Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Helm’s Deep

In an oblique tribute to Levon Helm’s recent passing, I present this version of my favorite song by The Band, which can be heard here.  (Yeah, I know, it was already available on my lyrics tab above, but who pays any attention to that?)  R.I.P., sir…

“The Wait”


I pulled out my manuscript, and I started to revise again;
I haven’t got a contract, but I’ve surely got a pen.
“Hey, Richard, can you tell me what you wrote in ’58?”
He just sent a fax and said, “No, but boy, you’re doin’ great.”

Put a quote in, Matty, put a quote for free;
Put a quote in, Matty, and (and) (and) you can quote him indef’nitely.

He wrote for Jack Arnold, ‘bout a dude called the Shrinking Man;
Then Al Zugsmith told him, “I will hype this if I can.”
He said, “Al, a shrinking man is incredible enough.”
But the title stuck and Al said, “Buddy, that’s just tough.”


Sailed off to London to adapt his most famous book.
But the censor threatened him, and his screenplay got the hook.
“Well, don’t you fret, we’ll find something else for you.”
So he wrote for Christopher, and Tallulah Bankhead, too.


Television beckoned, and he jumped into the Twilight Zone.
Wrote about a gremlin, and a ghost that’s on the phone.

He did Captain Kirk, and the girl from U.N.C.L.E., too.
Had to feed his family, while his novel’s overdue.


A young guy name of Spielberg, he was lookin’ for a hit.

He said, “A crazy trucker?  Now, that is surely it!”

Then it’s on to Mr. Kolchak, and the rest is history.
You can read all about it when the book is there to see.


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Bombs Away!

As if I haven’t boasted about my daughter enough already, as a birth-/Father’s Day gift, she got tickets for me and Madame BOF to see the B-52s last night at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York.  Like many contemporaneous bands (e.g., R.E.M.), they came out of Athens, Georgia, in the 1970s, and for those of you who didn’t already know it, they are named indirectly after the ubiquitous Cold War bomber seen in such classics as Dr. Strangelove.  While researching them on Wikipedia, I learned that after more than thirty years, they officially dropped the apostrophe from their name in 2008, a move applauded by this professional wordsmith, as it isn’t possessive.

It’s interesting how our affection for some bands comes by a kind of osmosis, where you hear a song here and there and finally say, “Hey, those guys are pretty good,” while in other cases, like my first seeing Stop Making Sense, you can trace it to a specific event.  In this case, my entrée was having a certain, shall we say, somewhat disreputable former member of my wife’s family play “Love Shack” for me, which led to the purchase of my favorite B-52s album, Cosmic Thing, and a compilation of their videos from 1979 to 1989.  It’s one of the two things for which I will always be grateful to this individual (although I can’t really discuss the other one in this forum).

I haven’t been to a lot of concerts, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison, but I found the Music Hall to be a small yet charming venue, well suited to the group.  Alexandra obviously had to take what she could get in the way of tickets, and we were literally in the last row, but even from there we had a pretty good view of the stage.  A Brooklyn band we’d never heard of called Living Days opened for the B-52s; I found them quite listenable, if that is a word, and although Loreen liked them less than I did, the fact that the lead singer was a leggy blonde in micro-shorts, betraying an evident Annie Lennox influence, may admittedly have been a factor.

The B-52s are one of my favorite second-tier bands, which as defined in the Bradley lexicon is anybody below the Beatles and Talking Heads, and as such, while I own most of their albums, I don’t know their work on what we might call the genetic level, the way I do with the Fab Four or the Heads.  Last night’s set included some B-52s old standbys (e.g., “Private Idaho”), some cuts from Cosmic Thing (e.g., the title track and “Deadbeat Club”), some stuff I was less familiar with (“Party Out of Bounds,” “Mesopotamia,” “Whammy Kiss”), and some stuff I didn’t recognize, at least one of them (“Love in the Year 3000”) from their 2008 album Funplex, which I don’t have.

Needless to say, if they had not played “Love Shack,” I would probably have stormed the stage, but in light of its popularity, I need not have worried, and they selected that to end their main set after a little more than an hour.  There were four other songs that I was especially hoping to hear (e.g., “Legal Tender,” “Song for a Future Generation,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland”), only one of which (“Roam”) they actually played.  Following loud and persistent applause, they encored with rousing renditions of “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” (to which Madame BOF won a high-school dance contest), which brought the entire performance to about ninety minutes.

