I have been collecting movie and television soundtracks, mostly instrumental scores, for around 30 years and have a collection of more than 1,100 albums. My first purchase was John Barry’s score to The Black Hole in 1979 when I was 10 years old. Ever since, film music has been the dominant style of music that I listen to and purchase.
When I first started buying soundtracks, it was mainly as a souvenir from movies that I really liked. In time, though, my purchases became more for the music itself. I am very familiar with the most important film composers and will purchase music from favorite composers in much the same way that anyone else will buy albums from favorite artists. Because of this, I have many albums from movies that I have never seen. Some are from movies that I don’t even have any interest in seeing, but I still enjoy the music.
With such a large collection, there are quite a few albums that I have only listened to a handful of times. In some cases, I probably have only played them all the way through one time. I do regularly use shuffle play features against my entire collection to essentially create my own radio station, which does mean that I periodically hear individual tracks from pretty much everything.
In order to re-acquaint myself with some of the music that I haven’t heard recently, this week I started listening to every soundtrack album in my soundtrack collection in alphabetical order. As I listen to each album, I am writing up a few sentences (sometimes more) about each. I often listen to music while at work as well as occasionally playing music at home on weekends, but I still suspect it will take at least a year, and possibly much longer, to get through the entire collection. As I get enough notes on albums to make a decent post, I will periodically upload them to this blog. I’m not yet sure how often these posts will be, although I suspect at least once a week is likely.
As much as possible, I am going to make each album title (and the album art) link to somewhere that the album can be purchased. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll state that in many cases it will be an affiliate link to Amazon.com that returns to me a small percentage of any sales for the referral. Quite a few film scores are released as mail-order only limited editions, so those will often feature a link to the label’s online store or a soundtrack specialty retailer. In a number of cases, the albums are now out of print (or, if limited editions, sold out) and may be difficult and/or expensive to obtain. A few may be completely impossible to come by now.
My music player of choice (MediaMonkey) places albums that start with symbols or numbers at the start of the list (and ignores articles like “The” or “A” as the first word), so that is where I will begin. I may occasionally back-track as I get new albums from earlier in the alphabet. This first batch may seem to start in a strange place, but the first two titles actually start with symbols (an apostrophy and an asterisk), which is why they were the first that I came to.
The ‘Burbs (Jerry Goldsmith, 1987): I have two versions of this soundtrack, the original 30 minute album released by Varese Sarabande back in the early 90s and the 60 minute complete version that Varese put out a couple years ago. I played both versions and found that the shorter one was a good arrangement of the highlights from the score, but the expanded version is a richer experience, as you would expect. Films directed by Joe Dante often brought out a weird, playful quality to Goldsmith’s composition and this one probably is the most blatant example of that.
The score features some very odd electronics, even including samples of barking dogs in a couple points. A few sequences of the film called for some military-style music and Goldsmith playfully includes bits of his famous Patton score. While the film is mostly a comedy, it is a very dark one and Goldsmith’s music very effectively turns dark and kind of creepy when needed. The score concludes with a surprisingly melodic end credits theme.
*Batteries Not Included (James Horner, 1988): Horner’s score for this late ‘80s Steven Spielberg production primarily features an old-fashioned, swing music style that is pretty atypical for the composer. Other parts of the score do feature some of the more typically melodic orchestral style that is usually expected with Horner’s music. The album is around 45 minutes in length, but only has 8 tracks making it an example of Horner’s tendency toward very long cues.
100 Rifles (Jerry Goldsmith, 1969): This was one of quite a few westerns that Goldsmith scored in the 1960s. This score has a distinctive and memorable main theme as well as some really fun action music. The soundtrack album was released as part of Film Score Monthly’s “Silver Age Classics” series. The entire score is featured on the album both in a remixed stereo and in the original mono.
