By Clark Van Hoten and Mark J. Cairns
From the moment Airwolf premiered, viewers were gripped by the lively, techno-centric music that became a hallmark of the series. Much like John Williams' scores helped put such blockbusters as Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies on the map, so the high production value of Grammy award winner Sylvester Levay's compositions helped distinguish the Airwolf series from its contemporaries.
Sylvester Levay
Airwolf composer Sylvester Levay
His score serenaded many of Airwolf's flights by combining classical orchestral techniques with modern synth sounds. This combination complemented the show's underlying themes of solitude, secrecy, mystery and intrigue, whilst being underscored with a distinctive bass-line to portray the whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop of helicopter blades. Thanks to the compound nature of the overall score, variations in the orchestration, as well as rearrangement of individual components as detailed below, helped drive each week's story in unique, yet comfortingly familiar ways.

The aforementioned bass-line beat, used as both a lead-in and underscore, can itself be played as a cello solo (Shadow of the Hawke final aerial; also Bite of the Jackal's takeoff from the Lair); a rolling tune (ala dodging hurricanes in Mad Over Miami); or even a Western-style "rocked-up" beat (Sweet Britches final aerial). The underlying "band part" plays just as effectively as a solo (as in the Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n and Bite of the Jackal closing credits; it's also used to underscore each of the first season's opening teasers). Even individual segments of the ever-memorable and most widely recognizable primary theme can be extracted and played alone to carry a scene (discovering the Valley of the Gods in Shadow of the Hawke as well as its end credits; Airwolf's takeoff from the Lair in Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n and Hawke's contemplative flight in One Way Express are all excellent examples). The same can be said of both the "ascending bridge" (as heard in the finale of Mind of the Machine or in a slow form during the opening of The Hunted; it's also used to underscore each of the second season's opening teasers) and "descending bridge" themes. In particular, both bridges could be counted upon to help ramp up the tension of a given scene (an excellent example is the extended aerial underscoring Hawke's entry into East German airspace in Fallen Angel). Taken together, the individual components combine to form the bold, rousing serenade sequences heard and hummed by fans week after week.

Known widely in mainland Europe for his professional theater compositions, Hungarian-born Levay scored the show throughout its first three seasons, with a few notable exceptions as detailed herein. Levay, known to friends as Sly, used the sounds of a live orchestral ensemble to complement some scenes, and synthesized components for others. He also introduced individual supporting character themes, including "Moffet's Theme" (Shadow of the Hawke, Moffett's Ghost), "Gabrielle's Theme" (Shadow of the Hawke, Echos From the Past), and "St. John's Theme" (Echos From The Past). "Moffet's Theme" could even be regarded more generally as a "Villain's Theme" for its representation of the havoc caused by the sinister D.G. Bogard in To Snare a Wolf. Interestingly enough, the primary characters had no individual themes of their own, save for Hawke's melodic "Eagle's Serenade" (Shadow of the Hawke, Bite of the Jackal, Eagles), which was also regarded as "Hawke's Theme" by both Levay and series creator Don Bellisario. Levay also contributed traditional episodic music and other running themes such as the popular "South America" (used in Mad Over Miami, Prisoner of Yesterday, and Break-In At Santa Paula) and "Coming Down" (Bite of the Jackal, Fight Like a Dove). As the series was a mid-season replacement, this initial musical evolution lasted through the eleven episodes that comprised season one.

Ian Freebairn-Smith
Ian Freebairn-Smith
During commencement of production of season two, Levay was not yet back on-board due to prior feature commitments, so Ian Freebairn-Smith, a favorite of Bellisario from Magnum P.I., was brought in to score the first two episodes, Sweet Britches and Firestorm. Freebairn-Smith's interpretation of the main theme introduced a strong, all-American rock downbeat while preserving the fanfare style from season one. The blended style resulting from his brief stint on the show left a lasting, positive artistic impression and is arguably in a class by itself.

As the show evolved, so did further interpretations of Levay's score. Upon his return, Levay's subsequent three episodes featured a temporary, seemingly muted, legato opening credits score before he finalized and launched a somewhat flatter new orchestration that became representative of the second season. The most notable changes included the addition of a predominant cymbal wash; the replacement of a tambourine with the "tap - tap - tap" of a snare drum; and a diminished underlying flat bass-line. So while fans of the first season tended to recall the rousing fanfare provided by the combination of string instruments and a strong muted brass, season two fans favored the more clearly synthesized beat.

