Thursday, February 12, 2009

Close to the Source

(Written for the Film Score Monthly Blog)

I couldn’t figure out why a hole had been punched in the upper left hand corner. The album was sealed in plastic wrap, but someone had shoved a pencil or something through one corner. Is that why it was selling for only a dollar?

There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it other than that, so I begged my mother to buy it for me. I owned only one other LP at the time: The Carpenters Close To You (I’d had trouble deciding between it and Olivia Newton John’s Have You Never Been Mellow, but opted for the Carpenters when I decided I recognized more song titles on their record than on Olivia’s). This was before the arrival of that historical pivot point, Star Wars. I had some 45s, like “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Popcorn” by Hot Butter, but LPs were still a bit beyond my usual price range.

So this new LP, stuck in a box with a bunch of country and western albums and priced at only a dollar, seemed like it might be something I could convince my mother to buy for me. It was the soundtrack to a movie called Westworld, a movie I’d seen on television and really enjoyed. Plus, my friend Reese claimed that his dad, who lived far away in California, had actually worked on the movie, helping to do the pixelated simulation of the robot’s vision.

When my mother agreed to buy it, I couldn’t wait to get back home. Westworld turned out to be a wonderful collection and the tracks are burned into my memory. It opened with the “Western Warble,” which instantly delighted me with its toothy whistled sound. I loved the “Hovercraft Muzak.” I loved the “Bar Room Piano.” The first “Chase” track, with its electronic rattlesnake sound gave me the chills. I even enjoyed the medieval world tracks. The album’s got an amazingly delicious variety.

More than anything, though, I loved “Stagecoach Arrival.” Clocking in at a single minute in length, I still hum it in my head to this day if I want to count off one minute. I chose it as the theme for the “radio station” that broadcast from my bedroom via cassette, station QQQQ. We’d “broadcast” episodes of Space:1999 and Man From Atlantis, the audio taped off the TV. “Stagecoach Arrival” opened each tape, and then I’d come in, holding my nose to alter my voice, as QQQQ’s resident announcer. I’d start talking right about 18 seconds into the track, just as the first trumpety fanfare stuff begins to fade, and say “Welcome to QQQQ!” I’d then let the guitar section play out and, about 30 seconds in, just after the fiddle introduces the banjos, I’d return to announce “On this tape…” and go on to describe the TV episode or music mix or whatever would follow.

Flash forward some twenty or thirty years.

Film Score Monthly releases Westworld on CD. I may have been the only person buying the CD for Westworld and not for the Goldsmith it was paired with. The idea of an expanded Westworld thrilled me. What kind of wonderful extra stuff could there be?

The first thing that struck me about FSM’s release was how much I loved The Carey Treatment. I’d never heard of the film, didn’t know Roy Budd as anything more than just a name and, if it had been released by itself, I most likely would have read the release announcement and never thought about it again. Instead, I was instantly blown away by the marvelously infectious main title. I loved the intimate piano version of the theme in the courtship track. And the jazzy party cue. And then perhaps my favorite source cue ever, the track called 1M2. It’s a driving jazz number that stands up on its own as a composition that would fit on the setlist of a swinging combo playing dark, smoky nightclubs.

Oh, and then there’s Westworld.

The playing order is different, much more in the film order than the LP sequence. But there were the Hovercraft pieces, plus a bonus Hovercraft piece on disc 2. And everything else was there, plus some extra source cues. But the sound was subtly different here and there - most especially on my beloved “Stagecoach Arrival.” Little did I know that the mix on the old LP was not the mix used in the film. The track now has a harmonica overlay in the section that immediately followed my “Welcome” announcement. Every time I hear it now, I’m startled because it doesn’t fit the version I grew up on, the version that plays in my head as a built-in stopwatch. But I love it. I love all the tracks on the CD. Sure, it’s full of source cues, usually the bane of a soundtrack afficianado’s existence, but these are detailed source cues, not just throwaways. These cues help define the films they’re in. And they make great listening apart from the film.

One of these days, I need to really listen to the Goldsmith stuff on disc 2. I still haven’t been able to warm up to the idea of listening to Coma. Maybe it’s those two disco tracks that open the Coma section on the CD. Yikes. I mean, I love the CHiPs discs, I love Stu Phillips’ “Something Kinda Funky” from Buck Rogers, so it’s not an innate fear of disco. It’s just that the two Coma tracks are, not to put too fine a point on it, crappy. Even (sacrilege, I know) Goldsmith’s muzak-y version of his “Theme from The Prize” is, well, boring.

But I guess that just makes the other parts of the disc that much more amazing. Roy Budd and Fred Karlin somehow outmastered the master himself when it came to writing source cues.

Now, I wonder if I still have any of those old episodes of Man From Atlantis on cassette? Sure wish somebody would release that soundtrack…

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