1001 Arabian Nights (George Duning, 1959): The score on this Film Score Monthly “Golden Age Classics” release (paired with Bell, Book, and Candle) is from a full-length animated feature telling the classic Arabian Nights stories using the characters from the Mr. Magoo cartoon series. Duning’s score has a bit of a middle-eastern sound to it as well as some bits of lush fantasy type orchestral music and some more typical cartoon music. The album also includes a few songs that Duning wrote with lyricist Ned Washington.
101 Dalmatians (George Bruns, 1961): The score from Disney’s animated classic is well represented by the CD issued as part of their Classic Soundtrack Series. I recall that this CD was a bit hard to get as it originally was only available as a bonus offered with the purchase of the VHS tape at the Disney Store. I believe I ended up buying my copy on Ebay, although it did eventually get a broader release down the road. The film is not really a musical, although its one musical sequence, “Cruella De Ville”, featured one of Disney’s most famous songs. Bruns’ score is a fun adventure score, although it can sound a bit cartoonish at times. The album ends with a demo of an alternate version of “Cruella De Ville”.
101 Dalmatians (Michael Kamen, 1996): Disney’s live-action remake of their animated classic featured a lively and melodic score by Michael Kamen. While Kamen was best known for action films, and this score does have some good action music, he could also write some very sensitive melodies as well. The score has a playful quality, including sampling bits of songs like “Old MacDonald” or “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window” occasionally. In addition to Kamen’s score, the album also features Dr. John’s version of “Cruella de Ville”, which played over the movie’s end credits.
12 Monkeys (Paul Buckmaster, 1995): Frequently, I purchase soundtracks based on my familiarity with the composer, but every once in a while I buy one simply because the music impressed me as I watched the movie. This was one of those cases. Buckmaster really didn’t do much film scoring of note before or after this one, but he found just the right, quirky style for this odd film. The score shifts styles pretty regularly, ranging from bouncy melodies all the way to very dark suspense music, sometimes within the same cue. The main theme primarily features an accordion as the principal instrument. This is a very odd, but interesting score.
The 13th Warrior (Jerry Goldsmith, 1999): This film was the last of Goldsmith’s many projects with writer/director Michael Crichton, who reportedly largely took over from director John McTiernan (who had also previously worked with Goldsmith on Medicine Man) during post-production. This score places Goldsmith’s action music front and center, with lots of percussion and brass and occasional wordless choral passages.
1941 (John Williams, 1979): Steven Spielberg’s notorious flop featured his 4th collaboration with John Williams. Despite the film’s flaws, the score rightfully received lots of praise and holds up exceptionally well today. The highlight is the absolutely terrific main march, which over 30 years later is still part of Williams’ concert repertoire. The march is a brassy, militaristic march that owes a lot stylistically to the 1812 Overture, all the way to the inclusion of cannon blasts as crescendos. The overall tone of the score can probably be best described as whimsical military music, even if that does seem like something of an oxymoron. The score also includes a great selection of original swing music (“Swing, Swing, Swing”) as well as some fun carnival style music for the film’s famous Ferris Wheel crash.
20 Million Miles to Earth (Various, Mischa Bakaleinikoff, 1957): A 20-minute suite from this film is featured on a 2006 CD of music from several Ray Harryhausen films released on the Monstrous Movie Music label. The majority of the music was actually culled from the Columbia Pictures music library and features bits of music from numerous composers (generally taken from other films), including big names like Max Steiner, George Duning, and David Raksin. These are tied together and supplemented by original music composed by music director Bakaleinikoff. The music fits together remarkably well considering the varied sources and the sound quality is surprisingly good for the age of the recordings.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Paul J. Smith, 1954): The restored recording of the score from Disney’s live-action classic is exclusively available as a download from iTunes. That is a bit unfortunate as the sound quality on the recording definitely shows its age, a problem that may be exasperated a bit by the reduced quality of the download. The music is wonderful, though, so this is still very much worth the purchase. The score is melodic, but with some dark tones that very much reflect the style of the film. The main theme is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever spent much time in Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Smith’s score kind of defined the standard for what submarine music should sound like and the score today is very evocative of the film.
