Soundtrack Collection: Black Stallion to Blues Brothers

The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion (Carmine Coppola, 1978): Intrada’s 3-CD set of the score to The Black Stallion may simply be too much of a good thing, at least when attempting to listen to it all at once.  The first two discs essentially contain everything that was written for the film: the score as heard in the movie, numerous unused cues, and various source cues.  The 3rd disc contains the 35 minute LP program that was released with the film.  The total of the 3 discs comes out to over 2 hours of music.

Fortunately, there is nothing that says that one has to listen to the music all at one time.  Certainly the score is very good and it is certainly not a bad thing that all of it is available.  For the most part, I’ve found that the album version is probably the best choice for listening straight through, while the other parts  might be better suited to playing in parts or to occasionally include in broader “shuffle play” mixes.

While Carmine Coppola (father of Francis, who produced the film) is the primary credit composer, the film also contained contributions from composers Shirley Walker, Nyle Steiner, Kenneth Nash, George Marsh, and Dick Rosmini.   The Intrada set includes appropriate credits for all the composers, thus making it possible to identify who wrote what parts.

Much of the score is very guitar-centered, with generally simple orchestration.  The score includes a fairly distinctive primary theme melody (which opens and closes the original album presentation), which features a solo guitar backing a main melody played by the orchestra, particularly the strings.  This theme is used throughout the score and generally establishes the overall tone of the presentation.  Other parts of the score tend to have a bit of an ethnic flavor, with a number of different instruments in use.  Some of the unused cues on the Intrada complete score discs are more fully orchestral than is generally heard on the cues used in the film.

The Black Stallion Returns

The Black Stallion Returns (Georges Delerue, 1983): Not too long after Intrada put out their CD release of The Black Stallion, they also put out a disc of Georges Delerue’s score to the film’s sequel.  While this score only required a single CD release, it still contains the complete score as heard in the movie as well as the original 1983 album presentation for a total running time of around an hour and 17 minutes.

Delerue doesn’t reuse the themes from the original film, but instead scores the film in his own distinctly melodic style.  His main theme for the sequel does have some similarity, at least in spirit, to Carmine Coppola’s theme for the original film, but it is significantly more fully orchestral, with an emphasis on strings and woodwinds.  The acoustic guitar that was fairly central to the first film’s score is not carried over to the sequel.  I overall think that Delerue’s score is an easier and more satisfying listen than Coppola’s outside of the film.  It tends to be more melodic and straightforward orchestral with a definite flare towards the adventurous.

A huge highlight on this soundtrack is the absolutely thrilling “Finale” cue, which runs for over 8 minutes in length and masterfully sums up all of the film’s themes on its way to an immensely satisfying conclusion.  Due to the discs format of presenting the complete score followed by the original album, this finale is presented twice on the disc.  It is good enough that I don’t really object to hearing it twice in one play through.

Black Sunday

Black Sunday (John Williams, 1977): For many years, Black Sunday was arguably the most significant John Williams score that had never received a soundtrack release.  In early 2010, Film Score Monthly finally corrected this by releasing a CD containing over an hour of Williams’ music from the film.  The CD is part of their limited edition Silver Age Classics series, but they produced 10,000 copies which should keep it available for at least a little while.

This score was composed during possibly the most important phase of his career.  The two other scores that he composed for films released  the same year were Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  His Black Sunday score does resemble his other scores from that time period, but it is quite a bit darker in tone as required by the disturbing subject matter of the film.

Building of tension is Williams’ prime role here and he is very effective at  accomplishing that.  For a good example, the cue “Nurse Dahlia/Kabakov’s Card/The Hypodermic” primarily features some low, fairly repetitive notes that build up a great deal of tension until the cue finally ends with a burst of shrieking strings reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s famous Psycho music.   Another interesting cue is “The Test”, which features chimes, initially by themselves and then later joined by the orchestra’s string section, an effect that builds a notably tense and foreboding atmosphere.

