Song #39: “The Pink Panther Theme” — Henry Mancini (1963)
Speaking of Henry Mancini, the next song in my countdown is easily his best known — certainly his most played — composition. Mancini’s jazzy big band instrumental is about as close to perfect as you can get for a theme, with a tenor sax dancing over the ting of a triangle and a blast of horns. The suave opening number from the first Pink Panther movie took on a life of its own, as the titular character from the animated credits was spun off into an Academy Award-winning short, a long-running Saturday morning cartoon, and a shill for numerous products — with his trademark sax following him everywhere. (Nobody seems to remember that “The Pink Panther” in the original movie was the name of the diamond a cat burglar played by David Niven is trying to steal.) It reappeared as the theme song in almost all of the Pink Pathern sequels and has shown up in numerous TV shows over the decades.
Songs with the sax will show up a lot on this list. A lot. Just thought I should tell you now. In fact, in 4th grade, when we all had to pick an instrument in music class, I almost picked the sax. I really wanted to play The Pink Panther theme. Having already been defeated by the piano however, I found the many keys of the saxaphone too intimidating and went with the trumpet instead. (My decision was also colored by the desire to play the horn solo from this Louise Prima classic from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”)
Thanks to the success of their character, the animation studio that created The Pink Panther was able to launch its own show, built around dozens of characters in seven minute shorts. While “The Inspector” and “The Ant & the Aardvark” never caught on like Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, they were still pretty entertaining for their time. Taking a lot of cues from the Road Runner and Coyote, the best Pink Panther shorts were wordless affairs, full of pratfalls and impossible physics, such as this little gem from the late ’60s — which is only marred by the unfortunate laugh tract.