The one overriding impression I have always gotten from the B-52s is what a fun band they are, from the endearing loopiness of their videos to the obviously affectionate interplay among them (although, watching Stop Making Sense, I’d have said the same about the Heads, and look what’s happened there).  I always figured they’d be an awesome band to see live, and I finally had the chance to confirm that theory last night, with the band and the audience having an equally great time.  About 99% of us stood the moment they came out and stayed that way the whole time; my apologies to the woman sitting right in front of me, whom I hit in the head during “Love Shack.”

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Any pleasure I would have taken in reporting this news has been largely dampened—in every sense of the word—by the discovery (literally as I sat down to begin writing) of a new leak, in our bedroom ceiling this time, followed by the resurgence of an old leak in the basement, and a fruitless session of chopping away at the ice in the gutters.  Madame BOF and I were left feeling utterly hopeless, with two more months of winter yet to come and the second storm in a double-header hitting tonight.  Be that as it may, however, issue #19 of Cinema Retro, that outstanding magazine devoted to the true cinematic Golden Age of the ’60s and ’70s, is a veritable goldmine for those who follow the careers of yours truly and my main man Gilbert Colon with any interest.

The cover story is a ten-page “Film in Focus Special” occasioned by the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist (1973), most of which is devoted to pertinent passages from the 1996 interview Gil and I did with its original author, screenwriter, and producer, William Peter Blatty.  Portions of said interview were published in Filmfax, but Retro will supposedly publish the whole enchilada over a series of issues; this installment is beefed up with color photos, sidebars by editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer, and Gilbert’s preview of Bill’s new novel from Tor, Crazy.  And, as if all that weren’t enough to entice you, Lee was able to squeeze in a last-minute review of Richard Matheson on Screen, opining that, “If you admire Matheson’s work, this book can be considered as essential.”

Meanwhile, as if this year didn’t suck enough already, John Barry has left us at the not-terribly-advanced age of 77.  Since his name will be familiar to BOF readers, I will not regurgitate what I’ve already written here about his place among my top ten favorite film composers, his seminal contributions to the James Bond series or, most recently, his work on the late Peter Yates’s The Deep (1977).  I will mention his Academy Awards for Born Free (1966)—for song and score—The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances with Wolves (1990), as well as his nominations for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992), because even though none of them is a personal favorite, they surely display the length and breadth of his extraordinary career.

My choices are, as usual, a bit more eclectic, like Sidney J. Furie’s The Ipcress File (1965), from the novel by Len Deighton.  Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman intended to establish Deighton’s nameless and bespectacled spy (dubbed “Harry Palmer” and brilliantly played by Michael Caine in the film) as the anti-Bond, and despite Barry’s already strong association with the Bond series, Saltzman wisely allowed him to score the film.  One need only contrast the moody, world-weary main title theme from The Ipcress File with the dynamism of, say, Barry’s first full Bond score, Goldfinger (1964), or his pulse-pounding instrumental main title from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) to see how, even within the espionage genre, he could vary his work accordingly.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Barry composed a theme of suitably heartbreaking beauty for Nicolas Roeg’s solo directorial debut, Walkabout (1971), a unique tale of two children forced to undergo a coming-of-age odyssey through the Australian Outback.  With his seemingly effortless artistry, Barry captures both the lyrical majesty of the film’s setting and the bittersweet ache of its storyline.  Finally, as the author of the Matheson tome cited above, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention Barry’s work on Somewhere in Time (1980), a lush, romantic score that incorporates Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Op. 43, Variation XVIII), proved to be one of his biggest-selling soundtracks, and was born out of the pain of losing both his parents.

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Dear John

I’d been trying not to think about what day this is, but when I left work and got on the shuttle to head to the station, they had “Imagine” playing on the radio and it all came pouring out, in more ways than one (yes, I was discreet).  Although that song has long affected me, it didn’t help that I vividly remember hearing it in the car the night Dad died and I drove over to be with Mom, after which it has had an even greater significance.  Some people—and I’m not naming any names here—take it a little too literally, and argue that it conjures up a world in which they wouldn’t want to live, but I think they miss the point and the ideals that John Lennon was writing about.

