Dynasty TV Theme

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Dynasty (ABC, 1981) was created by the husband and wife team Richard & Esther Shapiro, to challenge the dominance of rival US soap ‘Dallas’ (CBS, 1978) after it had become America’s top rated show in the winter of 1980.

The programmes shared many similarities – from oil barons, feuding families and beautiful women (not to mention the men), to big hair, expensive costumes and lavish sets. From a branding perspective, they both used a short, one-word programme title beginning with the letter ‘D’ whilst also making extensive use of aerial footage and yellow typography throughout their opening titles, closing credits and logo design.

But when it came to signature music, their approach was markedly different.

In commissioning Bill Conti to write the theme for ‘Dynasty’, it seems likely that the show’s producers had anticipated a rousing composition that could match Jerrold Immel’s hugely popular ‘Dallas’ theme, beat-for-beat. After all, Conti had recently scored the Sylvester Stallone boxing biopic ‘Rocky’ (United Artists, 1976) – which would later inform many aspects of the orchestral funk so evident in ‘Dallas’.

Instead, Conti delivered a piece that was far removed from his work on ‘Rocky’ and diametrically opposed to ‘Dallas’. Bold, brass melodies and disco-inspired bass lines were rejected in favour of a sophisticated French horn motif set against shimmering strings. Where Immel’s theme for ‘Dallas’ may have relied upon some seriously heavy overtones, Conti’s theme for ‘Dynasty’ was both elegant and remarkably understated.

Dynasty composer Bill Conti

In addition to ‘Dynasty’, Bill Conti’s TV compositions include the theme music to its short-lived spin-off ‘The Colbys’ (ABC, 1985), ‘Falcon Crest’ (CBS, 1981) and ‘Cagney & Lacey’ (CBS, 1982). His film scores include ‘Rocky’ and the James Bond movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (MGM, 1981).

Both pieces represent outstanding contributions to the genre and are equally deserving of praise. But while the ‘Dallas’ theme undoubtedly beats its rival in terms of recognition, popularity and longevity, Bill Conti’s composition for ‘Dynasty’ continues to be a wonderful example of American television theme music at its finest.

As far as I know, the official recording has never been released commercially, but this performance by the Daniel Caine Orchestra remains remarkably faithful to Bill Conti’s original work.

8 September 2013 Music