Composers: P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri
Inspired by the Johnny Rivers
"Secret Agent Man" is a song written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. The most famous recording of the song was made by Johnny Rivers for the opening titles of the American broadcast of the British spy series Danger Man, which aired in the U.S. as Secret Agent from 1964 to 1966. The song itself peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
According to composer P.F. Sloan, the American television network that licensed Danger Man, CBS, solicited publishers to contribute a 15-second piece of music for the opening of the U.S. show to replace the British theme, an instrumental entitled "High Wire". Sloan wrote the guitar lick and the first few lines of the song, with Barri (Sloan's songwriting partner) contributing to the chorus. This fragment was recorded as a demo by Sloan and Barri, submitted to CBS, and, to Sloan's surprise, picked as the show theme, which led to Sloan and Barri writing a full-length version of the song. The original demo of the song used the "Danger Man" title, as shown by the surviving demo of the song, which Sloan sang. When the show's title was changed, the lyrics were also changed. Ultimately, "High Wire" was also retained by CBS, as it played over the episode credits following the "Secret Agent" titles.
Sloan and Barri's publisher/producer, Lou Adler, also produced and managed Johnny Rivers, so Rivers was chosen to add the vocals for the TV show. Rivers' original recording was merely the show theme, with one verse and one chorus. Later, after the song gained in popularity, Rivers recorded it live, with two more verses, and the chorus repeated twice more. The live version was recorded in 1966 at the Whisky a Go Go, but not released until after a few studio production touchups were done by Adler shortly after. The song evokes secret agents both musically (making use of a memorable guitar riff) and through its lyrics (which describe the dangerous life of a secret agent). The lyric "They've given you a number and taken away your name" referred to the numerical code names given to secret agents, as in "007" for James Bond, although it also acts as the setup to the "continuation" of Danger Man, the cult classic The Prisoner.
In 1974, the song was recorded by Devo and again in 1979 on the Duty Now for the Future album with a jerky, heavily modified arrangement and significantly altered lyrics (sung by guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh). The 1974 recording was featured as a music video in Devo's independent short film, "In The Beginning Was The End: The Truth About De-Evolution".
• Mel Tormé had a minor contemporary hit with a cover in 1966, the same year Rivers released the song.
• Also in 1966, the Ventures had a hit (#54) with an instrumental version taken from their 1966 album, Go with the Ventures.
• In 1978, Detroit-area punk-styled band Cinecyde recorded an aggressive but authentic cover version for their Black Vinyl Threat EP on Tremor Records, a recording later collected on their CD You Live a Lie You're Gonna Die.
• A Spanish version, "Hombre Secreto", recorded by The Plugz, is on the soundtrack to the film Repo Man (1984).
• It has also been covered by surf punk pioneers, Agent Orange in 1984 on the When You Least Expect It EP.
• The band Blotto recorded a live version of the song in the mid-1980s, which was eventually released on their Then More Than Ever album in 1999.
• "Secret Agent Man" was also covered by Bruce Willis on his album The Return of Bruno (1987). The song opened with the sounds of a car door being opened and closed, footsteps, and a single gunshot.
• New York heavy metal band Hittman covered the song on their self-titled album released on the German Steamhammer label, 1988.
• This song was also covered by The Toasters and included on the 1996 album Hard Band for Dead.
• Japanese cover by Secret Agent (including members such as Noriyuki Higashiyama, Ryo Nishikido, and other Johnny's Juniors), released 2000.
• Heavy metal band Cirith Ungol covered the song on their rare tracks compilation Servants of Chaos (2001) .
• The song has been covered by Rachael MacFarlane on Hayley Sings, her 2012 debut album.
• The Pagans, a punk band from Cleveland, covered the song live and it appears as the B-side of the "Dead End America" 7" as well as on the Live Road Kill compilation.
• The theme songs for the American CGI-animated series Special Agent Oso (2009–11) and the American animated television series T.U.F.F. Puppy (2010–15) are parodies version of this song.
• Mexican band Psychotic Aztecs recorded a Spanish cover as "Agente Secreto" on their album Santa Sangre.
• Hank Williams Jr. covered the song on his 1992 compliation "The Bocephus Box" released by Capricorn
Use in media
• Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for the episode "The Chipmunk Who Bugged Me" from their TV series in 1983.
• The song was used in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! episode "On Her Majesty's Sewer Service" (1989), appropriate for a Bond themed episode (since the title is a parody of the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Koopa's alter ego "Koopfinger" is a parody of the villain from the 1964 Bond movie Goldfinger of the same name). It was, owing to copyright issues, later replaced with an instrumental version from a song from an episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 - "My Karubi" from the episode "Super Koopa".
• The 1987 Exidy game "Crackshot" features the original version's opening riff (actual digitized sound) as background music for the "Police Alley" minigames.
• In 1995, this song was played by Blues Traveler in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, in a version which was faster than the original. In 2000, an updated version, recorded by Supreme Beings of Leisure, was used for the opening credits of the UPN series Secret Agent Man. This led to some media coverage erroneously calling the series a remake of Danger Man/Secret Agent. This is one of the few songs that has been used for the opening credits of more than one unrelated series.
• In the 1997 American spy action comedy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the song is used in one of the final battle scenes when Austin and Vanessa save the world from being drilled through with Dr. Evil's Project Vulcan drill.
• The song was played at the end of Bowfinger (1999), in the film-within-a-film where Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) plays a secret agent/action hero much like John Drake or James Bond, with Jiff Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) playing his partner.
• In 2000, the song was featured on the soundtrack to the film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. A new edition of the sheet music for the song featured a cover showing the characters from the film. The soundtrack for the film was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, which covered the song.
• In a U.S. commercial for the video game Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (2002), this song is featured, with lyrics changed to fit with Kirby.
• The song was adapted by Walmart for use in a previous TV commercial with the lyrics changed to "He's the rollback man."
• In the American animated comedy-musical television series Phineas and Ferb (2007–2015), Perry the Platypus has his own version of this song.
• The cast of the American teen drama television series The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2013) made a music video of this song with Allen Evangelista as the titular "Agent".
• In 2010 the song was featured in the American spy comedy family film The Spy Next Door.
• The song was featured in the episode "Skin Deep" of the season 4 of NCIS: Los Angeles in 2012.
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