Category Archives: Biographical Essays

SUPER SOUNDTRACK SOUNDS OF THE SEVENTIES.

Many composers who are now considered as ultimate film music Maestros began their careers in the 1960.s or before and from there, they would go on to write scores that are now a part of cinematic history. Composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, John Barry, Francis Lai, Maurice Jarre, Nino Rota, and John Williams worked on numerous movies throughout their careers and established themselves as music smiths of the highest caliber, being much in demand to score movies and TV shows. In my opinion it was in the latter part of the 1960’s and the decade of the 1970’s that we saw these composers build on the body of work that they had already created in previous decades and further established themselves, their sound and their trademark stylizations, quirks of orchestration and thematic presence and quality, imprinting their names upon the cinema going public’s mind all over the world.

A SHARK, ALIENS, COWBOYS, ADVENTURES IN SPACE, BURNING TOWERS AND DISASTER’S NATURAL AND OTHERWISE.

JOHN WILLIAMS.

It is true to say that John Williams is probably the most well-known composer of music for film. He has written so many iconic soundtracks and is for many the musical voice of the Hollywood blockbuster. A great number of his now classic scores were composed in the 1970’s. It seemed that every new movie to come out of tinsel town in that decade had a score by the esteemed Maestro. And for a period in film scoring that was somewhat hit and miss his style and also his re-introduction of the symphonic score to the cinema after producers and directors had opted in many cases for song scores was for the majority of cinema goers a welcome sound. The first big movie that I remember the name of John Williams on was Star Wars but of course he worked on so many movies that we now refer to as classics. So, it was a fruitful time for the composer, the 1970’s also marked the start of the composer’s collaboration and friendship with filmmaker Steven Spielberg when he worked on Sugarland Express in 1973, the partnership which still endures to this day has cultivated numerous projects and has inspired both the composer and the director in their respective careers.

It’s something to note that this partnership might not have happened, because the director originally asked Jerry Goldsmith to score Sugarland Express, if that had happened maybe the films as directed by Spielberg may have taken a different route both musically and artistically, because there is no doubt whatsoever that Williams had just as much influence upon the filmmaker as the director inspired the composer.

John Williams was born in 1932 and began his film scoring career back in 1954 when he wrote the music for the promotional movie You Are Welcome, which was made by the Newfoundland office of tourism. This was followed four years later by the composers feature film debut, when in 1958 Williams wrote the music for the Lou Place movie Daddy-O, under the name of Johnny Williams. During the 1960’s Williams worked on no less than twenty-two feature films mostly under Johnny Williams and created themes and scores for numerous TV shows including, Checkmate, The Time Tunnel, Land of The Giants, and Lost in Space all of which contained the composers now familiar musical trademarks. (The Time Tunnel music soon to be released by La La Land records on a 3, disc set). As well as his original scores during the 1970.s the composer also worked on adapting and arranging music for movies such as Fiddler on The Roof in 1971, which was something he had done before in 1969 for Goodbye Mr. Chips winning an Oscar on both for his work. But let us focus on the decade of disco, flares, studio 54, and also the ten years of deliciously romantic and dramatic film music that was penned by the ultimate American Maestro, John Towner Williams, music that became the other sound of the 1970’s. A decade that was filled with space sagas, westerns, disaster movies, horrors, romances and tales of war.  I suppose the obvious place to start with John Williams is in a Galaxy Far Far Away….. because it is Star Wars more than any other music for film that many do associate him with and rightly so. The ultimate space adventure, Star Wars was and still is one of the most popular series of movies ever produced, and Williams has been onboard since day one. His majestic opening fanfare is now a piece of cinema history and is as iconic as the 20th Century Fox fanfare penned by Alfred Newman which also opens the Star Wars movies. Williams’s powerful and driving theme having the qualities of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s rousing music from The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood and the brooding power and tense drama of Gustav Holst’s Mars the Bringer of War from The Planets, with the unmistakable stamp of Williams inventiveness, wistfulness and sheer romanticism imprinted firmly within the music acting as a bridge between the styles of classical, golden age cinema and the then contemporary sound of film scoring.

To try and describe the thrill each time this music plays is almost impossible, all one knows is when those words appear A Long time ago In a Galaxy Far Far Away, you know to get ready for that stupendous blast of brass, the soaring strings, and the booming percussion, that carry the now familiar opening theme along and sets the scene perfectly for tense and fast paced action that is unrivaled by anything else. This is epic film music, classy film music and the dramatic, tense, exhilarating, and romantic all rolled into one. I remember the album being released on a two LP set on the 20th Century label in the UK.

A foldout or gatefold as it was often called, which too was unusual, because many labels would release just a one LP album of selections of music but there was so much music in the movie, it warranted two albums, and as we found out later there was much more to come with subsequent compact disc releases and recordings by the likes of Charles Gerhart and the National Philharmonic. The excitement that that opening theme stirs within many is unbelievable, and each time I hear it I am transported back to the first time I heard it and the moment when I stood in HMV holding that black covered double LP set. With Star Wars Williams, went back in time and re-introduced the full-blown symphonic score to cinema, the symphonic score as we know was at that time becoming a little underused, mainly due to budgets and also a new generation of film director/producer and it was a period in which the so called musical supervisor began to appear on credits of movies and pop stars and artists were starting to become involved in the writing of scores, but scores that were filled with songs some of which bared very little relevance to the films content.

So, it is thanks to the likes of John Williams and filmmaker George Lucas that audiences once again got to hear a fully symphonic soundtrack, that underlined, enhanced, and elevated the scenes and scenarios on screen as well as giving central characters their own personalized musical themes and motifs that would follow them throughout the entire series. But it was not just Star Wars that drew attention to composer John Williams, because this was a score that came towards the end of the 1970’s in 1977, in the same year the composer fashioned a dramatic and at times quite complex and Avant Gard score for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the score became an integral part of the movies storyline with the composer creating the now famous five tones motif that played such an important part of the films storyline. It was in the 1970’s that audiences began to see the name of John Williams more and more on credits, and he was soon to become associated with the major blockbusters and in particular disaster movies as in The Towering Inferno (1974) Earthquake (1974) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

All three were issued separately but more recently a box set, The Disaster Movie Collection was issued by La La Land Records and soon sold out and after a short period of time has become a collector’s item. The single albums too are rare finds with the set including expanded versions of all three scores. The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure were both produced by Irwin Allen who was also behind the early TV shows that Williams worked on such as Land of the Giants.

Williams also worked on The Eiger Sanction in 1975 for director Clint Eastwood and followed this with his classic score with an iconic theme Jaws which was the second collaboration with Spielberg. The composer returned to the shark tale in 1978, with director Jeannot Shzwarc helming Jaws 2.

It was also in 1978, that audiences were told that they would believe a man could fly, when actor Christopher Reeve donned the red cape in Superman the Movie, directed by Richard Donner with Williams once again stepping up to the podium to create a stirring and memorable anthem like theme for the man of steel. But let us also not forget movies such as The Cowboys, Cinderella Liberty, Images, Jane Eyre, Pete n Tillie, The Long Goodbye, The Man who loved Cat Dancing, The Paper Chase, Missouri Breaks, Black Sunday, Family Plot, The Fury, and the composers only foreign language movie Story of a Woman directed by Leonardo Bercovici in 1970, and his adaption of music for the Don Taylor directed Tom Sawyer as well as his original score for the same movie in 1972. 1978 also brought a darker and more ominously wistful and romantic sounding Williams in the form of his score for John Badham’s rich and deliciously gothic version of Dracula, which starred Frank Langella as the infamous Count.

Although I have to admit that shades of this style of scoring had already manifested itself in scores such as Jane Eyre a few years earlier. It had to it a rich gothic sound and also contained a style and overall audio presence that just oozed a quintessential English flavour a windswept romanticism filled the soundtrack for Dracula, and it was an integral component of the movie, adding atmospherics and creating moods both dark and light. 

It was certainly in the seventies that Williams established his distinct and distinguished sound and style more widely, a style that has endured and still graces movies of all genres today, via the composers continued scoring prowess and also because of other composers that are following his lead.

SYMPHONIC DRAMA WITH A BEAT.

LALO SCHIFRIN.

