Top Ten: Original Soundtracks

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As evidenced by Clint Eastwood’s soon to be released Jersey Boys (trailer just dropped), the right music can really make a good film great. That was a weak example, for this post is about the OST (aka Original Soundtrack). Choosing a composer is as important as casting, if not more so. The person responsible for the music of a film has to think about everything: Setting, atmosphere, themes, timing, emotion, film length, characters. Composers can enhance the film viewing experience in every way, but there is always potential for them to ruin it; there is nothing worse than the overzealous use of some pompous piece aimed at eliciting heart tearing sympathy when a low-key acoustic melody (or nothing at all) would have made a better fit. Moreover, an ill judged or excessive score can totally drown out a performance – though with many bad films this is usually the idea. To sum up, good soundtracks make films better and bad soundtracks can really piss you off. This list aims to do the opposite – no, not shit you up! – so have a read and a listen and that.

10. Day of the Dead (1985) by John Harrison

The keen of ear may notice that this intro song from Day of the Dead is directly sampled in the Gorillaz track, M1 A1 – after Double Bass, it’s probably their best. Harrison’s Day of the Dead opens strongly, and the rest of the score encapsulates and builds upon the world of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, -including composer Goblin’s accompaniment – with a menagerie of weird and wonderful snynth-jazz pieces. Large portions of the soundtrack are sustained purely by the moans and groans of the (un)dead-on backing vocalists, channelling zombie angst in blood-curdling earnest.

9. Flash Gordon (1980) by Queen

A proton-riffing space opera of angelic purity, Queen’s Flash Gordon score dives face first into the fantastical galaxy of sci-fi composition. Queen also scored Highlander (Who Wants to Live Forever? being the most notable track) but it is in Flash Gordon that they really shine; the 1980 standalone was set for several sequels but got none, so the monarch loving rockers got just one pop at this dazzling comic-book Universe. What a shame. In Seth McFarlane’s Ted, when they wanted to sample Flash Gordon for the nostalgia and cocaine fuelled party scene, nobody could find an original recording. Apparently none exist, so you can actually hear the dialogue and sound effects of the cinematic release in the background. ‘DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!’

8. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) by Riz Ortolani

Cannibal Holocaust’s helicopter opener, which takes in the beautiful expanse of the Green Inferno, totally belies the atrocities (some very much real) which will unfold on the screen over the two hours to come. Riz Ortolani’s soothing composition gives the false impression of safety but, once familiar with the film, the psychedelic overtones will send chills down the spine of anyone who hasn’t had theirs forced out of place by a ten foot high wooden stake from anus to mouth. Look out for the turtle scene, it’s a shell-shocker!

7. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) by Hans Zimmer

Guy Ritchie’s Holmes films represent reinvention of the much loved Baker Street sleuth to date (yes, that includes BBC’s Sherlock!), and Hans Zimmer’s score is perhaps the most essential element(ary) of its success. Mixing Romani dance numbers and Irish folk ballads with the plunking rattle of a disused and decrepit harpsichord, Zimmer creates an aesthetic that is at once both playful and dangerous. His riffs upon the soundtrack of Django (1966) and classic Germanic opera also go startlingly well with the detective’s daring escapades.

6. The Thing (1984) by Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone’s score is perfect. Plucking, tapping, scratching away at your sanity, it hints at approaching doom in the form of someThing we puny humans -mere putty in the hands of an alien race – cannot possibly understand nor hope to escape. The song below, Humanity II, conjures images of a creature poised for the hunt, its machine of a heart beating steady as it readies to steal your cells and your soul by making them its own. It destroys you on a soulluar level, if you will.

5. Gladiator (2000) by Hans Zimmer

Funny thing, this; everyone, be they moronic YouTube commentators or close ‘associates’, seem to think Hans Zimmer’s superb swords n sandals score is like Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates is in fact three years Gladiator’s junior, making it an imposter by default. After some IMDbriefing, Movie Quibble has unearthed an interesting find: Klaus Badelt, the solely credited composer for 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, stood in as ‘score co-producer’ for ‘additional music’ in Gladiator under the careful guidance of Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. His bold faced audacity – to steal something so well known, so soon after it’s release – is to be shamed, even more so because it was pinched from a man who was not only his teacher but, presumably, his friend. Plagiarists ye be warned!

4. The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966) by Ennio Morricone

If this soundtrack were given a separate name, it’d be the ‘Godly, the Bad-ass and the (P)Ug(nacious)ly’, because it’s as tough as rail-road nails. Ennio Morricone had a vast body of work, but most impressive of all was the singularity of each of his canon; they were all different and they were all brilliant. The use of coyote howls and ‘Owl Whistles’ are the clinchers here, evoking that Wild Wild West feel like nothing else on Earth. Except maybe Golden Nuggets. Movie Quibble just cannot get enough of that rootin’ tootin’ prospector and his crunchaliciously outlandish prognostications.

3. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) by John Williams

Damn, 1980 was a good year. Orchestras are marvellously fine tuned, multi-faceted creatures, teeming with talent nurtured over decades upon decades of passion and graft. With a man like John Williams at the helm, the orchestra becomes alive and as one like never before, exhaling and expressing in unison – well, all except for the symbols man waiting in the (x)wings, but he still gets his moments under the (Black) sun in the fighting bits. Did somebody say Solo? Apologies for the let-down, but there’s no space for that on this soundtrack! #TeamEffort

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) by Howard Shore

We all know the soothing melodies and epic themes of Middle Earth; even whilst reading the books it’s impossible to dissociate the events of the page from Howard Shore’s heavenly soundtrack. However great the choirs and the drums and the brass of the battle may be, it is the one-two punch of Bag End/Concerning Hobbits on the extended musical score that stands above the rest, like Merry and Pippin in the Green Dragon after they’ve been at the Ent-draught supplies. Hello there, Instantaneous Nostalgic Goosebumps, and welcome back.

1. Commando (1985) by James Horner 

James Horner’s score turns Commando – Arnie’s most underrated film – into a sweeping adventure more thrilling than words can attest. Commando is a classic; this soundtrack’s Green Beret munching insanity solidifies it as such. It fills the senses to a feverish degree, bringing on a crazed blood lust that can only be sated by the annihilation of an entire private army beneath the hot swampy sun. Saxophones cannot ever be this awesome ever again, and as for inexplicable use of bongos and steel drums – they seem to resurface every seventeen seconds – James Horner’s soundtrack makes for a bona fide one of a kind listen. It will live on forever in the action film continuum, where it shall be played every single day, ad infinitum, whilst John Matrix is waited upon by Terminators, pregnant men and the Dutch. blum blum blum blum blum blum blumblumblumblumblumblumblumblum BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUM BLUMBLUM!

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3 comments

  1. James Skinner · · Reply

    Hahaha these top tens are great, your no. 1’s getting harder and harder to guess.

    I too noticed the gladiator vs PotC thing but thats mad how he actually nicked it I assumed zimmer did both scores. Interestingly I had a similar moment when watching the film Dogma, the theme for when God appears at the end is suspiciously similar to the Lothlorien Lotr theme… Turns out our man Howard turns up on all kinds of Shores, he did both soundtracks. (excuse the awful punmanship)

  2. James Skinner · · Reply

    Also, NO MOHICANS??!?

    1. Your punmanship is excused, but know you’ve only just survived by the Skin(ner) of your teeth. Mohicans probably should have been up there instead of like Cannibal Holocaust or something, but the actual film
      insn’t all that.

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