IS A SONG SOUNDTRACK A SCORE?

We all love movie scores as in original music that is specifically written to enhance and support those images on screen. But there is also within the soundtrack collecting community many who say they like film music and when they speak of these refer to mainly song scores, yes granted a lot of songs are written specifically for the movie on which they appear, but there are many films that contain songs and even instrumental tracks that are just placed on the soundtrack of a movie by a music supervisor.  Ok do not get me wrong this is an important role, but in my mind not as important as a composer who sits and watches a movie, times sequences, and then writes a piece of music that not only suits the mood of the movie and sometimes elevates the atmosphere to even greater heights. Songs very often are used as a background rather than a composition to elevate a sequence, and many songs are taken from a back catalogue and when they first appeared the movie that they are now associated with was not even in the works. So I thought why not take a look or to be precise a listen to a handful of movie soundtracks that contain mainly songs, yes we will look at songs that were written for movies as in title songs, but also what about a soundtrack that contains songs on its so called Original soundtrack release that were merely background music as in being played on a radio or a juke box behind a scene in a bar or a café? Yes I know that these are on the soundtrack, but mostly are as I have already said old songs, which have been tracked onto the film by an engineer or music supervisor. I think in the main songs such as these are given a place on a soundtrack because the film studio who is responsible for releasing the movie wants to get extra revenue from it, and by adding a popular song could add more appeal to the movie via its song score rather than its original score. If you know what I mean?

 Ok, an example is Ghost, this was a popular movie anyway but when someone mentions the movie, do they ever say oh yes what a fantastic score by Maurice Jarre, no, well very rarely anyway.

It is always the song that the producers utilized for the film that is mentioned, Unchained Melody performed by The Righteous Brothers went to the top of the charts in many countries because it was used in Ghost, and obviously helped the movie as well. Its ironic that the songs melody was written originally for a movie little known movie entitled Unchained that was released back in 1955 and is the work of veteran film music Maestro Alex North, who used the theme as the foundation for his score for the film which was about a prison. The lyrics were by Hy Zaret and the vocals on the soundtrack of the film were by Todd Duncan.

The song was recorded by several artists over the years including The Platters, and it has become something of a standard, but the most well known is the version recorded by The Righteous Brothers in the July of 1965. Which had a new lease of life because of its use in Ghost. Composer Maurice Jarre also integrated the melody in instrumental form into his score, which was highly effective, and it is probably true to say that it was Unchained Melody that also inspired the composer to create a counter theme for the movie as well as writing themes for the central characters.

But it is the song more than anything else that is remembered as opposed to the actual film score. With many on hearing the opening strains of the song straight away associating it with Ghost. This is something that can also be said with other movies, on hearing a song the listener associating it with a film or TV show instead of maybe when it was originally released. But the use of the song score often extends from just a solitary ballad, in fact lets head back to the mid to late 1970’s when it is probably true to state that the song score became something that was starting to be used more frequently. The obvious movie that we associate with a song score or soundtrack is Saturday Night Fever, which contained disco laced tracks from the Bee Gees, Tavares, Kool and the Gang, Yvonne Elliman, MFSB, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, The Trammps, Ralph Mc Donald and an instrumental score or adaptations by David Shire iteven included a different disco-oriented version of Beethoven in the form of Walter Murphy’s funky A Fifth of Beethoven.

 But maybe Saturday Night Fever is too much of an obvious choice, maybe Thank God Its Friday or Car Wash are better starting points even though they did follow the Travolta movie.

Car Wash had songs performed by Rose Royce, with the score by Norman Whitfield who had made his name as a writer and a producer with Motown records working with groups such as The Temptations on classics such as Papa Was a Rollin Stone, he also wrote and produced songs for Undisputed Truth another Motown band until Whitfield signed them to his own Whitfield records in the mid to late seventies releasing the first ever 12” Single You Plus me = Love in 1976.

Norman Whitfield.

