Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (Jerry Goldsmith, 1973): This fairly obscure Goldsmith score was released by Film Score Monthly, paired on a CD with Goldsmith’s music for the TV series “Room 222”. The score is from a film that is largely forgotten and unavailable on video (and was badly panned during its release), although it is somewhat notable for the “Story by” credit, which was Steven Spielberg’s first for a theatrical movie.
The score is highly melodic with an old fashioned Americana sound. The main “Ace Eli Theme” is presented alone with a fast paced, ragtime style, but the theme is incorporated into other parts of the score with some other varied styles, including some more purely orchestral versions. Several tracks have a carnival-atmosphere style while others have a bit of a country feel. There are some quieter, more gentle melodies as well. The tracks “No Pony” and “Night Talk” are particularly good examples of Goldsmith’s more sensitive side.
Probably due to the obscurity of the score, and extensive re-cutting and re-scoring done before the film’s release, the album was put together from some pretty widely varied source elements. Parts of the score were only available in monaural elements, so the album shifts back and forth between stereo and mono. A few score cuts are presented as bonus tracks because the only available sources were either incomplete or damaged.
A fairly generic pop/country song entitled “Who’s for Complainin’?” is also included as a bonus track along with an instrumental version that was used as a bit of a score. This song is written and performed by Jim Grady and the liner notes indicate that it replaced Goldsmith’s main and end title music.
Across the Wide Missouri (David Raksin with Al Sendrey, 1951): This score was released by Film Score Monthly as part of a 5-disc boxed set entitled “David Raksin at MGM”, which features 13 of Raksin’s scores. Disc 1 contains a first-time release of the complete score that Raksin wrote for this western as well as bonus tracks containing revisions and additional music from studio orchestrator Al Sendrey to accommodate some significant re-editing of the film.
The score is a rousing western score with fast paced action cues as well as a folk-music style approach for the more melodramatic portions. Raksin incorporates the classic folk songs “Shenandoah” and “Skip To My Lou” in various parts of the score and also composed his own original main themes that stylistically resemble folk melodies. An alternate version of the main title cue includes vocals on “Shenandoah”, but otherwise the songs are strictly presented as instrumentals.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Michael Kamen, 1988): This film was among Terry Gilliam’s most entertaining and accessible films, although it ended up as a victim of studio politics (it was a pet project of a departed studio chief) which kept it from ever getting wide release or much in the way of financial success.
Michael Kamen delivers a very lively, varied and often amusing score that was one of the best of his career. The globetrotting nature of the score allows for a good variety of themes and styles ranging from the vaguely Middle Eastern style in “The Sultan” to the action music for the various war sections. One of the strangest tracks is “On the Moon” which transitions from other-worldly music that sounds like it comes out of a science fiction movie into basically nursery rhyme music, some of which features a kazoo soloist. A major highlight is the very impressive waltz featured in “Vulcan and Venus”, an original Kamen composition for the film that sounds like it could have been by Strauss.
The first half of “The Sultan” is “The Torturer’s Apprentice”, an opera that is performed during early scenes of the film. This humorous song has lyrics by Eric Idle (set to Kamen’s music) and sounds a lot like something out of Monty Python.
The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective (Henry Mancini, 1986): After a series of disappointments that culminated in the major failure of The Black Cauldron, this film is widely considered to be the start of the revival of Disney animation eventually leading to their enormous successes in the 1990s. The animation division was in such bad shape in 1986 that Disney actually licensed the soundtrack rights to The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective out to Varese Sarabande instead of releasing it through Walt Disney Records. This is despite the fact that the movie’s score was composed by no less than Henry Mancini.
I admit that I’m not a fan of the film, which I find fairly tedious, but Mancini’s music is great fun. This was Mancini’s only contribution to a Disney animated feature, which is a bit of a shame since the melodic and lively style that Mancini is best known for is an excellent fit. The main title track introduces a very catchy and memorable main theme that is a central component of the rest of the score. Another major highlight of the score is “Big Ben Chase”, the very exciting action/chase music Mancini provided for the film’s finale.
Like most Disney animated films, this one does include a few songs. “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” and “Goodbye So Soon” are both sung by Vincent Price, who provided the voice of the film’s villain. The songs are generally as much fun as you would expect from the combination of Vincent Price and Henry Mancini. The other song from the film is “Let Me Be Good To You”, a catchy saloon-style song which is performed by Melissa Manchester. For some reason, none of the songs from the film have typically been included in Disney music compilations or shown up in theme park shows, so they will likely be unfamiliar to most fans unless they know the film or the soundtrack well.
