SILENT RUNNING.

 

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Cast your mind back to 1972, and a film entitled SILENT RUNNING. No, it’s not a war movie about a submarine running silent to avoid detection, it’s a sci-fi movie that maybe is in these days of global warming and severe weather is even more relevant than it was at the time of its release. So, to say that SILENT RUNNING was ahead of its time is I suppose an understatement. The movie itself was an attractive one and contained some thought-provoking moments. The storyline implies that all plant life as we know it on earth has become extinct, what has been done is that as many varieties of plants have been rescued and sent into space on great domes which are in effect huge greenhouses that can sustain life and preserve it in the hope that earth will be able one day to allow it to flourish once again, but until then these domes are attached to a spacecraft which is drifting in space.

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The ship which is called VALLEY FORGE is part of a large fleet of container ships which is on the outskirts of the orbit of Saturn. The domes are attended by a crew one of which is passionate about his work, Freeman Lowell played by Bruce Dern is one of the four-man crew and he attends the plant life and the animals that are in the domes, in the hope that soon they will return to earth for re-forestation. Things however do not go how Lowell thinks they will and they receive orders that the domes should be jettisoned and destroyed by blowing them up with nuclear charges. Lowell is incensed by the decision and after four of the six domes are destroyed he decides to put a stop to the destruction and rescue the plants and animals that he has been caring for.

 

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Lowell kills one of the crew members who attempts to place charges in his favourite dome, in the fight Lowell’s leg is injured badly, but he manages to jettison and destroy the fifth dome which is carrying the remaining crew members. He then recruits three drones to help him and names them Huey, Dewey and Louie.

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He stages a fake explosion to convince the powers that be that the last dome has been destroyed, but instead sets a course for Saturn. Lowell then re-programs the drones and has them perform surgery on his leg. The Valley Forge grows closer to Saturn and has a rough ride through the planets rings. During the journey one of the drones, Louie is lost, but the ship endures the trip, it and the remaining drone remain intact on the other side of Saturn’s rings. Lowell and his drone crew set off into deep space and together they begin to plant and cultivate. Huey is damaged in an accident, and eventually Lowell realises that the authorities have found him, and he will be found out for the murders of his fellow crew members. Lowell jettisons the dome and detonates a charge on the VALLEY FORGE killing himself and destroying Huey, the parting shot of the movie is of the dome lit up floating through space with Dewey tending the plants holding a battered old watering can.

 

 

 

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SILENT RUNNING is an entertaining and poignantly thought-provoking movie, directed by Douglas Trumbull, in his directorial debut. This is in my opinion a mini classic and a must watch movie. The musical score is by composer Peter Schickele and as far as I know this too was his debut into the film music arena, it is a small-scale score although there are a couple of cues that are grand and symphonic, these being THE SPACE FLEET and SATURN, the remainder of the score still being symphonic but of a more intimate style.

 

The soundtrack also contains two original songs which were written and performed by Joan Baez, REJOICE IN THE SUN and SILENT RUNNING are both vocals that have a strong environmental message.

REJOICE IN THE SUN.
Heels of children running wild in the sun
like a forest is your child growing wild in the sun
Doomed in his innocence in the sun.

Gather your children to your side in the sun
tell them all they love will die, tell them why, in the sun
tell them it’s not too late, cultivate one by one
tell them to harvest and rejoice — in the sun.

 

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SILENT RUNNING.

Earth between my toes and a flower in my hair,
That’s what I was wearing when we lay among the ferns.
Earth between my toes and a flower in my hair is what I will wear when he returns.
Wind upon on his face and my fingers in his hair that’s what he was wearing when we lay beneath the sky.
Wind upon his face and my love he will wear when swallows fly.
Tears of sorrow running deep, running silent in my sleep, running silent in my sleep.

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The score for SILENT RUNNING is an interesting and original work, the compositions may sound straight forward and even simple, but the music is at times quite complex, the score plays a big part in the movie and helps to give the storyline a greater depth and impact. This is a soundtrack that every collector should own, whether it be on LP record in green vinyl, Compact disc or even a digital version from I tunes, Spotify etc. If you have not heard this outstanding work, then you are certainly poorer for not experiencing it. This is a score that tantalises, thrills and oozes poignancy and emotion, simplistic, emotive, dramatic, grand and heartrending. Recommended.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

 

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When you think about it and take into account the style, sound and actual scale of score that James Horner composed for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it was a pre-cursor for what we were about to experience two years later in STAR TREK ll THE WRATH OF KHAN, and in fact it was also the forerunner and blueprint for many of Horner’s early film scores as in ALIENS, WILLOW, COCOON, KRULL and to a degree THE ROCKETEER. He was a composer that was no stranger to experimentation with orchestration and the utilisation of certain instruments that were of the unusual kind. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was in effect a remake of THE MAGNIFICENT 7 but set in space and although at times the effects were not that realistic, and the performances could be less than convincing, it is a film that I return to regularly just for the sheer adventure, thrill and escapism that it can create.

