Music of M*A*S*H
M*A*S*H used music sparingly but effectively during its eleven years on the air. “Suicide is Painless,” written for the movie, was the show’s theme song, opening and closing each episode, although unlike the movie the song’s lyrics were never used. When people think of M*A*S*H they undoubtedly think of “Suicide is Painless” and the opening credits with that iconic shot of choppers over the hills.
Music played an important role in several episodes, including “That’s Show Biz” and “Movie Tonight.” The camp sang a moving rendition of “Dona Nobis Pacem” in “Dear Sis.” When the character of Charles was introduced, classical music began appearing every so often. In “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” Charles taught a group of Chinese POWs a piece by Mozart.
Loudon Wainwright III appeared in three episodes during the third season (“Rainbow Bridge,” “There Is Nothing Like A Nurse,” and “Big Mac”) as troubadour Captain Calvin Spalding and sang several songs. “There is Nothing Like a Nurse” from the episode of the same name is perhaps the most famous. Father Mulcahy was an amateur composer, singing and playing the piano during some episodes (in “Dear Uncle Abdul,” for example). Radar played the drums in “Showtime.”
But every episode of M*A*S*H included some music, most of it played in the background during specific scenes, much of it meant to add atmosphere to the series. Some was instrumental, some was vocal. Thanks to a set of cue sheets prepared by the legal department at 20th Century-Fox, I can identify most of the music in any episode from the first ten seasons. Using these cue sheets I will be periodically breaking down individual episodes by the music they included.
“M*A*S*H – The Pilot” (01×01 – Originally Broadcast September 17th, 1972)
The very first episode of M*A*S*H included an extended version of the main title and six uses of “Suicide is Painless,” plus “My Blue Heaven,” “Happy Days Are Here To Stay” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”
“Abyssinia, Henry” (03×24 – Originally Broadcast March 18th, 1975)
The final episode of Season 3, this episode included eleven songs, several of which were hummed, including a touching rendition of “Suicide is Painless” played over a tribute to Colonel Henry Blake.
“War Co-Respondent” (08×23 – Originally Broadcast March 3rd, 1980)
This Season 8 episode featured three versions of “Suicide is Painless” and four other songs, including “Daisy Bell” and “A Certain Smile.”
Published May 1st, 1999
Last updated January 28th, 2017