Bob Thompson (musician)

Robert Lamar Thompson (August 24, 1924 – May 21, 2013) was a composer, arranger, and orchestra leader from the 1950s through the 1980s. Active in Los Angeles, Thompson was a recording artist for RCA Victor and Dot Records, scored film and television soundtracks, and wrote musical accompaniments for commercials.[1][2] He composed, arranged, and conducted orchestra for such artists as Rosemary Clooney, Mae West, Julie London, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Duane Eddy, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, and Phil Ochs.[2] In an interview, Van Dyke Parks, who hired Thompson to arrange Canon in D for Clang of the Yankee Reaper, said: "In terms of raw invention, I place Bob in the pantheon of Spike Jones, Les Paul, and Juan García Esquivel. Like Beethoven, they were 'populists' in good heart. They meant to appeal to the masses, and did so, by enlightening them."[3]

Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson in 1990
Background information
Birth nameRobert Lamar Thompson
Born(1924-08-24)August 24, 1924
San Jose, California, United States
DiedMay 21, 2013(2013-05-21) (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California
GenresExotica, space age pop, easy listening, jazz
Occupation(s)Orchestra leader, composer, arranger
Years active1955-1980
LabelsDot, RCA Victor
Associated actsRosemary Clooney, Van Dyke Parks, Julie London, Bing Crosby, Mae West[1]

Thompson is considered a prime exponent of what has belatedly been termed "Space Age Pop,"[2] or "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music." This style of breezy, experimental orchestral music became popular in the 1950s and 1960s following the introduction of the long-playing microgroove record and the advent of high-fidelity and stereo home audio systems, which allowed enhanced sonic reproduction. Thompson: "was a seminal figure, a major inventor of this kind of music."[4]


Thompson was born in San Jose, California, in 1924.[1] He was a music student at UC Berkeley composing shows and creating arrangements with noted philosopher Stanley Cavell.[5] Although he did not graduate, Thompson apprenticed with Professor William Denny of UC Berkeley after graduation.[6]

Early careerEdit

Thompson played piano in bands in Sacramento and sat in with Barney Bigard, who was the clarinetist in Duke Ellington's band. He moved to San Francisco and got his first arranging job at radio station KGO writing arrangements for The Standard Hour. Next, he went to Paris and arranged for Jacqueline Francois and Gloria Lasso, before returning to Los Angeles. He toured as the arranger and bandleader for actress Mae West.

Space Age Pop RecordsEdit

On the Rocks (1959)

Thompson's albums as a bandleader are Just for Kicks, Mmm, Nice!, and On the Rocks[2] (all on RCA Victor Records), The Sound of Speed (Dot Records, 1960).[1]

Just For Kicks and Mmm, Nice! were recorded at Radio Recorders in 1958 and 1959 respectively, and On the Rocks was recorded at RCA Victor Studios in late 1959. All three RCA Victor albums featured top session musicians from the late 1950s west coast jazz scene, including drummer Shelly Manne, percussionist Emil Richards, alto saxophonist Bud Shank, trombonist Frank Rosolino, trumpeter Al Porcino, guitarist Al Hendrickson, and bassist Red Callender.[1] Vocals were provided by Judd Conlon singers and Marni Nixon. "Just for Kicks" received a Grammy Award nomination in 1959 for Best Performance by an Orchestra. Although released in mono and stereo, the stereo versions of the RCA records carry the Living Stereo branding and logo on the covers.

The Sound of Speed was described by Irwin Chusid, who produced several reissues of Thompson's work, as a: "'"concept' LP [that] rhapsodizes the technology of human transport, from Vespa scooters to Le Mans racers, from tricycles to rocket ships. Each of the dozen vehicular vignettes is book-ended by authentic sound effects, with vivid stereo motion. "

Thompson provided the arrangements for a number of RCA Victor Records artists after the Space Age Pop albums, such as Maureen O'Hara, Julie London, Duane Eddy. He arranged Clap Hands! Here Comes Rosie! and Thanks for Nothing for Rosemary Clooney. In the 1960s, Thompson was Clooney's touring bandleader who the singer noted for his knowledge of musical theory and the pair shared a musical affinity.[7][8] Although not close, Thompson made an effort to help Rosie with substance abuse problems and drove her home from the Ambassador Hotel immediately after Robert Kennedy was assassinated.[9] Thompson arranged Holiday in Europe for Bing Crosby and composed "Moment in Madrid" on that record.[10] RCA also hired Thompson to arrange How the West Was Won which featured Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

Film and televisionEdit

Thompson composed the title theme for the motion picture The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) and scored the film Thumb Tripping (1972). He contributed arrangements for the films Picnic (1955), Seven Men from Now (1956; title theme), The Long Hot Summer (1958), and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968).[1] Thompson provided the theme and arrangements for GE True hosted by Jack Web.[citation needed]

