Monday, August 12, 2013


I want to start a new feature on this blog that is akin to the You Tube Film Music Cue of the Day, in that it deals, once again, with one of the great passions of my life:  FILM MUSIC.

I have a huge document called My Top Scores List in which I have picked the Top 5 Film Scores for each year since 1980 along with some commentary on my choices.
You can imagine that by now the list is fairly long and contains a lot of info that I think is blog-worthy so I'm going to start publishing excerpts from the list right here on my blog.

without further ado
Here is Film Music Musings

So in the last Film Music Musings I presented the best scores of the 70s and now we move to the 80s which is the decade that was foundational for me as I was a teenager in the 80s.

Best of the 1980s

10. The Untouchables - 1987 The maestro can be counted on for one great score just about every decade that really defines a genre sound. For this score, Ennio Morricone simply nailed the moment. We are transported to 1930s Chicago and the world of Al Capone. And the score has simply one of the best and most complex main themes ever. When you listen to it you think that several orchestras are playing; we are talking about superior counterpoint here. Capone gets a theme, Malone gets one, and the Ness family theme is also present. Gangster darkness overcome by justice and the American honesty of a good man is what this score is all about sounded out musically just as it is presented on the screen.

9. Henry V - 1989 Two talents burst onto the cinema world in this movie: Kenneth Branagh and Patrick Doyle. A visceral movie with a score that inspires. Every key speech is scored to perfection but none moreso than the St. Crispin's day speech. The first time I heard it, I nearly stood to my feet and cheered. Doyle would go on to be a force in film music, composing one great score after another, but this one was something special and contributed to the best year of film music in decades.

8. Conan the Barbarian - 1982 Big, no HUGE orhcestral score from Basil Poledouris. 24 Horns in the opening!!!! The music is the movie. There is very little dialog so the music had to carry the movie. It was risky but Poledouris pulled it off. But not all is bombast, there are quieter moments that soar with emotion (the emotion that the actors were almost unable to portray themselves). An iconic movie for Swcharzenegger and a career-making assignment for Poledouris. 24 Horns in the opening!!!

7. The Witches of Eastwick - 1987 John Williams continues with the great scores. For this strange movie, Williams produced a striking score of witty evilness. The Devil's Dance is pure magic but the Flying Scene is a masterpiece. Easily one of the great cues of the decade (it also bears comparison with Cadillac of the Skies from Empire of the Sun the previous year). This score also sports some very atonal writing that Williams does not often delve into but he does here to great effect. A personal favorite but still a great score.

6. Back to the Future - 1985 Ok, Huey Lewis and the News were one of my favorite bands in the 80s and penned a great song for this movie (Power of Love) but even that song has to take a back seat to Alan Silvestri's rousing adventure score. Silvestri assimilates the adventure sound of Horner and Williams and imbues it with his own style to produce this great score. To describe this score I keep coming back to the word: rousing. It is such an inspiring score that makes the audience sit on the edge of their seat to see if Doc Brown can get the cable connected before the lightning bolt hits and Marty and the Delorian hit the cable to go Back to the Future. Great stuff!!

5. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial - 1982 When a filmmaker re-edits his movie to accomadate the music provided by the composer, you know that that score is something to look at very closely. Well, that's what happened for the finale of this movie. Spielberg bowed to the superior skill of John Williams and one of the greatest and most moving finales in movie history was produced. But, not to be ignored is the remainder of this score which is spotted beautifully. When I saw this movie for the first time, I marvelled at the synchronicity of the score with the movie. It all just fits so well and elevates both. Williams was truly at the top of his game at this time.

4. The Empire Strikes Back - 1980 The continuation of the Star Wars saga exploded onto the soundtrack world in 1980 with an inspired new theme called The Imperial March (only the Raiders March is more recognizable). But, there is more here than just Darth Vader, there's Yoda also. The Force theme is now given to Yoda as his signature tune. Oh, and there's also this great battle in the snow with these giant walkers accompanied by some signature Williams action music.
(Note: Return of the Jedi almost made the top scores list and has some great themes concluding the saga in fine form)

3. Batman - 1989 The darkest score of the decade and one of the best. Danny Elfman didn’t begin his career with Batman but this was his career-making score. Dark and haunting with pounding action cues and grotesquerie that can only be the Joker. The darkness, however, yields light as the triumphant hero stands at the finale of the film to one of the great cues of the decade. Batman is born on the screen and we are taken to fair Gotham by a fair-haired composer who knows exactly how to mix the gothic with the sublime.

2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - 1982
Talk about explosions, James Horner dropped a nuclear bomb on the score world with this film. Not an easy thing to do because he was taking over from a legend and a legendary score (Jerry Goldsmith and his score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture), but Horner did it! And what a score he produced. Naval-sounding music combined with pounding action cues to produce a score that was different than Trek I but still worked amazingly well. For me, this is James Horner's signature score that he really didn't surpass until the late 90s.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark - 1981
And the best score of the decade belongs to one of the great adventure pictures of all time. Every theme of this score is amazing. The Raiders March is pure gold, but along with this glorious tour de force is the amazing love theme for Marion and the action/adventure music for Indie's action/adventures. This music is different than what others were doing. Goldsmith's action music is more frenetic and less coherent. With Williams there is always structure and melody. This sets him apart from all the others and elevates his film music to a higher level. He achieves this in Raiders which occurred right in the middle of his run of unparalleled scores in the late 70s and early 80s and this one is perhaps the pinnacle of his talents and his best score since Star Wars.

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