Think of the name Lalo Schifrin and what comes to mind, well I suppose that is probably depending on the era you discovered his music in. For me it was the 1960’s as soon as I heard that infectious beat from Mission Impossible, I was hooked, along with other great works from that decade that had the unmistakable musical stamp of Schifrin on them such as The Cincinnati Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Che, The Fox, Bullitt, Murderers Row and let’s not forget his TV scores such as The Man from Uncle and Mannix plus numerous others. But the 1970’s were also a furtive and fruitful period for this much in demand Maestro.

With films such as those in The Dirty Harry franchise, The Concorde Airport 79, Enter the dragon, Kelly’s Heroes, Voyage of the Damned, The Eagle Has Landed, The Amityville Horror, and Clint Eastwood western, Joe Kidd, all benefitting from the composer’s unique style of scoring. He also worked on The Planet of the Apes TV series which aired in 1974, providing the series with its theme.

However his music for the affecting horror movie The Exorcist (1973) was rejected, the movies director William Friedkin, was said to have thrown the music tapes out of a window after audiences were sent packing on seeing the trailer for the movie with a music track by Schifrin underscoring it, Warner Brothers put a lot of stock in reactions from audiences when a trailer was shown, and it was deemed that is was the music that was too scary (but that was the idea surely). Friedkin replaced the composers original score with tracks from classical composers and a short excerpt from Tubular Bells by British artist Mike Oldfield, with that piece of music now being forever associated with the film. 

Schifrin spoke of his experiences on the movie.

What happened is that the director, William Friedkin, hired me to write the music for the trailer, six minutes were recorded for the Warner’s edition of the trailer. The people who saw the trailer reacted against the film, because the scenes were heavy and frightening, so most of them went to the toilet to vomit. The trailer was terrific, but the mix of those frightening scenes and my music, which was also an exceedingly difficult and heavy score, scared the audiences away. So, the Warner Brothers executives said for Friedkin to tell me that I must write less dramatic and a softer work for the movie. I could have easily and perfectly done what they wanted because it was way too simple in relevance to what I had previously written, but Friedkin did not tell me what they said. I´m sure he did it deliberately. In the past we had an incident, caused by other reasons, and I think he wanted vengeance. This is my theory”.

But when the rejected work was issued finally on to a recording, it became apparent to many that this was a complicated, innovative, and complex, soundtrack and maybe the film’s director and the Warner Brothers studio did not understand fully how this wonderfully atmospheric and virulent sounding score would have made the already powerful film even more impacting. When, listening to it as just music it does have the ability to make one feel uneasy and unsettled.

It is said that the composer re-used some of the music in The Amityville Horror which was released in 1979 another shocking horror for which the composer received an Oscar nomination for best original score.  Schifrin was and still is an inventive and highly original Maestro and a polished pianist, his style crossing over so many boundaries and verging on the experimental at times. He has scored a varied collection of movies adding to each one an outstanding and highly creative musical background. It was Schifrin amongst others who expanded the use of jazz influenced music within movies going forward from where the likes of Elmer Bernstein, Quincy Jones and others had started and like those Schifrin combined those jazz vibes successfully with dramatic and action led compositions that not only enhanced and supported on screen scenarios but heightened the effect of these upon audiences in both movies and Television productions. 

As well as his film scores the composer and performer also released several studio albums during the 1970.s which were not film music but jazz and Latin and even a fusion of jazz and funk. His arrangement of the Jaws theme by John Williams, which was taken from the album Black Widow, being a massive disco hit in both the U.S. A. and the U.K. and also being one of the first 12-inch singles to be released in the UK. Another movie that drew attention to the composer was Kelly’s Heroes, originally titled Kelly’s Warriors, this comedy/war drama starred Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas, who were supported superbly by Donald Sutherland and Don Rickles and Carrol O Connor. Schifrin’s score acted as a bridge and a background between the ever-changing scenarios within the movie that shifted from comedy to drama, the music being as swift altering as the film’s storyline. Thus, one moment we would here martial sounding music and in the next instant there were sitar-based cues and also French sounding interludes, the score even featured Hank Williams jnr and an up-beat song Burning Bridges performed by the Mike Curb Congregation which was popular away from the movie and achieved chart success in both the U.S. and the U.K. The stand-out score tracks for me personally within the movie were Tiger Tank which was a daunting and ominously lumbering sounding piece for percussion, brass, and strings, filled with tension and apprehension to accompany the German Tiger Tanks in the movie and also being utilised by the composer for some of the action scenes within the film. Then there was the opening March like composition, which in the movie was performed by woodwind or pipes, but on the first release of the soundtrack which was a re-recording was performed by whistling as in a Colonel Bogey type composition.

This was later remedied when the original score was finally released on the FSM label, a recording that contained the film score and a remastered version of the original album recording. Then there was Quick Draw Kelly, which was the music that accompanied Eastwood, Savalas and Sutherland as they walked down the street of a small French town towards a Tiger Tank that is guarding the bank which just happens to contain gold bars. The music that the composer provided for this Italian western influenced scene, was also Spaghetti western flavoured with Schifrin producing a Morricone-esque sounding piece complete with fuzzy electric guitar, racing timpani, strumming guitars and strange shrieks and sounds and brass flourishes. It worked wonderfully and the film is probably remembered for this scene above all others. There was also a serious side to the film and the score too mirrored this in places, most notably when the American soldiers are getting into position in the town prior to attacking the German forces that are stationed there.

Schifrin’s, largely atonal Commando Opus, heightens the tension and increases the level of drama within the scene.

The 1970.s also saw the composer score several TV series, providing the theme for The Planet of the Apes, Starsky and Hutch, The Partners, Most Wanted, Sanford and Son, and Petrocelli as well as others. He also continued to work on TV shows such as Medical Centre, Mission Impossible, and Mannix which he had been associated with from the 1960’s. Dirty Harry, Magnum Force and movies such as Voyage of the Damned and The Beguiled were also given the unmistakable musical identity of Lalo Schifrin.

MOVIE MUSIC ITALIAN STYLE.

ENNIO MORRICONE.

As we said goodbye to the 1960’s, and the decade of the seventies dawned, things did not alter that much, but it seemed that composers such as Ennio Morricone were becoming more prominent and maybe more acceptable to the more traditional film music collector.  Morricone showed little signs of slowing in his musical output, an output that has to be recognised as the work of a genius, there is no other terminology for it.   Although the composer would probably have disagreed with anyone calling him a genius. Referring to the likes of Mozart and Bach and their prolific compositions as the true meaning of the word genius. 1970, was a relatively quiet year for the composer as he worked on just ten movies and providing the already popular American TV series The VirginianThe men from Shilo with a new opening and closing theme. Films that the Maestro worked on in 1970. Included La Califfa, City of Violence, Hornet’s Nest, The Nicest Wife and Two Mules for Sister Sara, an American produced western starring Clint Eastwood.

The latter title was at the end of 2020 re-issued by American label La La Land records, on a double compact disc, that includes the film score and the original LP record edition but remastered. But the composer was during this period still working predominantly in Italy for Italian filmmakers, and although the first year of the decade was relatively quiet compared with the 1960’s Morricone fans were to be treated to a veritable landslide of music that was inventive innovative and varied. The composer scored nearly one hundred and fifty films from 1970 through to 1979 and began to work with non-Italian directors and producers as the decade moved forward.

The composer also re-united with several Italian filmmakers such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Sollima, Sergio Corbucci, Elio Petri, Damiano Damiani, Duccio Tessari and Bernardo Bertolucci, to name but a few. His flawless soundtracks often supporting movies and television projects that to be honest were not worthy of his attention or focus. But there were just as many examples of film and TV productions that were inspired filmmaking and a source of entertainment for many. As I briefly mentioned the titles that were key works for the Maestro in 1970, I will move to 1971, and the unique Italian genre of the Giallo film, these were

a rich vein for the composer to work upon and would become a genre of film that he would become associated with via scores such as The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Il Gatto Nova Coda, and Four Flies of Grey Velvet, all of which were the work of the now esteemed Italian filmmaker and the master of the macabre, Dario Argento the two latter titles both released in 1971. Plus, there was always the ever present western such as Companeros (1970), and in 1971 we heard a slightly less raw sounding Morricone western soundtrack within his score for Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker. Which in a way mirrored and extended the style he had employed upon in his score for Once Upon a time in the West. Morricone also continued to work on lower budget movies in his native Italy including Forza G, Veruschka, Oceano, Sacco and Vanzetti which were all to become key works in the composers growing body of work for the cinema. Le Casse, Incontro, Maddelena, My Dear Assassin and many more were movies that contained the distinct sound that Morricone had created all benefitting from the composers lilting melodies and often experimental approach. The 1970’s was also the decade when we were gifted such scores as Days of Heaven, The Heretic (shame about the movie), Orca Killer Whale, Devil in the Brain, Novecento, Moses the Lawgiver (for TV), Lizard in Woman’s Skin, If there was work What Would I do, Oceano, and La Califfa to name but a handful. I have literally just touched upon the 1970’s film music of Ennio Morricone, because there is so much more.  

