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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Three of My Favorite Soundtracks

Posted on May 28, 2010 by Sean Ferguson

When Gregg Senko of www.whysoblu.com suggested that we write about three albums that changed our lives at first I thought that it would be pretty easy to do, until I really started to think about it. Should I cover only movie soundtracks or should it be non-movie related like my co-workers picks? Even now, as I am writing this, I have no idea what I will end up with as my picks. If you’ve read my bio section on the staff page of the website, you know that I have eclectic taste in music. The Beatles are my favorite band and John Williams is my favorite composer, but I also like some techno, old country, and of course rock and roll, but the majority of my cds are movie soundtracks. For me, a movie’s soundtrack is indelibly linked to the movie and I can’t separate the two. Movie soundtracks allow us to revisit the movies in our minds especially in the days before being they were released for home viewing. It also provided the score to our own daydreams and the epic battles with our Star Wars figures. I’ve gotten speeding tickets because I was enjoying the music too much and too loudly to notice the police officer behind me until it was too late. As much as I love the other cds in my collection, nothing touches my emotions more than a movie score especially if it’s from John Williams. His music seems to have a direct line to my heart and mind and his scores have been the soundtrack to my life so it’s only fitting that I begin with him.

The Empire Strikes Back – John Williams

Just like the movie Star Wars from which it came from, I didn’t think there was a way that the soundtrack could be topped. I was wrong on both counts. Not only did The Empire Strikes Back surpass Star Wars as a movie, but the soundtrack firmly established itself as the superior score as well. The Star Wars soundtrack has many excellent tracks and I love it, but it now seems slow and meandering in parts when compared to the laser focus of the Empire soundtrack. Williams faced a daunting task with the follow up to Star Wars which was the top-selling score of all time with over 4 million albums sold. To achieve that, he created new themes and greatly expanded the amount of music so the movie would have almost non-stop music. The greatest addition from this new score was without a doubt the new “Imperial March” which also served as Darth Vader’s theme. If you aren’t thrilled when listening to this I highly suspect that you are as dead as a Norwegian Blue Parrot. You can now hear that theme on cell phones (it’s one of my ringtones), sporting events, and it has so permeated popular culture that I bet there are people who are aware of it that haven’t even seen the movies (a travesty I know).


The soundtrack had a lot more fantastic tracks than just that incredible March though. There was also “Yoda’s theme”, which added an emotional weight to the movie as the wizened Jedi Master taught Luke the ways of the Force, and one of my all-time favorites: “Han Solo and the Princess”. This heartfelt romantic yet tragic track told of the love between a Princess and a scoundrel which is crushed by the Empire with the Imperial March overpowering the tender moment. This leads to the “Carbon Freeze/Luke Pursues the Captives/Departure of Boba Fett” cue which is the reason this is my favorite soundtrack of all time. Williams brilliantly blends every theme together for this career defining tour-de-force. I remember sitting in the theater watching the carbon freezing scene and feeling absolutely sucker punched at not only the prospect of losing Han Solo to Boba Fett, but also by this astounding music. Even today, that scene still chokes me up. When the movie was over I was shaken to my core as I was completely shocked by the ending where the heroes had been beaten in every way possible, a concept which had never occurred to me before. The stakes had been raised to an unimaginable level and it was pure torture for me to wait to see it resolved by the third in the series: Return of the Jedi. For me, The Empire Strikes Back both the movie and the soundtrack, is my all time favorite across the board. This was John Williams at his finest and it doesn’t get any better than this.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – John Williams

Even if you don’t agree with me at least you have to admit I’m consistent. As Empire is not only my favorite movie all time as well as my favorite soundtrack, the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie and soundtrack are linked together as my second favorite movie/soundtrack. This soundtrack also provides one of my other ringtones, “The Raiders March,” which is another fantastically memorable theme. I think just about everybody can hum the main theme for Indiana Jones which is a testament to how catchy and well written it is. Although Williams had less time to write for this soundtrack than any of his other projects, this is one of his best. What I love about this score is that it covers so much thematic territory. It has humor, dread, fast paced action cues, and awe-inspiring music for the Ark of the Covenant that both excites and frightens you as it should. I remember how hard it was to get this and the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom soundtrack. In fact, I had to get them imported from Japan to get them on cd until they finally wised up and released them here in 2005.