BattleBeyondTheStars_maintitleThe movie was released in 1980 by NEW WORLD PICTURES which was a company established by well known film maker Roger Corman, it was Corman who produced the movie and gave Horner a chance to write the score, as with many of the composers early works it was a large-scale score in proportion to the budget of the movie. But, Horner would do this on several his early assignments often funding the orchestra himself when the music budget did not stretch to it. When you listen to the score for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS it obviously pays homage to the style of Jerry Goldsmith and in certain moments is very evocative of his score for STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, and at times utilising the echoing trumpet flourishes which Goldsmith employed in his memorable theme for PATTON -LUST FOR GLORY.

 

Plus, there is the Goldsmith trademark melancholy woodwind and strings in the scores quieter moments. But. Listen closer to Horner’s at times complex writing, and his intense and unrelenting tense atmosphere that he creates via strings, percussion and brass, which are at times underpinned or embellished by electronic support. For a composer who was not at that time 30 years of age this is a score of immense maturity. The film was also a milestone for filmmaker James Cameron who was responsible for designing the FX on the movie, of course Cameron and Horner’s paths would cross more than once in the not too distant future, most notably on TITANIC in 1997.

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The movie had quite an impressive cast line up, which included Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon and Sybil Danning. The films budget was quite merger for a Hollywood production the total cost of production being just $2,000,000. It re-cooped $ 7.5 Million at the box office. So not a huge success but nonetheless it did not lose money. Many say that the best thing about the movie was its score by James Horner, and although I do agree the score was outstanding for such a low budget film, I would also have to add that I think the movie is entertaining.

 


The distant Planet of Akir is under threat from and evil warlord Sador played by John Saxon, this unsavoury power crazed individual is the ruler of the fearsome and mystical Maimori Empire, he has told the people of Akir to surrender to him or face the consequences, which are to be blasted into pieces by his STELLA CONVERTOR (shades of the death star). The oldest and wisest of the Akira Corsairs, Zed, suggests that they should hire mercenaries to help them. Akir is a planet that is not wealthy but has ample food and shelter to offer those who will help them. Zed is too old to go himself, so he does the next best thing and offers his spaceship for the task, all they must do is find a pilot that can fly it. The ship is a formidable craft complete with Ai Navigation/tactical Navigation, but even with all its advanced technology it is unable to defeat the combined strength of Sador and the Maimori Empire.

 

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Enter then, Shad a young man played by Richard Thomas, Shad has flown the ship before and is known to the on-board computer called Nell. Shad decides to volunteer for the job and thus the adventure begins and what an adventure, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is certainly one of those movies that allows the audience to be whisked off to other worlds, although highly unlikely and total over the top it’s a good yarn with a wonderfully expansive and thematic score to suit. I think the first time I saw the movie it was on video and I had the soundtrack in my collection already, but I think that’s a thing we soundtrack collectors do at times we don’t actually go see a movie and think I like that score, we buy on name or reputation or on what the composers last score was like, don’t we? But I got to thinking how did I buy BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS by the reputation of the composer?

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I did not have anything else by Horner, in fact was anything else released at that time, I don’t know? If not, I know I snapped up things like GORKY PARK, BRAINSTORM etc when I saw them in the racks at the local record shop after hearing BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. At times I did get a soundtrack because I liked the look of the art work, so maybe that’s how I ended up with the LP record in my possession. Anyway, for a low budget affair BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS was very entertaining and it also introduced us to the magical, mystical, romantic, anthemic and dramatic theme laden style of a composer we all miss so much. James Horner.

 

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KRULL.

 

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I suppose at the time of its release KRULL was a kid’s dream or fantasy come true, a real swashbuckler which had definite influences from the story of THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE and heavily influenced by Greek mythology and tales of a galaxy far far away. There are also borrowed themes and scenarios that we all know are the work of Tolkien, but hey, did we or do we really care, did we embrace it, believe it and love it, yep we did. Ok let’s go back 35 years now remember this is pre-internet, in fact pre-almost everything that we today take for granted. I know as well as you all do that KRULL was probably not the best movie ever made, but it had its moments of excitement, magic and romance, at the centre of the story there was the love and romance between a prince and princess, who were being kept apart by an evil and what we thought was an unstoppable evil.