BOND AND BEYOND.

JOHN BARRY.

Like so many film music composers John Barry created numerous memorable scores and iconic themes within his career, many of these were fashioned in the 1960’s but just as many adorned and enhanced movies that were produced during the 1970’s. In fact, in the seventies Barry scored over twenty feature films and also worked on at least a dozen TV series and shows. Everyone surely remembers The Persuaders, The Adventurer, Orson Welles- Great Mysteries etc for the small screen, these themes were to become the staple diet of Barry fans in the 1970’s just as Vendetta had done in the 1960’s. The impressive list of movies he scored in the seventies included two Bond films, Diamonds are Forever (1971) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), and although in my opinion these were not the best of Barry or Bond because I think the composer peaked for this series in 1969 with On Her Majestys Secret Service, they still served the movies well containing just the right amount of bombastic and action packed musical content, but he never returned to Bond till 1983 when he scored Octopussy.

I think one of the big Barry scores of the seventies must be The Last Valley, and although the movie did not achieve the box office returns it should have done the score was superb with the composer returning to a similar style to which he had created in his Award-winning score for The Lion in Winter in 1968. The Last Valley was and still is a wonderfully entertaining movie, with Michael Caine, Omar Sharif, Nigel Davenport and Florinda Bolkan, and yes maybe it is not the best film ever made, but it certainly looks good and held my attention. Barry’s atmospheric, highly charged, and melodic score aiding the production greatly, with the Latin choruses of The Lion in Winter being substituted for a mix of both German and Latin phrases alongside lilting and haunting melodies that underline the beauty of the Last valley which is a last haven of peace in a world gone mad with war and plague during the thirty years war in the 17th Century where religions fought each other, and countries and Kingdoms switched sides to whichever side seemed to be winning at the time. It was a brutal and miserable time filled with murderous acts and atrocities carried out in the name of God whether he be a Catholic or Protestant one. The soundtrack was issued on to LP record at the time of the movies release, and then later a bootleg pressing appeared on a compact disc which was issued by tickertape in Germany. There was then thankfully an official release on Intrada and a re-recording on Silva Screen by the Prague Philharmonic under the baton of Nic Raine, which was a very faithful recreation of the Barry score and contained bonus cues and unreleased material.

Barry produced such a variety of music during the 1970’s and worked on a diverse collection of movies, but throughout it all he still retained his trademark thematic strings and faraway sounding horns that at times elevated and eloquently enhanced many a scene or scenario. He worked on the re-boot of King Kong, The White Buffalo, Monte Walsh, Starcrash, First Love, The Black Hole, The Deep, Walkabout, Love Among the Ruins, The Tamarind Seed, Robin and Marian, The Dove, The Day of the Locust and the infamous Howard the Duck, which for some reason does not appear in his list of credits on IMDB.

BERNSTEIN WEST?

ELMER BERNSTEIN.

Bernstein west was how many referred to Elmer Bernstein, with Leonard Bernstein being called Bernstein East, which I always found confusing because Leonard wrote West Side Story, but we won’t go there as it gets too complicated. Elmer Bernstein is one of the few composers of film music that began his career writing film scores in the early 1950’s and was still composing music for films in the 2000’s. Born in New York in 1922, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of music and he also began to study composition under the tutelage of Roger Sessions, Israel Citkowitz and Stepan Wolpe. During the second world war, Bernstein served in the American Air force and it whilst there he began to do arrangements for the Glenn Miller Band. Working on these arrangements led Bernstein to writing his own music for radio. After the war Bernstein spent several years as a concert pianist, but he decided that this was not musical route he wanted to pursue, he was more interested in composing and was attracted to the idea of writing for film and television. He scored his first motion picture in 1950 which was a film entitled Saturday Hero. It was in 1955 that Bernstein got his break into the big time when he was asked to provide the score for The Man with the Golden Arm which was directed by esteemed filmmaker Otto Preminger. This was Bernstein’s landmark score, and he received much acclaim and admiration from his peers for the inventive use of jazz on the soundtrack. In the 1960’s the composer was responsible for creating so many classic themes which included The Comancheros, The Great Escape, and The Magnificent Seven.

During the 1970’s the composer established his own record label, and in the series of releases Film Music Collection he re-recorded many of the classic scores as written by Steiner, Rosza, Herrmann and Waxman, bringing many classic scores from the golden age to new film music collectors. As well as re-recording these classic soundtracks Bernstein continued to write his own scores and worked on several successful movies which included, The Amazing Mr Blunden, Gold, See No Evil, and Zulu Dawn. It was also in the 1970’s that the composer penned the rousing theme for the Harlech TV series Arthur of the Britons. Bernstein scored his final movie in 2002, which was Far from Heaven a score that earned him a nomination for best original score.

PIECES OF GOLD IN A SILVER AGE.

JERRY GOLDSMITH.

From one musical icon to another, Jerry Goldsmith, without a doubt he was and still after his passing remains one of the most popular film music composers of all time and in the 1970’s he was probably the most active and productive of many of the composers. Like Lalo Schifrin and John Williams, Goldsmith worked a vast variety of film genres and excelled in everyone of them. He scored some big box office hits and worked on a few turkeys, but no matter what the budget or the quality of the movie Goldsmith’s music always shone above it all. The Omen I think was the most ominous and virulent sounding score to be created in the seventies, just listen to the cue The Dogs Attack from the score if you have any doubts. Goldsmith won the Oscar for best original score in 1976 for his satanic sounding work. But there were many other Goldsmith soundtracks that were worthy of the golden statue in the decade of the seventies, Damien Omen ll for example, which although not as atmospheric still contained wonderfully dark and sinister passages. Goldsmith composed the scores to over thirty movies during the seventies and worked on numerous TV projects. Patton: Lust for Glory was a big score for the composer, with Goldsmith once again collaborating with Franklin J. Schaffner who he had worked with on films such The Planet of the Apes in the 1960’s.

Goldsmith’s credits in the seventies were so varied and diverse, he worked on sci-fi sagas such as Star Trek the Motion Picture, Coma, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Logans Run. The composer also scored epic adventure movies such as The Wind and The Lion, war movies such as McArthur, and Tora Tora Tora. Intimate tales like Players and westerns as in Rio Lobo, The Wild Rovers, Take a hard Ride, and Break heart Pass as well as tense dramas, in the form of The Cassandra Crossing, Papillion, Islands in the Stream, The Last Run, Contract on Cherry Street, Chinatown, Capricorn One, The Boys From Brazil, and horror movies such as Mephisto Waltz, The Swarm and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. Plus, The Man, The Other, and Shamus. Goldsmith was probably the busiest composer in Hollywood during the seventies. He had an uncanny knack of creating a score that would undoubtedly enhance the movie it was written for, but the composer also managed to make the music highly listenable away from the images on screen and fashioned themes and musical passages that were rewarding when listened to just as music. Jerry Goldsmith was born in the February of 1929 in Los Angeles. At the age of twelve he began to study piano under Jacob Gimpel, for the best part of the 1940’s he continued to study composition under Mario Castelnuovo-Tedasco. Towards the end of the forties Goldsmith attended Los Angeles, City College, and whilst there did a year of extra studies at the University of Southern California. It was whilst studying at U.S.C. that he was tutored by Miklos Rosza in the film music class. In the early part of the 1950’s Goldsmith joined the music department at CBS he was initially an assistant, but soon moved up to become a composer for live radio and TV shows. He scored his first motion picture in 1957, which was a movie entitled Black Patch. His last scoring assignment was Timeline in 2004, with his score being replaced by another composed by Brian Tyler.

