The brand new Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, which arrives in theaters today, might have the flashy, big-named soundtrack, featuring artists like Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke, and Nina Simone, but the original television show it’s based on also featured its fair share of important musical moments.
In addition to a killer score and an iconic theme song by Jerry Goldsmith (the Oscar-winning composer of The Omen, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes), the show welcomed a number of guest stars from the musical world over the course of its four season run from 1964-1968. From the pop duo who were such big fans that they asked for roles, to the singer who recorded a new track—a duet with one of the show’s stars—specifically for her appearance, the sly spy series’ relationship with musicians really did run from the ridiculous to the near-sublime.
In celebration of the new movie, we take a look back at the six best musicians to appear on the original Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The puppeteer behind Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy and the voice of a number of classic kid’s songs (including the equally beloved and reviled “The Song That Doesn’t End”) took a break from children’s entertainment to star in the episode “The Off Broadway Affair.” As Janet Jerrod, a plucky understudy in a truly terrible and ridiculous musical, Lewis narrowly evades becoming collateral damage in a sinister plot, moderately charms top U.N.C.L.E. spy Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and belts out numbers like “I March For Love” (written by the show’s primary composer, Gerald Fried). Solo’s partner, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), also lands a role in the production for secret spy purposes, but the less said about his performance, the better.
After citing Man From U.N.C.L.E. as their favorite show in an interview, the pop duo asked if an episode could be written for them. The result of that request was “The Hot Number Affair,” in which Cher plays a jet-setting model/muse and Sonny Bono plays a beleaguered designer who’s hopelessly in love with her. And accidentally makes her a dress that has a top secret formula printed all over it. The wacky episode’s not exactly an auspicious acting debut for either performer, but it at least shows hints of the charm and chemistry they’d later perfect on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Their songs “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe” also appeared in the episode, playing almost in their entirety under action sequences.
1966 was a good year for actor, singer and former Olympic skier Noel Harrison. In addition to his success in the U.N.C.L.E.-verse, both as a guest star in “The Galatea Affair” and as one of the leads in the spinoff series, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., the son of the legendary Rex Harrison also had a top 40 hit in his cover of Charles Aznavour’s “A Young Girl.” After Girl was cancelled, Harrison went on to sing an Oscar-winning song (“The Windmills of Your Mind” from 1968‘s The Thomas Crown Affair), cover Leonard Cohen and tour with fellow U.N.C.L.E. guest stars Sonny and Cher.
The New York folk-duo-turned-rock-band Every Mother’s Son performed its first single “Come On Down To My Boat” in the middle of a go-go nightclub brawl in “The Five Daughters Affair” (released theatrically as “The Karate Killers”). A month after the episode aired stateside, the song debuted on the Billboard charts. It peaked at No. 6 in July 1967, and remains the band’s only top 10 hit.
Further cementing his status as one of the biggest and dreamiest heartthrobs of his time, Illya Kuryakin himself released four albums through Capitol Records from 1966-1968, right at the height of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. craze. Unlike his fellow teen idols, McCallum, a classically-trained musician, preferred to stick to a mix of instrumental takes on the hits of the day and original compositions. “Communication,” one of the few vocal tracks he did record, made it to No. 32 on the U.K. Singles Chart in April 1966. His most enduring contribution to pop music, though, is his take on a David Axelrod-penned track called“The Edge,” which none other than Dr. Dre sampled in the intro to “The Next Episode.”
The year before Sinatra sang the theme song to the 1976 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, she lent her vocal and acting talents to they small screen’s most popular spies. In “The Take Me To Your Leader Affair,” the singer plays Coco, the go-go-booted daughter of a scientist unwittingly involved in a nefarious UFO-related plot. When Coco and Illya find themselves kidnapped, she promptly develops a completely understandable crush on the U.N.C.L.E. agent and, somewhat more improbably, performs a duet (written by David McCallum) with him. As far as Nancy Sinatra collaborators go, Kuryakin/McCallum is no Lee Hazlewood, but the song’s not bad. Coco tries to convince him to form a musical duo with her, but Illya insists that he has “no particular desire to be bigger than Herman and the Hermits.”