Who wrote the theme tune for ‘Neighbours’? And what music is used in the show today?
It’s probably one of the most familiar tunes on TV, but who wrote the iconic theme tune for ‘Neighbours’, the Australian daytime drama which comes to an end this month after 37 years on our screens?
All good things come to an end, and after some 37 years Australia’s longest-running drama series, Neighbours, is waving goodbye. The lives of the various occupants of six houses on a cul-de-sac in sunny suburban Melbourne have entertained generations since it was first broadcast in 1985 (1986 in the UK); even The Queen Mother was a fan.
Despite the comings and goings on Ramsay Street over the years, one thing has remained (just about) the same: the theme tune.
Who wrote the theme tune for ‘Neighbours’?
‘Neighbours’ was written by British composer Tony Hatch, with lyrics by his then wife the late Jackie Trent. They had moved to Australia in the 1980s after a high-profile career in the UK, writing pop songs and the odd theme tune. Petula Clark’s hit ‘Downtown’ was written by Hatch, with Trent co-writing Clark’s hits ‘American Boys’ and ‘A Sign of the Times’, among many others.
Hatch was no stranger to writing for TV, or indeed soap opera, having written the themes for Sportsnight and both Emmerdale Farm (now just Emmerdale) and Crossroads. For Neighbours, Trent and Hatch were asked to write something upbeat and sunny by the show’s creator Reg Watson. They didn’t hang about, apparently turning the tune around in a day.
To give the piece a truly Australian stamp, they asked one of country’s best-known singers to take on the vocals. Barry Crocker, who was interviewed recently on BBC Radio 2, admitted it was a last-minute request and he simply ‘popped round to Tony and Jackie’s’ to give it a go late one evening. That demo went down so well with Watson it was used as the theme tune from the beginning, when Neighbours made its debut on Channel Seven (the show would actually be axed in a matter of months, before being picked up by Channel Ten the following year).
Crocker’s version of the theme was freshened up later in the 1980s, then replaced in 1992 with a brand new arrangement featuring lead vocals by Greg Hind. The change took a bit of getting used to for those who had been watching from the start, but remained with the show until 1998. Since then a further six versions have graced the opening and closing titles; that includes the current (and final) version, which is sung by fomer cast member and recording artist Bonnie Anderson.
Anderson’s version made its debut in 2020 and was arranged by the show’s composer and music supervisor Jamie Messenger. The brief from producers was relatively open, as he tells me.
‘All they wanted was a fresh, more modern version. The only thing they did specify was getting Bonnie involved on the vocal, which was lovely because she was part of the show at the time. I guess her voice guided me… I wanted quite a joyful, upbeat version, which is why I went with the feel of the track, and it took quite a while to work out what chords to put in. Obviously the melody is the melody, but you can put different chords onto it to give it a slightly different flavour. I tried lots of different combinations of chord progressions under there. Also, it is such an old-school sounding tune, the original, and I didn’t want it to sound daggy! So to add that modern flair, but keep that original tune was a bit of a challenge, but I was really happy with the end result.’
What about the music that features in the episodes
Messenger has been working on Neighbours since 2018, composing all the incidental music and selecting/placing all the source music tracks you hear in the background of scenes. The show had a famously gruelling schedule, and it was a full on task, as he explains.
‘I was employed for 50 hours a week. I got five episodes on Monday morning and by the end of the day on Friday they had to be full of music and ready to be passed on for the next Monday. Each episode is about 23 minutes – when you take out the ads and everything – and there’s sometimes about 15 minutes of music. That will include the background music, like in Harold’s café or The Waterhole. My score might be five or six minutes in some episodes, but others might have 15 minutes of score. If it’s more out on location, with big drama and action and stuff, that often required a lot more score.’
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With so much music to create in such a short space of time, Messenger reveals he had to be organised and have pieces he could draw on swiftly.
‘The most important thing for me was to build up a library of tracks that I could reuse,’ he says. ‘I guess the hardest thing was working out how I was going to categorise them, and I actually ended up with a numbering system of folders from one to nine – one being all the light-hearted comedy, easy-going tracks and nine being the harrowing, crazy tracks. So the higher the number the more intense the drama, and that gave a bit of a general idea of where to find a track that might suit a scene. I’ve got a whole bunch of folders… one of them is called ‘Personal Pain, Grief, Internal Struggle’ and another one is ‘Disappointed, Not Going to Plan, Stressed’.
The show’s final ever episode airs in the UK and Australia at the end of the month, and the moment has been bittersweet for Messenger, who – when we spoke – was still working on final adjustments for the finale.
‘It felt very strange,’ he tells me, ‘normally every week we’ve got the current week’s episodes, plus the fix-ups from previous weeks, and then we’re looking at the next week’s episodes and getting ready. But in the last week it was just the five episodes that needed finishing off and there was nothing more coming. It was very strange, and quite sad.’
He wasn’t able to give anything away, but Messenger did have this to say of his work on the final episodes of the show.
‘It was certainly fun. I think there’s going to be some nice surprises for fans of the show. I put a lot of effort into the last couple of weeks of episodes, just carefully choosing every piece of music that went in. We just wanted it to be really special.’
The final episode of Neighbours will air 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 see the finale on Thursday 28 July on 10 and 10 Peach, or catch up on 10Play.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.