Monday, February 12, 2018

Top Ten - Film Score Experiences of 2017

So each year the community over at votes on their favorite scores for the year. It is great to read all the top ten nominations from everyone (and the spirited defense of certain scores). At the end of January one brave member of the community tabulates all the nominations and declares the top ten scores of the year. I have to say that every year those folks pick some excellent music. I wouldn't have discovered some of the scores I enjoy today without those competitions.

I don't usually participate in the voting, since I focus on older scores and collecting work from Jerry Goldsmith or golden age film music. But this year a few of the scoreboarders from the forum asked me to post a top ten list of my favorite film score related experiences of the year. Another scoreboarder had done something similar and it was a great read, so I figured I'd try my hand at it this year.

So better late then never, here are my top ten Film Score Experiences of 2017.

10. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Alexandre Desplat (2017)

So Desplat finally did it. He gave me a score that I really enjoyed. I’ve always appreciated his stuff but I had a hard time connecting to it. But with Valarian he just hit all the sweet spots of action, adventure and themes. The score feels fun, and there is a lot of energy to it. Once you put it in film order it gets even better, and is one I’ve come back to quite a few times over the year.

9. The Neon Demon – Cliff Martinez (2016)

This one uses 80s style synths, but has this darker and moodier overtone to it. It gets dreamy sometimes, but in an uncanny nightmare kind of way. It is less active than Nerve but I still listened to this one almost as many times. I love the way it twists and turns into the dark edges. And yeah it provided further 80s cyberpunk feeling and was perfect listening while I was reading some William Gibson earlier this year. I’m not the biggest Martinez fan, but this one just clicked with me.

8. Once Upon a Time in the West – Ennio Moricone (1968)

This one always came up when people talked about Morricone’s work in the Western genre. So I finally decided to give it a try and wow it really is top notch. I might even like it a little more than The Good, The Bad and the Ugly which held my top spot for his Western scores. Love all the themes in this score and they get some really great renditions. I try to pick up at least one Morricone score a year and I’m glad this was the one I grabbed.

7. Star Trek TNG – The Ron Jones Project Vol 1 – Ron Jones (1987/2010)

I got into a full-blown Star Trek mode midway through the year. I picked up the first disc of Ron Jones music from The Next Generation. And it was really entertaining stuff. The Naked Now feels like an interpretation of the TOS style of music and is a lot of fun. But the highlight of the disc is the music for Where No One Has Gone Before. Jones uses a lot of Goldsmith’s style in this one and it really works. Listened to this one a lot over the year and enjoyed it a little more each time.

6. Priest – Christopher Young (2011)

Man Christopher Young… the guy is just plain amazing. Each time I pick up one of his scores I’m impressed all over again. I had listened to it quite a few times on YouTube when I was writing some horror/adventure fiction and loved it. But hearing it on my headphones and then on the full surround system was such a treat. Young balances the horror with the adventure vibe and does it in a modern style – but still manages to keep it from getting droning or boring. This score just clicks everything I love about Young’s work. After listening to this score in full I easily put him as one of my favorite composers.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino (2017)

Yeah I love me some Giacchino. Of the six scores of his I purchased in 2017 I have to say that this one was my favorite (still need to pick up Coco). The way it works in the film is just about perfect. As a solo listening experience I love the way it starts off as an atonal atmospheric mood of building tension. Then it evolves into a true journey that matches Caesar’s. The Morricone nods, the finale cues, just about everything is a truly fitting conclusion to the trilogy. You can tell Giacchino was inspired by this story, and I really can’t wait for further collaborations with Reeves. I wrote a whole blog on the scores to the films here.

4. Superman – John Williams (1978/2000)

This was a huge hole in my John Williams collection. I broke down and picked up the Rhino version of the score. Holy CRAP was this something else. It hits all the nostalgia buttons for me, but there is also this sweeping grandeur that Williams just nails. Of course the main march is excellent. But I also love his Krypton theme and the music used for the Smallville sequences. The love theme is a classic. The only weak part is the music for the comical villains. As a whole Superman is a powerhouse and I’m so happy to have it in my collection. It confirms my love for the late 70s and early 80s of Williams work.

3. Nerve – Rob Simonsen (2016)

I’m a child of the 1980s so it goes without saying that I love 80s style synth scores. When I heard samples from Simonsen’s score on Erik’s radio show Cinematic Sound Radio I put this on my “to buy” list. Picking Nerve up was well worth it. I listened to this score many times over the year. It put me deep into cyberpunk 80s mode and inspired some short fiction writing too. I even like the song that uses the main theme as its tune. It is easy to recommend this score to fans of this eclectic style of music.

