Soundtrack Collection: Basic Instinct through Beverly Hills Cop

 Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct (Jerry Goldsmith, 1992): Throughout his career, Jerry Goldsmith all too frequently was hired as the composer for bad movies  that failed at the box-office.  Basic Instinct was a rare case where he scored a bad movie that ended up being a big hit.  Obviously, there are probably a lot of people that disagree with my assessment of the film, but I also expect that most people will agree that Goldsmith’s score was among the film’s biggest strengths.

The score is very atmospheric, built around a fairly dark main theme that would be very much at home in a classic film noir.  Much of the music has a sensual, even erotic, quality, that contrasts intriguingly with the tension-filled suspense music.  Strings dominate the score, with woodwinds and piano providing considerable support.  Brass is used sparingly, mainly for the few action sequences as well as to provide a sudden sting to underscore certain shock moments.  

Varese Sarabande released a nearly 45-minute long CD of the score when the film first came out.  In 2004, Prometheus Records put out a 75-minute CD containing the complete score presented in film order.  The expanded version is actually somewhat easier to find than the original, so it is probably the best choice if you don’t already have a copy of this score.  Whether or not to upgrade if you already have the original release is a harder call.  The score actually becomes somewhat repetitive over the longer running time and I suspect the shorter release would be sufficient for most people.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Leonard Rosenman, 1973): For the fifth film in the original Planet of the Apes series, Leonard Rosenman returned as composer, having previously scored the series’ second film, Beneath the Planet of the Apes (reviewed later in this post).  Film Score Monthly released 35 minutes of the score on a Silver Age Classics limited edition CD (which is still available) paired with Tom Scott’s score for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth film of the series.

The style of the score is typical for the series, mostly retaining the mostly atonal, coldly intense symphonic approach that was first established with Jerry Goldsmith’s highly acclaimed score for the original film.  As you would expect, the music closely resembles Rosenman’s earlier score for the series, although he mostly introduces new themes for this entry. 

While most of the score does continue the atonal approach, this score does include some unexpectedly melodic material, which gives it a warmer overall sound than the previous scores in the series.  The “Main Title” cue actually is more melodic than expected for the series, opening with a fairly quirky, fast-paced march.  The melodic quality is also very well represented in the effective closing cue, entitled “Only the Dead”, which has a fairly upbeat, even optimistic quality to it.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind (James Horner, 2001): This Oscar-winning drama was the fifth collaboration between composer James Horner and director Ron Howard.  It was the most low-key and introspective of the films that the two have done together and Horner provided a suitably sensitive score, although one that will sound pretty familiar to fans of Horner’s work as it does use many of his favorite motifs.

One of the main strengths of this score is Horner’s effective use of female vocals.  Opera star Charlotte Church (who was only a teenager at the time) is the featured vocalist on the score and her considerable vocal talents serve to add quite a bit of weight to the score.  Church performed the song “All Love Can Be”, which was based on one of Horner’s main themes, but her vocals are a key component throughout the entire score, usually as a wordless vocal instrument.

The most prominent theme in the score is a rhythmic theme led by piano and vocals along with diverse instrumental projections.  It is a theme that is fairly difficult to describe in words, but is very reminiscent of a similar theme that was central to Horner’s earlier Sneakers score and which has also turned up periodically in some of his others as well.  This is a style that is distinctly and recognizably Horner’s and A Beautiful Mind may feature his most effective use of it.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Richard Sherman & Robert Sherman, 1971): Disney reteamed a number of key members of the creative team behind Mary Poppins for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, another musical that mixed live action and animation.  While not as successful either creatively or financially as the earlier film, it is still a film with many charms, including another winning song score by the Sherman Brothers.

Angela Lansbury was the lead in the film and her considerable vocal skills are very well used on the film’s signature ballad “The Age of Not Believing” and the peppy “A Step In the Right Direction”.  The male lead is David Tomlinson, probably best known as the father in Mary Poppins, and he is an especially entertaining performer.  He brings a lot of energy and fun to such numbers as “With a Flair” and the lengthy production number “Portebello Road”.  Lansbury and Tomlinson work together very effectively as well on “The Beautiful Briny” (from the film’s key animated sequence) and “Substitutiary Locomotion”. 

The soundtrack album includes a few bonus tracks, including “Nobody’s Problem”, another Lansbury solo ballad that was edited out of the film.  Demo versions of two other unused songs, “Solid Citizen” and “The Fundamental Element”, are also included.

Bee Season

Bee Season (Peter Nashal, 2005): This is one of the more obscure recent titles in my collection.  The CD was given to me by a friend who works for the distributor. I’m only slightly familiar with the film and not really familiar with the composer at all outside of this score.

The CD opens with a light folk/rock song entitled “I’ll be Near You” and performed by a single-named singer called Ivy, who has a whispering, breathy vocal style.  The song is pleasant enough, but not exceptionally memorable.

The rest of the CD contains score by Peter Nashal who, oddly, isn’t credited anywhere on the CD packaging.  The score is a very low-key and melodic score, mostly driven by piano and occasional violins and acoustic guitar.  The score is very atmospheric and mostly non-thematic.  The pacing is also generally kept slow.  Overall, this is music that plays well as background music, but doesn’t make much of an impression.

Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice (Danny Elfman, 1988): Danny Elfman’s second collaboration with Tim Burton made it look like the composer would be typecast with wacky, cartoonish comedy until the score for Batman a year later would pretty much blow away that perception.

Of course, the reason why it looked like this would be Elfman’s niche was that he did an exceptionally good job with it.  The score primarily features a quirky brass, piano and chorus mixture that would become a recognizable trademark of Elfman’s style.  The peppy and exceptionally catchy “Main Titles” theme has become familiar from the film, but the composer would almost certainly be quickly identifiable by anyone familiar with Elfman but not with this particular score. 

The mix of the macabre and dark comedy in the film gave Elfman the opportunity to stretch a bit and the score does contain some darker, more dramatic music that gives a hint of what was to come for the composer.  The opening portion of “The Book!/Obituaries” and the entire cue “Lydia Discovers?” are particularly strong examples of this side of the score.

The film very memorably used the two classic Harry Belafonte songs “The Banana Boat Song (Day-o)” and “Jump In the Line”.  Both songs are included on the soundtrack album.

Bell, Book and Candle

Bell, Book and Candle (George Duning, 1958): Film Score Monthly released this score as part of their Golden Age Classics series on a CD paired with Duning’s score to 1001 Arabian Nights (which I discussed in an earlier post).  The music from the film runs for a little over 40 minutes on the CD.  The film is a romantic comedy starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak (released the same year that the two more famously co-starred in Vertigo) and Duning provides a light, melodic orchestral score with some jazz elements.

The light tone of the score is quickly established with the “Main Title” cue, which features a peppy, romantic theme that is occasionally interweaved with bits of the melody of “Jingle Bells”.  The film also contains some fantasy elements, which gives Duning the opportunity to expand the range a bit beyond usual romantic comedy styles.  In cues such as “The Spell/Shep Hooked”, there are bits of music that almost sound like they could come from a thriller as well as some more mystical sounding touches.

The jazzier side of the score is presented in several source cues, starting with “Send Me Nicky” and “Way Out Calypso”, which heavily feature trumpet (the Candoli Brothers are credited as trumpet players on the album) as well as piano and bass.  Another source cue, “Stormy Weather Polka”, is a jazzy instrumental arrangement of the classic song by Harold Arlen.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (Bernard Herrmann, 1953): This was one of the earlier entries in Film Score Monthly’s Golden Age Classics series and is now out of print and fairly rare (used copies on Amazon are running around $40).  The CD contains nearly an hour of Bernard Herrmann’s thrilling and atmospheric score.  The CD was produced from original stereo masters and the sound quality is especially good for a score of this age.

The album opens with an exciting cue entitled “The Sea”, which quickly establishes the film’s nautical origins.  The theme stylistically resembles the main theme that Paul J. Smith would use for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just one year later, so this seems to be the established style for nautical-themed scores of that era.  The score also includes some very warmly melodic, string-centric passages, such as in “The Homecoming” and “Flirtation” and some pretty intense action music, most notably in the cue “The Octopus”. 

The real highlight of the score is the very atmospheric music used to score the underwater sequences.  Herrmann makes extensive use of harp to help bring an other-worldly quality to those passages.  The liner notes mentions that nine harps were used, typically with each playing separate parts in the score.  This is a complex and unusual scoring and makes for an enjoyable listening experience.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Leonard Rosenman, 1970): For the first sequel to Planet of the Apes, Leonard Rosenman took over the scoring duties, following Jerry Goldsmith’s acclaimed score for the original film (Goldsmith would return one more time for the 3rd film in the series).  Like Goldsmith’s score, Rosenman took a largely atonal approach that provided the film with a sort of primitive sound.  Other than that similarity in overall approach, though, Rosenman’s score is very different from its predecessor.

This is a complex, challenging very multi-layered score.  Very little of the score is melodic.  Instead, Rosenman uses the orchestra and a variety of alternative instruments to create a complex, somewhat alien sound for the score.  In addition to the orchestra, Rosenman includes a variety of percussion devices as well as some inventively used electronics. 

The cue “Second Escape” is a particularly good example of the use of electronics and various percussion to create a particularly otherworldly quality.  The cues “Mind Boggler” and parts of “The Priest” actually are  closer to sound effects than score.   Other interesting parts of the score include an off-beat, very percussive march that is featured in the cues “Off To War” and “Ape Soldiers Advancing”.  Finally, the cue “Hail the Bomb” is primarily an unexpected choral and vocal piece, performed as a religious mass complete with organ accompaniment and vocal quotations from the Bible.

Film Score Monthly’s out of print Silver Age Classics CD release contains the complete score and a bonus track of sound effects.  It also includes the original concept album that was released at the time of the movie’s release.  Instead of a traditional soundtrack, this album was a re-imagining of the score where Rosenman re-orchestrated and newly recorded the music for a smaller orchestra plus some added rock elements.  The original album also contained quite a few dialog snippets from the film.  It is an interesting addition, but the score as heard in the movie is definitely the better listening experience.

