Fight For Space – music by Ron Jones

Ron Jones is an inspired choice to score a space documentary, even if you’ve never heard of him. Mention his name in a room full of diehard Star Trek: The Next Generation fans and you’ll probably get a conversation started: during that show’s first four years, he kicked over numerous restrictive rules put in place by the producers, who wanted the music to be “wallpaper”, and did his own thing…until the showrunners responded in kind by simply ceasing to engage his services any further.

But the producers of that particular series seem to be the only ones who don’t remember him fondly. The makers of computer games such as Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Command availed themselves of his services, as did the backers of last year’s 50th anniversary concert tour, commissioning him to write new music in a Trek vein, which was also recorded for the recent 50th anniversary soundtrack album.

It’s those recent compositions that his music from Fight For Space most closely resemble: noble, yearning, vaguely nautical. But there are other flavors that aren’t exactly Trekkish: quiter, piano-led tracks, even a couple of somewhat comical pieces. Then there are the real surprises, a full-on rock ‘n’ roll track titled “Chaos Never Stopped Us”, whole other tracks such as “The Greatest 4 out of 4Possibilities” and “The Letter That Killed Space” combine the sonic palettes of orchestra and rock band.

But it’s all recognizably Ron Jones – the sound that no sane showrunner ever would have jettisoned from the Star Trek franchise. Whether it’s for the 24th century, or the 21st century struggle of a chronically underfunded NASA to live up to its 20th century glories, that sound is a perfect fit. Those who have missed Jones’ odes to the final frontier will enjoy this one a lot.

Order this CD

  1. Space Calls Us (4:23)
  2. Cold War Fears (2:02)
  3. Moving a Nation (2:39)
  4. The Spin Offs (1:51)
  5. Earthrise (1:02)
  6. The Hope Killers (6:34)
  7. First Homes Off Earth (2:54)
  8. Messy Politics of Space (4:22)
  9. Rockets and Budgets to Nowhere (7:42)
  10. Chaos Never Stopped Us (5:34)
  11. The Letter That Killed Space (3:35)
  12. Why arn’t We There Yet? (4:41)
  13. Progress and Fear (2:16)
  14. The Greatest Possibilities (7:42)
  15. The Universe Awaits (6:44)
  16. First Sketches and Themes (3:45)

Released by: SkyMuse Records
Release date: March 29, 2017
Total running time: 1:07:46

The Final Countdown – music by John Scott

The Final CountdownThe Final Countdown may not have been the thrilling time-travel spectacle its producers hoped it would be when it was released in 1980, but it did boast a winning score that continues to be widely praised not only for its creativity but its ability to transform a flawed movie into something of an unlikely classic.

I admit to being a huge fan of this movie. It’s easy to appreciate it as something of an anomaly in 1980 when movie special effects had survived the growing pains of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien – not to mention The Empire Strikes Back, to name just a few. Next to these Big Boys, The Final Countdown, with its embarrassing laser storm time portal and use of stock footage, comes across exactly as it was to make – cheap. However, that low-budget approach and earnest attention to story, underscored by a wonderfully propulsive score, is what gives the movie a lasting charm.

On the whole John Scott imbues the score with incredible optimism and purpose. At its core, The Final Countdown is a science fiction movie and Scott opens the movie in the main titles with Star Trek-ian fanfare. Like the Starship Enterprise, the U.S.S. Nimitz is treated like a character in the movie with its own theme (which takes a curiously menacing turn when the Nimitz first appears on screen and can be heard at the 2-minute mark in track 1). There’s little in the “Main Titles” to portend the forthcoming mystery and danger of the story. It’s a balls-out piece of heroic bombast that finds its fingerprints all over the rest of the score. Scott gives it a beautifully fatalistic feel in “Nimitz On Route” and a revisited heroic identity for “Splash the Zeros”. It’s hard to ignore the very obvious Tchaikovsky influences and one may take issue with its shameless patriotism, which makes the score feel like a marketing piece for the Navy (the movie was in fact used as a recruiting tool for the Navy). Despite this, the theme serves quite well what is, in essence, a very American movie.

Scott displays his true creativity with his “Mr. Tideman” theme, which may be, I would argue, one of the best themes ever created for a movie character. This track is certainly worth dissecting because it’s a work of undeniable genius. The nervous strings running throughout the track convey the appropriate anticipation and mystery surrounding the Tideman character and the horns echo the more stately and official elements of the Navy and Tideman’s relationship to it, but it’s that quick, playful little melody heard 45 seconds in that’s at the soul of the theme. It took me a few listens but I realized, whether intentional or not, that Scott was tipping his hat to “Tubular Bells”, which played a significant role in the score for The Exorcist.

