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This is one of those “big deal” discoveries for me. Big thank you to Bananafish and the blog LIKE A TIME MACHINE POWERED BY BICYCLES for this stunning find! I didn’t know that one of my favorite films of all time even had a score! -Ian!

This LP was presumably rushed out to capitalize on the surprising critical success of Faces, though I’ve never come across a single mention of it in any Cassavetes bio. As the title says, the album (produced by Miles Davis’ producer/collaborator Teo Macero) is comprised of “music from the soundtrack, plus music inspired by the film;” what this means is that only a few tracks were actually featured in the film (Love Is All You Really Want, Love Has Conquered Man, and Charlie Smalls’ stark and soulful Never Felt Like This Before), while the rest are either extrapolations of musical themes from the minimal score (i.e. two additional renditions of Love Is All You Really Want), or are pieces with loose thematic or practical ties to scenes in the film (I Dream of Jeannie, Deck The Halls[?]).

It’s impossible to say who’s “inspiration” was responsible for this collection, as three of the four people who would presumably know — Macero, Smalls (a composer and songwriter later known for writing the music for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz), and Cassavetes himself — are no longer with us (anyone have a phone number for Jack Ackerman?). Personally, I’m just glad that an officially-produced soundtrack to any Cassavetes film exists; the only other one I know of is Bill Conti’s Gloria score, issued in a limited edition by Varese Sarabane’s limited-edition and now out of print. Now, if only someone would put together a nice collection of Bo Harwood’s music for John’s other films (hint hint)…

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The 1971 movie Vanishing Point managed to become a cult hit, with its story of a Benzedrine-popping driver (Barry Newman) in a race for his life with the police of several states, but somehow the soundtrack managed to remain out-of-print until 2004, when Soundtrack Classics reissued it on CD. The music is surprisingly cohesive, primarily built around different aspects of country-rock as embodied variously by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the Doug Dillard Expedition, and Jerry Reed, with some gospel tracks by Segarini & Bishop and Big Mama Thornton, plus Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.”

The music is all eminently listenable and then some, and has an earthiness that makes it more than a little bracing — only the lyrical, string-dominated love theme, provided by Jimmy Bowen and his orchestra, breaks that mood and even it works within its own musical context, and is explainable given the time in which the movie was made. The entire release rather favorably recalls the soundtracks to Easy Rider and Zabriskie Point, but Vanishing Point stands up quite nicely musically on its own.

-Bruce Eder,

Various Artists-VANISHING POINT OST (1971)
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One of the best scores ever made, wasted on a crummy remake. Re-up! -Ian!

Steven Soderbergh took a big risk when he decided to remake Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky’s art house classic Solaris (both films based on the novel by Stanislaw Lem). Some critics felt he’d have been better off directing his considerable energy toward less hallowed material (like, say, Ocean’s 11). Still others (notably J. Hoberman of The Village Voice) proclaimed it one of the best films of 2002. Just as science fiction was a new genre for Soderbergh to explore, it was also new for the director’s longtime composer of choice, Cliff Martinez. As Soderbergh explains in the liner notes, “We were both pushing ourselves, trying things we’d never tried before.” And just as the movie is more of a psychodrama than a conventional work of science fiction — somewhat like director James Cameron’s The Abyss — Martinez doesn’t gum up the works with grand gestures or quirky sound effects. He keeps things quiet, tense, dreamy — or nightmarish, depending on your point of view. Solaris asks viewers to question what’s real and what’s merely a projection of the feverish imaginations of the various denizens (including George Clooney’s widowed psychologist, Chris Kelvin) of the lonely space station orbiting the beautiful yet eerie, seemingly empathic planet of Solaris. All the while, these ambient instrumentals — featuring treated strings and woodwinds, but no percussive elements like drums or piano — bleed into one another with little distinction, just minor changes in volume and tempo. It doesn’t make for the liveliest listen, but Martinez successfully establishes a distinctive mood, somewhat like the quieter passages in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the similarly underrated Andromeda Strain.

-Kathleen C. Fennessy,

Cliff Martinez-SOLARIS (2002 OST)

John Carpenter is just awesome. Even when his movies stunk, he usually wrote a score that was the creepiest imaginable. HALLOWEEN III is a great example of an icily scary score buried by a movie that is only enjoyed on an ironic level. DARK STAR is kind of hard to listen to, I admit. It’s got some great synth work, but it seems like it’s pulled straight off the film transfer (dialogue and all), or the master really had all that stuff and it was all folded together. It’s still pretty amazing for a student film from 1973. CHRISTINE is also a great score that seems pretty underrated, I never see it mentioned alongside the others.