The Age of Innocence(Elmer Bernstein, 1993): This highly-acclaimed film was something of a change of pace for director Martin Scorsese and is also my favorite of his films to date. The movie is a 19th century costume drama and Elmer Bernstein was hired to provide an era appropriate score to the film. The music is dominated by piano and strings and has an authentic classical sound. Echoing the nature of the film itself, the score is very elegant, but with some darker tones occasionally showing through.
In addition to Bernstein’s original music, the soundtrack also contains a few actual classical pieces. The track entitled “At the Opera” includes excerpts from “Faust” by Charles F. Gounod. The disc also includes portions of “Radetzky March”, “Emperor Waltz” and “Tales from the Vienna Wood” by Johann Strauss.
The Agony And The Ecstasy (Alex North, 1965): This classic Alex North score from the biographical film about Michelangelo painting the famous mural from the Sistine Chapel was released on CD as part of Varese Sarabande’s limited edition CD Club series. The 12-minute long first cue on the disc actually is not written by North, though. It is a suite of music that Jerry Goldsmith wrote for a 1965 documentary short entitled The Artist Who Didn’t Want to Paint that was produced to play as a prologue to the movie. The suite is very sensitive melodic piece of music and a very welcome to this album.
North’s score opens with an initial fanfare for organ, quickly establishing a bit of a religious overtone before the full orchestra joins in for the remainder of the piece. Bits of organ and even some church bells appear in other parts of the score to further emphasize the religious aspect of the Sistine Chapel. The second Alex North score track, entitled “The Warrior Pope”, introduces some a military style of music to the score. North then changes gears completely with “The Medici”, which principally features solo woodwinds. North continues to blend styles through the rest of the film’s complex score.
Air Force One (Jerry Goldsmith, 1997): This score is somewhat famous among fans for the fact that Goldsmith had only a couple weeks to compose it after the decision was made to replace Randy Newman’s score. Despite the extremely compressed schedule, Goldsmith delivered one of his most effective action scores of the 1990s. The score is particularly notable for the rousing main theme that is introduced in the CDs first track, entitled “The Parachutes”. It is a soaring, patriotic-sounding theme that has become pretty recognizable through re-use since the film’s release. The rest of the score on the album is fast paced military-style action music, something that has always been a strong suit for Goldsmith.
The soundtrack CD is only about 35 minutes long, so this is a score that could definitely use an expanded release. Due to the rushed schedule, Joel McNeely was brought in to help finish the score and none of his material made it onto the currently available soundtrack. It certainly would be nice to have a CD release that included music from both composers. It would also be interesting to hear some of Randy Newman’s rejected score, although that probably is less likely to become available.
AIRPLANE! (Elmer Bernstein, 1980): In the late ‘70s and through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Elmer Bernstein somewhat improbably became pretty much the first choice composer for comedies after a long career as a top composer for serious dramas and action films. John Landis had surprisingly selected him to score Animal House (a score that sadly is still unavailable on CD) which started him down this new path. When Jim & David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, Landis’ collaborators on Kentucky Fried Movie, set out to make a spoof of the Airport movies, Bernstein was brought on board as composer.
The big strength of the score to AIRPLANE!, like most of Bernstein’s comedy scores, is that he generally doesn’t try to write funny music (with one big exceptions) and instead scores the film much like a straight disaster movie. The score is built primarily around two major themes: an action-oriented theme and a very lush (and intentionally somewhat overblown) romantic theme. Both themes are re-used quite a bit and the soundtrack album does become a tad repetitive at times.
As I had mentioned, there is an exception where the music is intentionally funny, which is when the romantic theme is accompanied by a very over-the-top wordless female choir which, at the end, breaks down into nothing more than a high pitched screech. This works well as a parody of the kind of over-scoring that type of scene sometimes receives.
No soundtrack album to AIRPLANE! was released until 2009, when LA LA Land Records put out a limited edition. One thing that really struck me upon listening to the CD for the first time is how familiar the main themes were simply from having seen the film quite a few times over the years. The music is used very prominently in the film and really does make a strong impression.
The CD includes the complete score, including the reference to the Jaws theme that opens the film and the version of the “Notre Dame Victory March” that accompanies Leslie Nielson’s pep talk late in the film. There are also several bonus tracks of alternates, including instrumental only versions of the choral tracks. It also includes several short pieces of source music.
Aladdin (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, 1992): While I generally think Aladdin is among the musically weakest of the Disney animated features scored by Alan Menken, the music is still very good. The project was unquestionably hurt by the death of the great lyricist Howard Ashman part way through the production of the project. Bringing in Tim Rice as the replacement certainly spared no expense, but there still is a noticeable difference between the Ashman and Rice songs. Ashman had a very creative and often whimsical way with words that isn’t easily imitated.
