Episode 689: The First Theremin Era

“It’ll be a lot easier to deal with him if he isn’t here to kill you.”

So here’s the score for the first couple months of 1969.

Paperback Library has released a novelty joke book called Barnabas Collins In a Funny Vein, which we’ve discussed at some length. They’ve also published another in the series of Dark Shadows gothic romance novels. This one’s called The Secret of Barnabas Collins, and it tells the story of Barnabas in 1870s London and his love affair with Lady Clare Duncan, who follows him to France and then to Boston, as he tries to find a witch doctor to free him from the vampire curse.

Meanwhile, Gold Key has published the first issue of the Dark Shadows comic book, which involves Barnabas and Angelique alternately killing and reviving three attractive college students for basically no reason except they felt like it.

So that’s three new Dark Shadows products, all on sale this month, and each of them is aimed at a different subset of the Dark Shadows audience: the novel is for the housewives, the comic book is for the teenagers, and then the young set get the joke book. None of them are very good, but that doesn’t seem to bother anybody. In February 1969, if it says Dark Shadows on it, somebody is going to buy it.

And then — busting into the party like a belligerent gatecrasher — here comes The First Theremin Era.

The song is called “The Barnabas Theme from ‘Dark Shadows’ (An ABC TV Network Series)”, and it’s the first Dark Shadows-inspired record. This was released as a single, backed with “Sunset in Siberia”, which I am not familiar with.

The song begins with the whine of a theremin, an early electronic instrument that sounds exactly like a theremin, and not much else. Then some drums and bass guitar kick in, and the electronic hum plays an up-tempo version of the Dark Shadows title theme as well as it can.

After about 45 seconds, the rest of the band joins in, with a jazzy saxophone taking lead, backed by a harp, guitar, and some vox humana from the organ. The theremin comes back in eventually, but it never really gets control of the ensemble again. There’s a break in the middle which is just the drums and bass, with weird electronic shuddering sounds going off in the background. The saxophone drives the rest of the track, with the theremin and vox humana lending an eerie tone. The piece ends in a splatter of sax licks and electronic warbles. Oh, and it was playing the Dark Shadows theme practically the entire time.

689 dark shadows single theremin

So that was a thing that you could buy with money in 1969, if you felt like it. The song didn’t get a lot of airplay, so I’d imagine a lot of the kids buying it were hoping for a more faithful rendition, with more waves crashing and less saxophone. Not that a lot of people bought it; apparently, the sales were not encouraging. This is why you don’t hear a lot of “Sunset in Siberia” covers.

The First Theremin Era isn’t really a band, by the way; these were just session musicians organized by producer Charles Calello, who had just left The Four Seasons to become an independent record producer. This is not one of the records he’s super proud of producing.

A few months later, Calello produced his first big hit as an independent — Oliver’s cover of “Good Morning Starshine,” from the 1967 musical Hair, which got to #10 on the Billboard charts, and a month after that, he released Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which got to #4 and went platinum. So he did okay.

689 dark shadows theme waves

So this theremin single is kind of a blip for everybody, a weird little side note for Dark Shadows, for Charles Calello, and for electronic music in general.

The interesting thing is that it’s around this time that another independent producer named Charles Randolph Grean approached Dan Curtis to record a version of the little waltz tune that’s been playing on Quentin’s haunted gramophone for the last couple months. We’ll be hearing more from Charles in the near future, and so will everyone in America, whether they like it or not.

Tomorrow: Laugh Like a Man.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas struggles in his act 1 conversation with David. He asks, “What made you come to here, of all places?” Then he follows with:

Barnabas:  You can see for yourself there’s really no place to hide.

David:  Yes, that’s right.

Barnabas:  Well, then. (looks at teleprompter) Or were you planning to open the secret room?

David:  I don’t know what you mean!

Barnabas:  When I came in here, you were about to open the secret room, weren’t you?

