December 28, 2016
Classic Film Music on Disc: The Best of 2016
Ellington, North, Goldsmith, Rorem, Schickele among top recordings by Jon Burlingame
For fans of classic movie and TV music, 2016 boasted a number of happy surprises: not just re-releases but also re-recordings and premier releases of scores by great composers of the past and present. Among our favorites of the past 12 months, listed alphabetically:
1.Assault on a Queen (Dragon's Domain) The first-ever release of the great Duke Ellington's third film score, for a 1966 high-seas robbery caper starring Frank Sinatra. Ellington wrote the key themes but most of the arranging and orchestration was done by studio musicians. (Full disclosure: I wrote the notes for this, a complex but rewarding job unraveling who did what, when and why.)
2.The Bad News Bears Trilogy (Quartet) Among the year's most delightful surprises, this 3-CD collection features the amusing, opera-based scores for the 1976-78 baseball movies by Jerry Fielding for Bad News Bears (from Bizet's Carmen), Craig Safan for ...Breaking Training (from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture) and Paul Chihara for ...Go to Japan (from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado).
3.Cheyenne Autumn (Intrada) An outstanding Western score by the great Alex North, this late John Ford film (1964) dramatizes the plight of 19th-century Native Americans – and while Ford's film was not well-received, North's score, with its brooding themes and powerful percussion figures, turns out to be a complex and brilliant work on its own.
4.Chinatown (Intrada) At long last, the complete, unexpurgated Chinatown: Jerry Goldsmith's 1974 masterpiece, including every note the composer wrote for the Jack Nicholson-Faye Dunaway film (as well as the now beloved soundtrack album). Mesmerizing, dramatic, timeless.
5.The Cinema of Quincy Jones (Universal France) A rich, wide-ranging 6-CD compilation of 10 original Jones scores from 1964-69, several not previously available on CD (Mirage, The Slender Thread, his Oscar-nominated In Cold Blood, John and Mary, The Lost Man). Classic scores like The Pawnbroker and In the Heat of the Night are included, along with individual themes for other Jones greats from The Anderson Tapes to The Getaway.
6.Francis Lai Anthology (Play-Time) This 7-CD set features some of the French composer's finest work, including 1970s scores for director Claude Lelouch (notably Love Is a Funny Thing with its heartbreaking "Concerto for a Love's Ending") and Rene Clement (notably And Hope to Die with its wistful, Ondes Martenot-flavored sound).
7.The Great Waldo Pepper / W.C. Fields & Me (Quartet) Two terrific Henry Mancini scores for period films, appearing on CD for the first time: the march-filled barnstorming-pilot romp Waldo Pepper (1975) starring Robert Redford, and the Hollywood biopic of Fields and mistress Carlotta Monti (1976) starring Rod Steiger and Valerie Perrine.
8.The John Williams Jurassic Park Collection (La-La Land) Fancy three and a half hours of original Williams music for Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World (1997)? Yes, me too. This 4-CD set offers the complete scores and the definitive mixes for both of Steven Spielberg's dinosaurs-run-amok movies. The handsome package includes a 56-page booklet telling the full backstory of both films and scores.
9.Jonny Quest (La-La Land) Talk about a long-awaited soundtrack: the original music from Hanna-Barbera's 1964-65 animated adventure series finally gets the deluxe treatment. A 2-CD set containing more than two and a half hours of jazzy, exciting Hoyt Curtin and Ted Nichols music (I penned the notes for this too, and it was the most fun I had all year).
10.Last Tango in Paris (Quartet) Released just three months before the passing of Argentinian saxophonist-composer Gato Barbieri, this 2-CD set marks the first release of the complete score (plus the Grammy-winning album) of Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial, X-rated 1972 film starring Marlon Brando.
11.Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy (Varese Sarabande) English composer John Scott created an alternately regal and exotic score for the 1986 miniseries about the last days of the British Empire in India. This first CD release is a vivid reminder of how criminally underrated this fine composer is, and has been, over the years.
