"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.
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". Sloan wrote the guitar lick and the first few lines of the song, with Barri (Sloan's songwriting partner) contributing to the chorus. 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. The original demo of the song used the "Danger Man" title, as shown by the surviving demo of the song, which Sloan sang. 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 Johnny Rivers, so Rivers 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.
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 hit (#54) with an instrumental version taken from their 1966 album, Go with the Ventures.
In 1978, Detroit-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 1987 Exidy game Crackshot features the original version's opening riff (actual digitized sound) as background music for the "Police Alley" minigames.
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 song was played at the end of Bowfinger (1999), 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.
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 covered the song.