Sherlock Holmes Meets Dr. Who

Sherlock Holmes Meets Dr. WhoWhen is a Doctor Who soundtrack not a Doctor Who soundtrack? When it’s a tiny portion of a collected works CD by an artist renowned for work other than his three scores for the Time Lord’s 1970s adventures.

British composer Carey Blyton’s best-known television work may, in fact, be what your toddlers were humming about four or five years ago, for it was Mr. Blyton who was responsible for the theme song to Bananas In Pajamas. But before you dismiss him as a man who created music for a couple of elongated fruit whose primary pastimes included chasing teddy bears, know that Carey Blyton also created music for Silurians, Daleks and Cybermen!

Blyton’s style of composition is suited to small ensembles, and he very much favored saxophones and clarinets in his arrangements. His music for 1970’s terrifying Doctor Who And The Silurians used kazoo-like sounds to signify the otherworldliness of the titular bipedal reptiles, and at times his music for Death To The Daleks is almost amusing and, in places, soothing – though the Gregorian-inspired Exxilon chants lose a little something when played by a quartet of saxes, rather than the original interpretation belted out gutturally by male vocalists. Blyton’s treatment of 1975’s Revenge Of The Cybermen is a little more generic. Silurians stands out as the most memorable of Blyton’s three Doctor Who scores, with nice themes established for the Brigadier and UNIT, as well as the Silurians themselves. That score is also perhaps the one most enthusiastically played. Blyton’s work on a never-completed animated Sherlock Holmes television series is also represented here for the first time in recorded form.

Though not officially a Doctor Who soundtrack album, Carey Blyton’s collection earns its slot on my shelf by virtue of being the only place any of this music can be heard. As with most of the early 1970s stories, Blyton’s 3 out of 4original sessions tapes are lost forever, and we’re lucky to have any new recording at all, even if in some cases the sound is vastly different from the original arrangements. There’s a certain charm to hearing them this way – stripped down to bare bones, the music still stands on its own. How much television music can make the same claim today?

Order this CD

    Sherlock Holmes Suite:

  1. March: The Game’s Afoot! (0:43)
  2. Baker Street Conversation (2:20)
  3. Porky Johnson and the Baker Street Irregulars (0:58)
  4. Scenes from Holmes’ London (2:14)
  5. Professional Colleages (2:21)
  6. Professor Moriarty – “The Napoleon of Crime” (1:06)
  7. Finale – Victoria Triumphans! (1:11)
    Pasticheries:
  8. The Return of Bulgy Gogo (1:21)
  9. The Velvet Gentleman (2:19)
  10. Up The Farington Road! (2:01)
  11. Sweet & Sour Rag (3:42)
  12. Hark! The Merry Gentlemen (3:06)
  13. Eilgut-Galope (2:22)
    The Silurian Suite:
  14. In The Caves (2:01)
  15. A Close Encounter (1:11)
  16. March: The Brigadier (2:03)
    The Vogan Suite:
  17. Deep Space (1:29)
  18. Vogan March (1:50)
  19. “All’s Well…That Ends Well!” (0:54)
    The Dalek Suite:
  20. A Desolate Landscape (1:41)
  21. Chants & Variants (4:05)
  22. Dalek “March” and Retreat (1:31)<
    Six Epigrams:
  23. Idyll (1:29)
  24. March (0:53)
  25. Blues (1:31)
  26. Scherzo (0:52)
  27. Homage to Czerny (1:23)
  28. Echoes (0:57)
  29. In Memoriam: Scott Fitzgerald (2:24)
  30. Mock Joplin (2:08)
  31. Saxe Blue (3:02)
  32. Captain Bowsprit’s Blues (2:17)

Released by: UpBeat Classics
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 61:31

Symphonic Suite Yamato – music by Hiroshi Miyagawa

Symphonic Suite YamatoI have a problem with a lot of re-recordings of soundtracks. The tempo tends to be wrong, the emphasis is different (or, worse yet, there is none), or the whole thing sounds hollow. Conductors like Cliff Eidelman and Joel McNeely – themselves composers (see, respectively, Star Trek VI and Shadows Of The Empire) – make a living these days off of re-recordings, and labels like Silva Screen – the folks behind Cult Files and Space and Beyond – do re-recording compilations as their bread and butter. But the results aren’t always pretty.