Scott brings back the Tideman theme in romantic guise for the first real personal meeting between Commander Owen and Laurel. The theme, now stripped down and played with flute, not only underscores their budding romance but also foreshadows their relationship to the first appearance of Tideman earlier in the movie. The theme becomes more aggressive and fulfilled (not to mention creepier) at the end of the movie when it’s revealed Commander Owen is Mr. Tideman – or became Mr. Tideman, however you want to interpret it.

Sometimes the fanfare gets to be a little too much. “The Admirals Arrive” is a painful marching band composition and “Last Known Location,” with its overly dramatic tympanis and strings, feels entirely mired in dated ’70s and early ’80s adventure film scoring. I can’t say too much about Scott’s use of the Jaws theme to underscore the approaching time storm. After all, Jerry Goldsmith used it as well for The Omen in a key scene there. Here, Scott has time to truly play it out. It’s yet another nice nod to another influential film score from that era, even if it does seem like a lazy choice (even “An Hour Ago” sounds slightly derivative of Capt. Dallas’ air shaft crawl scene in Alien, with a few sneaky notes of the main Alien theme thrown in for good effect).

The Final Countdown is a relic of a time long since passed, when scores were treated with incredible care and attention, especially for sci-fi and adventure films. Call it the Star Wars Effect. Today, with emphasis and minimalism and irony in scoring, it’s easy to 4 out of 4
dismiss Scott’s score as dated or even jingoistic. As politically minded as we are today, a movie like this would be (if similarly made) filed on either side of the dividing line between red and blue ideologies. And that’s sad. It diverts attention from what is in essence a beautifully realized score that serves its movie well and makes it a memorable, if flawed, entry in sci-fi cinema.

Order this CD

  1. The Final Countdown Main Titles (3:53)
  2. Mr. Tideman (2:24)
  3. The U.S.S. Nimitz On Route (3:28)
  4. The Approaching Storm (4:22)
  5. Pursued By The Storm (2:45)
  6. Into The Time Warp (3:57)
  7. Rig The Barricades (2:16)
  8. Last Known Position (2:13)
  9. An Hour Ago (1:00)
  10. December 7, 1941 (0:46)
  11. The Japanese Navy (0:35)
  12. Shake Up The Zeros (2:13)
  13. Splash Two (1:05)
  14. Laurel and Owen (2:22)
  15. Climb Mount Nitaka (2:10)
  16. On The Beach (0:39)
  17. General Quarters (1:48)
  18. Operation Pearl Harbor (0:59)
  19. The Storm Reappears (3:28)
  20. Back Through The Time Warp (3:40)
  21. The Planes Return (1:27)
  22. The Admirals Arrive (1:30)
  23. Mr. and Mrs. Tideman (4:19)

Released by: JOS Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 53:20

Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb

The View Is Worth The ClimbA new solo album that put the lie to Split Enz co-founder Tim Finn’s claims that he was done with his solo career, The View Is Worth The Climb is a welcome, if slightly subdued, new chapter of that career.

A little over ten years ago, Tim Finn was railing against turning 50 by turning out throat-thrashing, experimental albums that dipped their toes into electronica and yet were still a great listen. Now staring down the barrel of 60, he’s mining his material from the almost-normal home life that eluded him for so long, and it’s translating into pleasant listening that’s solidly in middle-of-the-road rock territory rather than actively looking for barriers to break down; it’s no accident that the album’s first track is “The Everyday.”

The lead single “Going Going Gone” is an apt opening act for The View Is Worth The Climb, demonstrating the album’s acoustic-leaning sound and hopeful lyrics. The only tracks that even threaten to break the album’s mid-tempo groove are “Wild Sweet Children” and “Can’t Be Found”, and those are really only a faster flavor of mid-tempo. My two favorite tracks, “Certain Way” and “Keep Talking”, dispense a bit with the carefree tone of the rest of the album, and the latter of the two almost has a ’70s AM radio groove going on.

3 out of 4Overall, The View Is Worth The Climb is a very pleasant listen, if not necessarily one that’ll get everyone out of their seats to dance. Laid-back and relaxing, it’s a nice bonus round of new music from someone who – as of his career-spanning retrospective just a couple of years ago – said he was ducking out of the studio for a while.

