Soundtrack Collection: Diamond Head to Die Another Day

Diamond Head

Diamond Head (John Williams, 1963): Diamond Head was John Williams’ first feature film score to receive a soundtrack album release (some of his TV work was released earlier).  The LP was originally released on the Colpix Records label and is currently available on CD from Film Score Monthly, paired with Lalo Schifrin’s Gone With the Wave.  The Diamond Head album runs a little over half an hour and features a mix of Williams’ original score and various Williams-composed source cues.

In the 1960s, Williams most frequently scored comedies and most of his scores tended to have a light, pop/jazz style.  Diamond Head was a drama, though, and featuring a score that much more closely resembled Williams’ later highly thematic symphonic sound. Cues such as the “Main Title” cue as well as “Sloan Strolls” and “Sloan’s Dream” are very recognizably in line with Williams most recognizable style of music.

The inclusion of the source cues makes the album into something of a hybrid between Williams’ early and later approaches to scoring.  The source cues have more of a small ensemble, somewhat jazz-influenced sound to them with an emphasis on piano, horns, and underlying percussion.  The cue “Catamaran” is a particularly interesting hybrid, starting off with a lighter jazz piano melody before eventually seguing into a string-dominated orchestral conclusion.

The album opens with a title song written by Hugo Winterhalter and performed by James Darren, one of the film’s co-stars.  The song is a pretty typical pop song of that era, although with a bit of a Hawaiian tropical influence to fit the setting of the film.  Williams does occasionally incorporate Winterhalter’s melody into the score cues.

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry, 1972): Diamonds Are Forever was the 7th film (and the last to star Sean Connery) in Eon Productions’ James Bond series.  By this point, the musical style of the series was firmly established by John Barry, who had worked on all of the previous films and was the sole credited composer on all but the first.

As was often the case with the Bond scores, the central melody here comes from the title song, written by Barry with lyrics by Don Black and performed by Shirley Bassey over the opening title.  This was Bassey’s second Bond theme song after her famous performance of “Goldfinger”.  While she would only return to the series one more time (for “Moonraker”), her vocal style remains the one that is most associated with the Bond films.

The song itself is a textbook example of Barry’s James Bond sound, with his distinctive mix of strings, piano, and blasting horns.  The lyrics to the song are loaded with sexual innuendo, even a bit more so than usual for a James Bond theme.  The theme has a distinctive melody that Barry uses well throughout the rest of the score.  Of course, the classic James Bond theme is also incorporated into the score periodically, including an electric guitar rendition that played over the usual gun barrel opening and more orchestral versions in other parts of the score.

The score is very typical of Barry’s Bond scores, with a very melodic, but often boldly energetic approach.  As expected, it is dominated by lush strings and extremely active brass.  As is usual for Barry, there is a bit of an underlying jazz influence, particularly in the occasional saxophone riffs.  The score does have a few interesting variations, particularly the unusual female choral music featured in the cue “Slumber, Inc.”

The most complete and readily available soundtrack release is an expanded CD that was released by Capital/EMI records back in 2003.  This disc contains about 75 minutes of music from the film (including a number of alternate cues), definitely a dramatic expansion over the original 35 minute LP release.  The CD is rather oddly sequenced, though, with the music presented in a seemingly almost random order.  While the title song does at least open the CD, the gun barrel opening doesn’t appear until track 13!  Throughout the album, the music is way out of film sequence.


Diane (Miklós Rózsa, 1957): Miklós Rózsa’s elaborate score to the costume drama Diana received a 2-CD deluxe treatment from Film Score Monthly as part of their Golden Age Classics series.  Disc 1 contains an over 70 minute presentation of the score as heard in the film while disc 2 contains nearly an hour of alternates and source cues.  This is a highly impressive presentation of a score that may not be from one of the composer’s best known projects, but which is a good representation of a style in which he excelled.

The score is very lush and thematic, filled with romantic melodies, excitingly regal fanfares, as well as some accessibly exotic themes for some mystical elements incorporated into the film.  Central to the score is a beautiful, very noble sounding melody that represents the film’s title character.  This theme is woven throughout the score and really sticks in your mind after listening to the album.  Disc 1 ends with a really nice, simple piano and violin arrangement of the theme.

