Thoughts on the Passing of Neal Hefti


Once upon a time, I wrote a skit depicting the creation of a defining moment in musical history.  The time is 1966.  The place is Hollywood.  The setting is a living room with an upright piano.  Seated at the keys is composer Neal Hefti.  I imagined him as a tall, lanky guy; probably a cigarette stationed between two long fingers.  He takes a drag and looks back at the piano and the empty score sheet resting on top of it.  Hefti leans over the piano, rakes through his hair with his fingers.  Suddenly he looks up.  He’s had an epiphany.  He rummages through the discarded papers piled high on every surface around him, looking for a pen.  He finally locates one and feverishly jots down the lyrics that are destined to make him famous.

“Batman…  Batman…  Batman…  Batman…  Batman…  Batman…  Batman…”

Hefti’s smile fades as his muse abandons him.  He looks up at the clock: 4:55.  ABC’s deadline is approaching.  From the kitchen, Neal’s wife calls him to get ready for dinner.  Looking at the score sheet once again, he heaves a heavy sigh and decides to just “phone it in” for the rest.

“Nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah… Bat-man!”

I have to be honest; I didn’t know anything about Neal Hefti when I wrote that skit in high school besides his name in the comic book credits of the Batman television show.  He was actually a talented musician, songwriter and arranger.  He worked closely with Count Basie through the 1950’s.  In the 1960’s, he scored a number of movies including How to Murder Your Wife and Barefoot in the Park.  One of his scores – The Odd Couple – ended up being big in the theatres and in living rooms around the country.

Imagine my surprise upon reading that out of all the music he wrote over the years, the theme from Batman was one of the most difficult!  The theme song apparently took him over a month to write.  His son said he went through more music paper writing Batman than any other song.  Ironically, it was the reduction process that took the most effort.  Hefti refined the song until it was just that basic beat and simple riff; the “nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah” people still remember some 40 years after the show went off the air.

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