I can’t recall exactly where I was or what I was doing when I heard that John had been murdered, thirty years ago today, yet I sure as hell remember the aftermath because my then-girlfriend Gale and I were both big Beatles fans.  Their music was a huge part of our relationship (as well as, in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, the breakup that followed), and we were both devastated, of course, but she practically went into mourning, and I had a hard time trying to get her through it.  It was midway through my senior year in high school, and it must not have been long before I broke up with her, because I had my first date with Madame BOF on Valentine’s Day of 1981.

The Beatles have been my favorite group ever since my fairly cool parents used to play Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when I was little; Dad loved “When I’m Sixty-Four,” among others.  While I think that was the only one they actually owned, one or more of my three older brothers had Hey Jude (which I now know is not a “real” Beatles album, but never mind), Let It Be, Abbey Road, and the White Album, so I’ve been surrounded by their music as long as I can remember.  Among the very first audiocassettes I ever owned were the red and blue compilation albums, The Beatles 1962-66 and 1967-70, which I literally listened to until they wore out, and when my friend Chris splurged and bought all the albums, I taped the stuff I didn’t already have.

Sure, the Rolling Stones have been at it longer—a lot longer—but even in their comparatively brief time together, the Beatles created what I consider the greatest canon of popular music in our time, distinguished by not only quantity and quality, even if every song inevitably wasn’t a masterpiece, but also variety.  There’s such a difference between the flavor of their early, middle, and later works that, as with Peanuts cartoons, it’s easy to find a Beatles song for almost every occasion.  I know some of them down to the last inflection, and God knows I’ve put my love and knowledge of them to work time and again, rewriting the lyrics to at least thirty of their songs.

I have no profound point to make here, people.  I can’t claim that John was my favorite Beatle, because I loved them all, and I can’t honestly say that after they broke up I followed his or any other ex-Beatle’s solo career with particular interest; I loved the Beatles, and that was that.  But God damn it, attention must be paid, and I will bloody well remember, and cry, because for no good reason, some fucking wannabe killed a guy who’d always stood for peace and love, and a chunk of my life along with him, and even though we all already knew there was never any way the Beatles would get back together again, that day we knew it with the certainty of the grave.

John, God bless you, wherever you are.  Your music truly made the world a better place, and as we enter the holiday season, I’ll cry again every time I hear “Happy Christmas,” as usual.  “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”  Nothing more for you to fear, man; they could kill you, but the joy you brought to the world, and the love you championed, will live forever.  This post is dedicated with great affection to my oldest friend, Fred Pennington, with whom I have shared my devotion to the Beatles for thirty-five great years, and to my dear friend Brian Boucher (who I somehow sense will “get it” better than anybody else) and his delightful and inspiring family.

Crank it up and rock out.  You know it’s gonna be all right.


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Harmonic Convergence

Back in February, BOF did a live post (“My Green Heaven”) from one of our infamous Movie Night gatherings, at which we converge with like-minded friends to socialize, devour take-out food in shocking amounts, kill brain cells in even more shocking amounts and, oh yeah, watch wacky movies after a fashion.  I say “after a fashion” because the attention focused on the film is often marginal at best, with whatever we’re “watching” serving as an excuse for movie-related chit-chat as much as anything else.  Picture an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in which the crew is barely paying attention to the film, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about.

Our original moniker was the Four Musketeers, with me playing D’Artagnan to three fellow ex-Penguin USA employees, all of whom were then employed at Columbia House, so we had our staging area outside CoHo’s home in the midtown McGraw-Hill Building, and schlepped out to Woodside on the R Train.  As time went by, we gained the felicitous additional sobriquet of the Movie Knights, and I sponsored two additional members (another ex-Penguin and a ringer from McGraw-Hill who, ironically, worked in a different location).  But as each of us was claimed by various layoffs, we were scattered to the four winds, and it was tougher to get us all in one place. 

