Scorrrres! Ranking Film Franchise Music (It’s Harder than it Sounds)

In my ongoing partnership with the Geek Salad Radio podcast (read: I steal their ideas for blog content), I’ve signed on as one the ‘rankers’ of major movie franchise film-scores for an upcoming episode.

We’re not talking independent soundtracks here, but rather the ‘official’ music of each film. In their geeky wisdom, the GSR crew chose a set of nine franchises that are all very much in the forefront of the pop-culture-picture; even the older ones. From hobbits to super heroes to space rangers, they’ve chosen a nice little swath, here. That’s not to say this wasn’t a much harder task than I thought it would be though.

Some choices were easier than others — we are all our own kind of geek, and my particular strain favors Tolkien and Lucas more than it does Captain Kirk and whatever-the-hell the DC Extended Universe is.

But, I made a commitment — and also a Spotify set list to discern my true favorites of each franchise, on some level anyway. So here we go… with fervor.

Lord of the Rings

  1. Return of the King — The last of the series, and probably the most vocal-heavy, this score includes the full ‘Gondor’ theme, Edge of Night, featuring Pippin (Billy Boyd) singing a song inspired in-part by a Tolkien poem, and the Oscar-winning Into the West, sung and co-written by Annie Lennox.
  2. Fellowship of the Ring — The first of the series, so it earns big points for bringing the LoTR sound to the screen. Also Enya.
  3. The Two Towers — I feel like this score is the most battle-heavy, and there’s something to be said for that when you’re trying to psych yourself up for a meeting.

All composed by Howard Shore.

Filius_orchestrating

Harry Potter

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — This is another of the easier choices for me to make — I actually own this soundtrack and love playing it around Halloween, especially the Frog Choir’s rendition of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Composed by John Williams.
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — Another nod to the origin of the music — I still get chills when those first few, tinny piano notes open the film. Composed by John Williams.
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1 — I feel like I may enjoy this soundtrack because it’s a return to the tone abandoned by the goon-bag who is Nicholas Hopper. Alexander Desplat is nothing if not a brood, so he was a good choice to get back to the darkness of the story.

Star Wars 

  1. The Empire Strikes Back — It may seem odd to a layman to choose the second film of an historic franchise over the first, but the reason why is three words long: The Imperial March.
  2. A New Hope — The first (jarring) time we hear the Main Title, as well as the first appearance of Leia’s (less-jarring) Theme.
  3. The Force Awakens — My choice here was between The Force Awakens or Rogue One, and it was close. But Rey’s Theme and the Jedi Steps pushed the force over the top.

All composed by John Williams

Star Trek

  1. Star Trek — Into Darkness — Ok, this was a franchise I had to do some homework on. I have a good feel for some of the earlier movies from the eighties, but I haven’t seen any of the reboots. I downloaded each score, though, and Michael Giacchino took the top spot for me because I like how far away it gets from the old, campy themes, while still giving it a nod from time-to-time.
  2. Star Trek, the Motion Picture — Continuing my propensity toward placing origin films in second place, I  like this score because it’s by one of my favorite composers — Jerry Goldsmith — and I find it kind of quaint in spots.
  3. Star Trek II — The Wrath of Khan — I like James Horner, and I like his take on this classic (?) sequel. He was only 28 when hired, and pioneered 1980s film-score-synthesizer use, for better or for worse. There is even an invented instrument in the mix called a Blaster Beam.

DC, Regular Length Universe

  1. Superman –– The fact that I don’t understand the difference between the “DC Universe” and the “DC Extended Universe” may have me disqualified right out of the gate here, but I think the OG 1978 Superman has to take number one. Can You Read My Mind? — By John Williams.
  2. Supergirl — I loved this movie and I have discovered through this process that I still love the soundtrack! It was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who incidentally lost out on composing for Superman due to scheduling conflicts.
  3. The Dark Knight — Easily the darkest of all Batman scores, much of the music was inspired by German industrial bands and old-school punk rock. Composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.

