All good things come to an end, and after 37 years on Australia’s longest-running drama series, Neighbors, waving peace. In 1985 (even the Queen Mother was a fan).
While things have come and gone on Ramsay Street over the years, one thing has remained (just) the same: the theme tune.
Who wrote the theme song for ‘Neighbours’?
‘Neighbors’ was written by British composer Tony Hatch, with lyrics by his then-wife, the late Jackie Trent. After moving to Australia in the 1980s, they established a high profile in the UK, writing pop songs and the odd theme tune. Petula Clark’s hit ‘Downtown’ was written by Hatch and Trent co-wrote Clark’s hits ‘American Boys’ and ‘A Sign of the Times’ among many others.
Hatch was no stranger to writing themes for TV or soap operas Sports night And both Emmerdale Farm (Only now Emmerdale) and Crossroads. b Neighbors, Trent and Hatch were asked by the show’s creator, Reg Watson, to write something cheerful and sunny. They didn’t hang around, apparently turning the tune around in one day.
To give the piece a truly Australian stamp, they asked one of the country’s most famous singers to do the vocals. In a recent interview on BBC Radio 2, Barry Crocker admitted it was a last minute request and simply turned to Tony and Jackie to make it a night. That demo went down well with Watson, who used it as the theme song from the beginning Neighbors It premiered on Channel Nine (the show wrapped within months, before being picked up by Channel Ten the following year).
Crooker’s version of the theme was revised in the late 1980s, then replaced in 1992 with a new arrangement featuring lead vocals by Greg Hind. The change took some getting used to for those who had been watching since the beginning, but he stayed on the show until 1998. Since then, six other versions have played the opening and closing titles. It includes the current (and final) version, sung by former cast member and recording artist Bonnie Anderson.
Anderson’s version made its 2020 debut and was produced by the show’s composer and music supervisor, Jamie Messenger. The brief from the producers was relatively open, he told me.
All they wanted was a newer, more modern version. The only thing they mentioned was having Bonnie participate in the audition, which was cute since she was part of the show at the time. I guess her voice guided me… I wanted a really fun and interesting version, that’s why I went with the feel of the track, and what kind of words it took us to put down. The melody is the melody. But you can put different chords on it to give it a little different taste. Under there I tried several different combinations of chord progressions. Plus, it’s such an old-school tune, it’s original, and I didn’t want it to sound cheesy! So it was a bit of a challenge to add that modern flair, but keep that original melody, but I was happy with the end result.’
What about the music in the rooms?
Messenger has been working Neighbors Curating all the weird music from 2018 and picking/putting behind the scenes all the music tracks you’ll hear. The show had a notoriously grueling schedule, and as he explained, he was full of action.
I was employed 50 hours a week. I got five episodes on Monday morning and by the end of the day on Friday they had to be filled with music and ready to air the following Monday. Each episode is about 23 minutes long — when you take out commercials and everything — and sometimes there’s about 15 minutes of music. That includes background music like Harold’s Cafe or The Waterhole. My score may be five or six minutes in some episodes, while others may have 15 minutes. If it’s more on location, with big drama and action and stuff, that often needs a lot more points.’
Creating so much music in such a short amount of time, Messenger says he needs to be organized and has pieces he can draw quickly.
‘The most important thing for me was building a library of tracks that I could reuse,’ he says. I think the hardest part was working out how to categorize them, and I actually ended up with a numbering system of folders one through nine – one that was all light-hearted comedy, easy tracks, and nine that were outrageous, crazy tracks. So the higher the number, the more intense the drama, and this gave a bit of a general idea of where a suitable track would be for a scene. I have whole folders… one of them is called ‘Personal Pain, Grief, Internal Struggle’ and another one is ‘Despair, Not Going To Plan, Anxiety’.
The final episode of the show airs in the UK and Australia at the end of the month, and the timing was bittersweet for Messenger, who was still making final adjustments for the finale when we spoke.
‘It felt really weird,’ he told me, ‘Usually every week we show the current week’s episodes and reruns from previous weeks, and then we prepare by watching the next week’s episodes. But last week there were only five episodes that needed to be completed and nothing was forthcoming. It was very strange and very sad.’
He couldn’t give anything away, but Messenger had this to say about his work on the show’s final episodes.
It was really fun. I think there could be some nice surprises for fans of the show. I put a lot of effort into the last two weeks of classes, carefully selecting all the music that went in. We want it to be special.’
The final episode of Neighbors airs on Channel 5 in the UK on Friday 29 July, but will be available to watch for a month after on My5. Viewers in Australia can watch the final on Thursday 28 July on 10&10p or catch up on 10Play.