V – music by Joe Harnell

VWhen most people (and apparently most compilation/re-recording-happy labels like Silva Screen) think of the music from V, they think of Dennis McCarthy’s theme from the weekly series rather than the music Joe Harnell recorded for the original NBC miniseries that started it all. Fortunately, in the 90s, a “composer promo” (a CD of an otherwise unreleased score shopped around by Hollywood composers to find additional work, and often sold on the sly by the duplication house to cover expenses) of Harnell’s score from V was available, so it’s possible to compare and contrast.

Harnell had previously worked with writer/director Kenneth Johnson on the TV version of The Incredible Hulk, giving that show’s opening titles a surprisingly somber piano treatment where big-screen orchestral bombast would’ve almost seemed like a prerequisite. In the case of V, Johnson had already temp-tracked the rough cut of the miniseries with everything from Beethoven to Holst’s The Planets, and in some cases had specific reasons for doing so (such as allusions to the BBC’s use of the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to announce an embedded message from the Resistance during World War II). So in some cases, rather unusually, it’s pretty easy to determine the music on which Harnell’s material is based, even for those with very little classical music exposure. Mars, Bringer Of War and Neptune, The Mystic from Holst’s The Planets suite, for example, can be heard pretty clearly in places.

Some of Harnell’s more original cues, though in some cases they suffer a little bit from that 80s style of obviously musically telegraphing the scene’s intent to the viewer, are worthy of attention as well. He leans heavily on a small handful of “tension” motifs throughout the score for V, and they’re composed in such as a way as to be endlessly versatile. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the love theme Harnell wrote here, because the first half of it is just beautiful stuff, and the second half descends into clichè a bit; then again, this is a score for a TV miniseries which no one knew would take off like it did, not a concerto for the ages.

The low-key-but-rollicking theme for the Resistance recurs often in the course of the CD, and may well be the most memorable motif Harnell came up with. It’s also a pretty versatile piece of music, as it varies from menace to a heraldic victory march. There’s another call to arms in the form of one of my favorite cues, “Go Tell Your Friends” (also known as the final scene of the first night of the miniseries, in which an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor tries to stir the spirit of rebellion among some young people who know they need to do something, but just don’t know what). And on the subject of victory marches, Harnell goes all out with the end credits, Gloria Victoria, a triumphant piece that, with a lyrical assist from Kenneth Johnson, turns into a mass. (And I mean “mass” as in “sung in Latin by a choir,” by the way.) Powerful stuff. Maybe unsubtle, but certainly powerful.

Also included is the opening title cue, along with a couple of “street” source cues (i.e. music playing from an on-screen source which the characters can hear, unlike the majority of a dramatic underscore) which haven’t aged well at all, and a version of Gloria Victoria without the choir.

3 out of 4Overall, Joe Harnell’s take on V has aged very well in the past two decades, though a few bits of it haven’t aged quite as gracefully. But it’s an epic effort, and certainly as deserving of a listen as the more frequently-circulated McCarthy music that came later in the franchise.

Order this CD

  1. Opening Titles / Donovan Looks Up (3:25)
  2. “It’s Opening” / Good Luck (3:22)
  3. Just Buddies / Lizard Love (2:56)
  4. Ruthless / The Car / 1st Victim / Flashback (4:20)
  5. Shuttle Buddies / Meal Time / Lizard Wrestling (4:22)
  6. The Resistance (1:52)
  7. Into The Trap / Tony & Donovan Captured (4:32)
  8. Ben’s Flight (2:13)
  9. “Go Tell Your Friends” (1:14)
  10. Abraham’s Music / The Letter (3:04)
  11. Storage Area / Watertanks / Food / Attack (2:46)
  12. Escape From The Mothership / Air Chase / Donovan’s Luck (8:40)
  13. The Wounded Fall / Julie’s Stand / Donovan To The Rescue (2:56)
  14. Kathleen’s Death (2:52)
  15. Finale / Gloria Victoria (1:38)
  16. “V” Theme (1:17)
  17. Elias’ Radio (3:02)
  18. Street Music (2:00)
  19. Gloria Victoria (without choir) (1:34)

Released by: Super Tracks Music
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 58:07