Why do I bring up the whole re-recording issue? Because Symphonic Suite Yamato is, essentially, a rearranged orchestral suite of music from animè series Space Battleship Yamato (known in the English-speaking world as Star Blazers). But what sets this CD apart from other re-recordings is the complete participation of original Yamato composer Hiroshi Miyagawa. He knows the music – he wrote it. He conducts it, too, meaning that we haven’t wound up with a weak, watered-down interpretation of the original. A new interpretation, to be sure, but that’s not a bad thing.

So good, in fact, was the resulting recording that music from Symphonic Suite Yamato – originally intended to be a stand-alone recording – was actually used in later Yamato movies such as The New Voyage.

The suite kicks off with an overture built around the solo female vocal piece “The Universe Spreading Into Infinity”, one of the most haunting, lovely and unforgettable cues featured in the original series. Though it starts out as a female solo vocal again, Miyagawa reinterprets the theme for full orchestra with an absolutely stunning result. As blasphemous as it main seem, the martial main theme associated with the series and movies doesn’t kick in until later, setting the tone for the entirety of Symphonic Suite Yamato: a musical experiment bringing some lesser-known themes to the fore and developing them, as well as some new twists on the better-known pieces.

“Scarlet Scarf”, which was used as the closing title music for the Yamato TV series in Japan (and has seldom been heard in the English-dubbed edition of the series), is taken through some similarly surprising progressions, starting out with the customary mournful rendition and then exploding into a more military sound.

The track titles have little to do with music from specific scenes, and deal more with the moods Miyagawa was attempting to bring across with his new arrangements.

4 out of 4Overall, Symphonic Suite Yamato is a lovely thing to listen to; the closest comparison I can think of in recent American soundtrack music is the first two Babylon 5 soundtracks, which composer Christopher Franke re-sequenced and amended to create new longform compositions which stood on their own. And Symphonic Suite Yamato does it so much better.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (5:22)
  2. The Birth (4:27)
  3. Sashia (1:39)
  4. Trial (2:40)
  5. Take Off (2:56)
  6. Reminiscence (2:10)
  7. Scarlet Scarf (4:27)
  8. Decisive Battle (4:36)
  9. Iskandall (3:32)
  10. Recollection (3:16)
  11. Hope For Tomorrow (5:09)
  12. Stasha (3:16)

Released by: Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd.
Release date: 1977 (released on CD in 1995)
Total running time: 44:27

Who Is Dr. Who?

Who Is Dr. Who?A release that screams “diehard completists only!” at the top of its lungs, this collection of Doctor Who-inspired novelty tunes and singles spans the years 1963-1973.

The singles tracked down and remastered by Doctor Who sound guru Mark Ayres for inclusion here cover the entire spectrum, from interesting (Jon Pertwee and Frazer Hines’ amusing takes on the phenomenon), to things that make you wonder why anyone bothered (Roberta Tovey’s attempt to cash-in on her appearance in the two Peter Cushing films of the 1960s, along with several standard-issue guitar rock tracks whose only tie-ins seem to be including the word “Dalek” in their titles), to truly cringe-worthy (the infamous Eric Winstone rendition of the Doctor Who theme tune, and the even more infamous “I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek”). You really have to have a taste for nostalgia – some of it in the worst musical taste you can possibly imagine – to stomach this CD.

The aforementioned tracks by Pertwee (the third Doctor himself) and Hines (who played the second Doctor’s Scottish sidekick Jamie) are actually rather good; Pertwee’s single – performed and produced by former Deep Purple members to the tune of the series theme song – probably sticks the closest to the spirit of the show (the unrelated B-side leaves a little to be desired, save as a reminder of the unmistakable voice of the late, great Mr. Pertwee). Hines’ singles, sadly enough, may be the most musically valid (which ain’t sayin’ much in this case), with some light touches of psychedelia.

I suppose the album would’ve had a gaping hole if “I’m Gonna Spend A Christmas With A Dalek” had been omitted. This shameless cash-in by a band called the Go Gos (years before Belinda Carlisle’s group of the same name, of course) features a lead vocal performed much in the same style as “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”. Those very teeth will be grating as you listen to this particular track. You should listen to it at least once, just to say you did.

The late Don Harper’s wild, almost retro-loungue-style cover of the theme song is another peak of weirdness in the proceedings. Every once in a while, he hits the notes right. Just for sheer strangeness, it bears at least one listening.

