What does film music mean to you? It’s a question I have often asked of friends and also of myself, I was amazed that so many people did not realize there was such a thing as a film score, yes ok the film theme has for many years become favourite to listeners on the radio, for example themes such as The Magnificent Seven, Jaws, Star Wars, Gone With the Wind, James Bond etc have all become deeply implanted into the subconscious of the various generations when films such as these appeared, but these were if you like Thematic, tuneful, they had a melody a musical hook for want of a better description, but now it is very different, for example if I asked you to hum or whistle the theme from say, the new version of Dune would you be able too?
Or what about the theme from The Power of the Dog? Probably not I am guessing, because most new movies don’t have what we used to refer to as the Main Titles theme, I thought just the other day why are there no film theme compilations? Well, its easy because there are no or a very small amount of film scores that have a main or central theme. Yes, there are always sections of scores that contain something that is thematic, but nothing on the scale of films from the 1960’s through to the 1990.s although as I have said there are exceptions.
But very few. Gone are the days of people leaving the cinema with the music from a film running round their heads, it is it seems all about the soundscape now and not the film score, the layering of synthetic non-musical foundations on which the composer or the producer of the score builds his or her electronic monotony, which is repetitive to the point of either driving one mad or even sending you to sleep. There is no cohesion, no weave to the fabric, no melody to the works, but that is my opinion. What’s yours? So, because of the demise of the film music compilation or the great film theme collection, lets go back a few years and look at a few compilations that were on LP initially and were also an essential part of any film music fans collection.
Starting with the 1968 release Great Western Film Themes, which was on the UA label, (SULP 1220) and had a handful of original tracks and a scattering of cover versions of well-known movie themes from westerns. This was to the first of three LP records released under the title of Great Western film Themes, vol’s two and three following a few years after. Its interesting looking at the content of the original compilation that it boasts music from American made westerns, whereas as the second and third volumes appeared it gradually altered and included Italian themes from spaghetti westerns, penned by the likes of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai. Which I supposed demonstrated the change in style and the change of the cinema going audiences’ taste in the western.
The original compilation containing standards such as The Big Country, The Magnificent Seven, The Way West, The Return of the Seven, The Scalphunters, The Hour of the Gun, The Wonderful Country etc, all great themes and three of those examples being Coplendish in their style and sound, as in filled with Americana and an expansive air.
Volume two (UAS 29064) was released in 1969 and was a little different and more varied including the likes of The Hills Run Red, and Navajo Joe which were score’s that Morricone penned under the name of Leo Nichols, the second volume also contained The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as The Big Gundown, also by Morricone and cover versions of the composers themes from A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars more interpreted by LeRoy Holmes and his Orchestra. Dominic Frontiere’s Hang Em High theme was also in the line-up, as well as covers of River of No Return, MacKennas Gold and True Grit, it also featured Shelley Manne’s theme and song from Young Billy Young, The Misfits from Alex North, and a cover of Rio Bravo.
So, a very varied selection of music from the western genre.
Volume three of the series (UAS 24892) was released in 1972, and contained sixteen tracks of fabulous western music, from the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, David Buttloph, Elmer Bernstein, Marcello Giombini, Stelvio Cipriani, and others, at the time of its release this became a popular LP with collectors because it contained Face To Face and A Professional Gun from Morricone and also Marcello Giombini’s infectious sounding theme from the movie Sabata. In addition to this it featured Indio Black which was the theme from The Bounty Hunters another in the Sabata series composed by Bruno Nicolai, Morricone’s long-time conductor and collaborator. Let’s, not forget that some of these tracks at that time had not been released in the UK and USA. It was also a compilation that successfully mixed the musical styles of both the Italian and American made sagebrush saga’s including standards such as The Streets of Laredo, alongside Mclintock, The Horse Soldiers, Drango, and Shane.
The album boasted two pieces from Michael Winner westerns in the form of Lawman, and Chato’s Land both by Jerry Fielding. both of which also at that time had not received a soundtrack release. So, this was a groundbreaking album, and the man behind it and the first two volumes was Alan Warner. In 1974 a double LP set was issued by United Artists which included many of the tracks that were featured in the first three volumes, The Great Western Film Theme Collection-(Original soundtracks and hit film music) contained twenty four cues from westerns the majority of which were from the original soundtracks, with a handful of covers. These western compilations were a lifeline for collectors at the time of their release because the full soundtrack albums were not readily available, especially the Italian scores which were often released in Italy and only available on import.
In fact, out of the twenty-four tracks seventeen were original recordings, the remainder being performed by the likes of Nick Perito, LeRoy Holmes, The Hollywood Strings, Ferrante and Teicher etc. The collection was compiled by Dan Burguone and had notes by Alan Warner. Released as a gatefold this was basically a compilation of the first three compilations with a few exclusions and just one addition which was Hugo Friedhofer’s luxurious sounding theme for the Marlon Brando oater One Eyed Jacks (1961) which has been seen as an inspiration for many of the Italian made Zapata westerns.
