It’s been an incredible year for movies. We’re all talking about it. We’re all experiencing it. Did you also know it’s also been a banner year for soundtracks? I’m not necessarily talking about new releases either. Labels have been issuing some absolute treasures on CD and vinyl throughout the last 12 months that are staggering to comprehend. Every quarter year or so I devote an article to keep up with the latest and greatest vintage soundtracks releases. Since it’s been a while since my last article, and there is so much to focus on, I’ve decided to break up my usual all-inclusive article into several individual write-ups so that I can focus squarely on the efforts of each individual label.
First up is Intrada Records…
Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman
This score is extremely special to me which is why I’m leading the article with it. While there have been many influential scores in my life that have placed me and kept me in the constant pursuit of film music, Danny Elfman’s iconic score for Edward Scissorhands (1990) is the one I credit to my wanting to become a film composer. It’s where my passion for movies and love for music intersected and a light bulb went off as I said, “This is what I want to do with the rest of my life.” I’ve never looked back.
The original MCA album has been a treasured addition in my 2500+ CD collection (and also the first soundtrack CD I ever acquired - a gift from my high school sweetheart). While there is certainly plenty of great music on it, I’ve always wished for more. Intrada finally rights the wrong and has issued an expanded version of Elfman’s score. It is the most music (71:28) from the film ever before released (including the version contained in the expensive, yet gorgeous, Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box) boasting more than twenty-five minutes of additional music over the original MCA release.
This is as iconic as film music gets and one of the great works of Elfman’s career. It has been copied, ripped off and plagiarized more times than Elfman can complain about. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than Mr. Elfman should certainly be flattered.
Jaws by John Williams
What can I say? This is Jaws (1975), arguably one of the greatest scores of all time. It’s simple… if you even remotely love movies, this should be in your collection. To experience the entirety of Williams’ score away from the film under its own spotlight is truly a remarkable experience. This release is huge. There’s no over-hyping this one.
Jaws 2 by John Williams
Dare I say the only release that could probably top Jaws is Jaws 2 (1978). Why? Well, there have been attempts to expand upon Williams’ original classic in the past and those attempts were fruitful; however, Jaws 2 has always been sorely in need of an expanded release. The only versions of this score released to the public was missing so much great music.
In typical Williams fashion, he further develops the material from the original film and composes new material that gives a unique voice to the sequel while still remaining cut from the same cloth as the original. He is the master at composing scores for sequels and Jaws 2 is certainly an exemplar of how it should be done.
Jaws 3-D by Alan Parker
I know the film is wretched; however if you take a moment to focus on the music, you’ll find that Alan Parker’s work on Jaws 3-D (1983) represents one of the better adaptation scores of modern cinema. He’s clearly harnessing Williams’ themes and structural ideas from the original two films, yet he masterfully weaves them together without simply re-hashing the material. There’s also plenty of originality in Parker’s compositions adding a fresh, unique twist to John Williams iconic music. We don’t give adapted scores enough love and attention. This is an ideal place to start.
Jaws: The Revenge by Michael Small
Again, the film clearly lacks a certain degree of watchability; however, when you stand on the shoulders of giants, you can still find creativity worthy of praise. Michael Small’s score for Jaws: The Revenge (1987) is more of a departure from Alan Parker’s adaptations making this the most original score of the franchise since Williams’ Jaws music. Small still utilizes the themes on occasion but his approach dresses them up in completely new guises pushing the freshness to its peak. It can’t be easy stretching Williams’ material throughout four films but Small does a superlative job doing just that.
Back to the Future by Alan Silvestri
For this release, Intrada actually condensed their previous 2-CD expanded release (that has been long sold out) and reissues it as a single CD album. It’s missing a lot of the rough demos and alternate versions of cues that the previous release had, but retains the heart and soul of the original score. If you don’t want all that extraneous material then this is the perfect representation of Silvestri’s score on disc. If you already have the 2-CD set of Back To The Future (1985), there’s no glaring reason to buy it (other than being a completist); however, if you missed out on it, this is your chance to add Silvestri’s iconic score to your collection.
Back to the Future II by Alan Silvestri
This is definitely the more significant of the two Back To The Future releases, only because there is so much more music available on this album than in any previous release. Back To The Future II (1989) is another phenomenal sequel score that retains the majesty and characteristics of the original while being a score capable of standing on its own two feet on a hoverboard. Previous releases of this score omitted so much music. It’s nice to finally receive the royal treatment on this superlative sequel score.
