The Martian Chronicles – music by Stanley Myers

The Martian ChroniclesI barely remember the lavish 1979 British/U.S. co-production of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I seem to remember being hyped up about it (as I was about most anything that had to do with space), seeing a little bit of it, and then my mom deciding unilaterally that this miniseries was Not For Me. And oddly enough, I haven’t seen it in its entirety since, despite it being on DVD these days. (That’s a gap in my SF TV knowledge I need to correct one of these days, come to think of it.) But boy, do I remember the music. I had already seen Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers (and, of course, Star Wars) by this point, but The Martian Chronicles clearly had Music From The Future. With its futuristic synth sweeps giving it a foothold in the new wave sound while its orchestral components were firmly tied to the disco-fied ’70s, The Martian Chronicles’ music is bold, brassy, memorable, and that spacey element pushes it just far enough across the line to make it sound, musically, a bit like a science fiction version of Dallas.

Anchoring the entire theme as a heavily-used (and very adaptable) leitmotif is the “Space March”, which appears in its full form several times during the album. (The fullest expression of it is in the track “The Silver Locusts”; the track actually titled “Space March” is much more brief.) Elements of this theme eventually split off on their own and become a brooding, serious theme that recurs in many of the later scenes, as heard in such cues as “Million Year Picnic”. The action and suspense cues turn out to be the bits that haven’t aged gracefully, instantly dating themselves to the 1970s with disco-style guitar work and percussion.

3 out of 4And yet, for all of these things that should be fatal blows, the music from The Martian Chronicles works quite well in its own little continuum. The late British composer Stanley Myers (who composed, among a great many other things, a very early Doctor Who adventure) did a great job of devising very adaptable themes and motifs, and then developing those fully. It may come across as a bit cheesy according to modern sensibilities, but it’s a musical time capsule of sorts, and one that I enjoy returning to quite a bit.

Order this CD

    The Expeditions

  1. Prologue (2:19)
  2. The Martian Chronicles Theme (2:03)
  3. Space March (0:59)
  4. Ylla’s Dream (1:39)
  5. Mask Of Conflict (2:19)
  6. Mr. K Returns (1:22)
  7. Concern For The Future (0:44)
  8. Mrs. Black’s Piano (1:13)
  9. Realization (0:11)
  10. Saying Goodbye (1:24)
  11. Col. Wilder’s Promise (3:14)
  12. Spender’s Anger / One Of Our Own (2:26)
  13. Martian City (2:37)
  14. Hunting Spender / Is This How It Will Be? (3:43)

    The Settlers

  15. The Silver Locusts (2:39)
  16. Lustig’s Visitor (4:03)
  17. Return To The Dead City (2:01)
  18. David Is Confused (1:18)
  19. Chase In First Town (1:25)
  20. Father Peregrine’s Vision (4:55)
  21. Col. Wilder’s Thoughts / Rumors Of War (1:32)
  22. The Martian Appears (0:18)
  23. Parkhill Sees Earth Destroyed (0:40)
  24. Dead Earth (0:37)

    The Martians

  25. Final Conflict (1:56)
  26. Hathaway’s Last Chance (0:52)
  27. Lights In The Sky (2:06)
  28. Ben And Genevieve (2:41)
  29. Never Give Up Hope (0:59)
  30. Hathaway Dies (1:03)
  31. Martian Highway (0:46)
  32. Memories (1:07)
  33. Placing The Explosives / Canal Journey (2:36)
  34. Setting Up Camp (1:13)
  35. The Million Year Picnic (2:53)
  36. End Titles / bonus track: Source Music (4:52)

Released by: Airstrip One Company
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 68:45

Steve Winwood – Arc Of A Diver

Steve Winwood - Arc Of A DiverIf you were alive and capable of listening to a rock station in 1980, I can guarantee you you’ve heard almost half this album. If that year had an overplayed feel-good motivational song that crowded the airwaves, it had to be “While You See A Chance”. And that airplay overkill wasn’t without reason – it’s actually a good song that exemplifies the sound of this album: solid old-school rock musicianship with a bit of new technology to play with.

