The Best Soundtracks You Missed
The Best Soundtracks You Missed
So as you may have deduced, I LOVE film music. The first album I ever owned (at the tiny age of 9) was ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’. I know; what a geek. And I ended up with a Masters Degree in Film Studies, writing a thesis on Modernist Music In Hollywood, 12 years later. Again, geek.
Though I eventually discovered rock, and occasionally roll, my romance with music began with Eli Wallach running around the Sant Hill graveyard to ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’.
Now you’re probably familiar with that one. Music scores from Star Wars, The Omen, Titanic, Psycho, these are rightly ubiquitous and admired. Well, here are some incredible compositions from the annals of film music, the best soundtracks you may have missed or might get re-aquainted with here: the great composers’ lesser-known performances. Enjoy!
1. ‘Capricorn One’ – Jerry Goldsmith
What a tune! Lush, atypical chord movement, an unusual 11/8 time signature, yet it’s immediate and energising. I really miss this approach, this attitude that barely gets a look in film nowadays – the fact that a composer’s work can really stretch out harmonically and rhythmically, when it’s in dramatic context.
The realm of cinema was like a playground for music, allowing for so much invention and imagination in the work. This track was written at a time when film composers were happy and capable ‘out there’, playing in that evocative, quixotic space. Jerry Goldsmith was particularly good at writing in wildly different styles too, so it was like he had all music at his beck-and-call.
2. ‘Assault On Precinct 13’ – John Carpenter
For someone who wrote and directed some exceptional films, John Carpenter was surely taking the piss when he composed music for them that was just as good. How talented is that?! ‘Assault On Precinct 13’ chronologically comes before the more famous ‘Halloween’, but check out this lesser-known but wonderul main theme. Watch this musical intro and you will REALLY want to watch the rest of the film.
This is fully-formed electronic music that manages to convey tough brawniness, coolness and urbanity. An impressive composing feat, as you wouldn’t normally associate machismo with electronica in 1976; just ask Jarre, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk et al.
3. ‘Peur Sur La Ville’ – Ennio Morricone
Ennio holds a unique, legendary status as a film composer. I reckon it’s because his more unusual forays are as memorable as his immediate, romantic classics. So for every simply beautiful ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’, there’s an equally-loved and half-bonkers ‘The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’.
While he has many well-known tracks, you may not know this slightly obscure but awesome one; the opening credits from ‘Peur Sur La Ville’ (1975).
A diminished piano bass and typically catchy, whistled melody starts things off – stick around for 1:20 when a bizarre but brilliant cacophony of muted trumpets and harmonicas take over. Morricone’s own instrument was the trumpet and you can often hear his mastery of its sonic capabilities in his orchestraion. Then 1:50, some magnificent strings add chordal movement, ascending and descending.
I love this type of piece by him – it’s dramatic but adds these seriously quirky elements with unexpected musical choices in composition and arrangement. It is a ‘sound’ production, not just notes on a page.
When that girl in her nightie shows up at the window, you can tell things are not going to work out that great for her.
4. ‘Game Of Death’ – John Barry
Notwithstanding a highly dodgy concept for a film (cobble together posthumous footage of the great Bruce Lee and throw in some stand-ins), the main theme of ‘Game Of Death’ is class.
This is typical John Barry of the time; it sounds exactly like a 007 theme (I am sure the director asked exactly for that). Brassy, powerful, rich. Also, there’s a nice, ambiguous low 4th harmony happening throughout – again, not a predictable choice, which turns a straightforward F major chord into a F/Bb, nice! This gives the music a new angle.
5. ‘Look Down Lord’ Rosewood – John Williams
Here’s a really beautiful, soulful piece by the maestro himself. The bass is so rich and I love that ‘take me now’ line with the D# bass note on the ‘now’. Williams is aware of the potential sonority of the chorus and uses it so well.
Williams is such a legend, isn’t he? I think my favourite score of his is ‘Superman’; played in sequence, it can be appreciated as a musical journey, following the story in a very clear way. And it has so many amazing cues for one film.
I’m always moaning about the lack of wonderful melodies in scores these days. Most of them seem to have lost both the ‘tune’ and the harmonic complexity of film scores from previous decades. Try hum the main theme of the 3 ‘Spiderman’ films, which took in $2,500,000,000 and so have obviously been seen enough times… but funny, I can’t seem to remember how that one goes?
6. ‘The Cell’ & ‘Crash’ – Howard Shore
Shore’s big hit is ‘Lord Of The Rings’, but before that came along and became his mega-calling card, I always knew him as an incredibly gifted and experimental composer. His musical response to visuals is so individual. Have a listen to these opening credits for ‘The Cell’.
