10 Essential Film Scores to Own on Vinyl
It can be argued that a film's score can be just as important as the content of the film itself. An ideal score can lead to even the most ordinary scene being etched in your memory, while a pivotal moment can be taken over the top. Theatrical scores have run the gamut, from ragtime piano accompanying the earliest films, to bombastic orchestral compositions and electronic pieces beginning to appear with more frequency. We covered some of our favorite soundtracks earlier this week here, here are some of our favorite film scores you can find on vinyl.
One of cinema's most accomplished composers, John Williams was riding high coming off Jaws when he was tapped to score director George Lucas' upcoming space opera, Star Wars. Williams delivered perhaps the most memorable score in the history of American film, with virtually every track on the album being worthy of icon status. A bold, symphonic score, listeners can likely close their eyes and simply imagine Luke watching Tatooine's two suns setting as Williams' "Binary Sunset" sets the tone.
Chariots of Fire (1981)- Vangelis
When director Hugh Hudson chose electronic composer Vangelis to score his 1920s period piece, it was considered an unusual choice. Electronic music was still in its relative infancy, especially in terms of film scoring. Massive orchestras and heavy brass reigned supreme, but Vangelis helped to change that. Through heavy use of synthesizers, Vangelis sought to distance himself from a typical period piece score and create something wholly original. The title track is one of the more well-known pieces in cinematic music, establishing itself well beyond its origin as the film's theme.
Ridley Scott's 2000 historical drama Gladiator was a return to the "swords and sandals", big budget epics of the 1950s and 1960s and needed a score to match. Veteran film composer Hans Zimmer teamed with Lisa Gerrard to create a score that matched the film nearly shot for shot in terms of intensity and drama. It is a massive composition that combines a traditional orchestra with electronic elements and emotional, evocative vocal parts able to conjure large-scale battles as well as the peaceful fields of wheat.
There's a reason the so-called "Spaghetti Westerns" produced in Italy during the 1960s have a signature sound, and that reason is composer Ennio Morricone. Morricone scored all of Sergio Leone's films, notably his "Dollars Trilogy" starring Clint Eastwood. To achieve the sound that has become synonymous with the genre, Morricone employed unusual methods, incorporating whistles, animal noises and gun battles. The film's theme, meant to evoke a coyote's howl, has become a classic, being used in countless standoff scenes after this one.
Already a giant of soul music, Marvin Gaye received the opportunity to score the Blaxploitation film Trouble Man and ran with it. Gaye's reputation afforded him the ability to win complete creative control over the project, composing and producing the album entirely on his own. Gaye created a character driven score, mixing jazz, funk and soul to accompany the film's story. The title track, "Trouble Man" is a classic, with Gaye's soulful vocals accompanying syncopated piano as a jazzy sax part blares in the background.
For his collaboration with director Christopher Nolan on Interstellar, Hans Zimmer managed to make a generation spanning sci-fi epic feel like a personal family drama. That's certainly not to say his score lacks gravitas, it's the opposite, in fact. Zimmer's signature blend of orchestra and electronic music allows him to bring massive life to small moments, while making galactic phenomena beyond our comprehension feel small and intimate. In a film that takes us lightyears from earth, Zimmer makes every moment feel important.
Manchester By the Sea (2016)- Lesley Barber
Lesley Barber's mastery of minimalism makes her score for Kenneth Lonergan's New England tragedy feel larger than life. There are no massive orchestras or dynamic synthesizers here. Instead, Barber relies heavily on piano, smaller string parts and a women's choir to sculpt her score. The film's score and soundtrack are heavily intertwined, as Lonergan employs classical selections that are complemented by Barber's timely accentuations. Barber's score features several variations and reprisals, as she uses sharp staccato strings to pierce through her melancholy piano, perfectly matching the film's conflict.
For his first theatrical film score, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood allowed his experimental rock background to shine through. Greenwood's score matches the film's bleak nature, and introduces us to his work while showing off his understanding of juxtaposition with the opening track "Open Spaces." Greenwood manages to perfectly marry feelings of hope with dread and vast openness with claustrophobia. It sets the tone for the rest of his score, an anxiety-inducing musical trek through the early 20th century oil boom.
The return of Vangelis, now with more synth. If Chariots of Fire felt like an introduction to electronic music in film, Blade Runner is the breakthrough. Blade Runner marked a monumental shift in film scoring, with synthesizers and electronic music now recognized as being just as emotive as acoustic instruments. Vangelis drew heavy inspiration from 1940s film noir, incorporating elements of jazz and choral music blended with punchy synth and ethereal textures. Blade Runner was a a revolution, serving as a template and an inspiration for virtually all science-fiction released thereafter.
While many remember The Godfather as perhaps the greatest of the gangster genre, it is so much more than that. Francis Ford Coppola's film is a deeply personal family drama, and Nino Rota's score is the perfect backdrop on which to tell the story of the Corleones. Rota was hired to bring some Italian authenticity to the film. Rota provides a grounded score, with a lone trumpet introducing the film's signature waltz, while a solo accordion does the heavy lifting for his "Love Theme", both among the most recognizable tracks in American cinema.