Steve Winwood had turned out one previous solo album, a self-titled LP in 1977, in his attempt to distance himself from his legacy as the Spencer Davis Group’s “little Stevie Winwood.” Winwood had also been one-third of Traffic (along with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker), and it was that group to which his debut bore the most similarity. With Arc Of A Diver, Winwood boldly charted a clear path away from the “classic rock” sound with which he had become so closely identified – and to which, in time, he would return.

The synthesizer sound which is so predominant on Arc Of A Diver is the then-new (but later almost ubiquitous) Yamaha DX-7. Winwood made the DX-7 sound his sound with his mastery of that keyboard’s pitch-bend wheel, which lent so much unique character to “While You See A Chance”‘s intro, “Arc Of A Diver”, and his biggest hit single of the early 80s, 1982’s “Valerie”. Growing up playing piano and electronic keyboards, I ached to find that sound. When I finally got a fairly high-end consumer-grade Yamaha keyboard in high school, I made it my mission to bend the pitch-bending ability to my will – all because I wanted to sound just like Winwood did in 1980. Apparently some other people did too – Winwood was called on as a session player to lend that unique sound to artists such as George Harrison.

It’s not all electronic wizardry, though. Real live piano, guitar, bass and drums provide a solid backbone for a synth sound that Winwood knew would be different an alien to the audience, and with that real live rock as a foundation, Arc Of A Diver is safely prevented from falling into experimental new-wave territory. What’s staggering, especially in hindsight given the still-evolving state of recording technology at the time, is how many of those instruments Winwood played himself.

The title track itself is a wondrous mix of soulful, bluesy rock and unusual lyrics. “Since I don’t know your secret code, I’ll need my love to translate,” Winwood sings in the chorus. Tell us about it, Steve.

“Night Train” is a bit of an overblown attempt at a longform song which is nonetheless very enjoyable with its driving beat. (The song’s sheer length, topping out at just under eight minutes, made it a godsend to many a disc jockey who needed to visit the men’s room for a bit. Trust me, I know. I’ve hit the “start” button before and sprinted down the hall as the opening chords rang out.)

One song I’ve always felt is underrated is the relaxing “Spanish Dancer”, both for its music and its lyrics. It’s a bit repetitive, but that lends it a bit of a mesmerizing quality which is probably what kept radio from discovering it.

I was disappointed when, after the much more middle-of-the-road, mainstream rock effort that was 1986’s Back In The High Life, Winwood abandoned his DX-7 and went for a more traditional sound with 4 out of 4Roll With It. On the one hand, we’d grown accustomed to Winwood’s signature 80s sound and there was a danger it was making all of his songs sound the same. But on the other hand, it’s a sound I quite liked – and no one has taken up the challenge of keeping it alive. I miss it. And I guess that’s why I’m so fond of Arc Of A Diver.

Order this CD

  1. While You See A Chance (5:13)
  2. Arc Of A Diver (5:29)
  3. Second-Hand Woman (3:34)
  4. Slowdown Sundown (5:34)
  5. Spanish Dancer (5:59)
  6. Night Train (7:51)
  7. Dust (6:22)

Released by: Island
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 40:02

The Empire Strikes Back – music by John Williams

The Empire Strikes Back soundtrackStill John Williams’ most towering musical accomplishment bar none, the score from The Empire Strikes Back has long existed in various stages of incompleteness – until now. One of the few truly good things to come out of the special edition releases it this comprehensive two-disc remastered version of the soundtrack. Correcting all of the gaps and curious omissions of previous releases, it’s also the soundtrack (and the film) that was screwed with the least of the classic trilogy. (If I recall correctly, Empire‘s big revisions were a major cleanup of the Hoth battle special effects, the Wampa got a facelift, lots of new windows were installed in Cloud City, and a single non-sequitur scene with4 out of 4 stars Darth Vader was added.)

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this one in the past. Do get it. I know some purists have avoided anything to do with the special editions, but this version of the Empire soundtrack proves that some good can come out of the least likely things.