The songs for Car Wash are a prime example of background music or source tracks because most were heard in the background on the radio etc, whilst the story unfolded on screen, the movie itself was dire, and failed to make any impression at all outside of America, it was one of the many films that was attempting to cash in on the success of Saturday Night Fever, but fell short woefully even with Richard Prior on board, but saying that it was probably because Prior was involved that the movie bombed.

Thank God its Friday was also a film that made little impression on audiences apart from the music that is.

Its soundtrack was basically a best of Casablanca Records, which was a label that was born out of the success of disco and the performances of Donna Summer as produced by Giorgio Moroder (I Feel Love, Love to Love you Baby etc) and also included performances from acts signed to Motown. Thank God It’s Friday was directed by Robert Klane and released by Columbia Pictures, it was co-produced by Motown Productions and Casablanca Film-Works.  

Released at the height of the popularity of disco in 1978 the film includes appearances from The Commodores performing “Too Hot ta Trot” and Donna Summer performing “Last Dance”, which garnered the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1978. The film also features an early performance by actor Jeff Goldblum and the first major screen appearance by Debra Winger who went on to star in movies such as An Officer and a Gentleman with Richard Gere.  It also features Terri Nunn, who would go on to fame in the 1980s new wave group Berlin who performed the famous song, Take my Breath Away from the movie Top Gun.

Singer Paul Jabara also featured in the movie, and he performed two songs on the soundtrack, Jabara who was an already established disco artist and song writer was responsible for the song Last Dance and later went onto pen Enough is Enough No More Tears for Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand, he also wrote the classic track Its Raining Men for The Weather Girls. The soundtrack for Thank God Its Friday was released on three LP records on the Casablanca label, the third disc being a a one sided 12” single by Donna Summer performing Je T’aime moi non plus.

I remember Casablanca records sending me the three LP set back in 1978, plus a 12” single of every track on the soundtrack. At the time I was resident DJ in a well known club on the South Coast of England, I think I was probably one of very few DJ,s in the UK to get these and I still have them today.  Although the movie was not great, it was I think from my own experiences a fairly-good representation of the disco scene back then, with its over the top characters and pulsating long music tracks, it is probably remembered more for its soundtrack rather than anything else.

A movie that was released before Saturday Night Fever that contained a predominantly song score or soundtrack was The Harder They Come which was released in 1972. It starred Jimmy Cliff, as a young man wo wants to become a reggae star but is embroiled in a world of corrupt record producers and drug dealers.

The film was directed by Perry Henzell and featured a number of reggae artists such as Prince Buster. The soundtrack featured several hit songs by the likes of Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, The Slickers, and the Melodians, as well as four songs by Cliff himself in the form of The Harder they come, Sitting in Limbo, You Can Get it if You Really Want and Many Rivers to Cross.

The film has gained something of a cult status and its soundtrack released on Island records too is considered a classic. Talking of films with song scores, how about the movies that featured the Beatles, I am talking here mainly of A Hard Days Night and Help, which although featured many songs by the band also had to them a score as in an instrumental score, the first I think I am right in saying featured some music by the bands producer George Martin and Help had an incidental score by Ken Thorne.

The fab four also featured in The Magical Mystery Tour for TV which was directed by Lennon, Harrison and McCartney and featured songs old and new by the band and Yellow Submarine with the band becoming animated characters of themselves.

The soundtrack of Yellow Submarine featured several unreleased studio tracks at the time of the films release. So, with a film starring The Beatles I suppose it follows that the films soundtrack will contain Beatles songs.

There were other examples of British pop groups featuring in movies, The Dave Clark Five for example in John Boorman’s film Catch us if you Can (1965).

Cliff Richard and The Shadows also made several films which although were not good cinema served their purpose of promoting the careers of all involved, Summer Holiday, Finders Keepers, The Young Ones, Wonderful Life etc, but these were billed as musicals and not films with song scores so that is something different, I suppose.

