Teamed with Glen A. Larson for the second time in as many years, composer Stu Phillips created an interesting sound for Larson’s second swipe at big-budget television space opera. Buck Rogers shared many things with Battlestar Galactica – sets, props, special effects, and a tendency to decline after the show’s first season – but Larson’s new space adventure show got a different musical treatment. Where Phillips had unabashedly done a very serious pastiche of John Williams’ Star Wars stylings for Galactica, his music for Buck Rogers is, rather like the show, more lighthearted. When action or emotional scenes are called for, Phillips calls on a somewhat different feel than Galactica’s dramatic moments – a little more romantic and melodramatic in places – but even in action scenes, Phillips injects a little more “bounce” into the proceedings than one might expect. Buck Rogers dates back to 1930s radio serials, and in some ways, Phillips seems to be keeping that in mind – the music is frequently bold, brassy, and endearingly over-the-top.
First off, let’s not forget the opening theme song with lyrics (by Larson himself), sung by Kip Lennon; bearing in mind that this LP is really the soundtrack to the Buck Rogers pilot movie, this is how that particular installment started, and the opening title music that you might be more familiar with isn’t found on this album. “Suspension” is the same tune as the opening and end credits of the weekly series, but mellowed out until it’s in Manilow territory.
“The Draconia / Buck Awakens” follows, and is the first exhibit in my case for Phillips keeping an eye and an ear on the roots of Buck Rogers. Loud, busy, boisterous blasts of brass herald the arrival of a menacing warship, and even if you’re not looking at the screen, the music really hits you over the head with the message that something not good is going on. Princess Ardala gets an interestingly sinewy theme that still has an underlying menace, while “Buck’s Heroics” is a James Bond-worthy, brassy action theme with a great rhythm. Apparently this latter track impressed the show’s producers too, because you can hear various bits of it excerpted for the pre-show highlights teaser that appears before the opening titles of every subsequent episode.
My favorite non-action cue here is “Introducing Twiki And Dr. Theo”, which sets up a theme that would recur throughout the series even when composers other than Phillips handled the scoring duties on weekly episodes. Whimsical synthesizers introduce a lighthearted theme for everyone’s favorite 70s TV robot, and that theme is then handed off to pizzicato strings and segues to full orchestra, which then transforms the piece into a gorgeous passage covering a travelogue-style scene of New Chicago. Even with the whimsical elements dating it a bit, the latter half of this track is beautiful stuff.
The next real highlight is “Dead City / Attack Of The Mutants”, a dark, suspenseful piece underscoring Buck’s nearly-fatal trip outside of the protective walls of New Chicago. Phillips sounds like he’s trying to strike a balance between John Williams-style lyricism and Jerry Goldsmith’s brutally atonal music from Planet Of The Apes, leaning more toward the former, but for late 70s TV it’s not bad.
And then…there’s the music that dates the score almost as much as the copyright date on the back of the album cover. Well, this isn’t much of a surprise after the disco-fied “Love, Love, Love” cue from the Galactica soundtrack, but what is a surprise is that Phillips was at least a little bit more forward-looking this time around, concocting a funky synthesizer cue that anticipated just a little bit of the new wave sound that was already emerging in the late 70s with artists such as Gary Numan, Kraftwerk and Lene Lovich. Please don’t mistake this for a comparison between the “Something Kinda Funky” cue and those acts’ best works, but simply a statement that, while the material does date itself, it was at least – in its day – a little more ahead of its time and a little less of its time. (Subsequent viewing of the TV series beyond the pilot, however, reminds me that future scenes with source music – i.e. music that the characters can hear, as opposed to underscore – did slip back into a disco mode.)
More action music follows in “Buck Vs. Tigerman”, which continues to develop the action motif from “Buck’s Heroics”. “Fanfare And Appearance Of Draco” has the amusing distinction of being the music for one of the pilot’s most disposable scenes, featuring Joseph Wiseman (of Dr. No fame) in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as the never-seen-again but oft-mentioned Emperor of Draconia. The action motif returns in a more desperate arrangement in Tailpipe Torpedo, though the final big action scene – and probably the pilot’s biggest concession to the then-recent musical influence of Star Wars – comes in “Wilma Saves Buck”, with “What An Ending” tacking on the kind of freeze-frame-the-final-shot-under-the-Glen-Larson-credit ending that became the de facto conclusion for every episode that followed.
So, with this title more than 25 years out of circulation, why are we even talking about it, aside from the fact that Buck Rogers was recently released in its entirety on DVD? There are rumblings on the ‘net from none other than Stu Phillips himself that the Buck Rogers soundtrack may at some point soon be released on CD for the first time (fair warning: any Buck CDs you’ve seen are bootlegs), though despite the slight resurgence in interest in the TV series that came with that DVD release, Phillips may release it as a “composer promo,” which is usually only a few steps removed from a bootleg. We’ll keep you updated on the release status for the soundtrack, because it’s one of those things that, if you were there, you remember the music pretty fondly. I know I do.
- Cosmic Forces (0:35)
- Suspension (Song From Buck Rogers) (2:59)
- The Draconia / Buck Awakens (2:05)
- Princess Ardala / Seduction (2:40)
- Buck’s Heroics (1:42)
- Introducing Twiki And Dr. Theo (1:05)
- Pirate Attack (2:21)
- Buck Returns To Earth (2:35)
- Dead City / Attack Of The Mutants (3:47)
- Something Kinda Funky (3:05)
- Buck Vs. Tigerman (2:43)
- Fanfare And Appearance Of Draco (2:09)
- Tailpipe Torpedo (2:10)
- Wilma Saves Buck / What An Ending (2:41)
- Suspension (Reprise) (2:20)
Released by: MCA
Release date: 1979
Total running time: 35:08