Airplane! – music by Elmer Bernstein

Airplane!In 1980, the majority of the movie-viewing public that had missed Kentucky Fried Movie got to know the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker production team by way of their big-budget, big-screen debut, Airplane!. Like ZAZ’s later (criminally short-lived) TV spoof Police Squad!, Airplane! had the virtue of starring Leslie Nielsen, whose businesslike demeanor and unshakeable poker-faced deadpan sells the whole endeavour.

And then there’s an absolutely brilliant score by the late, great Elmer Bernstein, which alternates between being just as straight-faced dramatic as Nielsen, and delivering musical punchlines unashamedly. It’s hard to overemphasize how important Bernstein’s music is to Airplane! – it straddles the fine line between truly dramatic music and schmaltzy cheese, and more to the point, Bernstein seemed to have an unerring instinct for which extreme was needed in a given scene. Many cues on the long-overdue soundtrack release could come from just about any big-screen drama, but occasionally, the music gets away with the kind of clowning that the directors told the cast to carefully avoid.

A prime example of this is the love theme – it’s a nice enough piece of music, but it’s arranged almost like elevator music; any true passion inherent in the tune itself gets wrapped up in a gooey layer of cheese. Later in the movie, as the tension picks up, the music does things that would be unthinkable in a straightforward dramatic context, building up the melodrama and then coming to a dead stop to let the cast get a punchline in. But the beauty of it is that it’s all so deadly serious-sounding until those moments arrive.

How this translates to a listening experience sans dialogue is largely down to how much of an Airplane! fan you are. I’ve loved this movie since I was about 10 years old, so yeah, I love the soundtrack. I only have one real complaint with the score. What is it? (It’s the music in a movie that the audience can hear but the characters can’t, but that’s not important right now.*) My only beef is that I had to wait this long to get it (between this score’s overdue release and the recent complete-score release of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, there’s clearly been a sea change at 4 out of 4Paramount’s music department regarding exploitation of the back catalogue). I’d never before given serious thought to the possibility of an Airplane! score album…but I’m glad that someone at La-La Land did. It’s a great listening experience altogether.

* Strictly speaking, this CD also contains source cues as well – i.e. music that the characters do hear, including folk songs that are worth having your IV tube yanked out.

Order this CD

  1. Main Title (contains theme from Jaws) (1:53)
  2. Kiss Off (0:48)
  3. Ambulance Arrives (0:32)
  4. Hari Krishna / Ticket / Nervous (2:44)
  5. Lisa / Farewell / Take Off / Another Meeting (3:17)
  6. Fighting Girls (0:47)
  7. Love Theme From Airplane! (1:07)
  8. From Here To There (2:08)
  9. Head / Memory (1:13)
  10. Shimmer / Molumbo (1:02)
  11. Zip / Eggs / Roger, Take Over (2:34)
  12. Wild Violins / Sickness / Idea (2:25)
  13. Thar She Blows / Flash / Panel (2:23)
  14. “Where The Hell Is Rex Kramer?” / Trouble (1:02)
  15. Mayday (0:56)
  16. Punch-Up / Kramer (1:14)
  17. Clumsy (0:55)
  18. Dog Fight / Failure / Pep Talk / Victory March (3:45)
  19. News (0:56)
  20. “Runway Is Niner” / “The Gear Is Down And We’re Ready To Land” (1:03)
  21. Crasher (4:02)
  22. Resolution / Tag (1:52)
  23. Notre Dame Victory March (2:01)
  24. Tavern (0:35)
  25. Everything’s Coming Up Roses (0:20)
  26. Instruments (0:13)
  27. Disco (0:30)
  28. Kiss Off (Alternate) (0:47)
  29. Fighting Girls (Alternate) (0:44)
  30. From Here To There (Instrumental) (2:08)
  31. Molumbo (Alternate) (0:52)
  32. Zip (Original Version) (0:31)
  33. News (Alternates) (1:48)
  34. Dog Fight (Alternate) (0:37)
  35. “Runway Is Niner” (Alternate) (0:30)
  36. “The Gear Is Down And We’re Ready To Land” (Alternate) (0:30)
  37. Tag (Instrumental) (1:44)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 52:28