As points of shared cultural reference, certain pieces of movie and television soundtrack music have become nearly indispensable to our modern existence. The theme from The Twilight Zone, for instance, is used to indicate the occurrence of a spooky coincidence. Or the theme from Jaws is hummed just as one person sneaks up behind another in a pool. When people sing the familiar themes from famous movies like Psycho or Deliverance, they make an instantly understandable shorthand reference to a specific idea or emotion, without having to speak a single word. The same is true for a snippet of soundtrack from a very obscure 1950s television program called Burlesque. That piece of music by David Rose is to acts of old-fashioned striptease roughly what the theme from Rocky is to early-morning winter jogs. Composed in 1958 and released as a single four years later, the hammy tune called “The Stripper” became a #1 pop hit in the United States on July 7, 1962.
David Rose was a composer and arranger who had a huge hit record back in 1944 with “Holiday For Strings,” but who is better known as a prolific composer for television from the 1950s to the 1980s. While working on the short-lived television show Burlesque in 1958, Rose decided to score a dressing-room scene with music playing softly in the background as if barely audible from backstage. “So I wrote eight measures of strip music and forgot about it,” Rose later told Billboard magazine.
Purely as a joke, Rose used a few spare minutes of studio time shortly thereafter to have the brass, the clarinets and the percussion section of his orchestra record a slightly extended version of what he still regarded as a silly throwaway. Rose had a handful of copies of the untitled number pressed on vinyl and handed out to orchestra members as novelty gifts, and that was the end of that. Until four years later, that is, when someone at his label, MGM Records, pulled the one-minute-and-55-second master recording out of the archives and had it put on the “B” side of Rose’s string-orchestra version of “Ebb Tide.” When a Los Angeles disc jockey flipped “Ebb Tide” and heard the piece now entitled “The Stripper,” he thought it was so funny that he played it almost continuously during his program one day. Soon “The Stripper” was a regional, then a national #1 hit, and well on its way to becoming a permanent piece of American pop culture.