Other cues do have a more melodic style, such as the fairly sad melody that Williams contributes for the cue “Moshevsky’s Dead” or the more active string and brass driven melody in “Preparations”.  Williams also provides a melancholy, brass melody for the end titles, which the CD includes both in the film version and in a version without the underlying pop-style percussion.

The score also includes some very good chase and action music, particularly late in the score.  It is in the action cues that the connections to his other scores of that time period are most evident.  In particular, there is some noticeable similarities to some of the action cues from Close Encounters in this score.

Black Widow

Black Widow (Leigh Harline, 1954): Intrada released this classic Leigh Harline score on a limited edition CD paired with Harline’s score to Good Morning, Miss Dove.  The score is very piano-centric, although with strings and horns also featured in some of the settings.  As is typical for this genre of music from the era, it sometimes reflects a fairly dark setting while still maintaining a primarily melodic style.

While the presentation of Harline’s score on the CD is only around 20 minutes in length, there are some very impressive cues.  The cue “New York Skyline” opens with a fanfare before transitioning into a very melodic theme performed by solo piano. A later cue entitled “Iris Bolieres” essentially reverses that format by primarily featuring the solo piano before bringing in the full orchestra for its conclusion.

Impressive examples of more fully orchestral cues include “West Ninth Street”, which features a pretty lushly romantic melody that kind of serves as a central theme to the score as well as “Salome’s Dance”, an impressive waltz.  The score shifts in a darker direction during its later segments, introducing some more brooding, but still melodic, themes in cues such as “The Letter” and “Confession”.

Blazing Saddles

Blazing Saddles (John Morris, 1974): The western parody Blazing Saddles is arguably Mel Brooks’ most famous film.  It featured a score by Brooks’ most frequent musical collaborator, John Morris, who provided an interesting mix of fairly traditional western motifs, including instruments such as the harmonica and acoustic guitar, as well as some more cartoonish, slapstick music.  In the later category, he occasionally incorporates samples of such songs as the Looney Toons theme and the Mexican Hat Dance.

The most familiar piece of music from the movie was Morris’ title song, which was performed by Frankie Lane.  The song is actually performed fairly straight and the melody is so evocative of the old west that it sometimes shows up in other contexts, including as part of the music loop in Frontierland at Disneyland.  The song’s melody, of course, serves as the primary theme for the film’s score and it is very effective at keeping the film rooted in western traditions.

The movie also included a handful of original songs written by Brooks.  The first is “The Ballad of Rock Ridge”, which sounds like a traditional western ballad, but with fairly ridiculous (and occasionally profane) lyrics.  “I’m Tired” is a demented and funny lounge song performed by Madeline Kahn.  Finally, “The French Mistake” is a brief and odd dance song.

No soundtrack was released for the film during its original release.  For a long time, the only availability of music from the film was a 1978 LP, released in conjunction with Brooks’ High Anxiety, that contained the songs from several of Brooks’ films.  La-La-Land Records finally released a CD in 2008 containing 40 minutes of the songs and score from the film.  This includes both vocal and instrumental versions of the songs as well as several source music tracks.


Blizzard (Mark McKenzie, 2003): This is one of the best, truly hidden gems in my collection.  When Intrada put out their 1000 copy limited edition in 2006, I’d never heard of this film before, and still really know basically nothing about it other than it was a winter-themed film directed by Levar Burton.  On Intrada’s online forums, they really were strongly encouraging their regular customers to at least listen to the samples if they didn’t know the music.  I did and was instantly hooked by it and placed an order.

The score is simply beautiful, with soaring melodies and lots of exciting, brassy fanfares.  The score also has some extremely nice, quietly tender moments such as the cue “The Best Friend Ever”, which features some solo piano as well as a nice, woodwind statement of the film’s main theme.  McKenzie also makes very effective use of wordless choir.  This, along with the occasional use of bells, helps to lend the score a wintery feeling at times.

