If there’s a sound associated with playwright Neil Simon, it’s that of laughter. And if it’s a musical sound, it’s the sound of Neal Hefti. The late composer (1922-2008) created the memorable theme that introduced The Odd Couple to the big screen in 1968, and has been subsequently heard on television in 1970, and once again today in a small-screen revival. Varese Sarabande’s We Hear You series has recently offered a tale of two Neil/Neals with the world premiere releases on CD of the original soundtrack recordings by Hefti to Simon’s The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park films.
Neal Hefti (1922-2008) didn’t come to Hollywood from Simon’s home turf of Broadway, but rather from the big band world. Serving in the mid-1940s in Woody Herman’s First Herd, trumpeter Hefti became a prolific composer and arranger, moving on to the Count Basie band in 1950. With Basie, Hefti came into his own. He composed and arranged Atomic Basie, considered the great pianist’s finest record, and scored at the Grammy Awards for the album. Hefti’s great gift during this period was the ability to tailor inventive arrangements to the identities and skills of the band’s members, and earned the praise of Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra for his ingenious work. Hefti diversified his efforts working on television with stars like Kate Smith, and when The Chairman of the Board enlisted him to arrange and conduct at his Reprise label, he answered. By the mid-1960s, Hefti was in demand in Hollywood as a soundtrack composer. In 1967, with the instantly-recognizable theme to Batman already under his belt, Hefti penned the score to Gene Saks’ film adaptation of Simon’s 1963 Broadway comedy Barefoot in the Park. The movie arrived just as the play was wrapping up its 1,530-peformance run.
The play’s original star, Robert Redford, joined Jane Fonda (replacing the stage version’s Elizabeth Ashley) as newlyweds Paul and Corie Bratter. Paul is an uptight type and Corie a free spirit, leading to a deliciously funny yet ultimately sweet look at an odd couple in young love. Hefti composed a breezy, subtle and melodic score that never threatened to overwhelm the action but rather supported it and commented on it with a variety of sixties-period styles. He even quoted his own swinging “Girl Talk” as a well-chosen bit of source music.
Hefti and Simon both followed Barefoot in the Park with a second Paramount Pictures film adaptation together, this time of Simon’s 1965 stage play which would become even more iconic. The Odd Couple starred Art Carney as fussy Felix Ungar (later re-spelled Unger) and Walter Matthau as messy Oscar Madison, running 964 performances on Broadway and spawning multiple television series (including an animated version!) and stage revivals and adaptations. The 1968 film version, again directed by Gene Saks, had Matthau reprising his role opposite Jack Lemmon, and boasted another Hefti score. The composer was inspired to create one of cinema and television’s most memorable and evocative themes to anchor his relatively brief score for the dialogue-heavy film.
Dot Records issued soundtrack albums for both movies, but Varese’s reissue has utilized the original film recordings in mono sound as remastered by Chas Ferry and Daren Chadwick. The original Barefoot LP had 13 tracks vs. the 19 here, whereas The Odd Couple rounded out roughly 18 minutes of score with a further 8 or so minutes of dialogue excerpts. Varese has added two unused alternate versions of the Barefoot theme – in rock and lounge styles – to the score, as well as instrumental and vocal demos of The Odd Couple theme. Famed lyricist Sammy Cahn joins Hefti to sing his lyrics on the latter.
Simon, Hefti and Saks re-teamed to more success in 1972 for the movie version of Last of the Red Hot Lovers, but delightful comedy scores just don’t come much better than this Neil Simon/Neal Hefti doubleheader. Jim Lochner provides the new liner notes in the 12-page booklet. You can order Barefoot in the Park/The Odd Couple, a limited edition of 2,000 units, directly from Varese Sarabande at the link below!
Neal Hefti, Barefoot in the Park/The Odd Couple: Music from the Motion Pictures (Varese Sarabande VLE 9207, 2017)
Barefoot in the Park
- Barefoot in the Park Main Title
- The Honeymoon
- A New Home Upstairs
- Six Flights Up
- Mother’s Surprise Visit
- Cold Visit/Night Visitor
- Two O’Clock Capers
- Mom Arrives for Dinner
- Journey to the Four Winds
- Shama Shama/Race Up the Stairs
- Blues for Paul
- I Warned Her
- Victor’s Downfall
- Cocktail Juke Box (Girl Talk)/Corie Grows Up/The Search
- The Search Part II/The Barefoot Stumbler
- A Nut on the Roof/End Title
- Barefoot in the Park (Unused Rock Version)
- Barefoot in the Park (Unused Lounge Version)
- The Odd Couple Main Title
- Suicide Attempt Pt. II
- Waterfront Blues
- Hostile Silence
- Man Chases Man
- Left with a Curse (Outtake)
- End Title
- The Odd Couple Theme (Instrumental Demo)
- The Odd Couple Theme (Vocal Demo) – Neal Hefti and Sammy Cahn
All tracks previously unreleased.