Rózsa provides a fairly wide variety of secondary themes to represent other characters and situations, giving the score an overall richness.  Strings are definitely the dominant instrument in this score, giving it a very classical sound.  Brass is also used very effectively, especially for the fanfares that are used to emphasize the royalty elements of the storyline.  An especially striking example of this is heard in the very brassy cue “Cortege”.

As mentioned earlier, there are some mystical elements to this score, most notably in the cue “Crystal Ball”.  This cue includes some really interesting wordless vocal elements performed over minimally orchestrated music.  The result very effectively evokes the supernatural in a particularly intriguing manner.  More fully orchestrated versions of the same basic music are included in some of the subsequent cues, both with and without the vocals.

Disc 2 of this set is an eclectic collection of tracks.  It starts with about 42 minutes of alternate takes of the various score cues.  These don’t really differ much characteristically from the score that was used, instead mostly representing differences in orchestration.   This is followed by about 15 minutes of various source cues, which generally have a period-specific style with simple instrumentals played by soloists or small ensembles.

Finally, the disc closes with a few alternate cues from Rózsa’s scores to Plymouth Adventure and Moonfleet, which did not fit onto the previous FSM CDs of those scores.

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy (Danny Elfman, Stephen Sondheim, 1990): Disney clearly had hoped that Warren Beatty’s big-budget, all-star film based on the famous Dick Tracy comic strips would be a blockbuster start to a major new franchise for them.  The film instead was a moderate hit at best, but it still is a generally entertaining film that benefited from a striking look and an immense amount of talent both on screen and behind the scenes.  Music was definitely no exception to this, with the film featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim and a score by Danny Elfman.

Coming just one year after Elfman’s big breakthrough Batman score, he was a pretty obvious choice for this film.  Of all of his other scores, this is the one that probably most closely resembles his Batman compositions.  In fact, I think even his Batman Returns score is more of a stylistic departure from Batman than this one is.  That isn’t to say that the score isn’t a good one or that it doesn’t work in the film.  Elfman almost certainly delivered exactly the score that the filmmakers were hoping for and it works really well.

Despite the overall stylistic resemblance of the two scores, Dick Tracy is certainly not nearly as dark a film as Batman and that difference is reflected in the score.  For the main theme Elfman once again provides a brassy, percussive march, but this one has a generally brighter tone and faster pace.  Elfman also provides melodic themes for the two female leads, including a smoky, seductive theme for Madonna as Breathless Mahoney and a more tenderly romantic theme for Glenne Headley as Tess Trueheart.

The score also includes a fair amount of action music, including an entertaining period-appropriate, swing-style cue entitled “Crime Spree” and some fast paced, brassy action music for various chase sequences (including one cue simply titled “The Chase”) and for the finale.

There were three soundtrack albums released at the time of the film.  One was a song album that contained music “inspired by” the film.  I don’t have this album and I don’t believe it contained any music that was actually used in the film.  Instead, it was more of a marketing gimmick.  Elfman’s score was featured on a CD that runs around 35 minutes in length.  While it covers the highlights, this is absolutely a score that really would benefit greatly from an expansion.

 I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy

The third album released with the film was I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy, which was marketed as a Madonna studio album.   Three of the five Sondheim songs are featured on this album plus a non-Sondheim song entitled “Now I’m Following You”.  The latter was performed in the film by its composer, Andy Paley, but is performed by Madonna as a duet with Warren Beatty on the album and is presented split into two separate parts (each in its own cue).  The first cue is a more old-fashioned performance while the second has a bit more of a modern dance beat to it.

The other two Sondheim songs, “Live Alone and Like It” (performed by Mel Torme) and “Back In Business” (performed by a chorus) are not on any of the three soundtrack releases.  Torme’s performance of “Live Alone and Like It” is available on Torme’s album Mel Torme At The Movies while the film recording of “Back In Business” does not appear to be available on any album.  All of the Sondheim songs have been re-recorded quite a few times and can be found on various compilation albums of Sondheim material.  The compilation musical “Putting It Together” included a couple of the Dick Tracy songs as well, including both of the ones missing from the film soundtracks.

Sondheim’s songs can often be something of a vocal challenge and there was definitely some doubt before the film’s release about whether or not Madonna would be up to them.  For the most part, she does an acceptable job with the performances and generally this film (and album) did quite a bit for the perception of her vocal range.

