Criminal Records: On a Crime Fiction Soundtrack

Just lately, I’ve been pondering the reasons behind my apparent predilection for all things crime fiction.

As a kid, I remember staring with amazement at the covers of my Mother’s library books. Invariably, they showed a discarded gun, carefully posed body, or spatters of blood—which my brother and I thought was hilarious. We were always teasing her about “Mum’s Murders.”

I couldn’t see the attraction then, and contented myself with the likes of The Famous Five and Nancy Drew—both gave me a grounding in the world of detection, but apart from a desire to drink lashings of ginger beer, they didn’t take me any further along the path of criminal enlightenment.

I suppose both played a part in making me a crime fiction aficionado, but throughout my ruminations I still felt there was something I’d forgotten—the missing link, as you might term it.

My “light bulb” moment came the other day. I was half-listening to a regular radio spot which features lost TV themes, when my ears pricked up—could it be… The Rockford Files? It was then I realised the truth—my love of crime writing has its foundations in my other great passion: popular music!

Forget Spotify and iTunes, my life has had a soundtrack all its own. Probably the earliest memory I have linking crime and great tunes is the 1960s British TV cop show, Z Cars.

(Editor's Note: And check out recalcitrant citizen Judi Dench! Sample themes provided in original flavor above and ahem, updated synth-jazz below.)

Its theme music was based on an old English folk tune called “Johnny Todd” and is still heard today at Goodison Park, home to the greatest football team in the Premier League, Everton FC (did I mention I had a third love, and Everton is it?). The Z Cars theme is played at every home game as the teams come out onto the pitch for kick-off. I assume it was picked because they’re a Liverpool team and that is where the series was supposedly set.

The aforementioned Rockford Files theme is a great piece of music from a series I adored as a teenager. It starred James Garner as Los Angeles-based private investigator Jim Rockford and featured Noah Beery, Jr., as his father, Rocky, a retired truck driver.

It was composed by Mike Post, truly the godfather of TV crime show music—he is also behind the themes for such gems as Hill Street Blues, Magnum PI, Law & Order, and NYPD Blue.

Just in case you think I wasted my formative years in front of the telly, let me reassure you, reader—I was a normal teenager who spent my outside-of-school life mooching in my bedroom listening to songs on the radio, record player, and cassette player (yes, the latter two date me!). And it’s funny, but crime crept in there too—and I don’t mean shoplifting!

Most of my music is now transferred to the iPod, and a scan through its contents threw up some gems. “Bonnie and Clyde” by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames; the epic “Private Investigations” by Dire Straits; Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”; “Stool Pigeon” by Kid Creole and the Coconuts and a double-whammy—“We Are Detective” by the Thompson Twins (who took their name from Thompson and Thompson, the bumbling detectives in Herge’s Adventures of Tintin)—can all be found on my MP3 player.

I’m also a big fan of The Killers and Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and have been known to indulge in a spot of Death Metal—obsessed, moi?

I don’t think it is any coincidence that Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin are tussling for top spot in my list of crime writers of choice. Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Rankin’s John Rebus are both huge music fans—as are their creators—and both series of novels have songs running through them like Blackpool through a stick of rock. The latest Rebus novel, Standing In Another Man’s Grave, takes its title from a song by the late Scottish singer songwriter Jackie Leven, while Bosch even has his own jazz track list on Spotify.

So there you go, music and misdeeds are definitely intertwined—gives the phrase “criminal record” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

Sandra Mangan has recently moved to Blackpool, a seaside resort in the north west of England, to a new home that is definitely a work in progress. She is an avid reader, with crime fiction at the top of her wish list – though an occasional Nora Roberts manages to creep onto the bookshelf. You can also follow her as @OfTheTimesShop

Read all posts by Sandra Mangan for Criminal Element.


  1. Brian Greene

    Nice article! It was my discovery of the soundtrack to Get Carter that led me to want to see the film, which led me to want to check out the writer of the book, which led me to discovering one of my favorite authors, in Ted Lewis. (I know that Get Carter is an institution on your side of the water, but over here in the States it’s not as well known). I still listen to that soundtrack all the time. Also lots of great soundtrack stuff by Morricone for some Gialli crime films . . . Great piece about these connections!

  2. Karen Charlton

    A good piece, Sandra. You uncovered the roots of your fascination with crime (via a trail of vinyl 45s) with the same ruthless dedication shown by your favourite detectives. I enjoyed the journey.

  3. Carol & Bob Bridgestock

    Throughly enjoyed Sandra! Our friend Peter J Hammond used to write Z Cars amongst other crime dramas. He says them were the days! He stopped writing for Midsomer recently when they told him he had to put seat belts on criminals leaving a crime scene!!!
    I feel very much the same toward theme tunes such as Grandstand (always slept on dad’s knee when Mum went shopping on a Saturday afternoon), and Coronation Street (I could stay up as a child until it finished). 🙂

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