Adventures in Babysitting by Michael Kamen
Michael Kamen had never been one of my favorite composers, yet since his passing in 2003, I find myself continually becoming more attracted to his work. It helps that so many labels are rushing to get some of his better film scores out to the public, especially the ones that have been previously unavailable. Adventures in Babysitting (1987) is one of those scores. This score has never been released before now. It’s a fantastic album worthy of the royal treatment and could stand out as one of Kamen’s greatest. He was the master at blending orchestral, pop, synth, and rock textures into homogenous compositions. This album has it all.
The Secret of N.I.M.H. by Jerry Goldsmith
Previously released by Varese Sarabande, Goldsmith’s amazing score for Don Bluth’s The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982) showcases the composer’s penchant for bringing animation to life. Goldsmith was composing some of his very best film music in the early '80s so it's easy to accidentally overlook this quintessential masterpiece amongst the many he scribed during this time.
Cat’s Eye by Alan Silvestri
Unless you’re a fan of this film and remember it fondly, chances are you never quite noticed the score or even realized that Alan Silvestri composed it. Cat’s Eye (1985) is one of the rare all-synth scores that Silvestri dabbled in and contains many of the characteristics indicative of a Silvestri synth score: fast-paced pulsing rhythms, motivic building blocks, punchy synth brass, and discernible melodies. Silvestri’s score binds these three Stephen King short stories together into one cohesive film. The music may be deemed a bit “cheesy” by today’s standards, but that’s precisely why it’s such a recognizable gem. We’ll probably never get a film score quite like this again.
Return to Oz by David Shire
This film has been erroneously banished to the “unnecessary sequels” corner of cinema. That’s a shame because you’re not only dismissing one of the more truly disturbing family films of the '80s into obscurity, but also one of the better fantasy scores of the decade. The '80s was amok with flourishing fantasy film music so the competition is pretty stiff. Make no mistake, Return to Oz (1985) is a near-masterpiece of musical composition and narrative storytelling. It’s one of David Shire’s greatest scores.
Double Indemnity: Film Noir at Paramount by Miklós Rózsa, Hugo Friedhofer, Franz Waxman, Gail Kubik, Leith Stevens, Heinz Roemheld, Victor Young
I’m generally not a huge fan of compilations mostly due to the annoyingly OCD way in which I organize my collection. This one is difficult to ignore. Contained on this 2-CD set is music from seven noir films including Double Indemnity (1944), Ace In The Hole (1951), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), The Desperate Hours (1955), The Scarlet Hour (1956), Union Station (1950) and I Walk Alone (1948). These scores all help define the very genre of cinema they were scribed for. The large majority of this music has been mostly unreleased, making this compilation quite the treasure. Perhaps compilations aren’t so bad after all?
Escape From Witch Mountain by Johnny Mandel
This movie disturbed me quite a bit when I was a kid. I’m not sure why. I recently revisited it this past year and was baffled how I could ever have been tweaked by it. Perhaps, it’s the idea of adults pursuing children or the weird “telekinetic” vibe throughout the whole film. I don’t know.
What I recently discovered was how truly Disney-licious this score sounds. The Walt Disney Studio had a very unique sound to their music throughout the 1970s. It was mostly comprised of two-parts orchestral pop, with a dash of cheese and some inner layering of dark synth textures that were never afraid to poke out from time to time. Johnny Mandel’s score for Escape To Witch Mountain (1975) epitomizes Disney’s sound in the 1970s. It’s a fun score and the included harmonica numbers by virtuoso Tommy Morgan are a real hoot. Who knew that telekinetic powers sound like a harmonica?
Duel by Billy Goldenberg
Trivia question…Name three Steven Spielberg directed films that does not contain a score composed by John Williams. The answers are Bridge of Spies (2015) composed by Thomas Newman, The Color Purple (1985) produced by Quincy Jones and this film, Duel (1971) composed by veteran television composer Billy Goldenberg. Although produced for television, Spielberg’s earliest film displays his unique directorial knowledge and understanding of music characteristic of all of his movies. This is by far a more esoteric and experimental score than we’ve come to know in a Spielberg film which further demonstrates his eclectic appreciation of music.
This score has never been previously released, so to have it available for the first time is a genuine treat. It must be strange to be the one who composed Steven Spielberg’s first feature film (albeit for television) three years before he hitched-up long term with John Williams. He seems sort of like the Pete Best of the film scoring world. Regardless of Goldenberg’s “one-hit-wonder” status, Duel is worthy of praise and recognition.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by George Delerue
It’s extremely rare that an unused or rejected score gets a legitimate release by a major label. There are always bootlegs of such things floating around, but studios really don’t want their “alternative choices” out there. James Horner ended up composing the score that is heard in the film we know; however, most people don’t realize that George Delerue composed and recorded a score before it was rejected by the studio.