Order this CD

  1. The Everyday (3:13)
  2. The View Is Worth The Climb (3:57)
  3. Going Going Gone (3:49)
  4. All This And More (3:59)
  5. Wild Sweet Children (4:13)
  6. Everybody’s Wrong (3:16)
  7. Can’t Be Found (3:40)
  8. Opposite Sign (4:07)
  9. People Like Us (4:06)
  10. Certain Way (3:39)
  11. Keep Talking (3:49)

Released by: ABC Music
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 41:38

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Farscape Classics Volume 1: Revenging Angel / Eat Me

Farscape Classics Volume 1If there were two more different episodes, music-wise, in Guy Gross’ tenure as the composer-in-residence for Farscape, I can’t think of them. This first release in a tentative series (as of this writing, only 1200 copies each of two volumes have been released) of complete episode scores jumps straight into the third season for the amusing, mostly-animated Revenging Angel and the horror-themed Eat Me. Put ’em together, and sure, maybe you have a slightly schizophrenic CD, but you also have one which demonstrates what a find Guy Gross was, and why he was handed the musical reins of the show early in season 2.

As Revenging Angel‘s animation was an unashamedly overt homage to the glory days of Warner Bros.’ Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies, Gross tips his hat to the late, great Carl Stalling for much of that episode’s score – even when the action wasn’t necessarily animated. Rather than saying that he skillfully keeps one foot planted in a cartoon mindset and one foot in the show’s usual scoring style, it’s more accurate to say that he manages to keep one entire foot, and all but the small toe of the other foot, in Stalling territory, with that one toe still anchored in what one would normally expect to hear from an episode of Farscape. Stalling isn’t the only target here either, as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” – a.k.a. the main theme from 2001 – is quoted frequently…cartoon-style, of course.

Eat Me is quite literally a completely different animal, with guttural brass samples twisted into something almost like whalesong for that episode’s diseased Leviathan. Just about every musical convention of horror filmmaking that you can think of can be found here, from slithery, dissonant string runs to eerie echo effects. The musical palette isn’t as dense as it here for Revenging Angel, but Gross manages to evoke an atmosphere of something going horribly wrong with his sparse arrangements alone. Conceptually, Eat Me wasn’t the most pleasant hour of TV ever made, so its discordant music fits perfectly.

However, the real find on this CD may be the Gross-era theme itself. Gross altered the show’s original opening title music to suit the expanding, increasingly epic storyline, taking it from exotic vocals plus tribal percussion to a sweeping orchestral/choral piece with exotic vocals and percussion. As this version of the theme hasn’t been released before – the previous Farscape album, released by GNP Crescendo, was out before Gross made his changes – it’s a great thing to have on CD at last. I loved how the music in the opening teasers and right before the end credits of Farscape would always find a way to slide into just the right key to segue into the titles.

4 out of 4It may not make for the most cohesive, listen-to-it-in-one-sitting soundtrack album ever heard, but this first volume of Guy Gross’ full episode scores from Farscape is a very worthwhile listen. It might just be that these CDs didn’t arrive while the show was still on the air, but I’ve found it odd that they didn’t catch on in the same way that the Babylon 5 “episodic” CDs did in the ’90s.

Order this CD

    Revenging Angel

  1. Sabotage / Farscape Opening Titles (2:12)
  2. Method #1: Revenge (3:10)
  3. Method #2: Avoidance (5:34)
  4. Ancient Luxan (1:40)
  5. You Started It! / Method #3: Reasoning (4:52)
  6. Method #4: Be Smart (2:31)
  7. Crichton’s Funeral (4:23)
  8. I’m Going To Kill You! (4:52)
  9. Revenge Is Not The Answer / I Did It! (3:08)
  10. No Revenge / Farscape End Credits (3:20)

    Eat Me

  11. Give Me Status / Farscape Opening Titles (3:37)
  12. Bad Mojo (2:17)
  13. All U Need To Know / Good Luck (3:25)
  14. Disarmed / Food Regeneration (3:43)
  15. Distress Call Response / R U Alone? (3:54)
  16. Death Rites (2:20)
  17. Twins (1:15)
  18. Life Juice / Life Plug / The Real Me (3:06)
  19. Good Things / Making Babies (2:12)
  20. 2 Chianas / Breeding (2:36)
  21. Finger Licking Good (1:55)
  22. Twice The Fun / Still Tied / Farscape End Credits (5:49)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 71:51

Firefly – music by Greg Edmonson

Firefly soundtrackAnyone seeking to understand how much music contributes to the tone and identity of a show need look no further than Greg Edmonson’s scores for Firefly. It may be hard to find words that express “Western in space with a society that’s a fusion of America and China, but Edmonson’s music mixes those elements together into an organic whole.

