Superman by John Williams

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This weekend marked the great John Williams’ 81st birthday.  So it’s fitting to dive into my favorite of his scores.  But where do I start?  There are too many.  Well, okay, anyone who knows me knows that my favorite movie theme of all time is his Superman.  But that’s not only why this magnificent score is so rich and meaningful.  To me, it’s because of the journey that it takes until we arrive at the fulfillment of this timeless three note motif, which by the way Williams derived from the same three notes starting Richard Strauss’s famous Also Spracht Zarathustra (which most people know from the opening of 2001 A Space Odyssey) in which Nietzsche introduced the concept of the Ubermench (the Super Human). 

To me, the best stuff is in the first half of the Richard Donner film.  It’s the dark material that starts at Planet Krypton as it approaches destruction, baby Supe’s journey to Earth, followed by the Coplandesque Americana music as he grows up, and then the atonal writing that takes us through the Fortress of Solitude. Only after that whole experience are we finally rewarded with the Superman theme. The moment it finally explodes, you feel like you just want to zoom up into the sky.  

There’s one more thing that has resonated with me ever since I was a little boy.  It’s the Helicopter Rescue scene, where after a suspenseful sequence where Lois is hanging off the top of the building about to fall off with the helicopter, Clark Kent walks out of the Daily Planet building and he notices everyone on the street looking up at the disaster about to happen, and here Williams pulls off one of the greatest movie music moments of all time.  Ta ta tum.  Ta ta ta, ta ta tum.  The hint at that Superman motif comes as Clark looks for a spot to change into Superman.  And you feel the goosebumps rise up, and then finally he opens his shirt as he runs towards camera along with the theme which finally goes into full blast as Supe saves Lois and the falling chopper. 

Here’s the full soundtrack album on iTunes

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm by Shirley Walker

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Over the years Batman has provided composers with amazing opportunities for great scores.  I love the Danny Elfman 1989 reinvention, the Goldenthal madness, the Nelson Riddle classic and the Hans Zimmer trilogy.  But there is one amazing score that hardly gets mentioned.  That is Shirley Walker’s excellent action-packed Batman Mask of the Phantasm, the 1993 animated film.  Shirley Walker was one hell of a macho composer.  The real deal.  Known as a powerhouse orchestrator who helped Hans Zimmer on Backdraft, Brad Feidel on True Lies, and many others, she would also once in a while write her own masterpiece.  This is one of them.  Here’s a sampler on YouTube  

Listen to the mastery in how she weaves the sections of the orchestra together.  Bold brass, clear determined strings, delicate woodwinds, blazing choir (singing lyrics made up of crew names read backwards). I can never get enough of this action-packed score.  I used to go running in the woods at night listening to it when I lived in Ohio.  Awesome!

Here’s the original album on itunes

and if you want the complete thing, get the LaLaland Extended release but it’s out of print, so you’ll have to dig for it in the collector circles.  Also, there are a couple of volumes in limited edition from the TV show, also written by Shirley Walker and friends.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by Michael Kamen

This week I’m focusing on my favorite action scores.  They’re all going to be delicious feasts of exciting music.  If you don’t already own them, I can’t praise them enough.  So here we go.  I’ll start with my life-long hero: Michael Kamen.

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is Michael Kamen in top form and it’s the score that got me hooked on the orchestra.  It has everything you’d want from adventure music, especially if you enjoy relentless bombastic action.  Big brass and classic Kamen strings mixed with a whole collection of ancient Medieval instruments.  I’ve played this album a trillion times and to this day I can still hear something new in it every time.  This really is one of the greatest scores of all time as far as I’m concerned.

Most film score collectors already own this, but if you don’t, do yourself a favor and sample some Robin Hood action pie.

Also, here’s a great behind the scenes video with Kamen at work in 1991.

Get the full album on iTunes.

Two scores by Mychael Danna: Life of Pi and Ride with the Devil

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My favorite score of this year isMychael Danna’s Life of Pi.  The book is also one of my favorite recent novels.  I loved Ang Lee’s film for its harmony between the colorful 3D cinematography and the epic score (and of course Suraj Sharma’s fine performance with that little kitty cat on the boat).  Listening to the album recalls many of the fantastic visuals taking us through the emotional roller coaster of Pi’s metaphorical journey with his inner beast, Richard Parker.  The first few tracks are gentle and light, then things start diving into dark and desolate waters.  That’s the good stuff.  A really great score filled with small and massive emotions.  I love the opening song too. 