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The similarities between it and STAR WARS is today even more evident, simply because we as a cinema going public are all familiar with the themes that are within the STAR WARS saga. KRULL begins in a similar way to the original STAR WARS movie, with what could be a gigantic space ship floating through the darkness of space, this ominous looking sight sets the scene for what is to follow and the movie which is filled with Knights, Slayers, Heroes, Villains, Large Spiders and Evil Tyrants. Yes, there were several films made after the success of STAR WARS that attempted to cash in on the popularity of the movie, STARCRASH for example, (a bad example, but nevertheless an example). The reason KRULL was just a little bit more impressive was partly due to the director Peter Yates, he after all was a seasoned filmmaker and in the hands of anyone less KRULL probably would have sunk without trace.

 

 

But, it was not just STAR WARS that KRULL borrowed from, the story was a combination of many storylines, tales and movies that had gone before. It not only included the age-old battle between good and evil, but there was the mystical and the mythology, the movie including FIRE MARES and a CYCLOPS. The opening which shows the approach of what we at first think is a space ship, is in fact a Black and powerful tower, a castle of sorts where an evil beast like ruler resides with his army of slayers, who are not a million miles away from storm troopers when you think about it.

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The black tower settles on the planet of KRULL, and this is when the battle between light and darkness commences. The lead in the movie is played by Ken Marshall who portrays Colwyn, he is a hero in the true style of Hollywood, by this I mean if the movie had been made back in the 1940’s this would have been role for the likes of Tyrone Power or even Errol Flynn. Colwyn is about to become the husband of the beautiful Princess Lyssa played by Lysette Anthony, but the Beast sends his army of slayers to attack the castle where the wedding is to take place and after some resistance the slayers capture the Princess and whisk her off to the black tower where she is held captive by the Beast. Colwyn vows to rescue his love and thus the quest and the action begins. Colwyn is joined by a wise man Ynvr played by the excellent Freddie Jones, together they set off to rescue the Princess and hopefully to rid KRULL of the Beast and his black Slayers.

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Along the way they begin to collect a rag bag collection of friends and mercenaries who are willing to follow them. Among these are, a magician who struggles to get his tricks right and even manages to turn himself into a goose at one point, Ergo the Magnificent is wonderfully portrayed by David Battley. Then we have the Cyclops, who is gentle and laid back played by veteran actor Bernard Bresslaw in some convincing make up and a million miles away from his performances in the Carry-on movies where he would normally play a somewhat dim individual. Also joining the good guys is Liam Neeson, a very fresh-faced Liam plays one of the criminals that Colwyn convinces to join him, KRULL was Neeson’s third movie, and this was a very small part for the actor, but as they say the mighty oak from tiny acorns does grow. Two more familiar faces in the line up are Todd Carty of East Enders fame, but Carty had been selected for his popular role of Tucker in Grange Hill by the producers of KRULL, maybe as a way of getting a younger audience interested in the movie.

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Robbie Coltrane also appears, but his Scottish accent proved to be a problem so for KRULL his voice was dubbed by actor Michael Elphick. Another star of the film was not a human but an armament, in the form of a Glaive weapon, which Colwyn plucks from the hot and fiery lava. The Slayers laser spears too are impressive as were the slayers themselves, the ominous looking armour being enough to strike terror into the hearts and souls of anyone that they were hunting. They were even more threatening and unsettling because they were mute and made no sound unless they were dying, when they let out an ear-piercing scream as a snake like form is spewed from their body.
In fact when you look at it, there are a number of harrowing and impressive moments of horror within the movie, the giant spider sequence for example, and the scene where a seer is possessed by an evil shape shifting entity which has black eyes. The set designs on the movie were also impressive, especially the interiors of the Black Tower, complete with moving walls, floors that swallow up people and walls that also suddenly become filled with spikes.

 


Inside the Black Tower we see our band of brave hero’s falling one by one as they strive to rescue the Princess in distress, and maybe we see too many of the good guys fall, it is a harsh and surprising end to a tale of heroism as many of the band of brave mercenaries are dispatched by the forces of evil. It all ends well, and normality and light are restored as Colwyn and his love are re-united.

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One of the movies most outstanding attributes was the rousing score composed by James Horner, he was just 30 years of age when he scored the movie, and his score is magnificent, the cue the RIDING OF THE FIRE MARES is outstanding as is his LOVE THEME for the movie, and when you think that he scored this as well as BRAINSTORM and GORKY PARK in the same year it something of a major feat for a composer who was so young. At the start of his career Horner would score low budget movies with large symphonic soundtracks and this practise put him good stead for films such as KRULL, WILLOW and The STAR TREK films he scored. His first big break came in 1980 when he wrote a stirring score for Roger Cormans BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, which was the soundtrack that made collectors, critics and producers sit up and take notice. He followed this with THE HAND and WOLFEN his atmospheric score for the latter replacing music that had already been submitted by composer Craig Safan.

