Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Colin Hanks on his lifelong CHiPs theme song earworm

Illustration for article titled Colin Hanks on his lifelong CHiPs theme song earworm

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.


The hater: Colin Hanks carries on his father’s lineage as Hollywood’s nice guy. After his memorable turn as amiable slacker Shaun Brumder in 2002’s Orange County, Hanks eschewed leading man roles, quietly growing into a reliable character actor. He has now found a sweet spot in portraying intelligent, hard-luck everymen, in roles ranging from the supernatural Roswell to his recent turn as kindly, dogged cop Gus Grimly on FX’s Fargo. This season he can also be seen on the new CBS sitcom Life In Pieces.

In his first turn in the director’s chair, Hanks traces the shaggy, unlikely story of Tower Records’ ascension to prominence and staggering downfall in the documentary All Things Must Pass. Before the film’s October 15 world premiere at a one-night-only rejuvenated Sunset Strip Tower Records, Hanks shared the song that has plagued his consciousness for decades.

The hated: The CHiPs theme song (1977)

The A.V. Club: Were you a fan of CHiPs growing up?

Colin Hanks: Yes. I remember watching the show as a kid. I didn’t understand the show at all. Now I think it’s kind of ridiculous that members of the California Highway Patrol were in some way solving crimes. When you think about it the show should have been called License And Registration because that’s all they really need to do. The big reason why this song has been in my brain for the last 30 years is quite simply that it gave me something to sing at the top of my lungs when I was riding my bike around as a kid. I have a very vivid memory of singing this song, going down a hill super fast, thinking I looked like one of the dudes from CHiPs. Not Ponch, but the other guy.

AVC: Larry Wilcox.

CH: If you tell me his name is Seymour I’m gonna be like, “Yeah, that dude.” I don’t really remember the show. That’s really my only memory of the show. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what the opening credit looked like. I just remember humming the song at the top of my lungs.


AVC: The CHiPs theme is such a rousing action anthem. Why the hate?

CH: It’s an earworm that I still hum to this day. You know that Timehop app that shows what you tweeted last year? Apparently last year I was tweeting about this. For whatever reason, and I honestly don’t know why, I will find myself at work randomly humming “bah ba-ba dah da!” Good luck spelling that out phonetically. I don’t know why, but it’s just been stuck in my head for decades! I cannot get it out of my head. To be quite honest, this has gone beyond a hatesong. I’ve gone through so many different emotions dealing with it, that for better or worse it’s just a part of me now.


AVC: It’s sort of the Colin Hanks theme song. It just comes out of you.

CH: I tend to hum it when I’ve been wrapped and on my way back to my trailer. There is always motion involved—it’s not like I’m just sitting around. It’s always me going someplace, which I think is obviously fitting.


AVC: Do people catch you on it and say, “Wow, the CHiPs theme again?”

CH: All the time. The majority of the time people say, “Really, CHiPs? You’re pulling that one out of a really deep bag.” Then I have to tell people that unfortunately it’s not that deep for me for some strange reason. It’s a go-to, more than any other show. It’s kinda like whenever you take off your shoes and you start humming Mr. Rogers. If I’m walking or moving, CHiPs is more often than not going through my thick skull.


AVC: Breaking down the song, is it the overbearing synth or disco-funk bass line that sticks with you? Is that what initially caught your attention?

CH: What’s weird is that it’s purely just the melody. It’s not the instrumentation at all. When I hear the real song it sounds weird to me because I think I’ve just gotten so used to it in my head. For whatever reason that melody is just stuck, man. It’s a long one too. It’s not just a three-chord progression. It’s a heady couple of bars.


AVC: Have you ever considered getting profession help for this affliction?

CH: The way I see it, there are so many other songs that come and go, and this one has stood the test of time. I’m not gonna fight what is obviously genius in some way, shape, or form. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. There are such things as evil geniuses.


AVC: Are there other theme songs that have stuck with you?

CH: The Daily Show theme is a big one for me. I remember coming up with lyrics for the old Late Night With Conan O’Brien theme song. I was very upset I never got to sing that on the show. But, to be honest, I don’t know what it is about the CHiPs theme. I’ve never really gone this deep into it and now I’m kinda scared. I can’t properly convey it. Now I’m feeling very conflicted: Do I hate it? Do I secretly love it? I don’t know. I can only hope that it just gets better with time.


AVC: We are through the looking glass.

CH: We are deep into it, man.

AVC: What were some of your first musical loves?

CH: Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell and the first Beastie Boys album were very big for me, even if I only understood about half of what they were talking about. Around the time of eighth grade, when you’re really trying to find your own identity as an adult even though you’re nowhere near it, the Chili Peppers’ BloodSugarSexMagik was a big album for me. That’s my desert-island album. From that I got into so many other bands, from Primus, Mike Watt, George Clinton, The Meters to Robert Johnson. It all sorta spun from that one record. I don’t mean for this to sound like a cheesy segway, but I specifically bought that CD, when it was still longbox, at Tower Records. I know I bought a Primus CD on that same trip. Once I started discovering my own taste in music the floodgates opened and that album was my gateway drug.

AVC: Did your dad play a role in shaping your music taste?

CH: Not really. He was not necessarily as musically inclined as my mom. She listened to a lot of David Bowie and Paul Simon. Everybody’s parents listened to Graceland. My mom was very influential in terms of listening to Bowie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, The Police, and then classical music as she got older. Both my mom and dad were both big on The Beatles. I grew up in two Beatles households.


AVC: Have you ever been pegged as a music snob?

CH: My wife pegs me as a music snob every single day. Every fucking day. I like to think that I’ve gotten a little bit better with time, but that’s probably not the case. I listen to a lot more Katy Perry and Taylor Swift now that I have two young daughters.


AVC: Do you know your wife’s hatesong?

CH: That’s a good question. Probably anything that follows me saying, “Honey, you should really listen to this one song. Listen to these lyrics, honey!”


AVC: What drew you to telling the Tower Records story? How influential was the store to you growing up?

CH: It was a couple of different things. I grew up in Sacramento, where Tower was founded. There was always a certain amount of pride in the fact that the store originated in my hometown. I obviously spent a lot of my hard-earned money as a kid and teenager there. My godmother had worked at a Tower Records before I was born. But it wasn’t really until I found out how Russ Solomon started selling records, that he sold used 78s out of his father’s drug store in the early ’40s. That little bit of history blew my mind. The more I read up on the company and the more I found out about its history, it struck me that here was an incredibly well-known company that no one really knows that much about. People just have their personal connections and love for the store. Once I focused on the different historical aspects and we asked Russ if we could make the movie, he then introduced us to people that he insisted we speak with, the ones that were really instrumental in making Tower what it was. I then realized what a personal story this actually was, how these people spent 30 or 40 years of their lives working for this one company and then watched it all end. It just felt like a movie that people would have an inherent interest in seeing. Once they saw it, they would see how deep it actually goes and how there’s much more to the story.