Dominic Messinger and Rick Rhodes : Santa Barbara's melody makers

 Soap Opera Digest, 1987

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So what's the big deal about soap opera music ? After all. the stars and the stones are the main attractions. Why not just fill in around them with a few piano notes, a fiddle or two, and call it a day ?

Well, plenty of folks, apparently. According to Santa Barbara composer Rick Rhodes, suds audiences have become mucho sophisticated in this MTV era. "A piece of music that we might play once and for only thirty seconds, will generate fifty phone calls and even more letters," he says. Not only is the show's first soundtrack album a hot, hot seller (Cruz and Eden's love theme has become one of the nation's most requested duties to march down the aisle to), but one tune in particular seams to become an international smash.

Vivian's Eyes, Rhodes's haunting, 1940s-style composition (used by the soap as a theme tor the mysterious Jeffrey character) has been selected as the official anthem of teenage gymnast Cristie Phillips, America‘s big hope in the 1988 Olympics. "I'm so excited about it, I can't see straight," admits the tunesmith, who prays that lightning strikes twice - a hit of epic proportions resulted some years back when The Young and the Restless donated its opening theme to eventual gold medalist Nadia Comaneci.

Prayers help around the set, too. With a downright skimpy music budget (Santa Barbara spends in a year what Miami Vice drops in one episode), Rhodes and his boss, musical director Dominic Messinger, make about as many miracles as they do melodies. Because the lack of bucks prohibits the use of too many Top 40 hits, 80 percent of the serial's score is original.

"Some record labels want as much as four thousand dollars to let us play a song once, in which case it's "Bye, bye !"" reports Messinger. Actuality, the guy can't complain. As a result of such restrictions, Santa Barbara has emerged as the soap with the most invigorating, imaginative and surprising background score on the air - and he was recently rewarded with a Daytime Emmy for his expertise.

When he does require a chart-topper, however, maestro Messinger turns into a swell wheeler-dealer. In desperate need at Marvin Gaye's I Heard it Through the Grapevine for a Big Chill-type sequence, he called Motown into giving it to him for a song - or, rather several. In exchange for one time use of the Gaye hit, the soap agreed to also play several brand new tunes that the label was pushing. Barry Manilow's company, RCA, was so anxious to get his new-wavish I'm Your Man maximum exposure, they let Messinger use the song twelve times for free.

Dominic is no stranger to hit-making. As music supervisor for General Hospital, his wisely picked songs made monster successes out of Herb Alpert's Rise and the James Ingram / Patti Austin duet Baby, Come To Me. Still, some negotiations do fizzle. Neither Streisand nor Springsteen will allow Santa Barbara to borrow their numbers, no way, no how. While Messinger succeeded in wooing Air Supply to perform live on the show, similar chats with Julio Iglesias and The Beach Boys have come a cropper.

Messinger and Rhodes find that keeping actors happy is no piece of cake. Everybody, it seems, likes everybody else's musical theme better. Laughs Rick, "If a star sees me walking down the hall with a record under my arm, he or she will inevitably ask, "Oh, is that for me ?""
There's no end to the unpredictability. Gearing up to compose a theme for the sophisticated, mile-aged Sophia Capwell character (played by Judith McConnell), Rhodes was planning on something very high class and romantic. "Oh, no," insisted McConnell, upon hearing his plans. "Write me a nasty rock n' roll song."

The site of the cult songs of the show Santa Barbara

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