Recording The Gilligan's Island Theme Song Was As Slapstick As The Show Itself


It is the Ballad of Gilligan's Island, written by Sherwood Schwartz (executive producer) and George Wyle (songwriter), that has been voted the greatest TV theme song of the past century. The theme to the Brady Bunch, which Schwartz also wrote, is a close second. The theme songs in both cases cleverly incorporate earworm melodies with explicit descriptions of each show's premise. The audience learns in only 55 seconds that the show is about seven castaways stranded on an island. They also discover how they got there and what each castaway looks like. The Ballad of Gilligan's Island is both functional and hummable. The soaring surf guitars from "The Munsters", or the savage pip-organs from "Tales from the Crypt", cannot compare to the utilitarian glory of "Gilligan."

In the first season's theme song, Russell Johnson and Mary Ann Wells were referred to as only "and the rest." The Wellingtons were a regular on "Shindig!" in 1964. They performed this version of the song. The Wellingtons also enjoyed performing at major studios. They had also recorded the music for both "Davy Crockett" and "The Wonderful World of Disney." The Wellingtons also performed with Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.

Sherwood Schwartz, in 1997, sat down for a 6-hour-long interview with The Television Academy to discuss his prolific and long career. Schwartz talked about his writing work for the "Red Skelton Show" and how he created "Gilligan's Island", "It's About Time", "The Brady Bunch", and "Dusty's Trail". A funny anecdote was also told about his first recording of the "Ballad of Gilligan's Island" which required him to use a whistle, and many stumbling servers. ).
Wellingtons: Meet them

Schwartz, while still working on the theme song with John Williams (a young composer), initially experimented with calypso sounds. Williams' calypso song was not what Schwartz had in mind, so he turned to Wyle for help. Williams, incidentally also composed some incidental scores for the show but was soon replaced by Gerald Fried who is a much more experienced composer. Schwartz, Wyle and others settled on the current sea shanty style of the song when they met. Wyle was the one who was familiar with Wellingtons and was able get them in a studio to record a song as soon as possible.

Schwartz seemed to have a tight deadline. It was Sunday, and no local studios were in operation. Schwartz knew an industry heavyweight who happened to own a home recording studio. He explained that:

The song was written and performed by the group on this Sunday. They all played their guitars. They asked, "Well, how do we record it?" It's Sunday and I have no recording equipment. Mel Shavelson [...] is the best recording facility I know. "He is much more into the technical side of things than I am."

Next, we had to get permission from Shavelson for the studio. The studio came with some conditions: you had to record quickly and not interfere with the charity gala that Shavelson agreed to organize. The crunch was upon us.

The whistle

Schwartz remembered talking with Shavelson.

I called him to ask if we could use his house for an evening or two, so that we could record something. "Well," he replied, "but we're having a charity event here and all the tables are being setup, as well as waiters coming in." They had given their home to a charity. [...] "Well, it's only a few minutes," I replied. One minute. It's only one minute long. [...] They mean only 60 seconds.

Here's where it got crazy. You can imagine that setting up an event for charity makes quite a bit of noise as the waiters and catering staff will constantly be rushing around. It is difficult to record with this kind of noise. Shavelson’s wife came up with a funny and efficient way to quieten the yard. Schwartz continued:

We went to his home and we were recording a tune, but the waiters and silverware were clattering, the dishes were clinking, it looked like something from a Marx Brothers movie. Lucy, the wife of this man, was holding a whistle. She blew it and all this noise stopped while we were recording this song.

The franticness may have worked, but the result was still positive.

It was a very crazy way of recording the song. [...] We recorded the song once, but it wasn't right. It was only 64 seconds. We did it again and again and the workers kept putting down the table, then stopping. It was a hilarious thing. "But that's the way we recorded this tune."
Start-and-stop. Whistles. Waiter last-minute wrangling. All of this led to the creation of one of history's greatest songs. The effort was well worth it. It was worth it.

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