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

FRANCIS LAI.

That is a question I often ask myself when writing about film music composers. So, Francis Lai, where to start with the 1970’s well Love Story I suppose. And Love Means Never Having to say you’re Sorry, which was the tag line for this rather low budget movie that took cinemas by storm in 1970. It was not only the film but also the music for the movie that became popular and placed French composer Francis Lai once again in the public eye, I say again because Lai had already established himself during the 1960’s with scores for films such as Hannibal Brook, A Man and A Woman, Live for Life, The Bobo, I’ll never forget what’s’is name, Mayerling, 13 Days in France, Three into two wont go, etc.

But with Love Story Lai produced a theme that seemed to resonate with everyone and a theme that had lyrics added to it after it had become popular as an instrumental which gave it extra appeal outside of the film music collecting fraternity. Which had also happened with his scores or central themes for A Man and a Woman and Live for Life. Lai began the 1970.s strongly with scores for movies such as Rider on the Rain, The Games, Hello-Goodbye, The Crook, and of course Love Story, all written in 1970. The composer was certainly not one to rest on his laurels and continued into 1971 with memorable scores for Smic Smac Smoc, Le Petit Matin, and The Legend of Frenchie King. Although the second year of the decade was not as frantically busy for Lai scoring feature films, he still produced memorable and lasting thematic material for the movies he did work on and also penned the music for the French TV series Os Deuses Estão Mortos, scoring over 240 episodes as well as working on the documentary Iran. The composer remained busy throughout the 1970.s but often worked on movies that were sometimes made on a lower budget thus some did not get the distribution and were often limited to small theatres rather than the chains of cinemas that were beginning to take hold during this period. Films such as Visit to a Chiefs Son, Merry go Round, Tom Thumb and Dust in the Sun, it would not be until the latter part of the decade that the composer scored movies that provoked some interest from cinema going audiences as in Emmanuelle ll, Bilitis, International Velvet, Another Man Another Chance, Anima Persa, and such like.

Like John Barry, Francis Lai was responsible for creating the musical soundtrack to many peoples lives in the 1960.s and he also continued to do this in the seventies and carried on working prolifically in film and TV until his death in 2018, he passed away on November 7th in that year in Paris, France, he was 86.

LEAN ON ME AND SO MUCH MORE.

MAURICE JARRE.

Maurice Alexis Jarre was born on September 13th 1924 in Lyon France, and commenced his musical training at the age of sixteen. The young Jarre had originally set out to become a radio engineer which was at the request of his Father, who was at the time a technical director for the French broadcasting corporation. But Maurice decided that this was not the career he wanted and soon decided to go to Paris to study music and whilst doing so made the decision that he would not just be a musician but would study to become a composer and a conductor. He began by studying Solfeggio which is an exercise for voice, he also studied harmony and percussion at the Paris Conservatory of Music.

After a period of three year’s he became an accomplished performer and one of the featured timpanists within leading Paris orchestras performing under the batons of numerous distinguished conductors, Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch amongst them. Jarre began to write music for film in 1951, and after nearly a decade of working in France and scoring over forty movies, he scored his first American motion picture which was The Mirror Cracked (1960). A year later he returned to collaborate with the same director Richard Fleischer on The Big Gamble. In 1962 the composer wrote the score for the epic war movie The Longest Day. In the same year saw Jarre catapulted into the spotlight when he scored another wartime epic Lawrence of Arabia for filmmaker David Lean. Lawrence of Arabia, was not only Jarre’s first major motion picture but also garnered the composer an Academy Award, which was to be the first of three Oscars that he would receive for his work in film, the others being for Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India, both of which were directed by David Lean. Jarre like the other composers I have mentioned thus far excelled in the 1960’s with soundtracks for films such as The Train, The Professionals, Behold a Pale Horse, The Damned, The Collector, The Night of the Generals, Topaz, Is Paris Burning? And many more. Night of the Generals being a much-undervalued film and score.  But I suppose it was hard to do anything else but be inspired in that wonderful decade.

The 1970’s were also a furtive period for the composer, and it saw Jarre gradually integrating more and more the use of electronics within his works for cinema and television, which was something he experimented with all the way through his career.  His innovative use of percussion too drew attention to his compositions and became something of a trademark within his scores for cinema and television.

He worked on over thirty-five projects during the seventies including another collaboration with David Lean in the form of the charming but not as well received Ryan’s Daughter in the first year of the decade. His output was phenomenal and also varied as were the movies he worked upon, The Man Who Would be King, The Mackintosh Man, The Life and times of Judge Roy Bean, Red Sun, El Condor, Shout at the Devil, The Message, The Last Tycoon, The Island at the top of the World, are just a handful of motion pictures that benefitted from Jarre’s Midas musical touch.  He also worked with esteemed Italian director Franco Zeffirelli on the epic TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth in 1977 and in the same year composed the music for March or Die and Crossed Swords. He died in the March of 2009.

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE.

NINO ROTA.

We all know that Nino Rota worked on many films but is remembered mostly for his score to The Godfather which was released in 1972. Rota was in my opinion the “Godfather” of film music in Italy, and it was Rota that many of the more classically slanted composers such as Rustichelli and to a certain degree Angelo Francesco Lavagnino seemed to attempt to emulate in their compositions for film and television. Rota began his involvement with film scoring in 1933 with his work on Treno Popolare, he was 22 years of age, since that first assignment the composer was to work on literally hundreds of film and TV projects and was responsible in my opinion for placing Italian film music on the map and paved the way for the likes of Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and their like. Rota was able to create numerous themes and scores that had to them a haunting and lasting appeal, they were also appealing because of their simplicity and their ability to mesmerize and attract both in the context of the music and image working in unison and as melodic and alluring music away from those images. And although he was much in demand during the 1940’s, 1950’s and the 1960’s when he created memorable themes and scores such as Romeo and Juliet, The Leopard, The Taming of the Shrew and Juliet of the Spirits to mention but a few. He continued to fashion quirky but at the same time classically laced works for the silver screen into the 1970’s.

Scoring many movies for the respected and esteemed filmmaker Federico Fellini and working on blockbusters that included Waterloo, and box office draws such as Death on The Nile. Rota had a distinct style of scoring, at times his music was an integral component of the storytelling, on other occasions it was a background to the action, but it lent much to every movie that he was involved with. What would Amacord be without its haunting theme, just as a single example of his expertise in scoring. The score for Romeo and Juliet contained that lilting and fragile sounding love theme, but there is so much more to the score than this, the composer fashioning a handful of themes all of which revolved and were based upon the love theme, but each having to them their own unique sound and containing a quality of melodious excellence that was emotive and haunting. The score ingratiated Zeffirelli’s sensitive storytelling and the gracious and wonderful images and also complimented the films emotive and tragic storyline. Rota also worked on The Godfather ll, in 1974 and scored another 27 films and TV productions during the seventies period. His last motion picture score was for The Hurricane in 1979. He died relatively young at the age of 67, in Rome on April 10th, 1979.

There were of course so many other composers who further established themselves in the decade of the seventies, Michel Legrand for example with his jazz influenced compositions and romantic and affecting tone poems for movies like, Wuthering Heights, The Summer of 42, The Happy Ending, and The Go Between which entranced audiences. His gracious and baroque laced music that was at the same time riotous and exciting for Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers which added touches of comedy and drama in equal helpings was also a major hit for the composer. Again, Legrand was busy in the 1960’s and created so many themes and scores that are considered classics, the composer continued his near frantic schedule in the seventies, his prowess as a composer and arranger many other composers and filmmakers looked to him for inspiration. The Thomas Crown Affair and Ice Station Zebra were two major success for him in the previous decade. The Thomas Crown Affair I think being one of the top ten scores for cinema and one that still today remains fresh and vibrant, and having that touch of eloquence and class.

IF THEY MOVE .. KILL EM.