    Order this CD in the StoreDisc one:

  1. 20th Century Fox Fanfare (0:22)
  2. Main Title / The Ice Planet Hoth (8:09)
  3. Wampa’s Lair / Vision Obi-Wan / Snowspeeders Take Flight (8:44)
  4. The Imperial Probe / Aboard The Executor (4:24)
  5. The Battle Of Hoth (14:48)
  6. The Asteroid Field (4:15)
  7. Arrival On Dagobah (4:54)
  8. Luke’s Nocturnal Visitor (2:35)
  9. Han Solo and the Princess (3:26)
  10. Jedi Master Revealed / Mynock Cave (5:44)
  11. The Training Of A Jedi Knight / The Magic Tree (5:16)
    The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack - 2004 re-releaseDisc two:

  1. The Imperial March: Darth Vader’s Theme (3:02)
  2. Yoda’s Theme (3:30)
  3. Attacking A Star Destroyer (3:04)
  4. Yoda And The Force (4:02)
  5. Imperial Starfleet Deployed / City In The Clouds (6:04)
  6. Lando’s Palace (3:53)
  7. Betrayal At Bespin (3:46)
  8. Deal With The Dark Lord (2:37)
  9. Carbon Freeze / Darth Vader’s Trap / Departure of Boba Fett (11:50)
  10. The Clash Of Lightsabers (4:18)
  11. Rescue of Cloud City / Hyperspace (9:10)
  12. The Rebel Fleet / End Title (6:28)

Released by: RCA/Victor
Release date: 1997
Disc one total running time: 62:43
Disc two total running time: 61:44

Xanadu – music by Olivia Newton-John & ELO

Xanadu soundtrackAt the time of this review, Xanadu doesn’t seem to have been pressed on CD in the States, at least not recently, so I had to get a Japanese import, but at least the Japanese realized where the true value of this movie’s music was and put the ELO tracks first! (Oh, all right, just to be fair, I really, really like Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic”, and the big-band/rock combo “Dancin'” featuring The Tubes is really nifty. There, I admitted it.) Among the ELO tracks, the only weak entry is “Xanadu” itself, but even so3 out of 4 stars it’s not a bad song. It may not be the lost holy grail that ELO fans would really like to hear – Jeff Lynne’s abandoned instrumental score for the movie itself – but in general, the music was better than the movie.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. I’m Alive (3:47)
  2. The Fall (3:36)
  3. Don’t Walk Away (4:47)
  4. All Over The World (4:05)
  5. Xanadu (with Olivia Newton-John) (3:28)
    Olivia Newton-John tracks:
  6. Magic (4:28)
  7. Suddenly – with Cliff Richard (4:00)
  8. Dancin’ – with the Tubes (5:15)
  9. Suspended in Time (3:53)
  10. Whenever You’re Away From Me / with Gene Kelly (4:18)

Released by: MCA
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 41:37

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel III

Peter Gabriel IIILet’s get one thing straight, okay? There’s no such thing as a typical Peter Gabriel album. You can barely even compare one Gabriel album to another, as the style and emphasis shifts with each one of them. Hell, it’s even hard to put titles to them because the first three – technically, even the fourth (usually known as Security) as well – are simply titled Peter Gabriel. This is the album with the strange picture of Peter’s face melting. (Well, I’ll even grant you that most of his album covers are strange pictures of one sort or another…this is really getting us nowhere, isn’t it? Let’s talk about music, shall we?) Several of these tracks rank among my favorites, including the somewhat 3 out of 4sinister “Intruder”, “I Don’t Remember”, “Not One Of Us”, and “And Through The Wire”. Also included are the slightly more familiar singles “Biko” and “Games Without Frontiers”. There’s also quite a slate of “guest stars” on the album, from Robert Fripp to Phil Collins to Kate Bush, but the end result remains distinctly Peter Gabriel. Highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Intruder (4:53)
  2. No Self Control (3:56)
  3. Start (1:21)
  4. I Don’t Remember (4:42)
  5. Family Snapshot (4:29)
  6. And Through the Wire (4:58)
  7. Games Without Frontiers (4:07)
  8. Not One Of Us (5:21)
  9. Lead a Normal Life (4:15)
  10. Biko (7:27)