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Horner was in my opinion a rare talent and was involved with many of the big blockbusters that hit the screens during the 1980’s at times his music being more memorable than the films it was intended to support. The soundtrack album for KRULL was initially released on a French label which also contained dialogue from the movie in French, the soundtrack was then issued on a long-playing album, and eventually made onto CD and later was released in its full score form by LA LA LAND records in the United States.

 

 
It is without a doubt one of the composers most popular works and in many ways one of his most complex, and to this day remains a firm favourite with film music devotees around the world.

BLACULA.

 

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Born in LOS ANGELES in 1940, musician and composer Gene (Eugene) Page worked with many artists most notably he arranged the backing tracks for Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra in the 1970’s and worked with Elton John providing his massive hit song PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM with those haunting strings and definitive drum lines. It is true to say that if you have listened to any of the hits of the RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS, MICHAEL JACKSON, WHITNEY HOUSTON, BARBARA STREISAND, LIONEL RITCHIE, KENNY RODGERS or JOHNNY MATHIS in the past 40 years then you have probably heard the music or at least the musical arrangements as prepared by Gene Page. Page also had hits under his own name with disco versions of things such as the theme from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND which entered the UK charts during the mid to late 1970.s when it was released on a 12, inch single by Arista records, his version being more popular amongst disco devotees than the more pop sounding version by MECO and even rising higher in the chart than the original version by composer John Williams. Page also worked on film scores during the 1970’s and although the movies he was involved with themselves were not exactly Oscar material his music was always serviceable and appropriate, whether he be the composer arranger or at times conductor.

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The composer often combined instrumental compositions with vocal performances by popular singers and groups of the day. Page had been given his big break by producer Phil Spector in the 1960’s Spector was riding high on the success of his wall of sound and had also had a big hit with THE RONNETES, Spector normally turned to Jack Nitzsche to work on his arrangements but the composer could not commit to this particular project, so Spector gave Page his first chance to arrange on a little song entitled YOU LOST THAT LOVIN FEELING. The result is evident, and it is still a song that is instantly recognisable today partly due to Page’s string and horn arrangement. Page went from strength to strength and soon became a sought-after arranger in the world of popular music. Page went onto work the Drifters and, in 1965 collaborated with singer Dobie Grey on the now classic “The In Crowd”.

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In 1966 the arranger/composer had entered the ranks of the IN crowd as far as session men in Los Angeles were concerned and started to work with Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and engineer Bones Howe. Page was also responsible for creating the unique sound of THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS on hits such as MONDAY MONDAY and CALIFORNIA DREAMIN. Which both sold over a million copies.

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A movie that I think benefitted greatly from the score that Page laid down was BLACULA, the movie itself is something that one could very easily forget and I for one often do try to do just that, BLACULA was apparently deadlier than Dracula, well I don’t know about that but he was certainly more deadpan than deadlier and I think maybe the actors in the movie were so wooden that they could be easily mistaken for the stakes which were used to turn vampires to dust. But, the score was if nothing else entertaining, I think the instrumental cues are not really that memorable by this I mean there is really nothing there that you can hook onto to walk out of the cinema humming, but when listening to the soundtrack they are not unpleasant, but fairly typical of the style and sound of the 1970.s, and I have to say on viewing BLACULA again recently the music suited the mood of the movie wonderfully and even created a threatening ambience at times.
This was after all a Blaxploitation movie, and was rightly or wrongly expected to contain a score that was funky, groovy and soulful! I think I am right when I say it was released at the same time as the Count Yorga movies, and like those attempted to bring the story of Dracula or at least a vampire into a contemporary setting, and I suppose to a degree it succeeded unlike the two Hammer Dracula movies, AD 1972 and SATANIC RITES OF DRCULA which failed in updating the Dracula story from Gothic to modern times. BLACULA’S storyline however was thin and lacking substance, the acting and certainly the direction by William Crain was very lack lustre and could I think be on the same level as amateur dramatics. The lead was played by William Marshall, who tried to make the formula work but even his valiant efforts could not really make the movie work, although saying this there are some good scary moments but these are fleeting and one or two moments a good movie does not make. The plot for the movie focuses upon Manuwalde an African Prince who in 1780, after visiting Count Dracula, is turned into a vampire and encased in a coffin. After this the dateline shifts to 1972, and two antique collectors who buy and transport the coffin to the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles.
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The two are unaware what is in the coffin and when they open it release Blacula from his prison and allow him to go on a blood fest in the city. Blacula soon finds Tina, who apparently is his wife from his former life, Luva, who has been reincarnated, the vampire works his magic on Tina and soon his feelings are reciprocated. Tina’s friend a Dr. Gordon, discovers Blacula is a vampire and sets out to hunt him down and destroy him. So not a complicated storyline, and one that does have to age old line of the vampire’s former love being reincarnated etc. But let’s get away from the movie for a while and delve into the musical side of things. BLACULA the soundtrack was released on a long-playing record in 1972 0n the RCA label, but was only available on import from the USA. The composer Gene Page produced a fairly typical upbeat sounding score for the picture, with lots of brass, percussion and sax that was underlined and supported by the string section, he also made good use of electric guitar with a wow wow sound, and included a number of songs which were performed by THE HUES CORPORATION (Rock the boat, Rockin Soul and I caught your act) and THE 21ST CENTURY LTD,(Your smallest wish) none of which were hits in the true sense of the word, but serviced the action on screen or even distracted the audience away from the action.