The album also includes several variations on “Whale of a Tale”, the song sung by Kirk Douglas early in the film. The film version is sequenced at essentially the correct place in the album while the other versions are included as bonus tracks at the end. These bonuses include the “single” version featuring Douglas as well as covers by a singer named Bill Kanady and a group named The Wellingtons. Oddly, the album also includes Douglas singing “And the Moon Grows Brighter and Brighter” from the non-Disney film Man Without a Star from around the same time.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Various, 1968): Stanley Kubrick famously chose to score 2001 with a selection of classical pieces. The movie (and soundtrack) features music by Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss II, György Ligeti, and Aram Khachaturian. While none of the music was written for the film, some of the pieces have become very closely associated with it. In particular, Richard Strauss’ fanfare from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is so closely associated with the film that it now is often billed as “Theme from 2001” for concert performances or compilation albums. While Johann Strauss II’s “Blue Danube” is an extremely well-known piece that isn’t necessarily associated automatically with the film, it certainly was used so memorably that it is pretty easy to visualize the space station sequences when listening to it.
Ligeti’s music is actually used most frequently in the film, with his atonal, atmospheric style and wordless vocals emphasizing the mysterious nature of the film. Honestly, some of this content can be pretty difficult to listen to, particularly the extremely odd (and over 10 minutes long) “Adventures (unaltered)”, which contains various laughter, whispering, and other odd sounds. The soundtrack album ends with a selection of dialog clips featuring the film’s infamous HAL 9000 computer.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Alex North, 1968, rejected): The familiar classical score to 2001 was actually a temp score that Kubrick ended up deciding to keep. Alex North had been hired to score the film and composed and even recorded about 40 minutes of music. For years, this unused score was a legendary mystery among film score fans, although it was known that North repurposed some of the music for his Dragonslayer score. The score finally became readily available with a re-recording of the score (conducted by North protégé Jerry Goldsmith) released by Varese Sarabande in 1993. The original tracks conducted by Alex North were finally released by Intrada Records in 2007.
The music is very interesting. It is generally good and might have worked ok in the film, although the classical score works so well that it is hard not to think that Kubrick made the right decision. Some of North’s music was pretty obviously influenced by the temp score. “Space Station Docking”, in particular, has a very similar flavor to “The Blue Danube”. On the other hand, much of the music is a lot more melodic and, quite honestly, conventional than the classical pieces that were used. In particular, North’s music is much more accessible (and easy to listen to by itself) than the György Ligeti pieces used in the final film.
The differences between the two recordings are not huge and, probably, most people don’t need both. The sound quality on the re-recording is generally higher, as you would expect when comparing a recording from 1993 to one from 1968, but the difference isn’t overwhelming. The Intrada disc runs a bit longer due to a few alternate versions of tracks, which are nice to have. Both recordings are generally good representations of this score.
2010 (David Shire, 1984): For the belated, Peter Hyams directed sequel to 2001, composer David Shire was hired to write a mostly electronic score that was definitely very different in style from the classical pieces used in the original film or even the rejected Alex North score. While this style of electronic music does date the score a bit, Shire came up with some very interesting melodies and the score is pretty enjoyable to listen to. The album is pretty short and contains only about 30 minutes of score, so this is one that could probably use an expanded release, particularly since it is currently out of print and fairly difficult to find. Considering the obvious marketing hook this year, I’d be pretty surprised if such a release isn’t forthcoming.
The first track is a rather hokey disco-style version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” performed by Andy Summers of The Police. A more conventional version of the familiar fanfare is incorporated into the score track that plays at the film’s finale, which is the second to last track on the album. Ever since getting the album (originally on LP) right after the film’s release, I’ve particularly liked the way that Shire segues from his score into the Strauss piece.