When you’re in a record shop looking through the soundtracks section, you might see two different versions of a movie’s score. One will be a SUPER DELUXE EXTENDED ANNIVERSARY EDITION with two discs. The other is basic looking, has a fairly standard tracklisting that looks like it’s under forty minutes or so, put out in the early to mid 1980s by a company called VARÉSE SARABANDE. The Super Extended Mega version might even be cheaper, as the VS versions are mostly out of print. Grab the older version and don’t look back.

I am finding that Varèse Sarabande always does a bangup job with a film score, and get it right the first time. Avoid 20th, 30th whatever-th anniversary editions of scores, it usually means they’re bogged down with a ton of unnecessary bonus material. Not every little nugget of sound John Carpenter or Wendy Carlos left on the cutting room floor was meant to be picked up again. 75% of these leftovers end up being shorter, cue-length repetitions on the score’s main themes, or bits of dialogue inserted between tracks, which I guess is their idea of an “immersive experience”. Sorry dudes, I saw ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK already, just give me John Carpenter’s synth work from the movie. I don’t need to hear Harry Dean Stanton talking to Kurt Russell.

Another reason Varèse Sarabande got these scores right the first time? They’re all under 45 minutes. Basically the length of a vinyl LP, because that’s the master they were transferring. Forty-five minutes is just about the maximum amount of time my brain really wants to be immersed in a single film’s atmosphere, don’t you agree?

Last: the mastering. Comparing the mastering jobs between the original Varèse Sarabande rips and the remastering on those Super Extended Anniversary Editions, I find that the newer versions are JACKED UP and SHRILL. I’m imagining some cheapo AV company just brickwalling these haphazardly in between novelty records that end up on the Dr. Demento Show. Carpenter made some chilling soundtracks out of some WARM OLD SYNTHS. Cranking everything up in these masters makes it sound like you’re running an ARP 2600 through cheap distortion pedal. Actually that sounds fun to do, but I probably wouldn’t want to listen to somebody else do it.

I’d like to point out that Alan Howarth gets swept under the rug often, Carpenter’s scores became more lush, almost gothic, when Howarth stepped onboard. Check out HALLOWEEN II, which is often overshadowed by the first. I included a “suite” version of the score to II from another version because I did like its sequencing.

DARK STAR (1974)
THE FOG (1980)

I grouped these two together because Curtis Mayfield wrote and produced these soundtracks in the space of a year! And who doesn’t love Pops Staples and Gladys Knight? I haven’t seen CLAUDINE but LET’S DO IT AGAIN is a great movie. -Ian!

The Claudine movie soundtrack sported the jammin’ million-selling single “On and On” by Gladys Knight & the Pips. Written and produced by Curtis Mayfield and featured in the classic 1974 family drama starring Diahann Carroll, James Earl Jones, and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (Welcome Back Kotter, Alien Nation, Cooley High), it parked at number two R&B for four weeks, going to number five Pop on Billboard’s charts in 1974. Claudine is the least celebrated of songwriter/producer Mayfield’s soundtrack albums (Superfly, Sparkle), though it’s the most poignant of them. “Mr. Welfare Man” lays out the dehumanizing effect of being on welfare, while still being enticing and majestic in its dynamic arrangement. As much airplay as the track garnered, oddly it was never released as a single. “To Be Invisible” spoke to a child character’s need to escape her depressing surroundings. Originally recorded by Mayfield on his Curtis LP, “The Makings of You” is a heart-tugging, strings-cushioned ballad that Knight sings wonderfully. Other LP tracks that received airplay are the upbeat, beautiful title track and the sweet “Make Yours a Happy Home,” which curiously wasn’t issued as a single until 1976. Claudine went gold, hitting number one on the R&B charts in summer 1974.

This is a must-have cd for fans of Curtis or the Staples Singers. It is a slight detour from most SS albums, in that this one is all about love, lust, and funky good timing. Curtis really teases out beautiful performances here, highlights include the smooth title track and the sexy workout “Funky Love.” I really love “New Orleans,” and was hoping it would get remade or re-noticed in the wake of Katrina. The song where it all works, though, is “I Want to Thank You,” where Curtis’s groove, funk, backbeat, and production meet the overtly spiritual nature of the lyrics (more traditional SS territory). A great album.