Some hidden treats come in the form of “The Eccentric Dr. Who”, “Daleks And Thals” and “Fugue For Thought”, single arrangements of themes and incidental music from the two 1960s Doctor Who theatrical films which starred Peter Cushing and Roberta Tovey. These are likely to be the only time you’ll ever hear anything even approaching soundtracks from those two movies. Tovey’s own cash-in singles are adorable or annoying, depending upon your mood at the time.

Overall, a choice pick for those who, like myself, absolutely have to hear everything ever recorded in connection to the BBC’s longest running science fiction series. But not even all the fans will necessarily dig this musical trip back in time. If the hinted-at second volume of novelty tunes does happen, it may have some 2 out of 4more accessible material – some understanding of the historical context of these songs, both within the framework of Doctor Who’s history on TV and and within the musical trends of the mid-1960s, is probably required to enjoy them. Extensive liner notes offer lots of that information, but it will ultimately be up to the tastes of individual listeners.

Order this CD

  1. Doctor Who Theme – BBC Radiophonic Workshop (2:22)
  2. Dr. Who – Eric Winstone and his Orchestra (3:10)
  3. I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek – The Go Go’s (2:28)
  4. Landing Of The Daleks – The Earthlings (2:47)
  5. March Of The Robots – The Earthlings (2:12)
  6. Dance Of The Daleks – Jack Dorsey and his Orchestra (2:33)
  7. Who’s Who – Roberta Tovey (2:28)
  8. Not So Old – Roberta Tovey (2:48)
  9. The Eccentric Dr. Who – Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra (2:25)
  10. Daleks And Thals – Malcolm Lockyer Orchestra (2:09)
  11. Fugue For Thought – Bill McGuffie (2:14)
  12. Who’s Dr. Who? – Frazer Hines (3:08)
  13. Punch And Judy Man – Frazer Hines (2:22)
  14. Who Is The Doctor – Jon Pertwee (2:23)
  15. Pure Mystery – Jon Pertwee (3:16)
  16. Dr. Who – Don Harper’s Homo Electronicus (4:19)
  17. Landing Of The Daleks (alternate version) – The Earthlings (2:43)
  18. Time Traveller – Frazer Hines (2:34)

Released by: RPM Records
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 48:21

Evil Genius Orchestra – Cocktails In The Cantina

Evil Genius Orchestra - Star Wars: Cocktails In The CantinaThe first (and I should add, only) vinyl album I ever owned was the soundtrack to Return Of The Jedi. Since then, I’ve purchased various incarnations of the Star Wars soundtracks on various media (except 8-track) and listened to them countless times. Through it all, though, I kept thinking to myself, You know, this would really be something with a little saxophone and bass to liven it up.

Well, thank the Force for The Evil Genius Orchestra! As a tribute to their fellow jazz musician “Johnny” Williams, they saw fit to record an album of selected pieces from the Star Wars trilogy with a swingin’ jazz flair.

This collection, to me, is great fun. While some pieces come across better than others, overall the transformation of John Williams’ epic soundtrack to the Star Wars films to what can almost be called “lounge music” works very well. There’s just something about substituting electric keyboards, saxophones, and muted trumpets for the traditional pieces of a symphony orchestra that makes the music fresh and definitely different.

Believe it or not, a few pieces actually translate quite well to jazz numbers, most notably “Yoda’s Theme” (!) and “Cantina Band”. With other pieces though, I found myself laughing out loud. The addition of some jazzy snapping fingers to “The Throne Room” just seemed so out of place for the triumphant final scene of Star Wars. Likewise, the swinging tempo for the energetic portions of “The 4 out of 4Asteroid Field” implied Han, Chewie, and Leia lounging with sunglasses and sipping Long Island iced teas instead of fleeing the Empire.

Star Wars purists should steer clear, as this music could be considered sacrilegious by some. But for those of us who enjoy fresh takes on old favorites, I highly recommend it.