Jerry Fielding to was another composer that worked steadily in the 1970’s. He had become what is commonly known as an overnight success with his score for the Sam Peckinpah directed The Wild Bunch in 1969, and after this he became an in-demand composer at the age of 47. But fielding was a known jazz arranger and composer before scoring movies, Fielding was nominated three times for an Oscar and was among the boldest and most experimental of all Hollywood composers of film music.

His music typically utilized advanced compositional methods, often producing closely compacted, dissonant or inharmonious orchestral colours and textures which were sometimes seasoned augmented with touches of jazz and laced with an almost Avant Garde style. His scores for films such as Straw Dogs, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Lawman being applauded by critics and peers alike. For their striking and stand out sound, and also the innovative and inventive way in which the composer deployed his scores. Fielding’s film music career was filled with friendships and enduring cinematic collaborations with the likes of Sam PeckinpahMichael Winner and Clint Eastwood.

His score for the Michael Winner directed Chato’s Land too is a triumph of inventiveness, at times the music being used quite sparingly but still giving the desired support and adding much to the proceedings. His soundtrack for The Getaway, is a stunning piece of work, sadly the score was rejected due to pressure from the studio and replaced by another from composer Quincy Jones. Another of the composer’s seventies scores that deserves a mention is the 1979 western biography Mr Horn, which starred David Carradine in the title role. Fielding’s score again elevated certain scenes and added a great deal to key moments within the movie, it does bare many similarities to his scores for The Wild Bunch and The Outlaw Josey Wales. In 1974 the composer worked on Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia, which contained what I think is probably Fielding’s most accomplished score, the Maestro’s approach to the subject matter being just the opposite of what many expected.  The composer died from a heart attack in 1980.

UNDERATED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.

Another composer who was active during the seventies was Gil Melle, he was a performer, and arranger, as well as a gifted and inventive composer, but is very rarely spoken of, which is a great pity. During the seventies Melle scored over fifty projects for TV and cinema, his musical output was predominantly focused upon TV movies and long running popular series such as Columbo, Kolchak-The Night Stalker, the TV movie of Dynasty and two episodes of the series The Questor Tapes.

His first scoring assignment for a made for TV movie in the seventies was My Sweet Charlie, which was a somewhat controversial piece dealing with a mixed-race relationship and the ever-present racism in the U.S.  This was followed by an episode of Then Came Bronson, a short series which the composer had worked on previously scoring an episode in 1969, after scoring an episode of Ironside which he was not credited for. In my opinion Melle is an underrated composer and even now a relatively undiscovered talent by collectors of film and TV scores.

His music for both television and feature films is diverse and filled with variety, he was a composer who was obviously not afraid to experiment as we heard in his innovative score for The Sentinel (1977) was in my opinion one of the most frightening occult-based films to come out of Hollywood during the 1970’s. I found it more disturbing and harrowing than both The Exorcist and The Omen. The Michael Winner movie boasted a strong cast, Eli Wallach, Ava Gardener, Martin Balsam, Chris Sarandon and Christina Raines all giving great performances. I always felt that the movie had the appearance of a TV movie, but this I think added to the tension and overall darkness of the movie. Melle’s score for The Sentinel, is a ground-breaking one, and at times maybe falls into the same category or style as employed by composers such as Charles Gross, Jerry Fielding and to a degree Leonard Rosenman within the parameters of film scoring particularly in the decade of the seventies. It is a dense and at times claustrophobic work, but also one that is highly effective within the movie, creating greater atmospherics and fashioning moods and ambiences. I have to say that The Sentinel is not the easiest film score to listen to, but given the subject matter of the movie, I suppose the composer did not set out to create nice little tunes that would have life away from the film. Melle, utilises synthetically created choral colours that are certainly affecting, and purvey a chilling and foreboding persona that itself forms a tormenting and unnerving sound.

However, the score does contain snatches and examples of melodic compositions, and although these in no way are expanded to become full on lush or romantically laced thematic properties, the less taught interludes still manage to seep through at certain points giving glimmers of light amongst the atonal material and establish a brief respite within the stressful and ominous sounds that the composer fashioned for the score. Taking a closer listen to the score also reveals so many underlying sounds, solo performances, and nuances, which combine or fuse together to create a work that is unsettling and thickly fearsome, with nerve jangling stabs and dark and sinister undercurrents.

Other scores from the seventies by the composer included Frankenstein the true Story, another TV movie from 1973, this is possibly one of the composers best scores, directed by Jack Smight the film starred James Mason, Jane Seymour, David Mc Callum, Michael Sarrazin as the creature and Leonard Whiting as Dr Victor Frankenstein. Melle’s score was a work filled with an ominous and dark musical persona, but it also contained lighter and less fearsome interludes, the composer creating eloquent and lingering themes, that were orchestrated skillfully to purvey a sense of both the sinister and romantic. The score is at times epic in its overall sound and conveys both a sense of unease and melancholy, with solo instruments creating some outstanding moments, with the woods and piano being prominent in the more subdued cues from the score. Elle also produced excellent scores for movies such as the Canadian produced Starship Invasions in 1977 which was released in the UK under the title of Project Genocide and starred Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn. The score for this in my very humble opinion outshone the film which it was intended to enhance.  

In 1971 Melle scored the Robert Wise directed The Andromedia Strain, in which A team of renowned scientists pool their knowledge in a to collaborate and work feverishly in a secret, state-of-the-art laboratory to discover what has killed the citizens of a small town and learn how the deadly virus can be halted before getting out of hand completely. Melle’s score is a ground-breaking one, the composer shaping and creating sounds and atmospheric interludes via electronic means, fashioning a futuristic sounding work that was supportive and totally gripping.

FUNKY AND FRESH MOVIE MUSIC.

Also, we must not forget composers who made a contribution to the sound of the seventies film score but were not elevated into the public gaze as much as those already discussed. Issac Hayes for example comes to mind with his innovative and funky upbeat score for Shaft, the composer/artist fused expressive grooves with furtive sounding flourishes alongside jazz vibes and blended them seamlessly with fast paced and dramatic orchestral elements and the occasional vocal performance such as the laid back and ever so soulful/ Gospel influenced Harlem Montage (Soulsville) which Hayes performed himself as well as the film’s opening theme which won him an Oscar. But it was not film music that Hayes will be remembered for although he did score more than just Shaft, fans of Hayes recall his music for both dance floor and his albums, which contained his own particular brand of unique soul and funky sounds. But back to his music for Shaft and the enticing near easy listening piece Love Scene Ellie (Ellies Love theme) and I Cant, get over losin you (which had a kind of Earth Wind and Fire vibe going on) along the way to create a soundtrack that was not only infectious and haunting but one that crossed over from film music into the soul and jazz funk genres thus becoming a soundtrack album that was popular with numerous fans. It was a score that appealed to the already converted soul/funk collectors and it intrigued hardened film music devotees, who had up until that time been used to more conventional symphonic sounding soundtracks. Hayes worked on a few film scores during the seventies as well as releasing albums of non-film score music for his ever-growing fan base and writing and performing upbeat and infectious hits such as Disco Connection. Hayes was not the only composer who worked on the Shaft movies and subsequent TV series.

For the sequel entitled Shafts Big Score producers turned to composer Gordon Parks, many had thought that after the success of the music in Shaft producers would have Hayes back to repeat his musical triumph and maybe even take it to higher levels, but to the astonishment of all the score was written by Gordon Parks who incidentally was the director of the original movie and was the cinematic helmsman on Shafts Big Score. This was due to certain disagreements between Hayes and the studio, and Parks found himself in the role of composer as well as director, musical arranger Tom McIntosh had already been contracted to work with Hayes on his return to the Shaft scoring stage as he had done previously on the first movie, but as Hayes was now not involved Parks negotiated with McIntosh to work with him on the score for the second installment. The music for the movie was very much inspired and influenced by Hayes’s original work and in fact although the music was essentially good and worked well within the movie, it did not contain the same originality, vibrancy, or freshness that Hayes had demonstrated and achieved in the original score.