From dodging darts in Peru, to the bar fight in Nepal, and discovering a hidden map room that showed the location of the Ark, this soundtrack was as essential to the success of the movie as Harrison Ford. It’s another round of classic themes as Marion gets her own theme and even the Ark has its own beautiful yet ominous theme. Who can forget the scene in the map room with Indy holding the staff of Ra when the music soars as the sunlight creates a beam from the medallion showing the hidden location of the Ark? Or the thrilling music from the desert chase as Indy chases a Nazi convoy on horseback to retrieve the Ark and ends up getting shot and thrown out of a moving truck only to be towed behind it as he struggles to return? That musical cue aptly named “Desert Chase,” is the track that I do not allow myself to listen to while driving. It makes me far too aggressive and usually gets me a speeding ticket but it’s one of my all time favorite tracks. You also can’t forget the music at the end of the movie where the wrath of the Ark is unleashed on the Nazis. Just like the visuals, it starts off as a beautiful awe-inspiring melody and turns terrifying when the Ark punishes anyone that dared to look. It still gives me goose bumps listening to it at high volume and it wasn’t topped until Temple of Doom’s sacrificial chant which was even darker and more chilling. To me, Raiders is perfection and I love every minute of both the movie and the soundtrack. I'll add a link at the bottom of this article for a great boxed set out that gives the special edition version of all four Indiana Jones soundtracks that I highly recommend.

Star Trek II- The Wrath of Khan – James Horner

James Horner has composed many excellent soundtracks and another one of my favorites of his was Aliens. I picked Wrath of Khan because it means more to me although I love the Aliens movie and the soundtrack. You see, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was a little kid who watched the original series while I waited for my Dad to come home from work so we could eat dinner. It’s funny the things you remember like that. Even though I love Star Wars more, Star Trek isn’t too far behind as I love the original cast and their characters. While I was very disappointed in the first Star Trek movie (although the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith is fantastic), I was completely blown away by Wrath of Khan. It is by far my favorite Star Trek movie and probably in my top 10 movies of all time. Just like the movie, James Horner removed all of the fluff and cheesiness of the past and made a robust swashbuckling score. This was the Star Trek movie and soundtrack that I had been waiting for and both of them kicked ass. Director Nicholas Meyer was the perfect man for the job and he hired the perfect composer for it. They both saw the movie as a naval adventure in space and worked together perfectly to capture that feeling with tracks like “Enterprise Clears Moorings,” with its rousing fanfare as the ship sets off for adventure.


The score is amazing as it veers from playful to dangerous with Khan and his crew determined to make Kirk pay for his actions from years ago. I can’t say enough good things about this score whether it’s the theme for the Enterprise, Kirk, Spock, Khan, or even the Genesis Device. The battle in the Mutara Nebula is an amazing achievement filled with breathtaking cues as the Enterprise battles the Reliant with all sensors down. It ends very emotionally with a tragic yet hopeful refrain of Spock’s theme as he sacrifices himself to save his ship and crew. Horner couldn’t have done a better job and it remains his best work. This Star Trek score would only come close to being matched 10 years later by Cliff Eidelman who did the score for Star Trek VI – The Undiscovered Country which was another fantastic score that almost made the list but it didn’t have the same emotional impact on me that this one did.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps another time I will do another round of albums that changed me that aren’t movie soundtracks but I am happy with these three. All of these soundtracks mean a lot to me and I listen to them all the time. If you do not own them, you should do yourself a favor and run to the store to buy them. These three soundtracks are the best example of how much a score can contribute to a movie and what a difference it makes on which composer is hired. These soundtracks are a part of me and the love I have for those movies. No matter where I am or what I am doing, if I hear any of these soundtracks I can picture the movie in my mind and be instantly transported back. Few things in life have that kind of power and that’s why these are my three picks.

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