Order this CD

  1. Star Wars Main Theme (4:41)
  2. Princess Leia’s Theme (3:33)
  3. The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) (3:33)
  4. Cantina Band (4:18)
  5. Ben Kenobi’s Death / TIE Fighter Attack (4:12)
  6. Han Solo and the Princess (3:50)
  7. Yoda’s Theme (3:56)
  8. Lando’s Palace (3:51)
  9. The Asteroid Field (4:02)
  10. Parade of the Ewoks (3:33)
  11. Binary Sunset (3:33)
  12. The Throne Room (1:57)
  13. End Titles (4:35)

Released by: The Oglio Entertainment Group
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 49:24

Meco – The Complete Star Wars Collection

Meco - The Complete Star Wars CollectionRoughly a year ago, I waxed rhapsodic about how much I loved the CD re-release of the original Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk album by Meco. Well, here we are with a brand-new release by Meco, remixing and compiling his discofied slices of John Williams from all the original trilogy movies, and adding new material inspired by Episode I.

I know some fans have been clamoring for Meco’s tunes from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but if this CD proved anything to me, it was that maybe I would’ve been better off stopping at that original 1977 release.

A major caveat for fans of original material here: these are not the original recordings. These are digital re-recordings which vastly change the structure of the original songs. In some places – and I’m particularly singling out the new version of the original Star Wars music here – this isn’t a bad thing. It’s interesting to hear Meco’s take on this stuff some 23 years later. In other places…God help us all. I never heard Meco’s original Empire and Jedi recordings, so I have no idea if they were ever better than this. It sounds like the discomeister should’ve called it quits with the first movie.

And if Meco’s Empire and Jedi-inspired tunes aren’t enough to make me draw that conclusion, the godawful trio of Episode I songs are enough to make me wonder if the man’s lost his touch completely. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Meco’s original Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk album. I listened to it incessantly when I was a kid. But his take on “Duel Of The Fates” and “Augie’s Municipal Band” is a bore – he was beaten to the “Duel Of The Fates” punch by the far superior house dance mixes by the Wasabees a year ago.

And it gets worse. Far, far worse. “Cousin Jar Jar” is a bizarre rap in which Jar Jar wanders into a bar and burbles on endlessly about his adventures (and his inability to dance, because yousa might say meesa…clumsy?) over a disco beat, with occasional background vocal contributions. Again, I 1 out of 4even liked Jar Jar Binks in Episode I…but this song almost seems to be specifically engineered to make even the most adoring Jar Jar fans rethink their loyalties to the goofy Gungan.

Proceed with caution. Keep in mind, I loved Meco’s original Star Wars album. But this thing is one long digitally-recorded trip to the Dark Side.

Order this CD

  1. Star Wars (A New Hope)
    Main Title Theme / The Land of the Sand People /
    Princess Leia’s Theme / Cantina Band / The Last Battle / End Title
    (8:22)
    The Empire Stikes Back
  2. Darth Vader’s Theme / Yoda’s Theme (3:36)
  3. The Battle In The Snow (3:24)
  4. The Force Theme (3:13)
  5. Finale (2:30)
    Return Of The Jedi
  6. Lapti Nek (4:54)
  7. Ewok Celebration (3:09)
    The Phantom Menace
  8. Duel Of The Fates / Augie’s Municipal Band (3:23)
  9. Cousin Jar Jar (3:33)
  10. A Jedi Knight (vocals by Yamira) (5:25)

Released by: Mecoman Records
Release date: 2000
Total running time: 41:33

Neil Norman – Star Trek: Encounters

Star Trek: EncountersDespite the fact that Neil Norman has produced nearly every Star Trek soundtrack album to appear in the past decade, he’s not just a producer and a science fiction fan – he’s also a musician in his own right, and this enthusiastic entry proves it. Star Trek: Encounters takes the themes from all four series, along with the films First Contact and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and a couple of score cues from the original series, and crams them all into six and a half minutes of what can best be described as a sci-fi rock opera of sorts, sans lyrics.

What’s surprising is how good it sounds in places – the familiar “Vina’s Dance” cue from The Cage is sped up slightly, made a little bit heavier, and takes on a life of its own in the rock idiom. Other pieces, such as the pastoral First Contact theme and the Next Generation/Motion Picture theme, fare less well, dragged kicking and screaming into their new form. And though I’ve mellowed on my 3 out of 4opinion of Joel Goldsmith’s Star Trek: Voyager CD single over the years, Star Trek: Encounters demonstrates what that single should have sounded like. Overall, it’s an amusing experiment in a cross between Star Trek and Hooked on Classics, minus the brain-hemorrhaging drum machine beat.

Order this CD

  1. Star Trek: Encounters (6:38)

Released by: GNP Crescendo
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 6:39