 

Page’s STALKWALK track which opens the soundtrack release, is quite impressive and does have shades of his SATIN SOUL composition. So, this is a score that one could probably put in the player on a Saturday evening and listen to it through without really noticing anything that outstanding, but it does have some nice touches. If you are into your Blaxploitation soundtracks this is a must have along with the SHAFT soundtracks, COFFY, CLEOPATRA JONES and TROUBLE MAN.

TROUBLE MAN.

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TROUBLE MAN was released back in 1972 and straight away looked upon as one of the worst movies ever made. It was an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the black detective or private eye characters that had begun to edge their way into the cinema going audiences’ radar, such as SHAFT the year previous and CLEOPATRA JONES for example. It was released in the same year as the SHAFT sequel, SHAFTS BIG SCORE.    The best thing about this movie in my opinion is the infectious and funky musical score which was written by Tamala Motown Legend Marvin Gaye, but the music we hear on the soundtrack of the movie is somewhat different to the songs and other material that Gaye produced during his career, it was also surprisingly the only film that the artist wrote the music for, which is such a shame as I think that he showed a real flair and talent for, the music is certainly soulful and has to it that groovy and funky sound that was so much in demand during the 1970,s.
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The music was composed before disco really took hold but there are several passages and quirks of orchestration and composition that would become common place in popular music during the coming years of that decade. The composer utilises solo sax on a few occasions throughout the score and this is highly effective and creates a haunting and alluring mood that is not only Smokey and sensual but at times can radiate an atmosphere that is slightly apprehensive. The album was originally released in 1972 on an LP record on the Tamala Motown label, and a few years ago when the movie celebrated its 40TH Anniversary, the soundtrack was reissued with the original album tracks plus numerous other cues that were taken directly from the film score. This made for an impressive and an entertaining listen, which had a running time of over 2 hours. The music is obviously jazz, and soul influenced and every now and then we are treated to some amazing vocals by Gaye himself. The emphases being upon the brass section for most of its running time, brass supported by percussive elements that include booming kettle drums, bongos and timpani and drums with cymbals, we are also presented with solid and flawless performances on wood wind, piano, with strings lacing in and out of the equation. In many ways I prefer this score to the music for the SHAFT series it is more developed and certainly polished, cool and funky, each cue has something that the listener will find interesting and original and it is a shame that the film it was written for did not live up to expectations.

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The music for this Blaxploitation movie is sophisticated and more refined than other scores for movies within the genre, at times one would be forgiven for thinking it was the work of Lalo Schifrin (Dirty Harry) or even Sid Ramin, Jerry Goldsmith (Man from Uncle), Hugo Montenegro or at times Ron Grainer (Omega Man) and Ennio Morricone. Think STILETTO meets MATT HELM and FLINT here. That’s how good this is.

 

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The clever orchestration with electric bass punctuating the tenser scenes and being mirrored or shadowed by timpani and interspersed with brass stabs is particularly effective and the sultry and sexy sounding sax brings much to the work, add to this Gaye performing fragments of songs throughout the work also gives it a feelgood factor. Marvin Gaye wrote the score and conducted it using a number of players that had been previously utilised on many of the Motown hits of the 1960’s. To say that TROUBLE MAN the score is entertaining is the understatement of the year, it is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds and styles that will linger long in your mind long after you have pressed the off button on the CD player, Recommended, hell yes. Find it, buy it, savour it and get down with Mr T.

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