Hive Five: Jaws Theme Trivia

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Last night marked the start of Shark Week, the magical six-day stretch in which the Discovery Channel devotes its programming to everyone’s favorite undersea predators. From now through Friday, as the nation hunkers down and watches nothing else, expect to hear lots of people humming the Jaws theme, which is to this basic-cable holiday what “Jingle Bells” is to Christmas. Just about everyone is familiar with composer John Williams’ 1975 film score — or at least its signature two-note tuba riff — but here are five things you might not know about the iconic piece of music.

1. It’s a rip-off

Well, “rip-off” may be a little harsh, but according to many music fans and critics — a great many of whom have made their case online — Williams borrowed heavily from the final movement of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s 1893 New World Symphony. In hip-hop, it’s called “interpolation.” In classical music, it gets you called a hack.

2. It’s often ripped off

The Jaws theme makes for terrific shorthand whenever a film or TV director needs to signal danger, but in music, it’s proved more versatile. In 1977, Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin, the man behind the Mission Impossible theme, cut a disco-funk version, while the Beastie Boys sampled the tune in their 1989 song “Egg Man.” A quick YouTube search turns up other hip-hop samples and various techno remakes, as well as the Dickie Goodman novelty hit “Mr. Jaws,” which somehow reached the Top 5 in 1975.

3. It won Williams an Oscar — but he had to hustle for it

As conductor of the house orchestra for the 1976 Academy Awards, Williams was poorly positioned to accept his award for “Best Original Score.” After his name was read, Williams raced to the podium, said his thank-yous, and booked it back to the pit.

4. Spielberg almost wasn’t having it

Williams reportedly wanted the theme to have the “effect of grinding away at you, just as a shark would do,” but when director Steven Spielberg first heard it, he took it for a joke. In fairness to Spielberg, Williams demonstrated the idea on piano, where it’s hard to imagine those E and F notes sounding very ominous.

5. It’s an unlikely wedding anthem

According to countless wedding DJs, the Jaws theme ranks among the most popular songs to play during the cake-cutting portion of the reception. It makes sense, given the impending unpleasantness of (a) getting frosting in the face and (b) for some, spending the rest of your life with one person.

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