Offbeat ProjectsEdit

Criswell, lionized in a Mae West lyric with music by Thompson, as he appeared in Plan 9 from Outer Space

Thompson composed music Mae West's lyrics for a song called "Criswell Predicts," about the flamboyant American psychic, The Amazing Criswell.[11] He wrote the music for That Agency Thing, an Industrial musical for CBS Radio Sales, with lyrics by Alan Alch (1963). Alch and Thompson also wrote Candelabra Boogie, a comedic homage to Liberace, sung by Jerry Lewis.[12] Thompson provided the arrangements for Dan Blocker's Tales for Young'uns.[13] Thompson composed "Happy Hobo" for Felix Slatkin's Conducts Fabulous Percussion and "Marching the Blues" for Felix Slatkin's Fantastic Brass Marches the Blues.[14][15] He arranged Katie Lee's Songs of Couch and Consultation[16] that was a comedic salute to psychoanalysis.


Although not responsible for lyrics or ad copy, Thompson composed and arranged for approximately 1000 commercials. "Bob made a study of rock, soul, how the Fender Rhodes was played in pop music, and the advent of the synthesizer," wrote his son Spenser Thompson. "He incorporated those styles judiciously into commercials — even though his passion was playing Jerome Kern, Thelonious Monk, or a minor blues on the piano."[17]

Thompson received several awards in the 50s, 60s, and 70s including Clio Awards for excellence in advertising music and an International Advertising Festival Award.

Reissues and contemporary usesEdit

The Sound of Speed was reissued by itself on CD by Bacchus Archives in 2004[2] and on vinyl by Sundazed Music in 2010.[18] The three RCA albums were reissued together with bonus tracks by the Spanish reissue label Blue Moon Producciones as a two-CD set in 2011.[19] Bertelsmann Music Group, that purchased RCA Victor Recordings, included Thompson in its History of Space Age Pop series (1994).[20] The Space Age Pop Records also contain original compositions, which have been anthologized on the Sound of Style (2008).[21] Over the last 30 years, these songs have been selected to appear on TV and Film including "The Big Journey" episode of Sex and the City (2002), an Old Navy commercial, and the I'm Reed Fish soundtrack (2006).

Thompson died in Los Angeles in 2013, his LA Times obituary stating: "Thompson's music set a mood, but was more than mood music."[22]


  • Seven Men From Now / Goodbye Old Girl (Zephyr Records, 1956)
  • Just For Kicks (RCA Victor, 1958)[2]
  • Mmm, Nice! (RCA Victor, 1959)
  • On the Rocks (RCA Victor, 1959)
  • The Sound of Speed (Dot Records, 1960)
  • That Agency Thing (Private pressing, 1963)


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Bob Thompson Interview". Cool and Strange Music Magazine. 12 April 1999. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vigil, Delfin (26 June 2005). "Hey, Mr. Space Man". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  3. ^ "The Art of Music Arranging: Van Dyke Parks Interview". Bob Thompson Music. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  4. ^ Chawkins, By Steve. "Bob Thompson dies at 88; 'Space Age pop' composer". Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  5. ^ Cavell, Stanley (2010). Little did I know: excerpts from memory. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804770149. OCLC 761486013.
  6. ^ "University of California: In Memoriam, 1980". Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  7. ^ Clooney, Rosemary, "Girl Singer: An Autobiography"
  8. ^ "Clap Hands! Here Comes Rosie! -- The Tasteful Pairing of Rosemary Clooney & Bob Thompson". Bob Thompson Music. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  9. ^ results, search; results, search (2001-10-09). Girl Singer: An Autobiography (Reprint ed.). New York etc.: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 9780767905558.
  10. ^ ACE. "ACE Repertory". Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  11. ^ About Bob Thompson at
  12. ^ "Jerry Lewis (3) - The Capitol Collector's Series". Discogs. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  13. ^ "Dan Blocker - Tales For Young'uns". Discogs. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  14. ^ ACE. "ACE Repertory". Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  15. ^ ACE. "ACE Repertory". Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  16. ^ "Katie Lee - Songs Of Couch And Consultation". Discogs. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  17. ^ Thompson, Spenser, "The 1,000 TV Commercials of Bob Thompson," Perfect Sound Forever, June 2018
  18. ^ "Thompson, Bob - The Sound of Speed LP". SUNDAZED MUSIC. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  19. ^ Gasten, David (18 March 2012). "Bob Thompson, His Orchestra and Chorus - Just For Kicks / Mmm, Nice! / On the Rocks". This is Vintage Now. Archived from the original on 12 January 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  20. ^ "The History of Space Age Pop, Vol. 2: Mallets in Wonderland - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  21. ^ The Sound of Style by Bob Thompson, 1960-01-01, retrieved 2018-07-16
  22. ^ "Bob Thompson dies at 88; 'Space Age pop' composer"; Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2013

External linksEdit