Monday night music
Johnny Pearson often is overlooked when discussing the names who made Monday nights the sports spectacle they have become.
Howard Cosell. Frank Gifford. Roone Arledge.
Most people never mention Pearson. But his work arguably has had as lasting an impression on the American sports viewer as anyone's.
Pearson, a British musician, composed "Heavy Action," the opening jingle that is as synonymous with "Monday Night Football" as Cosell himself.
So when "Monday Night Football" moved from ABC to ESPN last year, ESPN brass quickly settled a no-brainer: The theme song was staying.
"There are certain things that made 'Monday Night Football,' " ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer said. "When you hear the words Monday night, I'm sure for 90 percent of the people out there, football is the next word that jumps (to mind). It's so ingrained in your mind.
"The music is the same way."
Pearson composed the tune in 1970, and it was adopted by a BBC sports show called "Superstars," said Adam Taylor, president of Associated Production Music, which owns the rights to the song.
A year later, ABC acquired the rights to use "Heavy Action," Taylor said.
The song has been slightly altered through the years and has shared the "MNF" stage with Hank Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night" since 1989.
But it still resonates.
"It's a strong piece of music," said Claude Mitchell, ESPN's coordinating director of music. "It has a very memorable hook, and its association with a lot of personal memories that tie to the show makes 'Heavy Action' have a life of its own.
"It's such a branding theme for 'MNF.'"
Pearson likely employed a small orchestra to compose the song, Mitchell said.
"The heart and soul of it are those wonderful string lines," he said, referring to what sounds like violins, violas and cellos.
The song has become the most well-known sports theme in history, its popularity evident by the myriad commercials in which it is played, Taylor said.
It's even available as a ringtone. Just ask Taylor. He has it on his cell phone.
"The intro really does draw you in," he said. "It has a forward momentum to it.
It spells action."
Memorable sports theme songs
Here are a few favorites, and the composers behind them.
Song, How you know it, Artist/Composer
"Gonna Fly Now," "Rocky" theme, Bill Conti
"Rock & Roll, Part 2," Peguins games of the 1990s, Gary Glitter
"Sirius," Chicago Bulls entrance music, Alan Parsons Project
"Renegade," pre- and in-game music used by Steelers, Styx
"Kernkraft 400," Penn State football games, Zombie Nation
Source: Tribune-Review research