Under Appreciated Movie Music Scores I Love
Give them a listen!
Seriously, John Williams is the man.
One of my favorite parts of the movies is the instrumental music score. I have a large collection of them on CD, and in my opinion, they can sometimes make a movie, or often are better than the movie they are accompanying.
With this article, I though I would share some of my favorite pieces of movie music mostly from the 80s and 90s that either have gone unnoticed, not many have heard of, have faded away with time, or they were just attached to a movie that kind of came and left from people's minds. I'm hoping that this article will create more interest in these individual pieces, and their composers.
A few notes - These are not arranged in any order, so there is no "best" or "worst". They're all worth a listen. Also, this is a list about under appreciated movie music scores, so you won't find any famous themes here like Star Wars (John Williams), Superman (John Williams, again), Indiana Jones (um...John Williams), Jaws (son of a...John Williams), E.T. (Jeez, is John Williams a god, or what?), or Back to the Future (John...No, wait, Alan Silvestri).
One final note - For anyone wondering, yes, I am going to continue my series of anime articles that I promised in my first article. I'm working on one right now, and it will be coming soon. So, with all that out of the way, let's get on with the music.
"March From 1941"
Composer: John Williams
Since Mr. Williams seems to be everywhere today, I thought I would start off with one of his wonderful, but lesser known pieces. This was used as the theme song to 1941, a big budget action comedy from Steven Spielberg that's well known today for being Spielberg's first big flop. The guy was fresh off of Jaws and Close Encounters, and seemed nearly unstoppable. The movie, however, just wasn't very funny, despite the talents of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and John Candy in the cast. The movie was loaded with special effects and explosions that drowned out the comedy and dialogue, and often seemed to confuse chaos for humor. Fortunately, Spielberg would bounce back from this with Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.
As for Williams' theme, this is a patriotic-sounding march that's just as over the top as the movie itself. Heck, the song has explosions going off at certain points in the background! Honestly, this is a great orchestral marching piece. It kind of sounds like something that could have been in a war movie from the 50s. However, I also sense something kind of lighthearted about the piece, something that lets you know you're not supposed to take it all that seriously. For all the famous theme songs that Williams has composed in his career, I think this one deserves more attention.
"Carol Anne's Theme"
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
I'm actually surprised to put this one on the list, as I thought more people were familiar with it. But, whenever I talk to people about it, or play them this piece, they claim they haven't heard it before. This must be one of those pieces that's just faded from the public's mind, as Poltergeist was a big movie in its day.
In my opinion, this is one of the great horror themes, ranking up there with the Jaws theme and "Tubular Bells" from The Exorcist. It has a soothing, lullaby tone to it, but there's also something kind of creepy and a little bit off about the children who are singing along to the melody. If you don't believe me, wait till you hear their mocking laughter at the very end of the song. This is an absolutely gorgeous piece, one of my favorites from Goldsmith, who had a long and prolific career composing music for films until he passed away 10 years ago. We're getting a remake/reboot of Poltergeist next summer, and as a fan, no I am not happy about that thought. But, as long as this piece of music is played once in the film, I will at least smile.
Composer: James Horner
1995's live action film of Casper the Friendly Ghost was not that great of a movie. Sure, it had great special effects for its time, but it was loud, kind of crass and crude, and kind of gave a mixed message to kids that if their parents died, there was a way to bring them back. It did, however, have a wonderful music score by James Horner, and this is my favorite track from the film.
This is kind of a sad and melancholy piece that really gives me a sense of loneliness or longing. I especially love the simple yet elegant piano melody that kicks in at around a minute and 07 seconds into the work. It kind of strikes a feeling within me of being alone at night, and thinking either on the past, or something weighing heavily on your mind. For a time, I did used to listen to this piece when I was lying in bed, so I guess the title is appropriate.
"Main Theme from Ghostbusters"
Composer: Elmer Bernstein
When most people think of a "Ghostbusters theme", they immediately think of Ray Parker Jr's notoriously ear worm-worthy pop song. However, I think Elmer Bernstein's instrumental theme from the film has stood the test of time much better, and it's what I immediately go to when I want to bring back memories of that film.
There is such a joyful and playful quality to this theme. It almost sounds like something out of a cartoon. This is great "walking" music, as sometimes when I am out walking in my neighborhood, I will find myself humming or whistling this song. It has such a pleasant main melody, it's impossible for me not to smile while I am listening to this piece. This is a jovial work that really captures the comedic feel of the film.
"Main Theme/Police Chase"
Movie: Super Mario Bros.
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Okay, we all know that the Super Mario Bros. movie is not something people who grew up in the early 90s remember fondly. Heck, the film's star, the late Bob Hoskins, said this was the worst film he had done. But, if you take the movie away and just listen to the wonderful music score by Alan Silvestri, you have a very pleasant experience.
If the Ghostbusters theme is "walking" music, then the theme music here sounds like "driving" music. In fact, the music kind of brings to my mind the image of a comedy team from the 30s or 40s driving down the street, on their way to bungle a job. Just listen to the music that kicks in around 43 seconds into the song, and see if you don't picture Laurel and Hardy driving down the street. Maybe this kind of screwball comedy feel was what the film was missing. This is one of those cases where I think the composer had a better idea of what the film should have been than the filmmakers did. Even when the music starts to turn more "serious" late in the song, it has a sense of grandeur that was also missing from the film, despite the big sets and special effects. Honestly, this music belongs in a better movie.