Released by: Charisma
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 45:29

Alan Parsons Project – The Turn Of A Friendly Card

Alan Parsons Project - The Turn Of A Friendly CardOf all the Project albums of the 70s, this album has my favorite theme: chance, luck, gambling and losing it all. While this may not sound like terribly rich source material for a whole album, it proves to be more than enough for the Project. The interpretations rang form the literal – fame, fortune, or the loss thereof – to odes on greed, gambling addiction, and luck in areas other than the purely monetary. For those of you who remember vinyl LPs, the collection of songs that form what I used to know as “side two” (i.e. from “The Gold Bug” onward) 4 out of 4is an example of just how amazing a well-planned and constructed concept album can sound. From this album also comes the singles “Games People Play” and “Time”, though I’ve always felt they pale in comparison to the cycle of songs that surround the title track toward the end of the album.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. May Be A Price To Pay (4:58)
  2. Games People Play (4:21)
  3. Time (5:05)
  4. I Don’t Wanna Go Home (5:03)
  5. The Gold Bug (4:35)

    The Turn of a Friendly Card suite:

  6. The Turn of a Friendly Card, part one (2:44)
  7. Snake Eyes (3:16)
  8. The Ace of Swords (2:58)
  9. Nothing Left To Lose (4:08)
  10. The Turn of a Friendly Card, part two (3:22)

Released by: Arista
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 40:30

Flash Gordon – music by Queen

Flash Gordon soundtrackFlash! Aaaaaaaah! He’ll save every one of us! Okay, okay, you get the idea. I just wanted to make sure you youngsters out there know which Flash Gordon movie we’re talking about here. What a wonderfully campy movie – you had to love it. Well, sort of. This movie also served as my introduction to Queen at the time – I had heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” before then but hadn’t yet associated it with Queen – and to be honest, though some may write this album off as a silly soundtrack from a silly movie, the music in places is among Queen’s best. The music brings back fond memories of better days and childhood for me, and my only peeve with the album is that it commits one of the worst sins a soundtrack album can commit in my book – tons of soundbytes. I have to admit to being a bit of a film score purist in that this soundtrack and others such as Apollo 13 really get on my nerves with the soundbytes. Soundbytes aren’t bad, but when they cut into the music itself, I bare my teeth and growl.

A little obscure trivia for you: Aside from being a soundtrack to a sci-fi-ish movie, this album shares something else with A Kind of Magic. On track 13, “Battle Theme”, one of my favorite parts of the whole movie, that wondeful and quite literal giant of British acting, Brian Blessed, can be heard yelling “Who wants to live forever?” in character as the leader of the Hawk Men. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

4 out of 4One of my biggest peeves with the remastered Queen CDs has been the remixes that someone decided needed to be included on each one. I risk all my credibility here by announcing that, in a strange, Art-of-Noise-ish way, I liked the heavily sampled remix of “Flash’s Theme”. It must have been something in the water…

Order this CD

  1. Flash’s Theme (3:29)
  2. In the Space Capsule (2:42)
  3. Ming’s Theme (2:40)
  4. The Ring (0:57)
  5. Football Fight (1:28)
  6. In the Death Cell (2:24)
  7. Execution of Flash (1:05)
  8. The Kiss (1:44)
  9. Arboria (1:41)
  10. Escape from the Swamp (1:43)
  11. Flash to the Rescue (2:44)
  12. Vultan’s Theme (1:12)
  13. Battle Theme (2:18)
  14. The Wedding March (0:56)
  15. Marriage of Dale and Ming (2:04)
  16. Crash-Dive on Mingo City (1:00)
  17. Flash’s Theme Reprise (1:23)
  18. The Hero (3:31)
  19. Flash’s Theme – bonus remix (6:43)

Released by: Hollywood Records
Release date: 1980
Total running time: 42:07