The soundtrack CD opens with a tremendously enjoyable 8 minute “Blizzard Suite”, which basically serves as an overture to the album and a greater summary of the entire score.  I really wish that suites like this were more common on soundtrack albums.  A lot of movies have this kind of suite over the end credits (assuming a pop song hasn’t been used), but those suites often don’t make it onto the CD.  Note that suite did get some wider exposure when used during the opening montage for the 75th Academy Awards.

Blue and the Gray

The Blue and the Gray (Bruce Broughton, 1982): This popular, heavily promoted early 1980s TV mini-series about the Civil War was one of the earliest, really prominent scoring assignments for Bruce Broughton after having previously mainly worked as a composer-for-hire on various TV series episodes.  The project called for a pretty big in scope orchestral score and Broughton delivered a strong, Americana-style score that was a clear predecessor to the style he would use a few years later in his best-known score for Silverado.

The old-fashioned rural Americana style is emphasized by Broughton’s frequent use of instruments such as the acoustic guitar, harmonica, and fiddle for the more intimate portions of the score, while the full orchestra comes into play for the broader in scope sequences, particularly the battle scenes.  For the battles, Broughton provides especially stirring action music, sometimes impressively built around some of the same themes that he introduced in more subtle orchestrations during the quieter parts of the scores.

Intrada has had a very long-standing relationship with Broughton and has been responsible for the release of many of his scores.  They released a limited edition (2,000 copies) 2-CD set containing just over 2 hours of Broughton’s score.  This set is still available from their website and is very much worth getting for fans of Broughton and/or of this style of Americana orchestral music.

Blue Denim

Blue Denim (Bernard Herrmann, 1959): Film Score Monthly released this score on a limited edition Golden Age Classics CD where it is paired with Elmer Bernstein’s score to The View from Pompey’s Head (the connection between the two films was director Philip Dunne).  The CD contains a little under a half hour of Herrmann’s score.  While this is a fairly minor score in Herrmann’s impressive career, it still is nice that it is available and definitely worth getting for fans of the composer’s work.

The score brings to mind the type of music that Herrmann typically wrote for Alfred Hitchcock around that era.  It has a melodic, but darkly romantic quality with a strong emphasis on strings.  The music actually bears a pretty close resemblance to the composer’s very famous score to Vertigo, including a primary theme that definitely sounds like a close cousin to the theme from that film.

The Blue Max

The Blue Max (Jerry Goldsmith, 1966): This war movie score was one of Jerry Goldsmith’s most famous and popular scores.  The score is particularly well known among film score enthusiasts for its exciting main theme, which features a great brass fanfare leading into a fully orchestral melody characterized by soaring strings.  The theme fits perfectly with the fighter pilot storyline of the film, with a melody that simply feels aeronautical.   This type of soaring theme that brings to mind flight became something of a Goldsmith trademark throughout his career with several later scores also having a similar feel.  His main theme from Air Force One nearly 2 decades later particularly seems to owe a lot to The Blue Max.

The main theme is given a full-length presentation during the “Main Title” cue and then is presented in numerous variations throughout the score.  It is given a number of different orchestrations and is frequently surrounded by other similarly flight-driven and militaristic themes.  Brass, percussion, and very active strings are dominant throughout the majority of the score.  One very nice respite is the tender and melodic “Love Theme from The Blue Max”, which prominently features a solo piano, although bookended by orchestral segments.

The Blue Max (Intrada edition)

There have been a few releases of this score, including two that were reasonably complete.  The best and most recent is Intrada’s limited edition from early 2010, which is now sold out and fairly expensive to purchase on the secondary market.  The previous Legacy Records release from 1995 (linked to at the top of this entry) is much more readily available and is still a good representation of the score.  The Intrada release only includes a small amount of additional music compared to the Legacy release, but it has been remastered for better sound quality and also includes some improvements in score assembly and presentation order.  The Intrada is the best choice if you can get it, but it probably isn’t worth paying the substantially higher prices that release fetches over the Legacy release.

