Review: Knight Rider (1982-1986)

Composer: Stu Phillips

Label: Film Score Monthly

Catalogue Nr.: FSM Vol. 8, Nr. 10


Whenever the name Glen A. Larson is mentioned together with a TV series, the success just seems inevitable. In 1982, the master mind behind such well-known primetime entertainment as the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) or the cop series Magnum P.I. (1980-1988) combined the elements of his sci-fi and cop series to create Knight Rider, which would bring a new level of fun and adventure to the small screen and entertain generations of TV viewers. Actor David Hasselhoff is Michael Knight, a loner without past, who is fighting crime where the law failed and for that purpose, Knight received an unusual partner: K.I.T.T., the talking 'Knight Industries Two Thousand' super car - a modified Pontiac Trans Am with some neat extras and a prissy but loyal personality. Together they would hunt criminals, save innocent beauties and ignore all rules of physic and gravitation with daunting stunts. The series helped to elevate actor Hasselhoff into the highest realms of TV fame and became a cult phenomenon (especially in my home country Germany) with a worldwide legion of devoted fans and followers ever since the first broadcast of the pilot in 1982.

The score:

Music has always been an integral part of any Glen A. Larson project with him being deeply involved with the creation of a show's musical signature and title theme. Larson and composer Stu Phillips have previously worked together on numerous TV shows like Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979) and further continued that success on Larson's newest creation Knight Rider by developing a theme for the show's "Main Title" that is no less than a classic. Both decided to go for a synthesized signature composition that should go beyond some blunt atmospheric sound, which was a revolutionary approach for TV music at the time. Although the theme with its catchy rhythm and memorable melody has a synthi-sound it does not appear to be aged in any way and still sounds fresh, which is probably the reason why it was utilized by various hip-hop artists which increased its popularity even more. Most of the series' underscore was still based on more traditional grounds with an orchestra and an emphasis on rhythm and big band brass.

Knight Of The Phoenix (pilot - tracks 1 to 16):

Undercover police man Michael Long is shot down by a group of conspirators but soon resurrected by a wealthy old man who is erasing Michael's past and offers him a future as super crime fighter in the Knight Foundation. Armed with super car KITT, Michael Knight is hunting down those people who wanted him dead which leads him to the beautiful but lonely Maggie and the evil Tanya, head of the suspicious high-tech firm ComTron that is involved in industry espionage. Stu Phillips' half-an-hour of score for the two-hour pilot episode benefits from a larger ensemble of 25 to 37 players. The opening scenes of Las Vegas are accompanied by a great swinging jazz cue in "Las Vegas Country Rock / Safe / Busted Play" that goes into suspense music as we witness an act of espionage with Phillips hinting the James Bond theme as a clever musical wink. "Michael Saved / Keep Fighting" and "Not Bad / He Dies" accompanies Michael's rescue and his recovery with sad strings, piano and a mysterious saxophone line, all with a slightly suspenseful undertone. The main theme unfolds for the first time when Michael does a little "Test Drive" with his new partner KITT.

Cool and groovy blaxploitation ideas with slap bass transform into a hip chase cue in "Automobile Heaven / Piece Of Cake / Dreamin' / Auto Cruise" when a bunch of dumb thieves attempt to steal KITT but end up in jail. After some subdued suspenseful tones for "Evil Tanya" and the short but thrilling jazzy big band action cue "They're Off" for a big derby, we get to hear a nice little romantic motive for jazz guitar from Phillips for the relationship between Michael and Maggie in "A Little Speak". The main theme takes over again in "KITT to the rescue" interrupted by suspense music when Michael is arrested and KITT rescues him which goes right into more of the main theme in "Escape From Jail". Sneaky suspense music comes with "It's Back" and "The Shootout" when Michael breaks into the ComTron headquarters and discovers Tanya who shots him again. "Hi Yo KITT" brings a suspenseful take of the main theme before it builds up to a heavy action variation for big band brass and rock percussion in "Through a Truck / Airport Chase" that is both fun and suspenseful. Tragic strings accompany Tanya's end while the relaxing romantic motif returns when Michael and Maggie farewell before the main theme ends the pilot.

Not A Drop To Drink (episode 6 - tracks 18 to 24):

Michael and KITT have to defend a small group of Ranchers from their criminal concurrent Brennan, who cuts their supply of water to bankrupt them. A concerned variation of the main theme for strings appears in "Only M.K. / Love You Too / Car Pick-Up" when dynamite blasts a water basin before a travelling take of the main theme kicks in when Michael is coming to help. Another thrilling big band action cue with a nervous variation of the main theme for strings is "They'll Never Believe / To The Pipes". "Bull / More Bull" is a stylistic highlight of the score which puts Mexican flavoured tones for solo trumpet and guitar in contrast to strings and synths to accompany KITT's comic fight with a raging bull. Strings build up tension during a "Fight In The Woods" before "KITT From Outer Space" brings a little chase music and a mysterious synth variation of the main theme when KITT pretends to be a space alien to scare one of the bad guys into revealing important information. Romantic western tones for strings and guitar with the main theme occasionally shining through is heard in "Long Walk" before the driving action cue "Fran Kidnapped / Fran Rescued / Good Guys Win" brings the episode to a powerful musical conclusion.

Trust Doesn't Rust (episode 8 - tracks 25 to 29):

Michael and KITT have to fight KITT's faulty counter part KARR who is discovered in a warehouse of the Knight Industries and reactivated by two criminals who misuse him for various robberies before KARR develops his own ideas and goes on a rampage. Phillips provides a grim villain theme for KARR which consists of a driving line for low piano and an altering 9-note line for horns. The theme is first introduced in "Knocked Out Guard / The Monster" and receives various driving variations throughout the many action cues of this episode such as "Bonnie Snatched", "Tony's Time" and "Showdown". A thrilling duel between KARR's grim theme and a dramatic variation of the main theme for strings that builds up to a climax accompanies the finale when "KARR Dies" and a short positive outburst of the main theme ends this episode.

