A Brief Tribute to the Merv Griffin: Game Show Pioneer, Composer and So Much More

Although this is not necessarily a music related post depending on your viewpoint, I felt it was necessary to acknowledge and pay tribute to Merv Griffin, who passed away yesterday from prostate cancer at the age of 82. Many of us younger folks might recognize this name merely the man behind Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, not knowing about his previous 20 year stint with The Merv Griffin Show and his time before that as a actor, host, vocalist and radio singer. I personally didn't know till just recently that he sang on the Coconut Grove Band's now infamous single "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts"... a song that although I haven't heard the original in years, I could easily recall, and sing badly, in an instant, as could many... if so desired.

While other aspects of his career are more overlooked, Merv Griffin's contributions to pop culture and television are immense. He also made one of the most notable contributions to the world of music of all time. Merv Griffin penned the music to his game shows including the one and only "Jeopardy Theme". Not only is this tune a great match for the game show itself, but it is such an instantly recognizable melody that the song itself has become a part of pop culture. There are not many people, at least in the United States that cannot hum, whistle or in some way musically reproduce this melody, giving it status that many pieces of music never come close to achieving.

Melodies are like that sometimes, written for an express purpose but so incredibly catchy and identifiable that they take on a life of their own... these melodies have something special. The "Jeopardy Theme" is a great study for budding composers and songwriters. It's relatively straight forward but conveys the perfect feel for it's application and is a great example of simplicity in musical composition. What captures that something special that makes a melody legendary it not nearly as easy to pinpoint as that happens rarely... it may be more luck than anything else in some cases... this was only meant to be the theme to a game show and yet now, it is probably one of the best known melodies of all time.

This bit of musical magic is definitely a memorable achievement from a compositional standpoint that deserves some appreciation from composers and songwriters even if purely for it's ultra catchy feel and cultural reach. Still, it is just the tip of the iceberg when talking about Merv Griffin's career and life in my mind. His range of talent and overall achievements make him more than an icon of pop culture and much more than just a game show pioneer and composer of game show themes.

As a tribute to Merv Griffin today, we should take a look back along his entire career, take a listen to "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" and some of his other vocal works... and the "Jeopardy Theme" as well... as his passing is the passing of legend of music, radio and television.

Here at the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll I offer my condolences to his family, friends etc and hope that everyone takes a moment to remember Mr. Merv Griffin.


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