Supergirl_(Helen_Slater)

DC Extended Universe 

  1. Suicide Squad —This is the “universe” with which I’m least acquainted. It also, unless I screwed up somewhere, seems very small for a universe. But, ironically, the exceedingly crummy film Suicide Squad’sscore (again, not the soundtrack, which is actually pretty kick-ass), has proven to be my favorite in the last week or two of research. It’s gritty, rock-inspired, and fun to listen to when  you’re angry-cleaning the basement. Composed by Steven Price, who apparently is seven months older than I am, and I’ve done nothing with my life.
  2. Justice League —Danny Elfman stepped in to compose this score after two other composers dropped out, and it’s not his best effort. But even Danny Elfman phoning it in is better than the score for…
  3. Wonder Woman — I have to be honest, I really don’t like this score by Rupert Gregson-Williams — I think the dynamics are bad and it’s boring. But I don’t have a lot to work with here, and I refuse to give Batman v. Superman any kind of meaningful space.

Marvel Comics Universe

  1. Iron Man —  I’m thoroughly confused now. Why is this a universe and the other Marvel Comics franchise isn’t? Is it more of a galaxy? A fiefdom? I had to take a deep soundtrack-dive for this list, too … but I do like this score. It’s very heavy metal with a lot of guitars and hard drums, and feels like a “new classic” when it comes to super-hero soundtracks. Composed by Ramin Djawadi when he was only 34, the music earned him a Grammy nomination. You may have heard his work on TV, too — he’s currently known as the Game of Thrones / Westworld guy in many circles.
  2. Avengers — Age of Ultron — Danny Elfman co-composed this sweeping epic of a soundtrack with Brian Tyler, who seems to have grabbed most of the attention for it.
  3. Ant-Man — I haven’t seen this movie, but I downloaded the soundtrack by Christophe Beck, and while it sounds a little car-chasey, apparently that’s what Beck was going for. I also see his name on my TV screen frequently, as he scored Frozen, and I have a four-year-old.

Marvel Comics, non-universey

  1. Spider-Man — Oh hey, Danny Elfman. Haven’t see you this on-top of your game since Beetlejuice. Thanks for this awesome score … it’s one of the best things about the movie. That and Bruce Campbell.
  2. Spider-Man II — Another Danny Elfman joint, this score expands nicely on the original. I may be biased here as a fiddle player, but I also enjoy this score because it’s very string-laden. There are even violoncellos.
  3. Blade — Hi, Steve and Andy. Blade. Remember Blade? Remember how much I fucking hated Blade, and people talking about Blade? Well, this started as a joke, but damn if I don’t really enjoy this score. I may even add it into my Blogtoberfest playlist this year. Composed by Mark Isham, who has worked on films much worse than Blade. I’m looking at you, Nell.

790px-Shirley_Bassey_Wembley_2006

BONUS ROUND: Bond Songs!

  1. If you have a free moment or two, perusing the list of official ‘Bond songs’ is a blasty-blast. There are the expected big names who seem worthy of such an honor — Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney and Wings — and then there are several that make you realize we, as a society, tolerate a lot of shit when it comes to the cyclical nature of music. The 1987 Bond film The Living Daylights? It features a title track by A-ha. Take on that. Im also not sure who thought Jack White and Alicia Keys was a good pairing, and who the hell is Lulu? This pick, though, is given to Adele for her Oscar-winning rendition of Skyfall, by Adele and Paul Epworth.
  2. One of the good obscurities on the Bond title-song list, however, is The World Is Not Enough, performed by Garbage and written by Don Black and David Arnold. There may be some late nineties nostalgia factoring in here, but it’s a good tune — Garbagey and Bondy at the same time. The video, however, is very, very dumb. 
  3. Let’s go old-school for number three — Diamonds are Forever, performed by Shirley Bassey and written by Don Black (hi again, Don — you like girls named Shirley, eh?) and John Barry. Less campy than Goldfingahhhh, sultry, and mysterious.

I really like 16 albums from 1988, for some reason

In their ongoing series of celebrating the world’s favorite media as it turns 30, my friends over at Geek Salad Radio are tackling the music of 1988 this month.

They’re collecting personal Top Five lists to construct their final run-down for an upcoming ‘cast, so I went Inter-searching to put together my own list. I found my top five, but started with a longer list and whittled down, after a fairly exhaustive search*. That said, the uncut version adds up to the awkward total of 16, but there you go. It certainly isn’t the only thing awkward about 1988.