So where do you draw a line between a musical and a film that has a soundtrack filled with songs?  Let’s move on shall we, but don’t forget to burst into song at random as we do. Purple Rain, was a movie released in 1984, it starred Prince or was it the artist formerly known as Prince, as The Kid who is a musician from Minneapolis who is rising in popularity with his band, the Revolution. He has left behind a home life that was turbulent and has channelled all his energy into his music. As his career progresses, he attempts to not make the same mistakes as his Father, but whilst exploring the club scene he enters a tense relationship with a female singer Apollina all the time looking over his shoulder at rivals who will steal his thunder and his lady.

I personally did not like the movie, I felt Prince was so out of his comfort zone, and his performance was wooden and fragmented. The music however is classic Prince, and serves the picture well, but again we must ask is this a musical or a film that contains songs on its soundtrack. If we hear symphonic or even synthesised music on a film soundtrack, we know that this is film music, but in situations such as Purple Rain, is it a film score or is it a film which has been tracked with songs.

Ok, get the white suit ready, comb those locks and throw some shapes people, lets head back to the brightly lit dance floor and shimmering disco balls of Saturday Night Fever (1977). Did you know the movie was originally entitled Saturday Night? Yes, but the Bee Gees had already written a song entitled Night Fever so when they were asked to write a song with the same title as the movie, they persuaded the movies producers to change the title of the film to Saturday Night Fever to accommodate their song as the title track.  

Night Fever and Staying Alive were written specifically for the movie, as was the Yvonne Elliman vocal If I Cant Have You.

But Jive Talking, You should be Dancing, More than a Woman and How Deep is Your Love were already recorded and were tracked onto the soundtrack. However, Jive Talking appears on the soundtrack album and was a hit in both the UK and the US but it’s not in the movie as the scene where it was used was cut from the finished film. If I Cant Have You, was a Bee Gees song as in the Gibb Brothers penned it but never performed it on the soundtrack, instead they recorded the song and released it as the B side of the single Staying Alive in 1978.

Other tracks such as Open Sesame by Kool and the Gang had already achieved chart success in the States and were tracked to the film’s soundtrack.

As was the dance floor classic Disco Inferno, the song was originally released a year before Saturday Night Fever and was the title track of the Trammps album. Although it was popular in discos, it failed to reach the top 20 and charted at number 53 in the States, however after being utilised on the soundtrack of the movie it had a new lease of life and was re-released as a single in 1978 and got to number 11 in the charts.

The group Tavares also recorded More than a Woman and achieved chart success with their take on the song following on from their hit records It only takes a Minute Girl from 1975 and Heaven Must be Missing an Angel in 1976. In the same year as Saturday Night Fever 1977 the band also hit the charts with Whodunnit.

Ralph MacDonald also had a single of his Calypso Breakdown included on the soundtrack, the track originally being on MacDonald’s album Sound of a Drum which was released in 1976 but after its popularity on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was released as a single in 1978.

DAVID SHIRE.

Mention must be made of David Shire who did a great job of supervising and arranging music for the movie, his Night on Disco Mountain is outstanding, the composer taking his inspiration from Russian composer Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare or Bald Mountain composition. He also provided the compositions Salsation, and Manhattan Skyline to the soundtrack. Shire’s score was typical of the sound that was prevalent in the 1970’s and his musical adaptations for the film acted as a bridge between what was looked upon as a traditional score and the disco songs that Saturday Night Fever contained.  

Some films it is true cry out for songs on their soundtracks, and it is also true to say that many films need this type of score or soundtrack, You Cant Stop the Music was a movie that was a vehicle for the group Village People, not a particularly good movie, but at least the songs were catchy enough.

The film was released in 1980 and ran for a staggering 2 hrs its an audio biographical movie, which stars the Village People and Steve Guttenberg who portrays Jaques Morali thinly disguised in the movie as Jack Morell. Morali was the founder of Village People, Guttenberg plays a struggling composer in the movie and it is basically the story of the group how they got together etc and their eventual success, well so it says, but, the real story was somewhat different to the one portrayed on screen.