Ashman’s contributions to the final version of the film were the brief prologue number “Arabian Nights”, plus the two songs performed by Robin Williams as the Genie: “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”. Fortunately, the Genie’s songs were the ones that most needed Ashman’s skill. Rice contributed the big opening production number, “One Step Ahead” and the Oscar-winning romantic duet “A Whole New World” as well as the villain Jafar’s reprise of “Prince Ali”. All the songs are good, but they don’t all fit together as well as in the other Menken musicals. The end credits version of “A Whole New World” performed by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle was a big hit on the pop charts, although I think the film version of the song performed by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga is considerably better.
Aladdin was the third film that Menken scored in addition to providing the songs and his skill was definitely growing from film to film. He still relied on the song melodies more in this score than he did in some of his later works, but he did create some effective instrumental-only melodies at all. Particularly notable is “To Be Free”, which essentially became Princess Jasmine’s theme and which, kind of ironically, Menken later added lyrics to for the Disney’s California Adventure theme park show based on the movie. Jafar is also given an instrumental-only theme. Of the song melodies, “A Whole New World” is effectively used to underscore the romantic subplot while “One Jump Ahead” serves as the character of Aladdin’s main theme.
I have the original soundtrack release that came out at the time of the movie and is somewhat notable for still containing a controversial line in “Arabian Nights” that was replaced for the home video release of the film as well as for all later re-issues of the soundtrack. The original lyric was “where they cut off your hands if they don’t like your face” and was replaced with “where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”. If I recall correctly, the replacement line is still credited to Ashman, who reportedly had anticipated that an alternate line might be needed.
I also have the version of the soundtrack from the “Music Behind the Magic” boxed set (which also included music from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) which contains a number of demo recordings both for the songs used in the movie and for unused ones. It includes “Humiliate the Boy”, a song that Ashman and Menken wrote for Jafar, but which was deemed to be too mean-spirited and was replaced by the reprise of “Prince Ali”. The version on the CD is actually performed by Jonathan Freeman (voice of Jafar) and I actually think it should have remained in the film. Freeman also performs another rejected song called “Why Me?” which Menken wrote with Rice later in the production. It is still a fun song, but not as strong as “Humiliate the Boy”.
The “Music Behind the Magic” set also included an extra disc containing an 18-minute demo of songs for the film prepared by Ashman and Menken early in the project. “Friend Like Me” is the only song in this version that is essentially unchanged from the film version. “Arabian Nights” is included, but in multiple versions that serve as running narration for the story (the first rendition isn’t included because of the “cut of your hands” line). This earlier version included references to Aladdin’s mother and to his gang of friends, all of whom were eliminated as the story evolved. I think the final version of the story is better, but it is definitely good that these songs are preserved at least in demo form.
Aladdin and the King of Thieves (Mark Watters, Carl Johnson, 1996): The Disney soundtrack to this direct-to-video sequel to Aladdin contains the songs and score from that film as well as the songs from the earlier sequel The Return of Jafar, which didn’t have a separate soundtrack release. The decision to release the soundtrack with the second sequel almost certainly was a result of Robin Williams to return as the Genie in that film after sitting out the first sequel (Dan Castellaneta took over for that one and did not perform on any of the songs). The only singing voice that is different in the sequels than the original is that Liz Callaway replaced Lea Salonga as Jasmine. The two have a fairly similar singing style, so it isn’t particularly jarring.
The songs and score for the sequels certainly don’t really come close to what Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice wrote for the original. The new composers do try to imitate the style of the first films. At times, they try a bit too hard, particularly with “Welcome to the Forty Thieves” which often sounds like it is just a few notes off from “Friend Like Me”. Similarly, “Out of Thin Air” tries pretty hard to be another “A Whole New World”. Still, the songs are generally catchy enough and “There’s a Party Here in Agrabah” has even occasionally shown up on Disney compilation albums. The album also includes an unused reprise of “Arabian Nights” (also on the “Music Behind the Magic” CD discussed above) that was written by Ashman and Menken for the original film.
The score tracks are actually pretty good and, in fact, are really the main reason why this CD is worth getting. The style is not surprisingly consistent with the songs and with Menken’s score from the first movie, but it doesn’t really sound like a direct copy and the composers even come up with some pretty decent new themes. The track entitled “The Oracle” is particularly good, with its use of some wordless female vocals to create a mystical sound.