What is the greatest New Zealand TV theme song ever written? Our search continues with a long forgotten Dave Dobbyn masterpiece from 1989.
Previously in our search for New Zealand’s greatest TV theme song: Country Calendar
Any major boomer will tell you: 1980s New Zealand was a different world. A world where you could smoke a pack of Rothmans and drink a crate of DB Draught while watching free-to-air cricket in your house you bought for two times your annual wages while your kids safely roamed the streets in bare feet eating 50 cent mixtures which contained enough lollies to sustain them all day.
A world where you could phone up Dave Dobbyn and ask him to write and record a theme song for a children’s TV puppet show – and Dave Dobbyn would say yes and shit out a minor masterpiece.
‘Space Junk (Theme to Space Knights)’ was released as a single in 1989. Chronologically this puts it at the end of Dobbyn’s strongest run of singles, from 1986’s ‘Slice of Heaven’ through 1988’s ‘Loyal’. At this point it simply wasn’t possible for Dobbyn to write a bad song, no matter how little effort he put in.
Space Knights was a children’s science fiction series produced by South Pacific Pictures. Based on Arthurian legend but set in space, it featured life-sized puppets suits designed by Listener cartoonist Chris Slane and heavy use of blue-screen effects. Visually is it one of the buzziest shows ever made in New Zealand.
Today Space Knights has been forgotten by all but a small cult following of sci fi nerds and nostalgists, from New Zealand as well as Australia and Canada where it also aired. It has never been released on DVD, though there are a few full episodes on YouTube, and the start of the first episode is on NZ On Screen. The real hero of this piece, however, is YouTube user Nostalgia Duck, who has uploaded the full single edit of ‘Space Junk (Theme to Space Knights)’ as well as its instrumental B-side ‘Space Junk (Luna Mix)’.
‘Space Junk’ is officially credited to Dave Dobbyn & The Lunettes. Dobbyn requires no introduction – his name alone makes this a contender for New Zealand’s most star-studded TV theme song. But what about The Lunettes?
The backing vocals on ‘Space Junk’ were provided by Annie Crummer and Suzanne Lynch, both renowned performers in their own right. Crummer was riding high on the success of ‘Melting Pot’, a huge 1988 number one for When The Cat’s Away, and would go on to forge a successful solo career in the following decade. Lynch’s career began in the 1960s as part of New Zealand pop group The Chicks, following which she released several solo albums and in the 1970s worked as a session musician for Cat Stevens alongside her husband Bruce.
A renowned bassist, Bruce Lynch produced some of New Zealand’s biggest records in the 1980s, including Dobbyn’s Loyal LP the previous year. He was behind the desk for ‘Space Junk’.
This is a theme song with elite personnel and was written at the height of Dobbyn’s hit-making powers. It spent two weeks in the singles chart, peaking at number 32. And yet, it doesn’t appear on 1992’s The Dave Dobbyn Collection nor on any subsequent greatest hits compilation. Dobbyn has effectively erased the song from his canon in a way not dissimilar to how Prince tried to erase the Batman soundtrack from his. In both cases, the work is much stronger than its author gives it credit for.
Space junk, space junk
Warning light red, a hole in my shuttle I’ve been meaning to mend
My laser won’t fire, cos the batteries are low
While they fire from above and below us
Space junk, space junk
You should see what I have to put up with, the chain of command
It’s too demanding, cos a warrior in space is a worry for anyone else
Space junk, space junk
Out among legions of aliens, I’d rather watch from inside my ship
Survey the battle from behind a convenient asteroid
Hear the war you know you’re in it*
No surprise how no one wanted the warrior, the warrior, oh no, oh no
Can’t imagine how I got my finger on this trigger
How to steer my ship around in all this space junk?
Who should I be shooting at in all this space junk?
How can we be fighting over all this space junk?
Power toward the Milky Way through all this space junk
It’s almost as if the only thing Dobbyn has remembered from hearing the show’s pitch is that the word ‘Space’ was in the title. He’s picked up that ball and run with it to write the lyrics to ‘Space Junk’, which have nothing to do with the show but instead describe the ennui of a lonely space warrior kicking around on his ship while intergalactic battle rages around him.
“A hole in my shuttle I’ve been meaning to mend” … “It’s too demanding” … “I’d rather watch from inside my ship” – he’s turned the theme song for a kids’ TV show into a song about depression and emotional withdrawal.
The TV version of the theme song ends with a final “Space junk, space junk” after the third verse, leaving the best part of the song for the single edit. “Can’t imagine how I got my finger on this trigger” is a massive lyric, and the way Dobbo delivers it here is absolutely spine-tingling. It deserves better than the obscurity of ‘Space Junk (Theme to Space Knights)’ – it deserves to be screamed to the heavens at every gig he plays.
For: Killer personnel. Was written specifically for the show and has lyrics which (almost) include mention the show’s name. Released as a single and charted, albeit briefly.
Against: Not many people remember it or the show it was written for. Dobbyn seems to have disowned it.
Verdict: Meets many of the key criteria for being New Zealand’s greatest TV theme song, but its obscurity may be its downfall. The search continues.
What other New Zealand TV theme songs do you think deserve to be considered among the all-time greats? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Great New Zealand theme song’ and we’ll put them under the microscope.
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