One thing that lasted musically across each season, however, was character Stringfellow's penchant for classical music, particularly string quartets. Accordingly, Beethoven could frequently be heard playing in the background during scenes taking place in his cabin. The music was a fitting complement to the classic works of art on display.

Late in the second season, Levay temporarily left to pursue other interests.
Udi Harpaz
Udi Harpaz
In his stead, Israeli composer Udi Harpaz signed on. Beginning with Natural Born, Harpaz faithfully carried on Levay's primary theme orchestrations whilst still establishing his own episodic musical style, bringing forth energetic, mainly orchestral tunes. In each episode's end credits, Harpaz was simply credited as "UDI."

Coinciding with Levay's return for Kingdom Come, the sound from season two was slightly modified to include a clanking, twangy lead-in beat. His orchestrations became a bit more staccato. Levay finished out the season, and the show's run on CBS, with the exception of three interspersed episodes orchestrated by Bernardo Segáll (Jennie, Wildfire, and Little Wolf); and Birds of Paradise, a one-off stint by the trio of Tom Scott, Joseph Conlan and Steve Schaeffer.

When Airwolf was picked up for a fourth season, production was farmed out to an upstart company in Vancouver, British Columbia. As such, the show returned with not only an entirely new staff, but a new cast as well. For the entire season, the show was scored by Dan Milner and Rick Patterson, who clearly tried to maintain use of the original theme while adding their own unique spin, such as the addition of a segue between the lead-in beat and the main theme. A recurring love theme was also introduced. The result is a distinct, if overall lower quality, series of renditions.

At the same time the show was still in production, a few tribute recordings such as Germany's 'The Wonderweapon' and a Japanese 'Airwolf/Knight Rider' compilation were produced and released as branded albums. Some tracks were also released as singles, and also as part of countless generic TV music compilations. Of the latter, the only truly notable rendition was track #56 on 'Television's Greatest Hits Vol 6: Remote Control' which pumped up the original recording from season one's opening credits. Home video versions of some episodes released across the globe, including such high-popularity regions as the United Kingdom, Japan, France and Germany provided additional musical exposure to fans who hadn't already made their own off-the-air recordings. Interestingly, the German versions contained hardly any theme music, thus most of the final “aerial ballet” sequences were purely visual plus sound effects, with no iconic score underpinning the action.

That would and could have been the end of the story. After wrap, however, the show took on a new life through fans who sought to keep alive nostalgia for the show.
Mark J. Cairns
Mark J. Cairns
While those prior releases had ultimately provided Airwolf fans with only a few marginal quality orchestrations on tape and disc; and music mixed with dialog and sound effects on videotape, in just over one decade all that would change. Northern Irish and Scottish producers Mark J. Cairns and Gerry R. Forrester, respectively, secured a license to produce a new, fully-branded 2 CD album entitled 'Airwolf Themes.' In addition to filling the first CD with episodic themes himself, Cairns enlisted Levay to re-record some of his most memorable orchestral themes for the second. The result was an album that introduced high fidelity stereophonic reproductions of the original music and changed the face of aftermarket television theme music forever. Not only did it afford original composer Levay an opportunity to re-explore his own work, this time accompanied by an entire symphony orchestra (the Munich Philharmonic), the album repeatedly set world records for resale value.

Jan Michal Szulew
Jan Michal Szulew
Because Themes was released on CD only, once all copies had sold out, a period of several years with no further inventory, yet heightening demand, ensued. Pirated hard copies and online download caches sprung up in various forms to meet the demand, but the online fan community generally hung in with the producers until the age of licensed digital music downloads presented another first-hand delivery opportunity. New on-line distribution deals were brokered and 'Airwolf Themes' was re-mastered and re-introduced for download through several popular mediums such as Apple iTunes and Amazon. In the meantime, Cairns made an investment in a promising new musical talent who helped him continue adding to an ever increasing library of Airwolf music, Polish-born Jan Michal Szulew. Together with Forrester and Szulew, Cairns continues to produce new releases in the Themes series, which can be ordered through his own website or the albums index.

Just like the World Wide Web supported a re-released Airwolf Themes, it also afforded amateur musicians the opportunity to ply their trade before a worldwide audience. Several notable individual pieces were made available by fans such as Owen Hodgson and "AirwolfSweden," who in particular amassed quite a library himself.

Most recently, independent label BSX Records began releasing original music from Airwolf's fourth, Canadian season. Its first release, Rick Patterson's Love Theme From Airwolf, represented the first direct transfer from a master recording since the one-off Remote Control compilation.
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