1

Delicate Sound of Thunder

Pink Floyd

For a band known for its live performances, it might be surprising to some that Delicate Sound of Thunder was Pink Floyd’s first live album release. It was recorded over five nights, ’embellished’ in the studio post-performance (i.e. new guitar solos and sound effects), and reached number 11 on the U.S. Billboard chart. When I owned it in physical form, it was a double cassette set, and therefore a prized possession.

2

Rattle and Hum

U2

Fun Fact: the album peaked at 172 on the Billboard 200, and that was in 2014. Another live/studio hybrid, Rattle and Hum was released as both a record and a documentary in 1988 — one could say that started a trend — so it’s technically a soundtrack. A lot of critics hated it, but it includes, arguably, some of U2’s best tracks — Desire, All I Want is You, and Angel of Harlem among them. Ironically, many R n H tracks reached more ears in the nineties and later than in ’88, after the band had taken a ‘new direction.’

3

Starfish

The Church

Reaching 41 on the U.S. Billboard 200, this was Australia-based The Church’s biggest commercial success in any country, featuring one of my all-time favorite songs, Under the Milky Way. It’s poppy and melancholy at the same time, kind of like me.

4

Watermark

Enya

I’d say this was my entree into ambient music, but my parents were really into Vangelis when I was a kid, so I’ll say this was the first ambient music I liked. The album is also a big part of the soundtrack to the film L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin, released in 1991.

5

She’s Having a Baby Soundtrack

Various

I’ve had this album in rotation pretty much since 1988; it’s a great mix of alternative and new wave with a decidedly British bent, including Kirsty MacColl, Gene Loves Jezebel, and Bryan Ferry.


6 The Raw and the Cooked, Fine Young Cannibals

7 Vivid, Living Colour

8 Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians

9 Beetlejuice Soundtrack, Danny Elfman/Harry Belefonte

10 Roll With It, Steve Winwood

11 The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, The Traveling Wilburys

12 Short Sharp Shocked, Michelle Shocked

13 Slow Turning, John Hiatt

14 Folkways, Various

15 See the Light, The Jeff Healey Band

16 Never Die Young, James Taylor

* – It’s tough to find a complete list of all ’88 albums out there. Thanks to some of my resources who did the work already, including Rate Your Music and the awesomely named Slicing Up Eyeballs.

But wait, there’s more! The Spotify List:

New Music of 2016 ~ This is What I Found

Some years, I list favorite albums. Some years it’s favorite cuts. This year, I’m all over the map, but so is the landscape of music – and in my opinion, that’s kind of how it should be.

Here’s some of the new music I discovered last year … and how (<– literally as well as figuratively, kids! Let’s learn the difference in 2017).

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

The self-titled album making the rounds on pop and alternative radio now was actually released in 2015, but Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats also released A Little Something More From Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats in 2016, plus two singles from the original album: Wasting Time and I Need Never Get Old.

These guys haven’t been together that long, but they’re polished aF. Talk about picking your roster…I love them and they’re on the top of my list to check out live. Take note, Ben.

Below is my favorite track, Howling at Nothing.

K.Flay

The first K. Flay single that caught my ear was Can’t Sleep, released in 2014. But the artist has actually released four EPs and 10 singles in six years, including Crush Me and its lead single, this year’s Blood in the Cut.

Note: I knew nothing about K. Flay before I heard that first tune, and continued to know-not-much other than her sound for a long time. For this reason, I think she’s a great example of a voice that permeates without a lot of branding fanfare; I only recently looked up more information as I discovered more of her music. She’s still the coolest, and I’m loving her vibe.

A Tribe Called Quest

Soon after seeing Tribe’s reunion performance on SNL — albeit sans long-time member MC Phife Dawg — I bought the full album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, released in November 2016. Full disclosure: I’d just gotten an iTunes gift card for my birthday (Thanks Jon), so the timing was right. But I’m very happy with my purchase. The timing of this release could not have been better, given the climate in the U.S. right now… not to mention this is a solid album from start to finish. Stand-out tracks for me include We the People (my new anthem), Kids and The Space Program.

 The Avalanches

I think the first time I heard these guys and their new album, Wildflower, was via one of my local radio stations, WEQX. – the same goes for K. Flay. The Avalanches are catchy, bizarre, and samply… I  describe their lead track Frank Sinatra (below) as Squirrel Nut Zippers meet Gorillaz.