At times, it’s a maelstrom and an extraordinarily impressive feat of pure composition. Another face-melting score of his is ‘Crash’, whose soundscape of electric guitars, harps, a couple of woods and percussion is unique. His inventions are his own – director Cronenberg was surprised and delighted on finding out Shore’s plans for ‘Crash’, saying ‘Of course! Cars… Guitars!’.
7. ‘Inspector Clouseau Theme’ – Henry Mancini
I just love when a music cue is wholly memorable in its own right, taking nothing away from the scene but being so good, it’s impossible to ignore. This is not the mega-famous Pink Panther theme, which of course, is stunning. This is the funny, adorable Inspector Clouseau theme by Henry Mancini.
This charming tune sticks to your head and leads me to believe Henry Mancini was great fun.
8. ‘Ferenheit 451’ – Bernard Herrmann
This Prelude from Farenheit 451 is from some place that doesn’t exit – and the composer, who was the master of that, was Bernard Herrmann. When Truffaut talked to Hermann about composing the score, Herrmann asked, why don’t you get one of these new kids to give the movie a modern score? Ah, said Truffaut, they can give me music of the 20th century, but you can give me the 21st!
Bernard Herrmann is probably my greatest film composing hero. I find myself loving almost everything he did. Where Korngold and Rozsa popularised the stylistic qualities that became the Hollywood sound, Herrmann brought the magic. Theirs is music that truly builds the spectacle, the excitement, but his winds itself around your spine, intoxicating you. Herrmann’s most famous works, Psycho, Vertigo, Taxi Driver, have been lessons in the LOVE of cinema, opening a space inside us that film occupies, a place to which we might escape and not just see it, but feel it.
8. ‘Cool Hand Luke’ – Lalo Schifrin
Lalo is the edgy composer of the great Mission: Impossible theme and has produced some amazingly hip scores. His work on Dirty Harry is contemporary with Miles Davis ground-breaking fusion period and is just as exploratory and funky. But here’s a beautiful acoustic guitar duet with orchestra theme from ‘Cool Hand Luke’.
The choices being made on the strings at 0:47 are fantastic, a counterpoint of another lovely melody over the lovely melody that’s already there.
9. ‘Rain Man’ – Hans Zimmer
The following statement is surely blasphemy to many, but I’m not a huge fan of Zimmer’s work. I think I took a more negative view when there was all that fuss over ‘Gladiator’, the music was such a massive success but the sub-Holst action cues put me right off. Anyway, before the days of convincing sample libraries, Zimmer was a synth guy, as you can clearly hear in his score for Rain Man. This I really like because I think the synth sound is a wonderful fit for his writing.
What I hear in a lot of current film music is basic keyboard-playing at its core, then loads of instrumentation and production on top. Even though the sound is that of an orchestra, I’m missing the twists and turns and dazzle that an expert player or advanced theorist brings effortlessly to the composition.
That being said, I do love many other Zimmer moments, ‘Inception’, the Joker’s cellos in ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘True Romance” to name a few.
10. ‘Atonement’ – Dario Marianelli
Now this isn’t obscure at all, but it’s just so great in a technical sense, that I wanted to include it. Here’s the remarkable tracking shot from the film ‘Atonement’, with an Oscar-winning score by Dario Marionelli. Check out how the beautiful music moves from the standard film score, non-diagetic space, to then accompany the troops singing in the diagetic space (the ‘real’ sound depicted in the film), then back to being non-literal film score again.
11. ‘Birdy’ – Peter Gabriel
I am biased because I love Peter Gabriel as a rock artist AND this is a re-working of a composition (‘Not One Of Us’ from his third album), already written before the film was made. However, this is, without doubt or prejudice, a fantastic juxtaposition of music and visuals. Dealing with a fluid, flying scene, director Alan Parker and composer Gabriel choose a contrasting, less obvious musical accompaniment – rhythmic, fierce, pulsing art rock. The legendary Fairlight CMI sampler is in full effect on this one, as is David Rhodes on guitar, Jerry Marotta on drums, John Giblin on bass (for once, it’s not Tony Levin on bass – though it really does sound like a Chapman Stick on there?). Anyway, it’s magic, check it out.
So that’s it! There are numerous major composers that I haven’t included here (for instance, the colossally-successful James Horner), because I think their great work is fairly well-known already; I don’t find so many ‘hidden’ masterpieces in their oeuvre. It’s difficult to gauge what music is generally known – say for Alan Silvestri, I reckon that everyone knows the Back To The Future theme but I’m also assuming that people know Predator. Or for Horner, everyone knows ‘Titanic’, but they probably know ‘A Beautiful Mind’ too, right? Maybe I’m wrong.
Anyway, keep listening folks and enjoy the music.