Movie: The 'Burbs
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith makes his second appearance here with the end credit theme for The 'Burbs, a mostly forgotten dark comedy from the late 80s that featured Tom Hanks back when he was known for being funny, rather than for his dramatic work.
The film tried to mix screwball comedy with horror elements, as it told the story of a wacky suburban neighborhood who fear that their newest residents (who kind of look like rejects from a Texas Chainsaw Massacre family reunion) are murderers. The movie was not that successful, as it was never that funny, and the horror elements were not that strong, as we didn't really know anything about the evil new family until almost the end of the movie. Goldsmith's score, again, seems to have a better handle on the tone than the movie did. This track is a combination of the different musical themes from the film, and it's very skillful how it switches back and forth from being silly and joyful, to dark and foreboding. This is a hard balance to pull off, but this track handles it well. I especially love the little touch Goldsmith pulls off at the end, with a kind of pounding and intense theme, followed immediately by a lighthearted cartoon sound effect to close out the song. Again, a great piece of music from a mediocre film.
"End Credits Theme"
Movie: Child's Play
Composer: Joe Renzetti
The original Child's Play film was at first going to have a silly novelty song about the Chucky doll playing over the end credits, but the filmmakers thought that the music left the audience on a comedic note that they didn't want, and so it was switched over with this more somber instrumental piece by composer Joe Renzetti. It was a smart move, in my opinion.
The feeling that I get from this song is a sense of "it's finally over". You have just been through a trying and difficult experience that has left you emotionally shattered, but it is over, and you don't know if you will ever be the same again. It's very appropriate, given the climax of the film, and the last shot of the little boy whom we know will never be the same again after his experience with the homicidal demon doll. This is a piece that perfectly captures the mood of the main characters at the end of the film. It's somber, kind of sad, but also a tiny bit uplifting, as if to sense that there is a small glimpse of hope for the future of the characters. This is very good work by a composer who is not very well known.
Movie: The Rocketeer
Composer: James Horner
What I love about Mr. Horner's score for The Rocketeer is how nostalgic, sweet, and stirring it is, and I think this is wonderfully expressed in his opening theme for the film. It really gives the sense of high adventure being on the way, but also has a charming and laid back quality to it.
Much like John Williams' famous Indiana Jones theme, this gives a sense of old fashioned adventure. It's a subtler and sweeter tune than Williams' more bombastic piece, but it still gives me the same feeling. There is a sense of youth, adventure, and definitely some nostalgia here. Maybe a sense of a child experiencing something great or magical for the first time. There is something so pure and innocent about this work that I love. I think it can take anyone who listens to it back to a simpler time.
"Last Starfighter Theme"
Movie: The Last Starfighter
Composer: Craig Safan
Another great piece by a composer who is not very well known. Craig Safan is obviously trying to channel John Williams here with his grand orchestrations, but at the same time, it doesn't sound like a total rip off.
This is one of those big, stirring adventure songs that really gets you in the mood for something big while you are listening to it. I personally love the main melody of the song, and wish it was more popular, as it really does perfectly create the sense of exploration and adventure that the movie was trying to achieve. I love how it just jumps right in with the grand theme, immediately grabbing your attention. And then, around 36 seconds, the violins kick in, and the song eases just a little, but still sounds grand and exciting. After all the grandness, the song slowly eases to a peaceful melody depicting life on Earth before the space adventure begins. But, the opening half of the song really gets you excited for what's to come.
"Power to Believe (Instrumental Version)"
Movie: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Composer: The Dream Academy
This may be cheating a little, as it's actually an instrumental version of an 80s pop song, and was not composed with the film in question in mind. However, it so perfectly captures the mood of the scene, I can't help but include it here. The late John Hughes had a great sense of putting music to his movies, and this is no better expressed than near the end of his 1987 road trip comedy classic.
The song plays during the scene where Steve Martin's character, Neal Page, is riding the L Train back to his home and family for Thanksgiving after having a very frustrating 48 hours trying to make it back to Chicago. He is thinking back on the journey he took, his anticipation of being with his family again, and most of all, of the man he journeyed home with - Del Griffith (John Candy), whom Neal begins to suspect has been hiding something from him the whole trip. This is when we learn the truth behind the character of Del, and how he might be smiling on the outside, he is hiding a lot of private pain within him.
As I mentioned, this was originally written as a full pop song with lyrics, but I really prefer this shorter, instrumental version that plays over the scene. It really drives home what the two main characters are feeling, a sense of relief, but also of sadness. This is such a simple, yet elegant melody. It's a shame that this instrumental version was never released as a full single. It's not only perfectly suited for the film, but it stands out on its own as a beautiful piece of music that can be enjoyed anytime.
That wraps things up here. Hopefully the next time you watch a movie, you will focus a little bit more on the music score. Even if the movie's not very good, you may find that the composer is working harder to create emotion than the filmmakers were.
Hope everyone here has a happy Thanksgiving coming up, and I will be back with my second installment of my series of anime articles soon.