Since our last gathering, our Host With The Most (hereinafter HWTM) has made an intra-Queens relocation from Woodside to Ozone Park, so our latest escapade marks a first in this new setting, and we’re pretty psyched to be partying down in his new digs.  A staple of many such occasions is for me to rewrite and perform (karaoke-style) a song, and since the Beatles are still my favorite band—with Talking Heads in second place—they dominate the playlist.  One of our more artistic members, who craves Internet anonymity, even assembled the first twenty such songs into a very handsomely illustrated songbook, which I entitled General Bradley’s Movie Knights Club Band.

This being such a “momentous hysterical occasion,” as Bugs Bunny would say, I was compelled to craft a new ditty at HWTM’s behest, which (if I may boast) I cajoled my Muse into helping me produce in 79 minutes flat.  For your edification and/or amusement, I reproduce the lyrics below, and although I realize that all of the in-jokes will be lost on non-Musketeers, devoted Beatle fans should have no trouble identifying the underlying work.  Although my repertoire has expanded to include songs (including some bedrock BOF faves) by Hall and Oates, Kool and the Gang, the B-52s, the Band, and the Hollies, I think it’s impressive that this my nineteenth Beatles tune to date.

But wait, it gets better, because after revamping this song, of which John Lennon was apparently the primary author, I discovered that the very day of our gathering marks John’s 70th birthday.  In fact, said songbook-artiste should be picking me up just as this post appears, for an epic road trip into Manhattan to pick up another Musketeer and thence to Queens.  Whether I’ll attempt another live post from tonight’s bacchanalia—now morphing into a celebration of Richard Matheson on Screen on top of the usual hilarity—remains to be seen, but I cannot think of a better omen as we embark upon this brave new world of Movie Nights in our freshly minted Ozone Park location…

“Ozone Park”


I told you ’bout the Casa of Flynn
You know the place where we’ve always been
Well here’s another train you can take
With TVs to break
Walking by the Esquire Diner
To see how the Dover boy lives
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you ’bout the Gill-Man and me, man
At fatherhood he’s good as can be, man
Well here is a reminder for you
The baby is Lou
Singing by the old jukebox, yeah
Swarthy Italians trying to take the noise, yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah
Come on down to Ozone Park

I told you about the Host with the Most
I tell you man he isn’t no ghost
Well here’s another Villa to see
Listen to me

Riding the Chariot homeward
Trying to write a Tor.com post
Come on down to Ozone Park

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Concluding our eclectic look at James Bond theme songs of the 20th century.

Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” was the first main title theme that essentially went the romantic route, whereas I have a strong bias in favor of those that make you feel you’re watching a movie in which somebody might get killed, rather than some Lifetime special. I’ll cut them some slack, however, partly because John Barry’s melody is so damn pretty, and partly because he went out of his way to evoke the Japanese setting. The film also makes what may be the best use of the durable 007 theme he introduced in From Russia with Love (1963)—my wife always says it sounds like the cowboys coming over the plains, which may or may not have been the effect Barry was going for—during the helicopter battle with Little Nellie.

Because it featured a new Bond for the first time, the producers must have thought they’d better get down to brass tacks with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and Barry did so in spades with an instrumental main title that I’d rank second only to the Bond theme in sheer spine-tingling suspense. I think I read someplace that there were actual unused lyrics, but it’s hard to believe; I can only imagine they’d be as unsingable as those to Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape (1963). The big vocal is Louis Armstrong’s heartbreaking “We Have All the Time in the World,” a very special song for me and my daughter and Bond co-conspirator, and I’ve often said only half-jokingly that I should sing it at Alexandra’s wedding (substituting “you” for “we”), but I know I could never get through it without crying, since I can barely do that now.

Sean Connery and Shirley Bassey both returned with Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and since I’ve long felt that the film was a little less than the sum of its parts, I regard the theme as not only better than it deserves but also a series highlight, sexy and sinuous with a hint of danger. Strength followed strength with the powerful “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and it’s presumably no coincidence that the instrumental score was by “fifth Beatle” George Martin rather than Barry, although ironically, leading lady Jane Seymour was a friend of Barry’s who persuaded him to score Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time (1980). And then there’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” a silly ’70s song (befitting what we call “half of a good James Bond movie”) sung by Lulu, who’d seen cinematically better days when acting and performing the title tune in To Sir, with Love (1967).