Beowulf

Beowulf (Alan Silvestri, 2007): Robert Zemeckis’ big-budget, motion-capture adaptation of Beowulf was a fairly silly movie, but one that also tended to be entertainingly over-the-top.  The score, by Zemeckis’ long-time collaborator Alan Silvestri, tended to follow the movie’s lead by delivering a score that is heavy on bombast.

The score is very heavy on electronic instruments and percussion, giving it a mostly hard-driving rock beat.  Vocal chanting is also used extensively, further adding to the hard-edged nature of the score while also lending it a bit of a primitive feel.  All that isn’t to say that the score lacks orchestral elements.  The orchestra is generally ever-present throughout the score and comes into prominence in certain cues, including the very brassy “I’m Here To Kill Your Monster” and the more introspective “I Didn’t Win the Race”. 

Silvestri wrote two songs for the film entitled “Gently As She Goes” and “A Hero Comes Home”.  Both songs are sung in the film by Robin Wright-Penn and are old-fashioned madrigal-style songs backed by acoustic strings.  The latter song provides the basis for one of the key themes.  A more pop arrangement of the song is performed by Idina Menzel over the end credits.

The Best of Everything

The Best of Everything (Alfred Newman, 1959): Generally, Alfred Newman is my favorite of the golden age film composers.  He typically had a lush, melodic orchestral style that I find especially appealing.  His score for The Best of Everything is a fairly famous one among film music fans due to its milestone standing as the last score he composed as head of the Fox music department before becoming a freelance composer. 

Film Score Monthly released an outstanding restoration of the score as part of the Golden Age Classics series.  The CD includes a nearly 50 minute recording of the score in stereo plus another 23 minutes of bonus tracks, including mono versions of some cues (where the mono version was in better condition than the also included stereo master), source cues, demos, and even a sample of the temp score.  It is an excellent presentation of this score.

The music is very romantic and melodic, with an emphasis on strings, woodwinds, and piano.  Newman uses two primary themes: an upbeat title song and a secondary piano melody that has more of a melancholy tone to it.  The title song was also given lyrics by Sammy Cahn and is performed by Johnny Mathis on the soundtrack. 

 Between Heaven and Hell

Between Heaven and Hell (Hugo Friedhofer, 1956): Film Score Monthly released this score as part of their Golden Age Classics series on a CD paired with Friedhofer’s Soldier of Fortune.  About 40 minutes of this dark and brooding war movie score are included on the CD.  It is an impressive score, although the somewhat somber mood of much of it makes it a fairly heavy listening experience. 

The soundtrack opens with “Sam and Jenny’s Theme”, a romantically melodic, string-focused theme that forms the basis of most of the quieter parts of the score.  This is a beautiful theme with a bit of a sad, wistful quality to it.  After the introduction of this theme, the album then changes tone for the “Main Titles” cue, which starts with military-style solo drums before leading into a darkly somber march that is partly an adaptation of the traditional Latin hymn Dies Irae.

The score also includes some very strong action music, which tends to be heavy on brass and percussion. The cues “Berzerk” and especially the finale cue “Don’t Argue/Desperate Journey” contain some especially strong action writing and listening to these cues does get the blood pumping.

Beverly Hills Cop

Beverly Hills Cop (Various, 1984): The song album for Beverly Hills Cop was one of the best selling soundtrack albums of the 1980s.  I was 15 when the movie came out (the R-rating didn’t keep me or most of my peers from seeing it) and was pretty into the pop music of that time period, which meant I was less resistant to song soundtracks than I tend to be today.  My LP of this soundtrack did get played quite a bit at the time and I did eventually replace it with a CD copy.  I don’t listen to it as much now, but I admit to having a nostalgic fondness for it.

The two biggest hit singles from the soundtrack were Glenn Frey’s rock hit “The Heat Is On” and the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance”, which was kind of a mix of Motown and disco.  The Frey song was particularly associated with the film, with its title even becoming something of a tag line for it.  The Pointer Sisters song is still fun, although it is particularly dated.

One song that is likely to be of particular interest to film music fans is “Gratitude”, an off-beat rock song written and performed by Danny Elfman, roughly a year before he would kick off his film composing career with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.  While the song is credited as a solo work for Elfman, it sounds very much like the music that he did with Oingo Boingo.

The other songs on the album are somewhat varied in quality, although I listened to the record so much when it was new that all are still very familiar to me.  The album opens with Patti LaBelle’s fun “New Attitude” and LaBelle also contributed a second song entitled “Stir It Up”.  “Do You Really (Want My Love)?” is credited to someone simply named Junior, who sounds like he is trying very hard to be Michael Jackson.  Other songs include Rockie Robbins’ “Emergency” and “Rock and Roll Me Again” by The System.

The album only contains one cue by the film’s score composer, Harold Faltermeyer.  The cue is entitled “Axel F.” and served as the main theme for Eddie Murphy’s character.  The score was all electronic and came to represent  a signature sound for Faltermeyer, who was a much in demand composer at the time.  This score cue actually became a big hit on the pop charts.  A full score album to the film would be welcome and hopefully one of the soundtrack specialty labels is working on it now that Paramount’s catalog has become more available.

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