Varese Sarabande also previously released a 50 minute re-recording of the score back in 1985.  While not the original soundtrack recordings, Goldsmith still conducted the orchestra.  This was the best and most complete available recording of the score (and the only on CD) until the Legacy release.  It is now out of print and probably not worth the effort to track down.

The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers (Various, 1980): The Blues Brothers is still the best film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch, admittedly a questionable distinction considering how bad most have been.  This was a genuinely good film, though, and a huge part of the reason for that was the music.  The movie was made as a full-blown musical, using classic blues and soul songs (as well as a bit of rock and roll) and an all-star guest cast of musicians.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were themselves skilled blues musicians.

All the major songs from the film are here and so familiar that there isn’t a lot of elaboration needed other than to give the titles.  Belushi and Aykroyd provide lead vocals on 7 of the 11 songs on the soundtrack, including “She Caught the Caty”, “Gimme Some Lovin’”, “Shake Your Tailfeather” (Ray Charles joins them on this one), “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, “Theme from Rawhide” (from the film’s country western bar scene), “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Jailhouse Rock”.  All are played with great energy by the stars as well as the distinguished blues band that they put together for the film.

In addition to Ray Charles’ vocals on “Shake Your Tailfeather”, the other star turns on the album include James Brown with “The Old Landmark”, Aretha Franklin performing “Think”, and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie The Moocher”.  Of course, all three songs are available elsewhere too, but the versions performed for the film are great arrangements.

The only instrumental on the album is an arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” that was used in the film.  Elmer Bernstein provided a very small amount of original score for the film (mainly what was commonly called the “God Music”), but it is unfortunately not present on the CD.

Blues Brothers 2000

Blues Brothers 2000 (Various, 1998): The much-belated sequel to The Blues Brothers definitely isn’t as good  a film as the first one, and was a fairly famous box-office bomb, but both the film and the soundtrack album contains darned good music.  While the first soundtrack may be a bit more accessible due to its use of very familiar songs, the sequel’s soundtrack is perhaps richer.  For one thing, the original film’s soundtrack came out in the LP/cassette era while the sequel soundtrack originated on CD.  Because of this, the sequel album runs 20 minutes longer and contains 7 more songs than the original.

Of course, the obvious gap in the sequel is the absence of the late John Belushi.  Replacing Belushi as Dan Aykroyd’s new partner in the sequel was John Goodman, who certainly does bring quite a bit to the role.  Even still, Belushi’s deadpan delivery and surprisingly strong vocal skills are missed on the sequel soundtrack.  Goodman’s best showcase on the album is his lead vocals on “Ghost Riders In the Sky”, performed during a scene that paralleled the “Rawhide” scene from the first film.  Joe Morton also appears as a lost brother.  He is the villain during the first part of the film, but eventually joins the band and participates in the last few songs.

On the sequel, Paul Shaffer serves as the music director, reprising the role he played on the original SNL sketches and late 70s tour, although he was unavailable to work on the first film.  Shaffer really leverages the musical contacts that he has made over the course of his long career, particularly his very long run as David Letterman’s band leader, and manages to bring in an extremely impressive, all-star cast of musicians.

Aretha Franklin once again appears on this album, this time performing “Respect”, which is possibly her best known song.  James Brown appeared in the film again, but does not have a song on the album.  Some of the other big name musicians to appear include Shaffer, John Popper and Blues Traveler, Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, Erykah Badu, and Dr. John.

For the film’s big “Battle of the Bands” finale, the Blues Brothers face off against a group named The Louisiana Gator Boys, which is an all-star band including such performers as B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes, Lou Rawls, Steve Winwood, Travis Tritt, Grover Washington, Jr., and others.  This super group performs the song “How Blue Can You Get?” and then joins the Blues Brothers and their band for “New Orleans”, which closes the album.

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