12.Ordinary People (La-La Land) Robert Redford's devastating, Oscar-winning 1980 drama sported a score by Marvin Hamlisch based on the famous Pachelbel Canon in D; this marks its first release as a soundtrack (half of it not even in the film). It's very nicely coupled with an earlier Hamlisch score, his music for Jack Lemmon's Save the Tiger (1974).
13.The Panic in Needle Park (Kritzerland) One of the year's biggest surprises was the discovery that American concert composer Ned Rorem had composed a score for Jerry Schatzberg's 1971 film about New York's drug subculture (starring a young Al Pacino). Rorem's music combines the urgency of the story with a modern chamber-music sensibility. Rejected by the director, it had effectively disappeared until recently.
14.Silent Running (Intrada) Composer Peter Schickele's evocative score for Douglas Trumbull's 1972 sci-fi classic finally comes to CD, complete with Joan Baez's wonderful pro-ecology songs. The original masters have disappeared, so Intrada had to re-create this from an LP – but it sounds just fine and if you love the film (as I do), you will love this disc.
15.Star Trek 50th Anniversary Collection (La-La Land) To celebrate the golden anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi creation, La-La Land compiled four CDs (over five hours) of "musical rarities from across the Star Trek universe," including Ray Ellis's music from Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973) plus bits and pieces from all five of the weekly series (including Goldsmith's original Voyager demo), three of the feature films, and even the Las Vegas Star Trek: The Experience attraction (1998).
16.Sun Valley Serenade / Orchestra Wives (Kritzerland) Certainly one of the year's most important historical releases, this 2-CD set features the complete soundtracks of the 1941-42 Fox musicals that featured the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the introduction of such big-band standards as "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "At Last" and "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo."
17.The Ten Commandments (Intrada) Very possibly the year's most significant soundtrack package (and certainly the handsomest), this long-awaited 6-CD box set combines all of Elmer Bernstein's recordings of his 1956 masterpiece: the entire two-and-a-half-hour original score; the re-recording for the 1957 soundtrack album; the 1960 stereo soundtrack; and the 1966 album re-recording. A landmark restoration.
18.The Twilight Zone (Intrada) CBS's 1985-87 reboot of Rod Serling's television classic inspired a new generation of composers to create music for modern fantasy and sci-fi tales. This 3-CD set presents the best (in suite form, always best for TV music) by Christopher Young, Basil Poledouris, Craig Safan, William Goldstein, J.A.C. Redford, Dennis McCarthy and others.
19.The Thief of Bagdad (Prometheus) A no-expense-spared reconstruction and re-recording of Miklos Rozsa's classic score for producer Alexander Korda's lavish 1940 Arabian Nights fantasy starring Sabu. Two full CDs of Rozsa's lively and colorful music with Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic and Chorus.
20.Walkabout (Roundtable) John Barry's lush, orchestral-and-choral work for Nicolas Roeg's 1971 drama about two youngsters stranded in the Australian Outback finally gets an official soundtrack release (replacing, for many Barry fans, a truncated bootleg album from the '70s). Producer Phil Ramone's estate supplied the original, unreleased LP master for this authorized, stereo CD.
Honorable mention goes to a number of other favorite discs this year: Varese's re-release of two memorable Dave Grusin scores (The Champ, The Electric Horseman); La-La Land's spectacular 4-CD set of Justice League scores; Universal France's 5-CD Lalo Schifrin box of classic 1960s Dot and Verve albums; Quartet's unprecedented, and very welcome, 5-CD compilation of Alberto Iglesias scores, Archipelago; Kritzerland's eye-opening Unsung Sherman Brothers, a collection of unfinished late '60s song scores; and singer Robert Osborne's Who Wants Love?, a new collection of Franz Waxman cabaret and film songs.
©2016 Jon Burlingame