Impossible Theme Song Doubles As A Spy Code

Lalo Schifrin, 91, was interviewed by the New York Post in 2015 about his famous theme, now that it was appearing in a series of hit films based on the “Mission: Impossible” TV series. Schifrin admitted that he tossed off the theme song in about as much time as it takes to listen to it. The finished product was, perhaps frustrating for musicians, written in 5/4 time, a relatively unusual time signature. Regarding that, Schifrin recalled a joke he told about it in the 1960s. Evidently, a German reporter was talking to him about the theme’s unusual meter, and she asked him why he chose to compose it that way. Schifrin said it was for aliens: “Everybody knows that there have been beams from outer space coming because of interplanetary flights,” he said. “The people in outer space have five legs and couldn’t dance to our music, so I wrote this for them.” 

Funny thing is, the German papers actually printed that story. Yeah, Schifrin got an angry call from his agent about that. 

Weirdly, Schifrin didn’t comment on the Morse Code. It likely was intentional — he had used Morse code in another theme he scored — but he never commented on it publicly. Which was fitting, given the secretive nature of the show.

The “Mission: Impossible” theme features a light jazz flute solo, and the original version uses bongo drums for percussion. It has a light, jazzy feeling. Weirdly, when he was a kid, Schifrin didn’t know jazz from a hole in the ground; he was raised listening to classical music. As he got older, he eventually bought — and shoplifted — jazz records from his local music stores and became obsessed. By the late 1950s, he was playing piano with Dizzy Gillespie. 

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