The opening title song for example was in effect a clone of the Shaft theme, yes it had different lyrics and the instrumentation and construction was slightly different, but it was still Shaft all’a Hayes, with its simmering cymbals and smooth sounding strings that were punctuated by brass stabs, pulsating bass lines and up-beat percussive eruptions. “Blowing Your Mind” was performed by singer O. C.Smith, and took the same line musically and stylistically as the original Hayes opening theme, it contained a long instrumental intro and then a question and answer vocal ensues O.C.Smith asking the questions, with the chorus vocalists answering him with breathy vocalising of “Shaft” ,“He Sure Will” and “The Man’s Trouble He’s Been to my House”,Put a Hole In your Soul Honey” etc, all the time smooth but bubbling strings accompanying them with a constant background of percussive elements and brass punctuating the proceedings. Vocalist Smith also performed two additional songs for the score, Don’t Misunderstand which is a slow soulful ballad and also the upbeat and infectious Move on in which was utilized as source music in a scene in a club when Shaft is roughed up and dumped in a back alley.

Parks score also contained a near fifteen-minute cue which was featured on the B side of the original MGM LP record, which was entitled Symphony for Shafted Souls which in essence was a collection of all the major themes from the score and utilised over the climatic scenes of the movie. Since its release the score has become like the movie a cult item, with many now appreciating more Parks musical prowess and talent. The third in the Shaft series was released in 1973, Shaft in Africa is probably the weakest movie in the trilogy, the score on this occasion was by Johnny Pate, who produced a collection of themes and a score that far outshone the movie. an infectious and vibrant title song Are You Man Enough? performed by the legendary Motown group The Four Tops, featured on the soundtrack and Pate’s score was also an energetic and well-structured work with powerful themes and imaginative arrangements that were dramatic, and jazz/funk influenced with a strong and vibrant sounding foundation that was laced with an almost big band or swing sound. So, three composers that made their mark on the seventies within one series of movies, and although some might be hard pressed to remember the scores by Pate and Parks, the Hayes contribution however, became part of seventies music history and opened the doors for Hayes to work on more movies.

Marvin Gaye, 1970s portrait

The same can be said for artists turned composer for a handful of Blaxploitation movies, Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye, which is far better than the movie it was penned for and the expanded two-disc version of the soundtrack is a must have item. Superfly by Curtis Mayfield should also be mentioned and soundtracks such as Blacula by Gene Page, and even the music for its laughable sequel Scream Blacula Scream which was scored by Bill Marx of Count Yorga Vampire fame, not exactly Oscar material but all of them and the composers involved helped form the stylish, varied and at times pop/disco/funky sounds of seventies soundtracks that were yet another style linked to the decade.

 The 1970’s is looked upon with much affection by film music collectors, there was the Golden Age of film music and the Silver Age of film music, but does the seventies fall into the latter category? I am not sure, maybe it has a category which is all its own, but what that would be I am not sure. It was a decade of weirdness at times also a decade that yielded so many films and scores that can now be called iconic or classic. It was the decade where the song score did come into play even more than it had been utilised before, which some may think was a mistake by film companies and filmmakers, but the song score along with the actual original score shaped the film music of that decade and also influenced composers and songwriters of future generations with films such as Saturday Night Fever, Car Wash, and Thank God Its Friday, we did see an increasing use of popular songs in movies, studios could see that at last they might be able to increase revenue from a film via its soundtrack, there was still room for original scores even though at times these were relegated to additional music cues, the scoring process of having music specifically written for a movie was still intact and being used. The practise of placing songs on the soundtrack of a movie did at times overwhelm the use of the original score and did in the end become the more prominent musical force in the 1980.s, but the film score composer remained gainfully employed even if the musical supervisor did get a bigger credit. The subject of the music supervisor is a rather touchy one amongst film music fans, and I for one do get very perplexed when someone says a film has a great soundtrack and then straight away starts to list the songs rather than talk about the Original score.

But this is another story and is the norm for a new breed of so-called soundtrack collector, and here I will become controversial and say, that these are not soundtrack collectors, but soundtrack listeners, as many of them do not have a clue about the origins of movie scores and the composers of the Golden age such as Korngold, Steiner, and their like. Let alone silver age giants such as some of the names I have included in this article.  So maybe it is better left where it is. Film music has changed in the twenty first Century but is it for the better? Or is there a complacency attached to both composers and collectors, with certain composers cornering the market and flooding it with their scores that all seem to sound the same and a few collectors treating these composers as if they are indeed the only ones around and also giving them adulation that is in most cases undeserved, hailing them as the saviour of modern day movie scores and announcing to the world that these composers or this composer is indeed the second coming. Well, this also opens so many other questions, which I will explore, ponder, and hopefully discuss with many of you in the not-too-distant future.    

RUTH BARRETT.

Recently I have started to notice more and more the music of composer Ruth Barrett, initially I was attracted to the music in the TV series Victoria, and then started to look at earlier assignments by the composer such as Wuthering Heights, again a TV series that contained so many interesting and haunting themes. Her most recent project or at least the one we are seeing on the BBC on Sunday nights is the tense but excellent Bloodlands, the composer’s music is at times an extension of the storyline, and certainly an integral part of the series plot and unfolding events.

The composer underlining the ever growing turbulent and apprehensive goings on with her attractive but at the same time superbly atmospheric score. Bloodlands is a series I would recommend that you watch, and I am hoping that a soundtrack album or at least a digital version of this score will soon be available on the usual platforms.

Her score for The Sister too is an affecting one, being wonderfully dark and sinister and let’s not forget she also scored the two hit series The Bodyguard and Collateral. And there is also the delightfully thematic music she penned for The Durrells, which is totally removed from her more dramatic material. There is also her collaboration with Martin Phipps on the Michael Caine movie Harry Brown a few years ago to consider.  

Barrett is obviously a talented composer and one who can tailor her musical skills to suit all genres of film and TV. Born in London in 1976, the composer became interested in film and television music when she was young, she recalls that it was watching re-runs of American made TV shows during the 1980’s that she began to take notice of the music for these series and regards the score for the 1978 show The Incredible Hulk and Queen’s music for the movie Flash Gordon has her main inspiration for following a career in music. As a teenager she began to take classical pieces and improvise arranging and altering these on piano, with her piano teacher Nigel Crouch.  She continued piano lessons and eventually went on to study music at Cambridge University. She then went to The Royal Academy of Music where she studied composition. Her first experiences of writing for TV came when she composed music for advertisements, and then began to work on documentaries for the Independent Television network, gradually gaining more and more experience.

When she left I.T.V. Barrett continued to work freelance at Strong room Studios which is where her days of collaborating with her mentor Martin Phipps commenced. It was also whilst here that she furthered her career by making numerous contacts within the industry. This eventually led to her being commissioned to score her first drama which was in 2007. It was in this year that she worked on three projects for TV which were True Dare Kiss, Endgame, and The Take.

Two years later she scored three more TV projects and worked with Martin Phipps on Harry Brown. In 2010 Barrett scored the series Bouquet of Barbed Wire for director Andy Pierce and the featurefilm Toast for director S.J. Clarkson whom she has collaborated five times during her career thus far, these collaborations being, Collateral, Love Nina, Whitechapel, Hunted, and the already mentioned Toast.

In 2017 she was nominated for a primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a series, which was for Victoria. Sanditon was also another triumph for the composer, with many having the opinion that her music was far better than the series it was written for. Ruth Barrett is a unique talent in the world of film and TV music, and I know we will be hearing so much more from her in the not too distant future

Hugo Montenegro, underatted, undervalued and sometimes forgotten film music Maestro.

There is little doubt that Hugo Montenegro is a name that will be remembered by many, and also remembered for differing reasons. His score for the film Charro is although not grandiose and theme laden is an effective film score as it does what it is supposed to and supports without being intrusive and adds weight, atmosphere, and depth to the movie.  

Released in 1969 Charro was one of those films that was a vehicle to showcase the talents of Elvis Presley, many may disagree but in my very humble opinion this was one of Presley’s better cinematic moments, It was different as in there were no musical numbers and it was just a basic run of the mill western drama but Presley displayed a good acting presence throughout, of course the notion of a pop/rock and roll superstar being cast in a movie was not a new thing, The Italians cast various pop singers in a number of the spaghetti westerns that were released in the 1960’s and 1970’s but I think that the performance in Charro by Presley deserves credit where credit is due.

In many ways the movie came across as something that was like a big screen version of TV shows such as The High Chapparal and The Virginian, but obviously being a feature film was longer. The musical score was by Hugo Montenegro who had shot to fame with his up-beat and pop orientated arrangement of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which had gone to the top of the hit parade in many countries across the globe including the U.K. in 1968.