Ed Hogan, and some guy on

Gladys Knight & The Pips – CLAUDINE (1974 OST)
The Staple Sisters – LET’S DO IT AGAIN (1975 OST)

They say that Curtis Mayfield fell off after he released his 4th studio album “back to the world” in 1973. *They*, as Uma Thurman quipped in Pulp Fiction, talk a lot, don’t they? They certainly do and in this case it seems that the “they” in question talk through their backsides as this here album is a genuine lost gem for both Mayfield and Blaxploitation soundtrack devotees.

“Short eyes”, his 1977 soundtrack to the flick of the same name, was released at a time when fellow heavyweights such as James Brown and Isaac Hayes had fallen victim to over-polished disco kitschness and, thus, surely must stand as one of the last great 70s soul/funk albums as it’s drenched in everything that makes those first 4 Mayfield albums so damn good : that sweet falsetto almost as a ringmaster to the rest of the proceedings; commanding the dirty funked up wah-wah guitar, lush arrangements, heartstopping strings, wailing double-tracked backing vocals and trippy backwards fx to do backflips and weave their way in and out of macked-out horns and throbbing bass grooves (no homo!) while crisp snares and reverberating bongos underline the whole experience.

The bizarrely monikered “Do do wap is strong in here” is probably the most well known song here as it tends to appear on yer standard Mayfield best ofs.., funk compilations and has been heavily sampled by hip hop producers and, while it is possibly the finest composition here, the rest of the album is equally as stellar. The title track is as instantly thrilling and unforgettable a theme as any other notable Blaxpolitation title track you can name and the rest of the album is a miscegenation of fuzzed-up Chicago blues-funk and rich soulful arrangements, usually in the same song. Business as usual, then.

A must for all Mayfield fans and i’d say it’s slightly better overall than “back to the world” and up there with “curtis”, “superfly” and “roots”. Of course there has to be a catch involved with something this good that’s somehow managed to thwart reappraisal by funk-fans, the breakbeat generation and the NYC/Chicago hipsterati set until now : not domestically available here in America you can only find this on import vinyl or as part of a now deleted double-disc 90s reissue of “superfly”, both of which will set you back at least $40. It’s an album that’s quality justifies such a hefty price tag if you’ve searched hell and highwater and still can’t find it cheaper but, really, let’s have a remastered cd reissue of this, please.


Curtis Mayfield-SHORT EYES (1977 OST)

Even before Carlos knew of a film project concerning A Clockwork Orange, the composer had begun work on a composition (Timesteps) based on the book. It’s the best piece of music in the score (and one of the most famed in the early history of electronic music), fitting in well next to late-’60s minimalist works by Terry Riley as well as the emerging Tangerine Dream (pre-Phaedra). Carlos also pioneered the effect of synthesized vocals (known as a vocoder), and their eerie nature perfectly complemented scenes from the film. Much of the rest of A Clockwork Orange is filled with rather cloying synthesizer versions of familiar classical pieces (from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie) similar to Carlos’ previous Switched-On Bach recordings. Still, it’s worthwhile if only for Timesteps. A Clockwork Orange was originally released as a Warner Bros. soundtrack, containing only film cuts (which edited Timesteps down from 13 minutes to only four).

-John Bush,

Wendy Carlos-A CLOCKWORK ORANGE OST (1971)

There’s some overlap between this and the PENDERECKI comp I uploaded earlier, but this is a great standalone score. You end up realizing how much, even though the film is visually arresting, the music and droning really carries it.

I’m fairly obsessed with THE SHINING, it must be said. On paper, conceptually, it was Kubrick’s appeal to a mass audience, his popcorn movie. Consider that as he pulls you into a world darker than Stephen King had even imagined, into something truly primeval, and think about the effect of that on a mainstream movie audience in 1980. You have a more affecting, horrifying existential clusterfuck of a movie experience than anything in all of European Art Cinema/French New Wave, or that Jodorowsky stuff.

Thought this was a good read.

Anyway, this has 15 tracks. I’ve seen versions of this score with a few as 8 tracks, so there’s some compiling from different sources going on I suppose.

Various Artists-THE SHINING OST (1980)
VBR mostly 256