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TV Themes: The Office (UK)

January 31st, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Ricky Gervais is a funny man. His stand-up shows always include a few memorable gags (usually the most outrageous ones, such as the Schindler’s List masturbation story), and his hosting stints of the Golden Globes were triumphal — his introduction of Ashton Kutcher as Bruce Willis’ son might be my second favourite awards show moment ever, after David Niven and the streaker.  Alas, his TV shows have been a tale of diminishing returns, most annoyingly his gratuitous bullying of Karl Pilkington on the horribly titled An Idiot Abroad. His new show, Derek, debuted in Britain last night; perhaps it will arrest the downward spiral.

Gervais is indeed a funny guy. But his masterpiece was predicated on pathos. Gervais’ conception, in script and portrayal, of The Office’s David Brent, an unfunny man who thinks he is funny, was perceptive and nuanced. He kept Brent recognisable and believable, stepping back from the temptation of exaggeration for comedic effect which stains lesser comedies. Brent never becomes a caricature.

In a comedy of embarrassment, Brent’s serial buffoonery was the easy part. But Gervais invested in the character a depth which makes you root for him, almost despite yourself — and you applaud him when he finally tells his “friend” Finchy what one day Pilkington might well tell Gervais.

David Brent earns his staff's approval with his rendition of Free Love Freeway (with Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook).

Occasionally Brent surprises by living up to his own hype. In the fourth episode in Season 1, Brent revealed that he once was in a band: Foregone Conclusion, for whom Scottish band Texas opened (but could Texas run a successful branch of a paper merchants?). He fetches his guitar and we expect the worse, squirming in anticipation. It turns out that the song he plays, Free Love Freeway, is rather good. Well, the melody is good. But, in Brent fashion, he undoes all the good work with the most banal lyrics of  sexism (“which I hate”)  to muddled cliché, from “pretty girl on the hood of a Cadillac”  to the incongruously weeping cowboy.

In the 2003 Christmas special, which brings The Office to a conclusion, we learn that after being fired by Wernham Hogg, Brent released a single. Typically, he puts what is good second: Free Love Freeway is the b-side; the a-side is a mediocre cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ If You Don’t Know Me By Now. His interpretation is hackneyed, unoriginal and abjectly sung (those ad libs; those groans!), when the relegated b-side is so much better. And the video is hilariously bad (watch it here). In real life, Free Love Freeway received a rehabilitation, of sorts, when Oasis’ goon Noel Gallagher recorded it with Gervais.

Gervais actually started in show business not as a comedian, but as a musician. He was half of the successless but not entirely awful New Romantic duo Seona Dancing, who split after releasing just two singles in 1983, experiencing the dizzy heights of reaching #79 in the UK charts once.

 

The theme of The Office was an instrumental of the song Handbags And Gladrags , arranged by Big George Webley, a session musician and writer of many TV themes, who died at the age of 53 in May 2011.

Big George had previously been the bassist of Paul Young’s Q-Tips. For the sung closing credits version he roped in the singer of a band called Waysted (a lazy pun which Brent would thoroughly enjoy) going by the terminally snappy moniker Fin, who had replaced Young in the Q-Tips. His vocal performance makes this one of my favourite versions of Handbags And Gladrags.

The song, best known in the version by Rod Stewart, was written by former Manfred Mann singer Mike D’Abo and first recorded by Chris Farlow in 1967 (D’Abo recorded it in 1970).

Two files here: one of stuff from The Office, the other the four songs by Seona Dancing. PW in comments.

THE OFFICE
The Office – Opening Theme
Big George Webley (feat Fin) – Handbags And Gladrags (The Office closing theme)
Ricky Gervais & Noel Gallagher – Free Love Freeway
David Brent – If You Don’t Know Me By Now
Songs from Season 1 Episode 4:
David Brent – Free Love Freeway
David Brent – Starman
David Brent – Goodnight Sweet Princess

GET IT or HERE

The cover of Seona Dancing’s Bitter Heart; Gervais in sailor cap.

SEONA DANCING
Bitter Heart
Tell Her
More To Lose
You’re On My Side

GET IT or HERE

Passwords in the comments section. On the subject, some dick took the trouble to comment that he thinks passwords are for 12-year-olds. The reason for using passwords, in fact, is to protect files from overzealous deletion. Dick said he won’t be back, and my heart is obviously shattered by the knowledge of that, but I’m afraid the passwords must remain, even if they complicate things a little, for you as well as for me.

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  1. paul
    January 31st, 2013 at 10:44 | #1

    Very nice and once again entertainingly written and researched.

    When I was last formally employed we based our working experience on the Office, from jellied staplers to signs on the door that said “Silence! Invetigation in progress”

    Thank you

    Paul

  2. dogbreath
    January 31st, 2013 at 11:27 | #2

    Thanks for this. Never watched The Office (sacrilege I know) but curious to hear the musical items. No password in these comments but it’s the same as in previous posts & the blurb says it’s Noel Gallagher singing with Gervais but the mp3 tag says Liam Gallagher so I’m curious (again) to discover which of the fearsome Gallagher progeny it may be. Cheers for your excellent efforts on the blog.

  3. halfhearteddude
    January 31st, 2013 at 11:38 | #3

    Oops. PW = amdwhah

    It is Noel. Not that I can ever tell those monobrowed twits apart.

  4. HW
    February 1st, 2013 at 16:54 | #4

    I’m a huge Gervais fan, prepared to see him him in just about anything but episode 1 of Derek was another disappointment. Cloyingly sentimental dialogue – to the accompaniment of Richard Clayderman on piano – and completely unfunny. So true; his TV shows are indeed a tale of *rapidly* diminishing returns. I’ll just have to make do with countless reruns of The Office & Extras.

  5. Ace K.
    February 24th, 2013 at 22:29 | #5

    My, my, my! You post the stuff that it might enter my mind to think about compiling, but in reality would never put in the time to actually do.

    I had not known Gervais actually was in a band. Amazing! If they had recorded “Free Love Freeway” he never would have had to take up comedy!

    Ace K.

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