely disguised"[6] "knock-offs".[7]

Multiple examples stand out – one is a mid-1960s track titled "Take Six". It is a jazz track that deliberately resembles the Dave Brubeck instrumental "Take Five". Another is his 1970s track "Santa Ana Wind", a takeoff of Carlos Santana's instrumental "Soul Sacrifice". Then there is Spence's 1980s track "The Ultimate Victor", which resembles Bonnie Tyler's song "Holding Out for a Hero".

Lesser-known examples are the track "Game Plan For Sudden Death" which uses the Frances Lai instrumental "Today It's You" as its template, and the popular track "Police Car", a takeoff of the Kenny Graham instrumental "Street Beat".

The familiarity of other Spence cues comes from his covers of several tracks by Ralph Dollimore, notably Dollimore's "Man, Go Man"[8] which Spence retitled "The Lineman", and a direct cover of Dollimore's "Hit and Run" The Spence track "The Mob" betrays influence from Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme. However, it is important to note that this phenomenon was usually the result of requests Spence got from the Sabols to write music in the style of a lot of film music that was in vogue during his tenure in NFL Films.[citation needed]

NFL music[edit]

Over his three-decade career, Spence composed hundreds of short sound-track scores for NFL Films. Some songs in this list are:

  • "Magnificent Eleven"
  • "Round Up"
  • "Forearm Shiver"
  • "Macho Theme"
  • "A Chilling Championship"
  • "Sunday Afternoon Fever"
  • "Ramblin' Man from Gramblin'"
  • "The Equalizer"
  • "Raider Might"
  • "The Over the Hill Gang"
  • "Classic Battle"
  • "West Side Rumble"
  • "Lombardi Trophy Theme"
  • "Golden Boy"
  • "Final Quest"
  • "Game Plan For Sudden Death"
  • "Industrial Giant"
  • "Torpedo"
  • "Police Car"
  • "The Pony Soldiers"

Performance rights controversy with NFL Films[edit]

Spence had long been involved in a controversial situation with the NFL regarding the rights to perform or use his music in any media outlets. The case was first reported by musicologist Alexander Klein in the 2013 April issue[9] of the film music magazine Film Score Monthly. Through personal conversations with the composer, Klein reported that Spence was convinced to sign a contract that relinquished all of the rights to his music to NFL Films under the promise that the enterprise would return the document to the composer.

According to Sam Spence, "I received a phone call, in which NFL Films claimed my music had been 'stolen' and used in a pornographic film called Deep Throat (released on June 12, 1972 in the U.S.). They would send me a paper to sign to the effect that NFL Films was empowered to protect the music in a court of law. In all sincerity, I did not see a possible 'plot' here at all. However, I unwittingly 'punctured their balloon' by explaining that they didn't have to bother with this at all because GEMA (a German state-authorized performance rights organization) would protect my music and legally proceed after anyone who used it without permission." As Klein reported, "soon afterwards, GEMA sent Spence a video copy of the film and asked him to make a list of "where and how long" his music appeared in it. Thus, the composer dutifully watched the film in order to find possible fragments of his music in it. Yet, the outcome was unexpected." In Spence's own words: "I was surprised to find not one note of my music in the film. Naïve, trusting person that I was, it never dawned on me it could possibly be a hoax to get me to sign a forthcoming document." According to Spence, "the next 'trick' came several months later. I received a phone call in which I was told that NFL Films had a court case in two days against someone who had illegally used some of my music. Their lawyer had sent me a paper via Federal Express, which they said would be arriving shortly (in that same afternoon) for my signature. After signed, the FedEx courier would immediately send it back to them so they would have it in time for the court case." According to Klein's report, the composer received the paper in the afternoon and read it but, in Spence's words, "after reading the paper, I called them and said that I could not sign a document with that wording. But they assured me that as soon as the case was over, they would send it back to me." Still unsuspecting, and trusting in the company's words, Spence signed the document and sent it to NFL Films. He never got the paper back and, to this day, the late composer's family is not receiving royalties for the many uses of Spence's music in American television shows and commercials.[9]


  1. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (8 February 2016). "Sam Spence, Who Set the Fierce Dance of the N.F.L. to Music in Film, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music liner notes.
  3. ^ Barron, David (February 6, 2016). "Sam Spence, longtime composer for NFL Films, has died". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 6, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Golden State Pops Orchestra Performs Indy and Jurassic". Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Video: Legendary NFL Films composer Sam Spence visits Green Bay". Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c Lukas Kendall, "CD Review: NFL Films: The Power and the Glory", Film Score Monthly, November 1998.
  7. ^ a b Jeff Bond, "CD Review: Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music", Film Score Monthly, July 2005.
  8. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-07-26. [dead link]
  9. ^ a b Alexander Klein, "The Sam Spence Case: The shocking truth about production companies and royalties", Film Score Monthly, April 2013.

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