Soundtrack Collection: Cohen & Tate to The Commitments

Cohen & Tate

Cohen & Tate (Bill Conti, 1988): Intrada very recently released a CD containing the first ever album release of Bill Conti’s score to this late 80s Roy Scheider thriller.  It is a surprisingly dark and aggressive score for Conti and isn’t immediately recognizable as his work.  It is an effective score and an interesting look at a different side to a popular composer.

The score is dominated by some very aggressively low piano music, which generally serves as the primary theme for the score.  Harsh strings and some very deep brass, particularly French horn, additionally build upon the foreboding atmosphere that is established by the primary piano music.  Much of the score is fairly dissonant and non-melodic, instead going for more of a rhythmic approach.  There are some exceptions where Conti does introduce more melodic elements, such as a fairly cold, but definitely melodic theme that is particularly clearly established in the cue “Tail Lights”.

The later part of the score includes some pretty intense action music, with percussion joining the deep piano and strings to create some aggressively fast-paced, very rhythmic music.  The short cue “It’s Really Them” is one of the first really strong examples of this aspect to the score and this approach is further developed impressively in the cue “Kaboom”.  In the end, all of the different elements of the score come together in the fairly impressive “The Last Battle” cue.

The Color Purple

The Color Purple (Quincy Jones, 1985): To date, The Color Purple remains the only full-length theatrical movie directed by Steven Spielberg that did not contain a score by John Williams.  Before Spielberg joined the project, Quincy Jones was already attached as a producer and wished to score the film as well.  Jones, working with a fairly large team of co-composers and orchestrators, delivered a score that fit the film exceptionally well and also plays quite well on CD.

The primary theme to the score is a beautiful melody that seems to be inspired by Georges Delerue.  In fact, the theme is perhaps a bit uncomfortably close to Delerue’s main theme from the 1967 film Our Mother’s House.  Despite this similarity, it is still an exceptionally nice theme that works extremely well in the film and the score.  The theme is initially introduced as primarily a flute melody, but is developed into more fully orchestral versions.  Much of the score has a pretty distinctively rural quality to it, particularly emphasized by the occasional use of harmonica.

The score also occasionally introduces some other ethnic elements, most significantly some African rhythms, starting with the cue “High Life/Proud Theme”.  Jones and his team are particularly effective at blending some of the score’s melodic themes with these African rhythms in order to retain a cohesiveness to the score.  This ethnicity is most impressively featured in the very powerful cue “Celie Shaves Mr./Scarifiaction Ceremony” which underscores one of the film’s most intense sequences. 

Songs play a key role in the film as well due to one of the key characters, dubbed by singer Tata Vega, being a singer in a 1930s juke joint.   The most important of these is the very distinctive, jazzy song “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” which actually opens the soundtrack album (as the first part of the “Overture” cue) and then is given a complete performance later.  Vega also performs the songs “Careless Love”, “The Dirty Dozens” and leads a choir in the lively gospel song “Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something”. 

Back in 1985, a 2-LP soundtrack album was released that was pressed on rather striking purple vinyl.  The same program was eventually released on a 2-CD set that still remains in print and readily available.

Coma

Coma (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978): Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Michael Crichton’s 1978 medical thriller Coma was generally one of the composer’s more dark and challenging scores of that era of his career.    The score somewhat straddles the line between the more atonal approach that Goldsmith sometimes took during the 1970s and the more melodic approach that dominated his later scores.

A distinguishing element of this score was that Goldsmith composed it using a limited orchestra, principally featuring piano, strings, and percussion as well as some occasional electronics.  Brass is entirely absent from the score.  The result is a score that has a sort of compressed, vaguely oppressive tone, reflecting the overall mood of the film itself.

While much of the score is fairly non-melodic and atonal, Goldsmith does provide a melodic, somewhat pop-inspired love theme that is only used very sparingly.  The theme is given a full performance in the cue “Cape Cod Weekend (Love Theme from Coma), but is rarely re-visited within the main parts of the score.  The expanded soundtrack ends with a song entitled “Sunday’s Moon” which adds lyrics by Goldsmith’s wife Caroline to the theme.

A 35-minute soundtrack album was released on LP at the time of the movie’s release and has been re-issued twice on CD, once by the now-defunct Bay Cities label and also by the Chapter III label, which paired it with Goldsmith’s score to Logan’s Run.  Most recently, Film Score Monthly released an expanded, 51 minute (including bonus tracks) program of the score as part of a 2-disc set that also included scores from two other Michael Crichton movies, Westworld and The Carey Treatment.  That release is still available.