But again, Montenegro was given some bad press and often referred to as just a band orchestra leader, which granted he was, but he was also a composer in his own right and had scored a few projects mainly for TV before Charro, and before the hit single with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which included episodes of the popular TV series The Man From Uncle, and I Dream of Jeannie, but had also worked for filmmaker Otto Preminger on the 1967 movie Hurry Sundown for which he composed a powerful and affecting score that is possibly one of the best scores to come out of Hollywood that year. The movie too was successful and starred Michael Caine, Jane Fonda and John Phillip Law.

The score for Hurry Sundown is outstanding, it is a varied and emotive sounding work, the central theme being haunting and stirring. The lyrics being courtesy of Buddy Kaye and evoking the How The West Was Won end title song. For me it’s a score that one discovers forgets and then re-discovers to great delight, the music evokes both Lillies of the field and Gods Little Acre soundtracks, it has that kind of sound.

The film was a controversial one, but there again t was Preminger at the directorial helm.  It dealt with racial issues, and when being filmed that cast and crew which were made up of both black and white actors etc, had to have protection from the State Police against attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. If you have never seen the movie or heard Montenegro’s score now is the time to rectify that.

A year later in 1968 Montenegro was responsible for penning the score for the Frank Sinatra and Rachel Welch thriller Lady in Cement. This is a score that oozes classy jazz orientated cues, but also has the unmistakable Montenegro touch to it, which in many ways evokes the style of Italian composers from the 1960’s such as Trovajoli, Umiliani, and Piccioni to name but three.

It is a light and airy collection of themes, but also has to it touches of the dramatic, pop upbeat passages and easy listening lounge style compositions. The composer utilising brass, choir, electric guitar, bass, harpsichord, Hammond organ and woods that are underlined by percussion and supported and laced by strings.

In the same year as Charro Montenegro scored another western The Undefeated, which starred John Wayne and Rock Hudson, and a western TV series from the States entitled, The Outcasts for which he provided the theme and scores for twenty-six episodes.

Both Charro and The Undefeated contained solid scores and themes, which I suppose can be likened to the styles of both Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith and were incredibly supportive of both storylines on screen, they also had a sound and style that was appealing away from the images, but neither were particularly original. Sadly Charro which in my opinion has the better score has never been released, which, is surprising seeing as the movie starred one of the biggest attractions from the 1950’,s, 1960’s and  through to the 1970’s and his untimely death in August 1977. The Undefeated never got a soundtrack release at the time of the film being in cinemas, but many years later the Film Score Monthly label issued the score in full onto compact disc. The story involved a group of Confederates and their families led by Rock Hudson, who after the war were intending to carry on the fight and to do this they had to travel across the border to Mexico.

But I for one found it hard to take seriously especially with John Wayne onboard still in Comancheros and Alamo mode, (sorry did he ever get into character, or was it just him on screen playing himself every time- The Hell it was!). The Undefeated was filled with brawls and cheesy comedy scenes that were intertwined with the storyline just. Add to these several action scenes and there we have it a fairly typical John Wayne western. It is an entertaining romp, and an ok western to sit and watch on a rainy Sunday, but not in my top anything really, even Hudson’s Southern accent was a little grating and hard to swallow, and as for the Southern hospitality, well, over the top comes to mind.

The score is however superior to the movie, but even this is rather cliched and relies on half-hearted Copelandish references and the music is deployed in a similar fashion to that of the westerns from the 1940’s and 1950’s. A lumbering theme opens the score, which forms the foundation of the work, but it’s no Magnificent Seven or The Big Country in thematic terms, the way in which the movie is scored is in a way Mickey Mousing like described by Max Steiner, as Montenegro adds little quirky nuances and melancholy interludes, that are syrupy and sugary. It may be an acceptable film and score but it’s not the best of Montenegro.   

Charro was directed by Charles Marquis Warren who also provided the screenplay for the movie. The film had a cast that was not what I would call “All Star” laden, but the main characters and some of the lesser supporting roles were filled with faces that were familiar to cinema goers of the 1960’s many being around for a while in B movies or having minor roles in main features. The score is a darker one than The Undefeated and relies more on the attention to underlining the action or drama, rather than going hell for leather with grandiose Americana set pieces, it was effective in establishing a tense atmosphere in a few of the scenes, and the composer even utilising a Mexican style trumpet cue for the troops in the movie (shades of Morricone).

The composer also scored two Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin in the title role. The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1968). Neither have been released onto compact disc or digitally and I am certain there was no LP release either.

The Wrecking Crew I remember because it was the main feature on the programme at the cinema with The Big Gundown being the B picture. And for Sharon Tate and Nancy Kwan beating the whatsit out of each other in one of the scenes and Nigel Green as the villain. With Elke Sommer too who was stunning. The Matt Helm movies were a bit of harmless fun and I hope no one took them seriously, but Montenegro’s music was perfectly suited to the offbeat antics of Helm.

The composer also scored the comedy Viva Max, which starred Peter Ustinov. The film which is hilarious is the tale of a Mexican Army commander who crosses the border into the United States with a small group of soldiers saying they are going to march in the celebrations for George Washington’s birthday, when realy he is planning to re-occupy The Alamo. Montenegro’s score is scattered with performances from trumpeter Al Hirt, who is credited on the cover of the RCA soundtrack LP, the score is up-beat and has to it a pop orientated martial style, with jazz influences and references to Mexican musical influences.

Montenegro’s style I have to say is like that of Burt Bacharach, fusing easy listening with the dramatic content to reach a wonderfully thematic combination, again scored in 1969, one can begin to hear little quirks of orchestration and the sound that would become associated with the composer, the soundtrack also featured a song Don’t Turn Back which was performed by Montenegro’s choir and Al Hirt. As I have said it is probably the recordings that Montenegro did of easy listening, classical and covers of popular songs and themes from movies that he will be best remembered for, and during the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s Montenegro like Henry Mancini, Ron Goodwin and others was responsible for bringing film music or film themes to the attention of a wider audience, because as we all know soundtrack albums were not always released because record companies and film companies were just not interested in the music for movies unless it was a blockbuster. Via the RCA albums that Montenegro released we got to hear unique versions of themes that we would not have heard unless we went to see the movies.

His compilations were an invaluable and essential part of film music collecting during this period, and along with Ron Goodwin, Henry Mancini, LeRoy Holmes and Stanley Black to name but a few film music became interesting. Montenegro admittedly did put his own musical stamp upon certain themes and his version of Hang em High is somewhat different from the original.  But on a compilation from Montenegro, we could hear an up-beat cover of A Fistful of Dollars alongside things such as The Godfather and a synthesised arrangement of the Beach Boys hit Good Vibrations which at times was a bit off putting when one was looking at the track listing for an album, but it made for a varied listening experience. And also when eventually many of the soundtracks began to be released it made collectors want to go and buy them. A recent compilation that was released both on compact disc and digitally is the so called Best of Hugo Montenegro.

To be totally fair I do not think we could fit the best of this composer, conductor and arranger onto just a solitary compilation, but it is a great listen and also a wonderful way to sample his talents as both a composer and an arranger even if some of the track’s bare little resemblance to the originals as in his version of The James Bond Theme, it’s a case of the tune is there but, why this way? Negatives aside, Montenegro’s compilations are something that one can put on and not have to even think about, they can play and be a background or they can be something that you listen to an analyse. Either way the key word here is entertainment.

Hugo Mario Montenegro was born, in New York City U.S.A. in 1925. He served in the United States navy and whilst there acted as an arranger for the Naval Band. After he left the service, he enrolled at the Manhattan College where he studied composition and whilst there also formed his own band which performed at school dances. In the mid 1950’s Montenegro found himself arranging and conducting for both Eliot Glen and Irving Spice for their Dragon and Caprice record labels. After this he was hired as the musical director for Time records, and was responsible for producing a series of albums. In the early sixties Montenegro moved to Los Angeles and started to work for RCA records. It was here that he produced a handful of albums from soundtracks and TV shows which included The Man From Uncle  and this is when he started to release albums of covers of songs and film themes. One of his most popular proved to be a compilation entitled Come Spy With Me.

