As embarrassing as it is to admit, I didn’t always know Dave Brubeck’s Take Five as a pioneering jazz classic that made inventive use of an atypical key and unusual World Music-influenced time signature. There was a time when I knew it better as the theme from You Must Be The Husband, the terminally undistinguished mid-eighties sitcom starring Tim Brooke-Taylor and Diana Keen as a couple whose dynamic was suddenly dramatically shifted when she became a best-selling author overnight. Having been fairly obsessed with The Goodies while they were still a going concern, I’d followed all three through post-Goodie vehicles as diverse as Tell The Truth, Cartoon Alphabet and Fax, regardless of whether I actually enjoyed them or not, presumably in the vain hope of spotting a stray bit of speeded-up slapstick or an impromptu performance of Charles Aznovoice. Tim’s slow-motion resigned nod behind the humdrum sitcom’s title was a sign that it was probably time to give up.
Of course, Take Five and its parent album Time Out have a good deal more cultural significance than washing up as the theme for a sitcom that the BBC couldn’t even be bothered commissioning whatever Ronnie Hazlehurst had lying around for might suggest. As well as becoming unlikely mainstream transatlantic hits, they also cemented the link between Jazz and Modern Art, introduced a wider palette of global musical influences to an equally wide audience, and in many regards played a prominent role in setting the template for what was to come in the sixties. This went much further than just the music too; Brubeck consistently refused to play before segregated audiences – something that he never really receives his due credit for, with praise routinely heaped instead on the ‘British Invasion’ bands who subsequently adopted the same stance – and walked out of several high profile television appearances when it became clear that the producers had no intention of allowing bassist Eugene Wright in shot. Television may not have been perfect in the eighties – they were still making You Must Be The Husband after all – but at least they’d moved on a bit since then.
It was odd to later discover Take Five as an amazing record in its own right. It was odder still to discover that it had so much cultural context – and indeed just how powerful a cultural context – behind it. Documentary makers with no sense of cliché might well be all too fond of using it as convenient musical shorthand slapped over black and white stock footage of people filing in and out of expensive West End clubs and David Frost ‘meeting’ the public, but they’re absolutely correct to do so. Whether you’re talking about the very different experiences that unfolded in the UK or the USA, it’s a piece of music that is entirely redolent of a time when the word ‘revolution’ may still have seemed achingly far away, but attitudes and perspectives in society and in the arts were nonetheless beginning to change, and it was gradually becoming clear there was no turning back. Also it’s got a thumping good beat, which helps.
Mind you, Take Five wasn’t the only Dave Brubeck piece that I originally associated with an eighties television comedy show that’s probably only worth remembering for having a Dave Brubeck-derived theme tune. Emma Thompson’s ill-advised, badly-pitched and deservedly critically savaged sketch show Thompson used what I didn’t know then was called Unsquare Dance as its theme music, ending with her rhythmically applauding the credits for John Sessions and company whilst looking at the camera with an exaggerated “…see?” expression. If he could still somehow have walked out of that show, you wouldn’t blame him for doing so.
You can find more about – sometimes deservedly – forgotten television shows in my book Not On Your Telly.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.