The theme and indeed the score by Friedhofer is a fusion of both golden age and silver age styles and stands as one of the composers best works.
As I said the man behind these and several other Great Film Theme compilations on United Artists records was Alan Warner, who was not just an expert on film music and films but excelled in his knowledge of all types of music. British-born music historian Alan Warner was in the music industry his entire working life, first with EMI Records beginning in 1961. He later became label manager for United Artists Records in their London office before transferring to the label’s Los Angeles headquarters in 1976. Drawing on his love of vintage movies, he produced a series of successful soundtrack records for UA including “The Golden Age Of The Hollywood Musical” containing previously unissued tracks from Warner Bros’ Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s. He also issued a single of “The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” as sung in a 1937 Hal Roach film by Laurel & Hardy and it reached #2 on the British charts in December ‘75. Warner went independent in ‘79 and began consulting for United Artists Music Publishing in Hollywood. He then created an entirely novel way of promoting vintage song copyrights to record producers, music supervisors and ad agencies via Discography Trade Books which he wrote and compiled for EMI, Warner/Chappell, MCA and Peer Music. Warner was also creative consultant for EMI, Warner/Chappell and Sony/ATV during which time he recorded interviews with such writers and artists as Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Kenny Gamble & Léon Huff, Gerry Goffin, Lamont Dozier, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Neil Sedaka, Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, Margaret Whiting and Charles Brown; these interviews were used as promotional tools and were distributed worldwide. Over the years, Warner produced hundreds of commercial compilation albums including a ‘Rock Of Ages’ series for Capitol Records plus ‘The Sue Records Story’ box-set and the ‘Crescent City Soul’ 4-CD set both for EMI.
Warner always believed in documenting musical history and wrote three commercial books namely “Celluloid Rock” (co-authored with the BBC’s Philip Jenkinson), plus “Who Sang What On The Screen” and “Who Sang What In Rock ‘n’ Roll”. with his wife Pat in their Hollywood Hills home, Warner also began “The Door to Yesterday” website. He passed away in January 2022.
Other compilations that Warner was responsible for were the Best of series as in The Best of Bond, The Best of Ennio Morricone and The Best of Francis Lai. He also compiled Great War film Themes for UA, (UAS 29074) which surprisingly was limited to just one volume even though it contained some classic themes from what are now considered iconic war movies.
Released in 1969 it contained thirteen cues in all, The Great Escape, Bridge at Remagen, Hannibal Brooks, Play Dirty, Judgement at Nuremberg, among them. The LP featured Michel Legrand’s theme for the Michael Caine movie Play Dirty, which has never seen a complete release, with a track appearing years later in the four CD set of The Cinema of Michel Legrand, so Warner was always including rare cues and enticing collectors to buy these compilations. The LP also included Is Paris Burning? The Train, 633 Squadron, Cast a Giant Shadow, The Battle of Britain, The Devils Brigade, Triple Cross, and The Guns of Navarone, like the western compilations this too contained a few cover versions, but of the thirteen tracks just four were non originals.
The Best of albums were at the time of their release popular amongst collectors, with the Best of Ennio Morricone, (UAS 29002) in particular being attractive because it contained tracks from Navajo Joe and Death Rides a Horse which at that time had not received a soundtrack release outside of Italy. The Good the Bad and The Ugly and The Big Gundown, also featured on the compilation.
With each score being represented by three or four cues. The LP was released in 1969 and how little did we know then to call this The Best of from this prolific composer.
The album was re-issued in 1974 with the same track listing on Sunset records, under the title of Western Themes Italian Style. Along with a handful of previously released scores such as The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven/The Return of the Seven, Goldfinger, The Ten Commandments and Phaedra. Sunset effectively becoming the budget label for UA/Liberty.
The format was the same for The Best of Bond (UAS 29021) with five movies being represented, Doctor No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. The collection containing in all fifteen tracks. This however was not re-issued.
The Best of Francis Lai (UAS 29007), too proved popular, again released in 1969 and having selections from four movies, A Man and A Woman, Hannibal Brooks, Vivre Pour Vivre and Life, Love, and Death. The LP contained fourteen cues in total and was an introduction to the music of Lai for many collectors. Compilations were not new too UA records in fact there had been a number of albums released, that showcased the music from the movies.
All containing themes that would become familiar and stand the test of time, unlike the film music of today which in most cases sadly is instantly forgettable. Bring back the film theme collections, I hear you say, but what would we include within them? I suppose we could release compilations of Not so great droning noises, that are really annoying. (or have I got tinnitus? Vol 1). But it does not quite have the same ring to Great Film Themes does it?