Forget Me Not (episode 12 - tracks 30 to 35):

Stu Phillips' last episode score accompanies Michael and KITT's attempt to protect a visiting Latin American President who is threatened with assassination but the only person who could help them is cutie actress Mikki, who was hurt by the bad guys and suffers from amnesia. A romantic cue for strings comes with "Mad Love / Mikki Abducted" and builds up into a suspenseful action cue with the main theme at the end. The action continues over a chase sequence until "Mikki's Escape" from the kidnapper's car. Mute trumpet, piano and low playing strings create tension in "Gun Case / Suitcase / Assassin Flees" to underline the movement of an assassin. Mikki lost her purse during the escape and an action cue with heavy use of the main theme starts to play when Michael is going to return "The Purse", runs into bad guys and is rescued by KITT. Some slightly Asian instrumentation plays against frenetic strings in "Activity" before "KITT vs. Horse", a pounding muscular action cue, is closing the episode.

Inside Out (episode 9 - tracks 36 to 39):

A paramilitary group lead by Col. Kincade is planning to rob a gold transport and Michael has to impersonate a notorious mercenary to infiltrate the group and stop them. "Mission Begins" is a variation of the main theme for Michael and KITT's journey to the Colonel's compound. The captured mercenary that Michael is impersonating is trying to escape from his prison which is accompanied by nervous pizzicato strings in "Frantic / KITT's Magic". "Go / Convoy" contains striking militaristic percussion and low brass hits for the launch of Kincade's team which develops into another suspenseful action cue for the actual robbery. More of the main theme in suspenseful fashion accompanied by trombone and militaristic percussion appears in "Caught" which ends the score for that episode. A reprise of the "Main Title" comes with the "End Title" which also features Stu Phillips and Larson's logo theme for the Glen A. Larson Productions Logo at the end.



Score as heard in the film: 80%

Score as heard on CD: 74%

TOTAL: 78%


The presentation:

A release of the TV music from Knight Rider was something that people would expect from Film Score Monthly at the very least and thus the release came as an even bigger surprise. Both Stu Phillips and the label deserve credit for urging the people at Universal long enough until they worked something out which made this incredible release possible. The disc is produced with the usual FSM-care and full of 79 minutes of music from the pilot as well as four episodes as comprehensive suites. As opposed to the monaural sound mix of the series, the score release was mixed from stereo sources and thus the sound quality of the music fully sparkles with new vitality. The full-coloured booklet offers a wealth of pictures and information with a comment by Stu Phillips as well as liner notes and a cue-by-cue analysis by producer Lukas Kendall. A truly great presentation! Sadly, there is a downside because the release is limited to only 3000 units and will be sold out very soon due to a high demand. Get it now or you will have to play the tricky ebay game later.

Presentation by the Label: 89%



Even after all these years, Stu Phillips' music for the 80's TV phenomenon Knight Rider remains highly entertaining, fresh and electrifying. You just can't sit still with all these cool, rhythmic albeit simplistic action cues that capture the essence of 80's small-screen adventures so perfectly. There is always a sudden joy that comes with every statement of the classic main theme which has become an integral part of our popular culture. Admittedly, there are a couple of weaker cues which just contain some dull suspense underscore and many of the action cues come off as rather simplistic but that is compensated by a load of very good cues that are simply a lot of fun to listen to. Maybe 79 minutes is a bit too much for one run, so I recommend to listen to this score in small portions to really get into the fun. Folks who don't have fond memories of the series will probably not relate to the material all that much but anyways, Knight Rider remains an important effort in the world of TV scoring that could still compete easily with recent musical creations for the small screen.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01. Main Title (01:16)
02. Las Vegas Country Rock / Safe / Busted Play (02:35)

03. Michael Saved / Keep Fighting (02:43)

04. Not Bad / He Dies (03:01)

05. Test Drive (00:47)

06. Automobile Heaven / Piece Of Cake / Dreamin' / Auto Cruise (03:08)

07. Evil Tanya (01:19)

08. They're Off (00:33)

09. A Little Speak (00:44)

10. KITT To The Rescue (02:19)

11. Escape From Jail (01:05)

12. It's Back (01:04)

13. The Shootout (03:16)

14. Hi Yo KITT (01:21)

15. Through A Truck / Airport Chase (05:00)

16. Tanya Gets Hers / Warm - Knight (02:50)

17. Act Breaks (00:13)

18. Only M.K. / Love You Too / Car Pick-Up (01:32)

19. They'll Never Believe / To The Pipes (01:25)

20. Bull / More Bull (02:28)

21. Fight In The Woods (00:59)

22. KITT From Outer Space (02:16)

23. Long Walk (02:11)

24. Fran Kidnapped / Fran Rescued / Good Guys Win (03:59)

25. Knocked Out Guard / The Monster (01:37)

26. Bonnie Snatched (03:06)

27. Tony's Time (02:25)

28. Showdown (02:19)

29. KARR Dies (02:10)

30. Mad Love / Mikki Abducted (01:51)

31. Mikki's Escape (01:40)

32. Gun Case / Suitcase / Assassin Flees (02:01)

33. The Purse (01:58)

34. Activity (01:53)

35. KITT Vs. Horse (01:28)

36. Mission Begins (01:04)

37. Frantic / KITT's Magic (01:21)

38. Go / Convoy (03:03)

39. Caught (00:56)

40. End Title (01:14)