2. Thriller (rerecording) – Jerry Goldsmith (1960/2017)

I discovered this television series about six or seven years ago. It is a fun bit of classic television with some creepy stories, some entertaining performances (I’m looking at you Shatner) and of course great music by Morton Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith. These guys did so much with such a limited budget for this show. And Goldsmith really cut his teeth developing his thriller and horror styling. You can hear so many little hints that would lead to The Omen, Poltergeist and Gremlins in here. Tadlow’s impressive rerecording really brings out the best out of these excellent selections from the series. The final composite end titles suite is almost worth the price of purchase alone. For a Goldsmith fan is an easy purchase.

1. Ben Hur (rerecording) – Miklos Rozsa (1959/2017)

This is one of my favorite scores of all time. When I returned to film score collecting in 2005 (and found Filmtracks at the same time) this was one of the first scores I added to my collection. I picked up the Rhino edition that extended over two CDs and still didn’t include all the music from Miklos Rozsa’s score. I listened to Ben Hur a lot back in those days and got very familiar with it. I fell in love with Rozsa’s epic style because of it. When Tadlow announced a full rerecording of Ben Hur I was ecstatic. Each time I've picked up one of their rerecording it has been a wonder to explore. To hear this full score in wonderful sound quality is really an amazing treat. Listening to this on my full surround set up was just sublime (and I’m sure the neighbors appreciated it too).

Honorable Mentions:

This year I picked up more then a few jazz based scores. I enjoyed all of them and they all got multiple listens. For the 1960s style of spy flavored jazz I enjoyed the duo of Our Man Fint and In Like Flint by Goldsmith. Followed by the wonferfully fun The Man Who Knew too Little by Young which has more than a share of Mancini in it. I also picked up The Russia House which is a much darker take on the jazz sound, a bit noire and bit more thriller. Excellent score by Goldsmith. Then you have Sneakers which is a Horner score I’ve had on my list for years. It is an excellent example of his 90s thriller style and includes some jazzy elements to it, as well as some excellent darker material.

A couple of recent scores really impressed me. Doctor Strange by Giacchino was a blast and would have probably made my top ten if War for the Planet of the Apes hadn’t been so darn good. It is an excellent superhero score and those last two tracks are gold. I also enjoyed The Last Jedi quite a bit. I think I need to give it some more time, maybe hear it in context of the film again. But it just wasn’t quite good enough to crack the top ten of my list. Superman and E.T. eclipsed it easily.

Another rerecording that I picked up was Distant Worlds: The Music of Final Fantasy Vol 1. Wow was this a lot of fun. I’m familiar with the music from some of the games, but to hear it presented with a full orchestra and with such enthusiasm was a treat. I’ve got the next volumes on my list to pick up at some point.

Picked up a few older scores that I’ve had my eye on for some time. The Last Valley by Barry was one I was waiting for a reissue on. I finally was able to pick it up and really loved it. Feels like an extension of The Lion in Winter but with a bit more melodic sorrow in it. Picked up Capricorn One by Goldsmith as well. This has to be his prototypical thriller score. So many great elements in it and it makes for an exciting and tense listening experience. When E.T. got its expanded treatment I had to grab it. Not only did it have the wonderful 1980s album presentation, but the sound quality was amazing. Finally I did a little tour through my collection at the start of the year picking a single score from each letter of alphabet. When I got to Q I realized I didn’t have anything! I remedied that with Quigley Down Under, and wow was that a treat and a half. Poledouris gives us a wonderful rollicking main theme for this Western and as a whole the score it just a lot of fun.

And just to prove that I’m not all scores and no songs, I did pick up the album to Streets of Fire a wonderfully cheesy 1980s noire/action/musical movie type thing that has some really fun songs in it. I mean if you love rockin’ early 80s style with lyrics by Jim Steinman. I also got Songs in the Key of MST which is a collection of many of the host segment songs from my favorite television show Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was worth it for Let’s Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas and Toobular Boobular Joy alone.

Well that was my best of the year. Hope you enjoyed the read and looking forward the new experiences in film scores for 2018.


  1. Great list of soundtracks. Superman is a favorite of mine, listen to it way more than Star Wars. I even like the part when Margot Kidder does the goofy voice over (actually might be my favorite moment).

    1. Ah man, I can't say that I share that sentiment. I go out of my way to avoid the goofy voice over as much as possible. In fact I think the last time we watched the film both of us left the room to get snacks so we could miss that oh so cheesy moment.

      But the music is great.

  2. I have reservations about several of these movies. Nerve, for instance, though it has a frighteningly credible premise also has a facilely incredible resolution. However, it does have a good score, which is your point here.

    Re: Superman -- Both film in toto and the score in particular are innocent, if you know what I mean, in a pleasing way.

    1. Yeah Superman looks old fashioned to a lot of folks these days. But when you look at when it came out, it was the kind of superhero people wanted/needed. The score does combine that innocence and boldness together. Really an achievement to make the whole film work so well.