Confessions of a soundtrack fan

By Victor Field

John Williams and somebody else: Would you buy a used soundtrack from these men?

The two most annoying experiences I’ve ever had in all my years of being a soundtrack fan both involved people who were supposed to be selling me the things.

In 1990 when I was living in Barbados, I strolled into the No. 1 Record Shop – that was its name – and asked the nice ladies behind the counter if I could put in an order for the Back to the Future Part II soundtrack album. They thought it didn’t exist and that I meant the first film. (I eventually got it, but not in Barbados.) Annoying though that was, at least it lacked Unfortunate Implications.

Back in London 20 years later, during one of my regular (then) visits to the Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill I picked up Elmer Bernstein’s score for Wild Wild West and the man behind the counter said ‘You realise this is the score album?’ I can only assume he thought I, being a black guy, would only want the R&B song album.

That’s pretty much the only bad memory I’ve got of that much-missed shop – one regularly visited by myself and other  like-minded souls. The kind of souls who were (and are) always filling cassettes with opening and closing themes and dialogue/SFX-laden music cues recorded from the TV to make up for their not being commercially available; the kind who yell at continuity announcers when they’re talking over the end credits music; the kind who bemoan award farces (if you have a death wish, tell Ennio Morricone fans that ’Round Midnight deserved to beat The Mission to the Oscar); and the kind who argue over who should score The Avengers or other upcoming flicks – usually action/adventure or fantasy; intimate dramas score, as it were, less highly. (It should be prior Joss Whedon collaborator David Newman, of course; after The Phantom and The Spirit he deserves to score a comic-book movie that might actually be good.)

And certainly the kind to be watching the movie and noticing the music without losing track of the plot; loud music can be as bad as the “Get this nasty background music off our screens NOW!” brigade believes (see An American Haunting, or almost any movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) – and comedies with “funny” music are on a hiding to nothing (which is why the music for films like Ghostbusters and Airplane! work; they basically play it straight instead of underlining the gags) – but on the other hand can you imagine a battle or foot chase with soothing ambient music underneath? Yeah, sometimes silence works. But only sometimes.

Soundtrack fans are mostly like other music fans; they have their favourites, they run fan sites and fan clubs (I used to be a member of the Jerry Goldsmith Appreciation Society) and they have their favourite tracks by their favourites. They’ll buy scores from their heroes without seeing the films they’re written for (not a bad idea in many, many cases), and sometimes even see movies just because of who scored them. Similarly, even among the household names fans’ works of choice aren’t always the most famous ones; John Williams fans are just as likely to be hailing The Reivers as Jaws.

But while fans of pop singers might not get to hear a favourite song in concert, it’ll still be available on record; whereas fans of, say, Alan Silvestri can receive the soundtrack album for, let’s say for the sake of argument American Anthem, and discover that his two cuts on the otherwise song-filled disc are the synth cues instead of the stirring orchestral stuff they ordered the disc for. And fans will bitch about omissions, almost as much as they’ll bitch if a composer gets replaced by someone they don’t like (the rejection fairy’s visited just about every composer in Hollywood not called John Williams or Danny Elfman).

Also, the upgrade-from-vinyl effect when CDs arrived applies to the film music world in spades, with many albums not just reissued but expanded. Which is why if you poke around a fan’s collection  you’ll likely find multiple editions of several scores – there are three versions of the original Planet of the Apes out there! They don’t even have to be that old; Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek received a well-deserved expanded limited edition treatment from Varese Sarabande a mere year after the regular album.

Limited edition? Well, unless it’s Titanic the market isn’t that big, hence the limited pressings for many older scores. But better a limited release of one of your holy grails than none at all… yes, that’s holy grails in the plural. Every fan has their cherished scores that he or she would love to have an entire recording of, scores that either had incomplete releases or none at all. Some of mine have already been released, like Back To The Future, Iron Eagle and Batman: The Animated Series; others still on my wish list include Spider-Man 3, Young Sherlock Holmes, Explorers, and way too many others to mention.

It all might sound bizarre, but fans don’t just buy the music as a memento; they buy it because they like it and want to hear it again. Often that’s the only logical reason to get it – who wants to remember Lost In Space? – and really, what makes more sense; buying instrumental music specifically written for and used in a movie, or a collection of previously released songs that are mostly only heard in bits and pieces, if they’re used in the film at all?

Most go for option B, but why not try option A? ‘You’re not supposed to notice the music?’ Tell that to the punters who sing The Great Escape on command – and remember that until Mary Pickford came along you weren’t supposed to really notice the actors.

Victor Field is a sometime writer for fun (as Cindylover1969) and mosttime soundtrack fan for more fun.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a soundtrack fan

  1. The pure electricity of Spielberg’s fame seems to be having an effect on John Williams’s hair.

    So in fact Danny Elfman doesn’t score every film made anywhere in the world? It used to seem like he did. It probably still does. And yet, no academy awards for The Elf, as I have just called him.

  2. Actually, Marv, the Elf has been nominated for four Oscars (“Men In Black,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Big Fish” and “Milk” – that’s right, he’s had more nods for his work with Gus Van Sant than with Tim Burton). No wins yet, but he’s in good company…

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