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I’d like to also recommend another great Ang Lee/Mychael Danna score that was a surprise discovery for me and a real gem: Ride with the Devil.  This is a 1998 US Civil War-set film where the music ranges from small intimate melancholy cues with banjo solos to massive balls to the wall blazing brassy orchestra with fiddles and penny-whistles running along with the horses that you can imagine the orchestra riding on while they play.  Fantastic score.  Great brassy action!!!  Sadly the album isn’t on iTunes or YouTube, but you can check out some samples here or Here at CD Universe

2 Scores for Sergio Leone by Ennio Morricone

Sergio Leone’s would’ve turned 83 today.  Here are two masterpieces, both the films and their scores, with his greatest collaborator, Ennio Morricone. 

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Once Upon a Time in the West‘s music is so good that I actually had it programmed into my wedding reception.  Check out this beautiful theme and tell me if there’s anything more haunting and nostalgic. But that’s not all, folks.  This film has the best framing and composition in film history and the best baddest motherfucking close ups ever captured on 35mm film accompanied by the man with the harmonica.  Here’s a montage of something you’ll never forget.

And here’s the full album on iTunes

Then there’s the other masterpiece we all know, The Good The Bad and the Ugly.  I don’t think this needs any introducing, but in case you’re ten and not familiar, here’s the remastered album.

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Score of the day: Rudy by Jerry Goldsmith

Rudy
I’ve been in Jordan for the last four days (eating amazing Arabic food for Christmas) and one of my very favorite things to do when I’m here is to wake up super early in the morning and go for a run in the streets of this beautiful city, before the exhaust fumes spoil the smell of the earth.

When I was here last time, I prepared myself for production on The United (my Disney soccer movie) and the music that got tons of play was Rudy, one of maestro Goldsmith’s most beautiful and lyrical scores.

So for some good nostalgia, I took to the streets again this time with my friend Jerry encouraging me up the hills and across the vistas, burning those Chrsitmas calories. It was divine bliss listening to the Irish-influenced music while running the streets of Amman.

Get the whole album. Not a single track ever gets old.

Score of the Day: A Merry War (aka. Keep The Aspidistra Flying) by Mike Batt

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When I listen to this album, I feel like all will be okay with the world. It’s one of those scores that never leaves my iPhone.

I stumbled onto the CD randomly back in the 90’s and gave it a listen, and instantly fell in love with this beautiful English score by Mike Batt. The album I have is called A Merry War, as I believe that’s what the US title is, but it seems this is the original English film’s name, Keep The Aspidistra Flying. The entire album is beautiful, but at least get the suite (the first three tracks on iTunes), and I promise you will be pleased.

Score of the Day: The Ghost and the Darkness by Jerry Goldsmith

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a film music fanatic.  This is the music that I grew up devouring, and to this day, it’s the music that gives me an imagination if I have one.  It inspires me to want to fly or to travel inside my head to exotic places.  It allows me to color my surroundings, it helps me write, makes me fall in love, sometimes accompanies me into darker corners of my imagination, or makes me want to do something heroic (even though this is all just in my head).  Film music makes me feel alive.  Yet most people think that this is just “background music” in movies.  A ridiculous idea! 

So I want to share my blog and facebook connections to introduce you to the world that I pretty much live in.  This is the music that has defined me, inspired me, and affected my life since I was a kid. 

Everyday for the next 365 days, I will post a new score, a link to iTunes or YouTube, to connect you with the music that I love.  And hopefully you will enjoy the music too.

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So here it is, score of the day: Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score to the 1996 film, The Ghost and the Darkness.  Every minute of this majestic and magnificent score is Jerry Goldsmith in top form.  He blended big brassy English themes with an Irish Jig and an African choir with his sweeping romantic strings.  I’ve been listening to this score since 1996 and it never gets old.  The action writing is visceral and delicious.  It’s Jerry in top form.  I listen to this now while hiking with my dogs and I feel like I’m in a different world with my beasts.