A moment later, Barnabas stumbles badly on the word “afraid”.

When Chris leaves the secret room, he trips on the bottom step.

When Quentin and David are talking about a new game, something’s gone wrong in the studio. Quentin is standing directly in front of David, clearly not the blocking they were going for. There’s a thump and some noise in the studio — footsteps, a muffled word and a door opening — and the camera moves to the right to save the shot.


Behind the Scenes:

We hear Quentin laugh at the end of this episode, when he’s tormenting David. This is the first time they’ve actually allowed David Selby to make any noise on the show so far. He still doesn’t get any lines for a couple more weeks.

Also, the photo at the top of today’s post is the inventor Léon Theremin playing the instrument in 1954.

Tomorrow: Laugh Like a Man.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

10 thoughts on “Episode 689: The First Theremin Era

  1. What does it say when Barnabas’ Theme, which sounds with its blend of slick jazzy elegance at once contemporary and otherworldly, is a flop with the record-buying demographic, but that same year Quentin’s theme, which sounds like it was recorded in a tin can some seventy years earlier, becomes a huge hit?

    The show was supposed to be about Barnabas, but the audience instead flips over Quentin’s theme. The music for Quentin’s theme was essentially taken from Dan Curtis’ Jekyll and Hyde film adaptation from a year earlier. It wasn’t a hit then, but it became one when the Dark Shadows audience could associate it with David Selby’s Quentin.

    So, is this really Barnabas’ theme? There’s nothing to associate this novelty track with Jonathan Frid or the Barnabas character, since it was never played on the show. But, of course, with very few occasional exceptions Bob Cobert had the contract for the music that got played on the show, so such a track like this was instead invariably destined for obscurity. Still, I think it might have gone over well if played from the jukebox of the Blue Whale.

    Actually, I don’t think a musical signature suits Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas at all. In truth, Barnabas’ theme is… candlelight.

    1. It’s not really “Barnabas’ Theme”, it’s just a version of the opening Dark Shadows theme. The record says “The Barnabas Theme” because if you want to sell DS merchandise then it needs to say Barnabas on it. (At least, until mid-1969, when it can also say Quentin.)

  2. Quentin’s Theme reached FAR beyond Dark Shadows. This “Barnabas Theme” might have some appeal to some fans, but Quentin’s Theme appealed to people who would never watch Dark Shadows.
    My Grandmother was very fond of Quentin’s Theme. She was born at the end of 1896, so it reminded her of younger days. She had no use for the show, or anything scary. She even found the chariot race from Ben-Hur to be too intense to watch. An example of how desensitized we have become.

  3. Considering the things MOST people associate with it, “Sunset In Siberia” sounds like the title of some Cold War-oriented piece of music. (It probably isn’t, but it’s hard not to make that connection.)

  4. If this had happened just a few years earlier, poor Jonathan Frid would have had to go on “Shindig!” or “Hullabaloo” while this record played. They would have asked him to initiate “The Barnabas” dance craze. (It happened to Lurch and Batman, after all).

  5. How well I remember “The Barnabas Theme” 45 rpm record. When Kathryn Leigh Scott did a personal appearance in Birmingham, Alabama (April 1969), she signed autographs and handed out the single from the First Theremin Era, as well as a view master packet based on the1968 Adam and Eve storyline, when Angelique double-crossed Nicholas. A fun time was had by all.

  6. That Barnabas’ Theme would be the perfect theme song for a show solely about Barnabas and Julia being actual detectives!

    Almost every one of Maggie’s lines to David begins with her saying his (my) name. Also her nightgown has a very similar pattern to the paper that adorned the bathroom cupboard doors in my mom’s house when I was very little.

    Quentin showing up in David’s room was super creepy.

    This same night ABC aired Bewitched episode #160: “Mrs. Stephens, Where Are You?” where Cassandra, I mean, Serena turns Darrin’s mother into the same cat that Angelique turned Roger into.

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