The album is made up of relatively short tracks many of which appear to have been formed by connecting shorter cues from different episodes. The editing works surprisingly well, although I can’t help but wish that some of these pieces could have been reworked into extended suites of some kind. The opening minute of “Big Bar Fight” a wonderfully energetic bluegrass tune, and I would love to hear how Edmonson would have developed the theme over a longer period of time. The acoustic instrumentation is something I can’t recall being used so heavily in a science fiction show. Some of the most emotionally-stirring music on the album heavily features Edmonson and Alan Steinberger on piano. “The Funeral”, which I am reasonably sure was composed for the final episode produced for the series, is as heartbreaking as the title suggests. Cues from Out Of Gas, which featured an almost-abandoned Serenity, are just as strong. The latter half of the album’s closing track, “Dying Ship/Naked Mal”, shows off how the music contributed to the show’s occasional sense of whimsy.

The Eastern feel comes through very strongly in the darker, tension-building cues. I especially like how these elements are combined with traditional Western genre elements in the “Heart of Gold Montage” to give a unique feel to traditional waiting-for-the-big-shootout music. I admit that this sort of reaction raises the possibility that I’m treating the Eastern elements as a piece of alien-ness thrown onto familiar sounds, which rating: 3 out of 4has certain unpleasant implications for how I view a culture that, while foreign to me, is clearly human. But I think that what’s important is that the combination produces something that is unique and distinctive. Someone with more expertise in Eastern music could tell you how well Edmonson truly integrated these disparate influences, but to my ears it sounds good.

Order this CD

  1. Firefly – Main Title (written by Joss Whedon, performed by Sonny Rhodes) (0:51)
  2. Big Bar Fight (1:54)
  3. Heart of Gold Montage (2:09)
  4. Whitefall/Book (2:16)
  5. Early Takes Serenity (2:34)
  6. The Funeral (2:33)
  7. River’s Perception/Saffron (2:14)
  8. Mal Fights Niska/Back Home (1:52)
  9. River Tricks Early (3:28)
  10. River Understands Simon (2:03)
  11. Leaving/Caper/Spaceball (2:37)
  12. River’s Afriad/Niska/Torture (3:19)
  13. In My Bunk/Jayne’s Statue/Boom (2:26)
  14. Inara’s Suite (3:27)
  15. Out of Gas/Empty Derelict (1:48)
  16. Book’s Hair/Ready for Battle (1:57)
  17. Tears/River’s Eyes (1:56)
  18. Cows/New Dress/My Crew (2:10)
  19. Boarding the Serenity/Derelict (2:00)
  20. Burgess Kills/Captain & Ship (comp. by G. Edmonson & Alan Steinberger) (3:24)
  21. Saved/Isn’t Home/Reavers (2:53)
  22. Reavers Chase Serenity (3:20)
  23. River’s Dance (1:48)
  24. Inside the Tam House (composed by G. Edmonson & Alan Steinberger) (2:19)
  25. Dying Ship/Naked Mal (2:10)

Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 60:28

Alan Parsons Project – Freudiana

Alan Parsons Project - FreudianaTruly a shame that this album is narely impossible to find – it’s really one of the Project’s best. It was also the last hurrah for Eric Woolfson, co-founder of the group and instantly recognizable vocalist on such past hits as “Eye In The Sky” and “Time”. Some surprising guests are also assembled, such as Leo Sayer and Kiki Dee (well, she had to find some kind of work after that Elton John duet!). It’s a concept album – no surprise there! – and the recording of a musical about the life, influences and legacy of Sigmund Freud. That’s really no surprise either, but more of an It’s about time! The Project’s 4 out of 4grandiose theatrical sound, with their slower pieces especially begging for a play to surround them, lends itself to the stage musical sound well. Worth seeking out! The reason it’s so hard to find in many areas is because of its European-only release, a baffling marketing strategy if ever I saw one, though I’m not sure the Freudiana musical has ever played in the States, so that may explain it.

    Order this CD in the Store

  1. The Nirvana Principle (3:45)
  2. Freudiana (6:21)
  3. I Am A Mirror (4:07)
  4. Little Hans (3:15)
  5. Dora (3:51)
  6. Funny You Should Say That (4:36)
  7. You’re On Your Own (3:54)
  8. Far Away From Home (3:12)
  9. Let Yourself Go (5:26)
  10. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (3:14)
  11. The Ring (4:23)
  12. Sects Therapy (3:40)
  13. No One Can Love You Better Than Me (5:41)
  14. Don’t Let The Moment Pass (3:41)
  15. Upper Me (5:16)
  16. Freudiana – instrumental reprise (3:43)
  17. Destiny (0:51)
  18. There But For The Grace Of God (5:56)

Released by: Parlophone Odeon
Release date: 1990
Total running time: 74:52

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