The Gripping Story Behind The Jaws Theme Song

Even though it's been nearly five decades since it first came out, the cultural impact of the 1975 film "Jaws" is still being felt. As Screen Rant reports, the film is widely considered the first summer blockbuster, and to this day studios still schedule their bigger, more expensive, more marketable projects for the summer season. Screen Rant writer Ben Sherlock posits that the simple premise of "Jaws" — a great white shark terrorizing a New England seaside town — is the boilerplate by which all other summer blockbusters are made. That's a pretty big accomplishment for a movie that went significantly over-budget and which was constantly bedeviled by mechanical failures of the film's star — the shark, lovingly nicknamed "Bruce," according to Den of Geek.

Another endearing aspect of "Jaws" is its theme song. Its composer, John Williams, is one of the most recognizable names in the movie industry theme song game, but the "Jaws" theme is one of his most memorable. The main melody is only two notes, although how fast or how slowly it's played can indicate the level of danger – a sort of psychological trick Williams played on the audience. And it worked.

Jaws' enduring motif

Anybody with access to a piano or a keyboard can play the main motif of the "Jaws" theme song; it's only two notes, after all, although which two notes is a matter of whom you ask. According to Film Score Monthly, it's simply an F and an F sharp, although filmmaker Michael Matessino refutes that on Film Score Monthly saying the notes are an E and an F. Simply press the first note, hold it for a few beats, then press the next one, and voila! you're playing a song that's been a classic for decades. What's more, you can ratchet up the tension by playing the notes more quickly; a long space between the notes indicates that danger is afoot, but further away, and as the space between them gets shorter, it indicates that the danger is closer.

That was deliberate, says composer John Williams, via Hollywood Reporter. "You could alter the speed of this ostinato; any kind of alteration, very slow and very fast, very soft and very loud," he said, noting that the absence of any music lulled the audience into a false sense of safety.

Steven Spielberg wasn't feeling it at first

The "Jaws" theme may be one of the most-recognizable musical film motifs in the history of the medium, but when director Steven Spielberg first heard it, he thought composer John Williams was pulling a fast one on him. Specifically, he said that, since much of the film takes place under the surface of the water, he was expecting something more "weird and melodic, something tonal, but eerie; something of another world, almost like outer space under the water," he said, via the Hollywood Reporter. When he heard the classic "dun-dun" of the motif, he thought that Williams, whom Spielberg described as having a sense of humor, was joking with him.

Of course, Williams was being serious, and after he played the theme song for him a few times, Spielberg eventually got into it. The rest, as they say, is history. "I think the score was responsible for half of the success of that movie," Spielberg added.