Johnny Rivers – Secret Agent Man

The opening guitar riff is worth the price of admission for the song. It’s one of those riffs you are required to learn by law if you want to be a guitar player. It was written by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. I always liked the song but it really made an impression on me when a band named the White Animals played this song when they opened up for the Kinks in the early 80s.

The opening lick was written for a CBS TV Show called Danger Man. After the short theme caught on, they wrote a complete song around it. Sloan said ” When the title of the show was changed to Secret Agent, he says it was a breakthrough. “That changed everything,” “The lyric just came together in no time at all. It just worked immediately.”

The song peaked at #3  in the Billboard 100 in 1966.

From Songfacts

This was the theme for a TV series called Secret Agent, starring Patrick McGoohan. Unlike many TV themes, the song held up on its own with a distinctive dueling guitar sound.

This is an example of “Spy” music. The sound implied action and was associated with James Bond movies.

P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, who at the time was just starting the band The Grass Roots, wrote this song. Secret Agent was a US adaptation of a hit show in England called Dangerman, and CBS needed a 15-second theme to replace the British version. Sloan wrote of the song (from his website): “Somebody thought I should do a full length instrumental of the song. So I did. Meanwhile, the song was picked by CBS and Johnny Rivers recorded the quick 15-second song for the TV show. The Ventures, the genius guitar instrumental group, heard the demo and recorded and released the song way before Rivers even had a finished song. The publishers asked me to finish the song, Rivers recorded it, not one of his favorite songs back then, but he’s happier with it now.”

Some of the artists to record this song include Hank Williams Jr., Devo and Blues Traveler.

This was used in commercials for Wal-Mart and also for Chase credit cards. Some of the many movies to use the song include Repo Man, Bowfinger, Can’t Buy Me Love, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.

According to P.F. Sloan, Johnny Rivers didn’t like this song and was content to record just the quick TV version until The Ventures charted with it. Both acts recorded for subsidiaries of Liberty Records, and the label was able to convince Rivers to record it.

Sloan told us in 2014 that Rivers had clearly embraced the song. “I saw him about two months ago and I’ve got to say he did an absolutely killer version,” he said. “Johnny must have sang that song half a million times, and he still sings it with so much gusto, and the audience goes nuts. That’s something great to see.”

The Ventures instrumental version peaked at #54 US on March 26, 1966. Rivers’ version hit its peak on April 23. His rendition is substantially longer, running 3:03 vs. 2:17.

Secret Agent Man

There’s a man who leads a life of danger
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes another chance he takes
Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number, I know they’ve take away your name

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Ah, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number, I know they’ve take away your name

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number, oh they’ve taken away your name

Swingin’ on the Riviera one day
And then layin’ in the Bombay alley next day
Oh, don’t you let you let the wrong word slip
While kissing persuasive lips
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number, oh they’ve take away your name

Secret agent man

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

27 thoughts on “Johnny Rivers – Secret Agent Man”

      1. Yes I’m surprised it wasn’t then…it lacked that spy reverb. It was made for a spy television show to begin with.


    1. I need to watch some more spy shows. I started to watch westerns and year or so ago and liked them…now it’s spy shows I need to watch…some of the older ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I started watching a new western movie, called Kid, about Billy the Kid, last night. Ethan Hawke plays Pat Garrett, and D’nofrio (sp?) directs. The actor who plays Billy is so good! He reminds me of a young DiCaprio but better!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Have you seen Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid?
        The reason I asked is because it has Bob Dylan in it…and he wrote Knocking on Heavens Door for it.


      3. You are welcome. I got a hair-raising western for you, but you probably already saw it: Bone Tomahawk, with Kurt Russell. That’s a scary very graphically violent movie.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes!!! Love this song!!! Great song and great guitar! One of Johnny Rivers’ best! It’s been on my Tune Tuesday list for awhile, just haven’t wrote on it yet.

    When I landed a gig hosting Karaoke between radio gigs, I learned that if no one came up to sing…..the host had to! I had to find songs that I knew and this was one of them. It was a staple for me when friends and I would go out and there was Karaoke.

    I remember one guy got up and changed the lyrics around and sang a song about Chinese food and sang “Secret Asian Man”…..

    Love this song!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a lot of fun…heck it does sound like he is saying that!
      It’s a lot of fun to play on the guitar…beginners can do that riff.


  2. Isn’t it ironic that these bands would have to lip sync and pretend to play their instruments on these television shows, but today, even though it’s done constantly, it’s looked down upon. Great song!

    Liked by 1 person

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