One of my dreaded ex-girlfriends used to opine that Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” (which, if it didn’t share the title of The Spy Who Loved Me [1977], at least used it as a lyric) should be my theme song; she had many unfortunate qualities, but stroking my, um, ego wasn’t one of them. In any event, I loved the song—and, indeed, several of Simon’s, e.g., “You’re So Vain”—long before I met her, and see no reason to change my opinion due to guilt by association. I used to consider that the last great Bond film, but Alexandra and I felt on our most recent viewing that it didn’t hold up as well as we’d remembered. Still, Barbara Bach. I’m just sayin’.

It was with Moonraker (1979) that the series went into a steep downward spiral, and while they were not contiguous, I would lump Bassey’s title song and Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” (from the lamentable Octopussy [1983], with words by Tim Rice, yet) together. Each is a perfectly lovely, singable, and well-performed Barry ballad that just happens to have seriously goofy lyrics, and seems too romantic for a spy thriller. As for the film itself, it represents the more unfortunate influences of Star Wars (1977), transforming Ian Fleming’s relatively realistic, albeit uninspiring, novel into a far-fetched sci-fi saga that made the character of Jaws (Richard Kiel) from The Spy Who Loved Me even more ridiculous.

Before you start ragging on me for liking anything by Sheena Easton (or Sheena Beaston, as we affectionately called her back in the day), be aware that For Your Eyes Only (1981) opened in the U.S. exactly 132 days after my first date with Loreen, the theme quickly and aptly becoming “our song.” As much as she loves ’80s music, which I always call the soundtrack to our courtship, I think the decade took its toll on “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran (a group that got its name from a villain in Barbarella [1968], by the way) and “The Living Daylights” by a-ha. I don’t dislike them, but both are somewhat synthetic-sounding pop-rock tunes, and neither is particularly singable, due in no small measure to typically indecipherable and/or impenetrable lyrics.

Nothing against Gladys Knight, who didn’t write it, but “License to Kill” may be the worst Bond theme ever: featuring the repeated lyric “Hey, baby,” it’s ponderous, elephantine, not especially melodic—and then, with a sickening lurch, it gets even slower, as though the elephant had stepped in molasses. A six-year hiatus did wonders for the series in general (see “Will MGM Succeed Where Blofeld Failed?”) and Bond themes in particular with “GoldenEye,” written by Bono and The Edge; you may have heard of their little combo, U2. The song is electric with menace, and the great Tina Turner threatens to out-Bassey Shirley with her powerhouse delivery, after which Sheryl Crow’s ruminative, self-aware “Tomorrow Never Dies” seems a little too languorous…but still miles ahead of “License to Kill.”

Addendum:  Fans of Bond, Quiller, Len Deighton, Donald Hamilton, et alia will enjoy The Debrief (http://jeremyduns.blogspot.com/), a relatively new blog by Jeremy Duns, who is not only an aficionado but also a practitioner of espionage fiction.

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The other day, I had to drive to work instead of taking the train, so that I could leave early for a doctor’s appointment, and I grabbed an “Ultimate Bond” tape I’d compiled several years ago to listen to in the car. I believe it was in an early Jim Jarmusch feature, probably Stranger Than Paradise (1984), that one character uttered the immortal line—oft quoted among the BOF household—“This is driving music.” As is widely known, I’m in love with the sound of my own voice (I suppose most bloggers are), which extends to singing as well as speaking, and in my opinion, for both “singability” and pulse-raising, it’s tough to beat Bond themes as driving music.

I’m speaking primarily of the actual theme songs (i.e., those played over the opening credits, which often have the same title as the film), as opposed to the remainder of the score, which in many cases is excellent as well, especially when written by the legendary John Barry. And in that context I would venture to say that the Bond oeuvre, if admittedly uneven, is unique among film series for its length, diversity, and generally high, uh, caliber. The producers secured the services of some of the biggest recording stars of their respective eras, of which each song is like a little time capsule, for better or—in some cases—worse.