After this he arranged themes that had been composed by Ennio Morricone for the Sergio Leone dollar trilogy, the most successful being The Good The Bad and The Ugly.  His first film score was for the 1964 production, Advance to the Rear, after this and following the success and sustained sales of his albums, Columbia pictures offered him a contract. And from 1966 through to 1977 he remained there scoring a number of motion pictures including a British film entitled Tomorrow.

The composers final film scores were in 1977 when he worked on The Farmer and Too Hot To Handle.  The Farmer which was a thriller that has since its release attained cult status was given an X certificate solely because of Montenegro’s chilling score which he fashioned on electronic instruments. But the films producer had the censors review the movie without music and they changed their opinion straight away giving the movie an R rating in the States. The score is said to be one of the composers best but is sadly thought to be lost.

Montenegro was also under contract to Columbia’s TV and scored some of their most popular shows, including Here Comes The Brides, The Partridge Family and the second season of I Dream of Jeannie.

During the latter part of the seventies, Montenegro was forced to retire due to severe Emphysema and this brought his musical career to a close. He died from the illness in 1981.

GENSHIN IMPACT CITY OF WINDS AND IDYLLS & GENSHIN IMPACT-THE WIND AND THE STAR TRAVELLER.

As a film music collector, I never would have thought that I would be attracted to music from video games or any sort of game to be fair. But in the last decade or so music for games of any sort has certainly come a long way. I sometimes think this is better than some of the film music that is being written today.  A recent video game GENSHIN IMPACT CITY OF WINDS AND IDYLLS contains a truly wonderful soundtrack, the composer credited is YU PENG CHEN and straight away I have to say that this is just a brilliant score, it is nearly two hours in duration and contains so many beautiful and affecting themes it is very difficult to come to terms with all of this emotive and quality music coming from just one video game.

It’s a soundtrack that has absolutely everything, intricate and subtle tone poems, female wordless voice and dramatic and driving passages that are inspiring and stirring. The composer utilises a wide range of instrumentation as in strings, brass, guitar, harp, woods and a scattering of percussion. The score which is spread over three discs is a delight to listen to and one that I returned to after my initial listen, but I also found myself going back to the start of certain tracks after I had heard them, it is honestly one of the best video game scores I have heard, in fact its one of the best scores from 2020 so far, I was thinking only the other day about the best of 2020 thus far, and I singled out four scores, I wont say what these are, but I hope that one of them will be in an awards list somewhere when the season for giving out awards begins. I now have to re-think that list and add this to it, along with another Yu Peng Chen, score for another game in the same series entitled  GENSHIN IMPACT-THE WIND AND THE STAR TRAVELLER which has music that is equally alluring and totally mesmerising.

Both soundtracks are MUST have items, the second score is shorter lasting just under half an hour but is just as affecting and haunting. There is a light and delicate sound within both works, the fragile and poignant themes wash over the listener and have about them a calming and attractive sound. These are two soundtracks that you have to at least investigate, both are on digital platforms,  will say if you are already a fan of the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Joe Hisaishi, then these two scores are for you. Lilting romantic sounds are showcased throughout, alongside proud and dramatically adventurous anthem like material. These are scores of immense diversity, vibrancy, and quality, highly recommended. Yu-Peng Chen, is known as Zhiyi Chen,  a film music composer, music producer and musical director based in Shanghai, China.

He is regarded as one of the most talented and versatile composers working in the film and music industry. His career has spanned some fifteen years thus far, and during this decade and a half he has scored not only a wide range of films, TV shows and video games, but has also written many popular songs influenced by traditional Chinese culture. Chen graduated with honours from the Shanghai Conservatory of music. During his studies the young composer received professional training in both music production and composition from renowned musicians like An Dong. Chen has worked with numerous artists from different cultural backgrounds, which assisted the composer in becoming more fluent in various genres of music and he was able to add more variety and cultural influences to his music, giving him more of a musical pallete from which he is able to add colour and texture to both film, television and video game projects. He has also collaborated with many famous directors and musicians including Jing Wang, Weiqiang Liu, Weimin Ye, An Dong, and Guangrong Chen.  He has also recorded with many world-class orchestras such as The Asian Philharmonic Orchestra, The China Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Budapest Film Symphony Orchestra. Chen has won several Chinese Academy Award nominations for his music from films such as LI BAOGUO and DA SHANGHAI. His music for THE FOUNDING OF AN ARMY, won him the best music in the Golden Deer Awards. His other films like ON FALLEN WINGS and PHANTOM OF THE THEATRE also received countless positive reviews and comments from critics and fans alike.

(Genshin Impact is a free-to-play action role-playing game developed and published by miHoYo. The game features a fantasy-based open world environment and action-based battle system, using elemental magic, character switching and uses gacha game monetization for players to obtain rare characters, weapons, and other resources. A multiplayer mode allows up to four players to play together in the world and also tackle certain dungeons within the game. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Android and iOS on September 28, 2020. The game is also planned for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5).

UNSUNG HEROES OF ITALIAN FILM MUSIC.

ALDO PIGA.

Composer Aldo Piga is a Maestro that we very rarely hear about, and it is not often that the music of Piga is discussed, until recently that is, his romantically laced soundtrack for THE SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES (1960) was recently released on LP record, on Contempo records Italy, it was possibly the rarest unreleased Italian film score and one that has remained at the top of many collectors wants lists for years. The film is by todays standards quite tame, but it is an entertaining Italian horror, having to it some Bava influenced moments, made in black and white, which adds to the atmosphere and the mood of the film,

I have always enjoyed the movie, the opening sequence is in many ways like THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE musically at least, with a moment of horror, as we see the Female vampire, set upon and attacked by villagers and being killed with pitchforks etc, followed with a vibrant and haunting piano concerto like piece that plays over the opening credits. One maybe would think that Aldo Piga scored but a handful of movies, whereas in fact he was at the height of his career much in demand during the 1960’s and during his career as a composer scored over a hundred feature films. It is however true to say that many of these films were not exactly A features, but the music for each and every one of them is excellent.

THE SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES is possibly Piga’s best score, the composer fusing dramatic interludes with classically slanted pieces and bringing the score together via a beautiful and haunting piano composition. The music at times is near operatic and evokes memories of the works of Puccini in places. Although the movie is essentially a horror, it is also a love story, a tale of mystery that is oozing with drama and overflowing with romanticism.

The score which supports and enhances wonderfully the story that unfolds on screen, is also a work that has a life away from the on-screen action and can easily be savoured and appreciated as just music. The piano composition is lush and lavish, and the composer utilises this romantically stylish theme to great effect.  

 

Aldo Piga (1928–1994) was an Italian-American composer who worked mainly in New York. Aldo Piga’s work for the cinema was predominately composed in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, and although Piga spent the majority of his time in The United States, his film scores were mainly for Italian produced movies. He began his career as a song-writer and this eventually led to him becoming involved in the scoring of feature films. He like so many Italian film music composers was also an important figure in the pop music world in Italy, and it is probably his involvement in popular music that put him in a good position to score movies that had tight deadlines and low budgets, his inventive and at times innovative style of composition was heavily influenced by two varying genres of music, which were classical and also be-bop jazz, which he became involved with in his early career in New York.

After scoring numerous movies, Piga decided to start working as a film producer during the late 1960s. But this was a career path that did not yield many success’s and it led to Piga not only stopping making movies but also put an end to his career as a composer. The composer had a definite affinity with the horror genre, and scored a number of Vampire movies, as well as other horror orientated productions. His music was always supportive, and the Maestro fashioned atmospheric and romantically laced soundtracks, some of which have thankfully been released.

5 TOMBA DELLA MEDIUM, IL MOSTRO DELL OPERA, being two of note, the latter having to it a definite American or Universal horror musical style. The composers work on THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is also worthy of mention, in which the composer utilises Ondes Martinote type of sound to create a spooky and unnerving atmosphere.

The composer also worked on many other genres and his score for MARK DONEN AGENTE ZENA 7, is a must for any collector who is a fan of the Euro-spy sound, and has a great up-beat title song performed by Peter Tevis.  In the early 1990s Piga left Italy to retire and re-settled in New York where he remained until his death in 1994.