All of the soundtrack releases have included an additional disco instrumental entitled “Disco Strut”, written by Don Peake.  This cue is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a cue by that title and is definitely a product of its era.  The soundtracks also include a disco version of Goldsmith’s love theme, which benefits from the strong source melody, but still is rather dated.

The Comancheros

The Comancheros (Elmer Bernstein, 1961): In the 1960s and early 70s, Elmer Bernstein often provided some extremely rousing and exciting scores for westerns, including several starring John Wayne.  The Comancheros was the first of Wayne’s westerns that Bernstein scored and is a very entertaining score.

Right at the beginning, the score opens with a “Main Title” cue that starts with some exciting militaristic percussion followed by an extremely lively, brassy march.  This heroic-sounding main theme is a pretty archetypical example of exactly the kind of music that is most often associated with classic westerns, particularly the style made by John Wayne.  This theme is incorporated pretty regularly throughout the rest of the score and is pretty much always welcome. 

While the main theme anchors the score, Bernstein provides a nice variety of orchestral themes, including some very dynamic and rhythmic action music as well as some softer themes for some of the quieter moments.  One particularly interesting example of the latter is the cue “Eulogy”, which opens with some fairly fast paced music before settling down into some gentler, introspective orchestral music.  As for the action music, an obvious example is the very aptly named cue “Attack”.  This cue remains melodic, with some very effective string melodies, while using rhythmic composition and some impressive percussion to create an exciting mood.

Film Score Monthly released a CD containing the complete score from the film as part of their Silver Age Classics series.  While a limited edition, the CD is still readily available.  The CD ends with two unused songs performed by singer Claude King and a mono mix of the main title.

Commando

Commando (James Horner, 1985): This score for the hit Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller was one of the most hard-driving and action packed scores of James Horner’s career so far.  Varese Sarabande released the score as a 3,000 copy limited edition CD that is now sold out and generally goes for very high prices (over $100) on the secondary market. 

The score makes considerably heavier use of electronics than is typical for a Horner score, which gives the score much more of a rock instrumental sound than is usually expected from the composer.  Most of the score has a very rhythmic style to it, with bits of steel drum and occasional saxophone bursts adding to the at times almost frenetic sound. 

Horner does introduce one fairly melodic theme that is only very sparingly used in the score, although there is a lengthy presentation of it in the mid-section of the “Prologue and Main Title” cue that opens the CD and towards the end of the very lengthy “Infiltration, Showdown, and Finale” cue.  This one melodic theme is really the only one that sounds distinctly like Horner’s style.

The intense, throbbing electronics approach to this score causes it to really stand apart from Horner’s other scores from that general era.  Particularly in his earliest work, there was a certain sameness to a lot of Horner’s scores, including a tendency to re-use certain favorite motifs from score to score.  That is definitely not the case here and this score really serves as an early indicator of the composer’s range.

The Commitments

The Commitments (Various, 1991): Alan Parker’s musical about members of an Irish working class community that decide to put together a soul music band contained such great music that I quickly ran out to buy the soundtrack CD after I saw the film in the theater.  The album was a pretty big hit, so I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that.

The songs on the album are all pretty much soul and blues standards, well performed by the cast of the film, including Andrew Strong, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Niamh Kavanagh, and Robert Arkins.  Fitting with the storyline of the film, the performances have a bit of a rough, vaguely amateurish sound to them, but that generally just lends them a lot of charm.

The songs on the album are all ones that are pretty sure to be familiar to most listeners, whether you have seen the film or not.  Some of the songs include “Mustang Sally”, “Chain of Fools”, “Try a Little Tenderness”, “In the Midnight Hour” and others.  The CD contains a total of 14 songs from the film.  A second volume of the soundtrack was later released, although I never really felt a need to pick it up as the most prominent songs from the film were all featured on the first one.

One Response to “Soundtrack Collection: Cohen & Tate to The Commitments”

  1. Unfortunately, Commando does suffer (a bit) from Horner’s tendency to re-use certain favorite motifs from score to score. Horner’s music for the opening titles is lifted directly from his soundtrack for 48 Hrs. (exact same opening titles track). It makes me curious if the opening title track from 48 Hrs. was used in the temporary score and that inspired the choice for Horner to pen the real score.

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