The fast-paced, old-fashioned dance number “More” is probably the best fit for Madonna’s vocal style.  She handles the rapid-fire and complex lyrics very well and pretty successfully captures the very song’s very entertaining personality.  “What Can You Lose” is a nice duet that Madonna performs with Mandy Patinkin, who played the piano player in the film.  Patinkin wisely underplays his usually very dramatic vocal style a bit, which allows their performance to blend fairly well.

Madonna seemed to actually struggle the most with the seductive “Sooner Or Later”, although I think my perception on her version is probably colored a lot by the fact that there are quite a few excellent re-recordings out there, including some by such distinguished Broadway performers as Jane Krakowski and Susan Egan (who did a great recording of “More” for one of her albums as well).

The album also includes several additional songs that were not from the film, although some have at least vague references in the lyrics and even some film audio samples.  Some of the non-Sondheim songs are typical of Madonna’s usual pop style, including “Vogue” which became one of her biggest hits, while others reflect the period style of the film.  Oddly, one of these songs is entitled “Back In Business”, but is not related in any way to the Sondheim song from the film.  The album is definitely an eclectic one.

While the score album and the Madonna album cover a fair chunk of the important music from the film, there really is a strong need for a definitive Dick Tracy soundtrack release.  I’d love to see a CD release that contains the film versions of all the Sondheim songs, Andy Paley’s performance of “Now I’m Following You”, and an expanded presentation of Elfman’s score.

Die Another Day

Die Another Day (David Arnold, 2002): While Die Another Day, the last James Bond film to star Pierce Brosnan, was a reasonably big hit, it is also a film that very few people seem to be overly enthusiastic about.  The movie generally wasn’t bad, but it felt like just about everyone involved was kind of going through the motions.  The reinvigoration that the series received with the next film, Casino Royale, almost certainly owed a lot to the generally forgettable nature of this one.

This was the third James Bond film for composer David Arnold, who continued on as the series’ composer for the next two entries as well.  It is pretty typical of Arnold’s Bond scores.  The style has a nod towards the John Barry tradition of bold, dynamic brass and strings, but with a fairly significant layer of electronics added on.  In fact, the electronics heavily dominate the score this time, with the action sequences sounding more like techno music than the more traditional orchestral music.  Several cues, such as “Iced, Inc.” are almost purely electronic and really don’t sound much like they came from a James Bond movie.

The over-use of electronics generally causes this to be the weakest of Arnold’s scores for the series, although it isn’t without merit.  When Arnold does choose to focus on the orchestra, such as in the early cue “Some Kind of Hero?” he does deliver very spirited, high-energy melodies that do a good job of modernizing the series traditional musical style.  Also appealing is a melodic, romantic theme for Halle Barry’s female lead, first heard in the cue “Jinx Jordan”.   The lengthy finale cue entitled “Antonov” also shifts heavily in the orchestral direction, even including some choral elements, and generally closes the score out on a somewhat up note.

Arnold continues to be very skillful at weaving the classic Monty Norman theme into the score at very appropriate points, essentially allowing it to serve as a central theme for Bond’s character without overusing the familiar melody to the point where it becomes distracting.  The traditional gun barrel opening does add a bit more electronics to the mix than usual, giving a bit of an early hint of the score to come.

Of course, every James Bond film includes a prominently featured theme song, usually played over a highly-stylized opening title sequence.  The title song for Die Another Day is performed by Madonna, who co-wrote it with songwriters Michel Colombier and Mirwais Ahmadzaï who had previously worked with her on other recent songs.  As Arnold did not contribute to the song, it is not incorporated into the score at all.

Considering the James Bond series’ long history of recruiting popular female singers to perform the opening title song, it is a bit surprising that Madonna hadn’t done one before this.  In many ways, her career and musical approach, particularly her sexually charged ballads, seemed like it should have been a perfect fit for a Bond theme.

Unfortunately, her title song for Die Another Day is simply dreadful.  It has this odd, halting electronica dance style that is incredibly annoying and the lyrics are beyond insipid, including weird whispered asides.  It is easily the worst James Bond theme song to date and a huge disappointment, particularly considering that Madonna probably could have been very effective on a more traditional Bond song.

After the bad title track, the second cue on the soundtrack CD is an only slightly less annoying one: an electronic techno/dance mix version of the classic James Bond theme.  This was put together by remix performer Paul Oakenfold and basically takes the familiar theme and adds a whole bunch of unnecessary electronic elements on top of it.  In most cases, I think it is a best choice to simply start playing this CD at cue 3, the first of the David Arnold score cues.

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