The movie I think we can forget about, it was a bad idea or maybe it was a good idea, and it went horribly wrong whilst they were filming it, who knows? Anyway, the movie got the Golden Raspberry Award and was named as the worst movie of the year in 1981 and got another Golden Raspberry for worst screenplay, so yes, like I told you it was bad. But despite this the fans loved it and the title song achieved chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. as well as being popular in Europe.

I suppose as with any movie if it’s bad its bad and even movies with traditional symphonic scores can be downright awful, but somehow the composer manages to write a score that’s memorable but having a great score or a brilliant collection of songs on the soundtrack cannot save what is an awful film. Again, You Cant Stop the Music I suppose could be categorised as a musical, but lets not dwell on this one.  Instead let’s go onwards and upwards, or maybe backwards and downhill.

In 1983 a sequel to Saturday Night Fever was released, Staying Alive although a good movie never hit the dizzy heights of the original, Travolta was still as energetic, but it is probably because of the era in which it was set that it was not as much of a draw to audiences.

The soundtrack was also a vibrant one, the Bee Gees returned with six songs that included Staying Alive plus the soundtrack included performances from Frank Stallone (Sly’s Brother). Tommy Faragher, Cynthia Rhodes, and a score written by composer Vince DiCola. To be completely honest it sounded like a watered-down version of the original Night Fever soundtrack and had to it Rocky type references and a rather lack lustre 1980’s sound and style, with certain song being overlong and outstaying their welcome.

The movie focuses on the life of the former disco King Tony Manero who has left finally left Brooklyn and now lives in Manhattan. He resides in a cheap hotel and works as a dance instructor and makes ends meet by working as a dance-club waiter in the evenings. He is trying to make it as a Broadway actor and dancer and desperately wants to become a professional. Breaking away from his Brooklyn life, family, and friends, but many of his old attitudes have not altered and make things difficult for him. A paramount release the soundtrack was released on Polydor records.

Finally in this selective look at song soundtracks a film score that contains just a trio of songs but is written by an artist that is probably one of the best-known performers from the 1970’s, Barry White. Born Barry Eugene Carter, Barry White as we all know him was an American singer-songwriter, musician, record producer and composer.

He won two Grammy Awards and became known for his alluring and dark tones that came from his baritone singing voice, his greatest success was in the 1970s both as a solo singer and with his Orchestra, when he crafted many enduring soul, funk, and disco songs, which have now become classics.

In 1974 he scored the movie Together Brothers which contains a score that is performed by The Love Unlimited Orchestra who appeared with White on his many hits such as You See the Trouble with Me, Cant, Get Enough of Your Love Baby, and Your my first my Last My Everything. The score is surprisingly entertaining and is more than a collection of sweet soul sounds with the Barry White romantic and sensual stylisation that we all are aware of from the 1970’s. There is a real drama purveyed here, the compositions coming across as a fusion of the styles employed by Lalo Schifrin and Henry Mancini.

White even includes a menacing yet calming sounding whistle (shades of Morricone) in the cue, Killers Back, which also for me evoked Schifrin’s  Dirty Harry scores, this style seems to become more prevalent as the score progresses, with White again utilising the whistle but this time in a lighter fashion. Cant, Seem to Find Him, is a cue that also displays a harrowing yet upbeat persona and works well within the movie and certainly holds the attention of the listener when heard away from the movie, this is a groovy, funky and melodic work which if I were you would check out asap.  White performs Honey Please Cant ya See, and Somebody’s Gonna Off the Man with the group Love Unlimited placing their unmistakable musical stamp upon the vocal track People of Tomorrow are the People of Today.

The score is also an inventive one with the composer adding little nuances, and noises throughout that are underlined by the satin strings of the Love Unlimited Orchestra, percussion and piano which are all embellished by harpsichord on occasion. This is still today a rewarding listen.

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