The Amazing Background Music of The 1967 Spider-Man Animated Series

The 1967 Spider-Man animated series has an amazing theme song, but also featured some incredible background music.

1967 Spider-Man Cartoon

Everyone knows the iconic theme tune to the Spider-Man animated series that ran from 1967-1970 on ABC, and then endlessly in syndication after that. You know the one I’m talking about. It has the lyrics that want you to know that the title character “does whatever a spider can” and that he “spins a web, any size” and “catches thieves, just like flies” thanks, of course, to his “radioactive blood.” The fact that they managed to get the words “radioactive blood” into a theme song will never not be amazing to me.

The tune is such a big deal that it made its way (in various sneaky forms) into Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and most recently, in full orchestral form thanks to Michael Giacchino in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Ramones put their distinctive spin on it as a hidden track on their farewell album, Adios Amigos. This is, unquestionably, the most important piece of music associated with Spidey. Danny Elfman’s themes for the Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man movies weren’t terribly memorable (especially when compared to the work he did on the first two Batman films, arguably the best of his career), so the catchy song by Paul Francis Webster and Bob Harris, is where it’s at. When you think of melodies that are indelibly associated with a character the way James Bond and Doctor Who are, you’re left with relatively few options. Superman has the John Williams theme. Batman has Neal Hefti’s unforgettable opening credits. Spidey has Webster/Harris. 

So when people talk about this particular Spider-Man series from Grantray-Lawrence, they usually focus on two things: the crude animation, which (among other things) simplified Spidey’s design and made frequent use and re-use of wall-crawling and webslinging scenes, and that theme tune. But what’s often forgotten is just how incredible all of the music from it is. There’s hardly a moment in the series where there isn’t some kind of background instrumental music, and it’s all absolutely brilliant.

As detailed in this essential, wonderful article from WFMU, the first season of Spider-Man featured music by some of the same folks who worked on that theme tune, jazz musicians Bob Harris and Ray Ellis. Unlike that theme song, though, the music in seasons two and three wasn’t composed specifically for the series. Instead, much of it was “stock music” and the musicians involved were uncredited at the time (although in recent years, these names have also surfaced, see that WFMU article I mentioned). The music came from the KPM Library in England, and some of these tracks also popped up on shows like The Prisoner (another piece of 1960s perfection) and Doctor Who. Luckily, whoever was picking the stock music for Spider-Man picked stuff that sounded perfectly appropriate for Spidey and his world. 

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So you probably want to get to where you can listen to all of these amazing tunes. Well, you’re in luck. WFMU followed up on their original quest to find out the details of this lost Spider-Man music with a podcast, featuring selections from the actual masters, spotlighting the isolated music itself. You can (and should!) listen to it here! You can thank me later.

further reading – How Spider-Man: Homecoming Used Perfect Music

That WFMU podcast is full of the historical context you crave, and has some great a/b comparisons of the broadcast versions and the cleaned up ones. Your other option is this video, which has attempted to remove as much sound effects and dialogue as possible to create a listening (well, and viewing) experience. The tracks aren’t quite as crisp as the masters found on the WFMU link above, but your mileage may vary.

Hopefully some day, somebody will finally reconstruct these crazy jazz tracks the way they are meant to be heard, more of the master tapes will be found, and we’ll get a comprehensive soundtrack release. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. However, you can buy the 1967 Spider-Man animated series on Amazon.

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.