Delerue’s music for Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) was the first rejected score I ever heard. It was my introduction to the concept that a composer’s work could literally be tossed out in favor of another. I was fascinated with this idea as it presents a litany of “what-if” scenarios that is unrivaled in cinema.
Although I adore Horner’s used score, Delerue’s original take is masterful. It’s dark, brooding, yet magical and haunting. The rarity of this release makes it a cherished item in my collection.
Judge Dredd by Alan Silvestri
Intrada has been championing the music of Alan Silvestri all year long. This is an often overshadowed score by the veteran and, in all honesty, the one thing that immediately comes to mind when I talk about the music for Judge Dredd (1995) is the killer original score that Jerry Goldsmith composed for the trailer (included on this album). Nevertheless, Silvestri’s work here is remarkable as he further pushes the boundaries of action scoring in the 1990s to new limits. This is the first time the entire score has ever been available. It’s largely thematic, intensely action-packed, and portrays the formidable title character to perfection.
The Car by Leonard Rosenman
This is another gem available for the very first time on CD. Leonard Rosenman earned a reputation as a composer who worked completely outside the box. He never once stepped foot inside the box, nor skirt its borders. He was an individualistic composer with a very unique approach to every film he scored.
The Car (1977) certainly ranks up there as one of his better scores. It’s essential to the success of the movie. Every note and every beat brings the titular demon vehicle to life and personifies its every action. Without Rosenman’s effort, the demonized 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark II would never actually feel alive. His music makes this metallic character believable. This is one of those scores I never knew I wanted until it was released. Now, I can’t imagine not having it.
The Lost Weekend by Miklós Rózsa
More than a magnificent score, The Lost Weekend (1945) by Miklós Rózsa is an important score. When the studio originally made it, the producers had every intention of releasing it without a score. They wanted the film to be extremely realistic and thought the artificial ingredient of music detracted from that. Upon completion, they ran the movie by several test audiences and was appalled by the frequent laughs and snickers they received. After all, this was the first film to ever truly confront the horrors of alcohol addiction and was supposed to be serious, gritty, horrifying, and nightmarish.
Dejected and mortified, the producers relinquished their idea to avoid music and turned to Miklós Rózsa to compose a score. The Lost Weekend then went on to be one of the most important films of its time. It won four Academy Awards including Best Actor (Ray Milland), Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Writing (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) and Best Picture.
Even though he was nominated for Best Score, Miklós Rózsa did not win. That does not overshadow Rózsa’s accomplishments. In an age when cinematic professionals were still figuring out the role and function of music, Rózsa gave us one of the great lessons of film scoring. Music doesn’t make a film less realistic, in fact it functions quite to the contrary. By infusing the very unrealistic ingredient of music, storytellers actually benefit from an enhanced sense of realism because when you engage an audiences’ emotions and not just their observations, you include them in your experience and they feel a part of your story.
Ghost In The Darkness by Jerry Goldsmith
Anything by Jerry Goldsmith (especially during the 1980s-1990s) is worthy of an expanded release. It’s as simple as that. The Ghost in the Darkness (1996) is a strange yet otherworldly score that demonstrates the breadth and depth of Goldsmith’s musical language. It proves that there will never be another composer quite like Goldsmith, nor is the manner in which he approached scoring films likely to be replicated. He was a champion “outside-the-box” composer who never took the popular road.
At the heart of this score is a jaunty adventure theme that is infectious and bright; however, it’s also a big lie. It doesn’t really go with the film at all, which is its greatest characteristic. It adds to the layers of the narrative and doesn’t simply mimic it like a lot of modern film music does. Goldsmith was a master of scoring “between-the-lines” and this is a superlative example of that.
Rio Bravo by Dimitri Tiomkin
It may be tough for Americans to admit it, but it’s true that a Russian composer was instrumental in defining the sound of the American Western. Dimitri Tiomkin scored a hefty collection of Westerns and he did it flawlessly, helping to mold an entire genre. Rio Bravo (1959) is the perfect “campfire score” that instantly recalls images of the Old West. It’s a very simple score with a lot of guitars, harmonica, trumpet, and percussion. It’s daring, edgy, and evocative yet perfectly captures the Wild-West spirit of the film.