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Musical Driving Sequence 2011

You can always tell when I’m really back in the saddle here at Oddball Headquarters when I resume posting directionless drivel at one o’clock in the morning. Tomorrow is my weekly work-from-home day, so to celebrate I’m staying up a bit late. Not that I planned it that way, mind you. But at the present time my head is awhirl with recklessly careening thoughts that won’t stay tamped down long enough for me to sleep, so I’ve got to get some of it out of my system.

I spoke in my last post about the impending once-in-a-decade event of me getting authorization to purchase a new television, and all the gadgety goodness that goes along with such an occasion. According to the local Fry’s Electronics, they’ve got their first batch of the model I want en route to the store, possibly to be delivered by the end of this week. My hope was to carve out some time this weekend to run down there and see it in person, so that may yet come to fruition.

More importantly for the present time, however, I discovered that I was about to fall unexpectedly into another fairly rare situation of a kind that I very much enjoy. Legendary composer and musician Don Peake announced at this past weekend’s Knight Rider festival in Las Vegas that his next three volumes of original television scores from Knight Rider are to be released imminently on CD, by as soon as the end of March. [!] Baked, mastered and pressed by Hitchcock Media Records as always, the next three volumes in Don’s revisitations of his work on Knight Rider will feature near-complete scores from five episodes, including three of my all-time favorites.

This is always big news for me, news that I only get every three or four years, if I’m lucky. Every time Don Peake releases more of his archival work from Knight Rider, I lap it up like liquid gold and expect that I’ve probably tasted my last drop…only to be pleasantly surprised a few years later when more of Don’s soundtrack is found, remastered and deployed. Not all of the master tapes for Knight Rider’s 77 episodes are known to exist, and even the ones that Don has managed to find in his archives are in badly degraded condition, with some having deteriorated almost to the point of uselessness, so any time he releases more of this work, I know it’s a big deal.

Complicating matters is the fact that, in the mid- to late-1970s, professional audiotape manufacturers changed the formula of their tape’s binding material, and unbeknownst to anyone at the time, this binding would be prone to attracting moisture over time. Today, as recordings on tape of that vintage are being pulled out of mothballs for remastering, artists are finding the tapes literally gummy, sticky and unplayable. The only way to correct this problem is to literally bake the moisture out of the tapes in a low-temperature electric oven. I had to chuckle as I read about this procedure, for it reminds me of the harebrained hackjobs I used to do on my own “master” tapes back in the ’90s, where I’d repair crumpled cassette spools by splicing them with scissors, Scotch tape and Post-It notes. It worked a treat, incidentally. (I credit my Dad for the original idea.)

In the case of Don’s Knight Rider scores, I’m told that the degradation is so bad that one single baking procedure is their only chance at restoring the tapes for immediate digitization, which they must get right the first time, because the master tapes then become permanently unusable. Scary, to say the least.

So I’m naturally excited to help Don Peake and Hitchcock Media announce (in an unofficial capacity as a rabid fan) the next three volumes in the “Best of Don Peake: The Knight Rider Scores” series, as follows.

Volume 4 (Total runtime 47:30)

  1. “Killer K.I.T.T.” (Season 4)
  2. “A Nice, Indecent Little Town” (Season 1)

Volume 5 (Total runtime 38:30)

  1. “Chariot of Gold” (Season 1)

Volume 6 (Total runtime 50:10)

  1. “Knight of the Juggernaut” (Season 4)
  2. “Return to Cadiz” (Season 2)

Don’s work has been released in different formats over the last few years, sometimes appearing as hand-picked suites of the best cues from as many as six episodes on a single CD, other times as near-complete collections of every cue recorded for a particular episode. As a completionist, I far prefer the latter, where almost every snippet of music, every scene cue from the episode, makes it onto the album. I’m therefore pleased to report that all three of the upcoming albums are of the scene cue variety, featuring what I hope to be the complete recordings from each of the five episodes I listed.

And most of these episodes are great picks, incidentally. Although volume 2, Don’s last original release in 2009 (volume 3 was a re-issue), was the technical pinnacle of restorative audio quality, it featured two of my least favorite episodes: “Hearts of Stone” and “The Topaz Connection”. (“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen ‘Topaz’,” remarked my friend Pooch back then, after I told him the news. “I remember it being on TV, and being so incredibly boring that I turned it off after fifteen minutes.”) Not only were the teleplays themselves mediocre, but the scores never really stuck out in my mind as being among the most memorable. In retrospect, I did very much enjoy hearing the music isolated on CD, especially since there was some extra material there that didn’t make it into the episodes themselves.

By contrast, the upcoming volumes 4-6 feature (in my opinion) much better stock, including three of my favorite episodes, score-wise: “Killer K.I.T.T.”, “Knight of the Juggernaut” and “Chariot of Gold”. “Chariot” is, in fact, my overall favorite episode of Knight Rider in nearly every respect — it’s one of the few serious stories tackled by the show after its fairly dramatic pilot, it’s got a great mystery plot, the tension of KITT unable to decide whether to kill or spare Michael is palpable, the music never stops being memorable, and the on-location scenery is fantastically chosen. It’s a dark, suspenseful and still action-packed episode that’s thankfully devoid of the cornball Glen Larson humor that too often made its way into the scripts, especially as the show neared its cancellation in 1986.

In fact, I’ve just recently finished re-watching all of the episodes whose scores are slated for release, and it’s only made me more excited than ever. Nearly the full gamut of Don’s musical style on Knight Rider is represented, from the slap-bass and percussion panoply in season 4 to the full-bodied and orchestral style of season 1. Better yet, some years ago I made a list of my favorite and most memorable music cues from the entirety of Knight Rider, and many of my top picks are slated for inclusion on these new albums.

I was in Thailand the last time Don Peake released fresh Knight Rider material, and while that was only two years ago, it seems like forever. With all of these recordings licensed for distribution by Universal and covered by a deal worked out by Don and Ron Hitchcock back in 2008/2009, there are no legal impediments in the way of ongoing releases, and I do hope that Don doesn’t stop here.

Ron reports that the new discs are hoped to be released by the end of March (they’d originally planned to have them ready for last weekend’s Knight Con in Vegas, but didn’t make the deadline), so I excitedly await my first opportunity to pick them up. I hear they may also be on iTunes eventually, too.

The latest news will be available on Hitchcock Media’s website, and naturally, you can count on me to be on here blabbing about it the instant my copies arrive. I intend to do a more in-depth review this time.

Edit: I just realized that in one of my earliest posts on this site, way back in 2003, I wished for the soundtrack treatment for “Juggernaut” and “Killer K.I.T.T.”, specifically requesting “the whole bloody episode” for the latter. Almost eight years later, it looks like I’m about to get my wish. Who says good things don’t come to those who wait?