It should be noted that I am less familiar with, and thus have less of an opinion regarding, the Bond themes since “Tomorrow Never Dies” (where my compilation ends), in many cases from films I have seen only once. Not surprisingly, having been recorded by Madonna, “Die Another Day” got a fair amount of play, but my predominant reaction to that was simply that it didn’t sound like a Bond theme. Others featured Garbage (“The World Is Not Enough”), Chris Cornell (“You Know My Name” from Casino Royale [2006]), Jack White and Alicia Keys (“Another Way to Die” from Quantum of Solace [2008]), all unfamiliar to me, and I don’t remember being impressed by any of those songs.

To begin at the beginning, I rank the original James Bond theme, credited to Monty Norman (see “The Music, Man”), among the great compositions of the last century, along with the likes of Vince Guaraldi’s immortal “Linus and Lucy” and Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther and Peter Gunn themes. This guitar-heavy masterpiece epitomizes both the swingin’ sixties and driving music, ’cause I don’t know about you, but when I’m behind the wheel and that thing comes on, I FEEL like James Bond (luckily, I don’t drive like him). There are umpteen recordings of the Bond theme, but none will ever approach the original, which debuted as the main title for Dr. No (1962), segueing into Norman’s calypso “Three Blind Mice.”

Most compilations include only Sinatra-soundalike Matt Monro’s deliciously schmaltzy vocal version of “From Russia with Love,” not featured in the film until the closing credits. That’s a shame, because the instrumental used at the beginning (accompanying titles superimposed on a belly dancer, which doesn’t hurt) is replete with pulse-pounding excitement, wisely morphing immediately into the Bond theme to kick it up another notch. Monro inaugurated the trend of the interminably held last note, belted out as the orchestra cuts loose in a climactic frenzy, a fixture in numerous Bond themes to come.

Goldfinger (1964) is now my favorite Bond film (a sentiment in which, for once, I am not in the minority), as well as the first to use a vocal for the main title, and one could argue that it was all downhill from there. “Goldfinger” is perhaps the ultimate exemplar of the form: it’s bold, it’s brassy, it’s Bassey—as in Shirley Bassey, lending an incredible set of pipes to the first of her record three Bond themes. And in this particular case, I must give a special shoutout to the rest of Barry’s score, which ranks with, and perhaps is, the finest in the series, full of excitement and intrigue.

When they were kids, my wife and her sisters thought Tom Jones was the hottest thing coming (as did a former GoodTimes colleague of mine), and even though my brother and I had a, shall we say, diametrically opposite opinion, Jones has since endeared himself to me with his self-deprecating turn in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996). His theme from Thunderball (1965) is another classic, helping to make that film my boyhood favorite Bond, perhaps because of its spectacular underwater battle, with Barry’s music somehow managing to create an aquatic feel, a trait that served him well when he scored The Deep (1977). Legend has it that Jones even passed out at the end of the song’s final-note endurance test.

To be concluded.

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Several musical strains run deeply in my blood. One is the Beatles. I have three older brothers whose ages range up to nine years my senior, so between that and the fact that my parents were pretty hip (e.g., Dad took me to Cheech and Chong movies), I grew up listening to Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Hey Jude—too young to know it wasn’t a real album—and, in the years before such compilations became as common as unnecessary remakes are now, the red and blue 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 double albums, which I got on audiocassette and played till they wore out. Last weekend I learned the crushing fact that my 22nd wedding anniversary was also the 40th anniversary of the official breakup of the Beatles, which should be a national day of mourning. My wife gets the last laugh because she never really liked them. If anyone ever wanted proof that it’s really love, they need look no further than the fact that I married a girl who wasn’t a Beatles fan.

By now, I’ve internalized their songs to the degree that I’ve rewritten the lyrics to about two dozen of them, for the amusement of my friends, and only Talking Heads has even approached them in my esteem. (While attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in Cambridge, I walked into a screening of Stop Making Sense knowing nothing about but having a total misconception of their music, just because I’d heard it was a really good movie, and walked out a fan for life.) I never got to see either band in concert, which in the case of the Beatles isn’t too surprising, but on one of the greatest nights of my life, Loreen took me to see David Byrne at Toad’s Place in New Haven in 1994, and he did seven Heads songs, including the truly transcendent “And She Was.”

But another one is the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m proud to say that my daughter has embraced both strains. I was raised on the infectious melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and especially the lyrics and libretti of that champion wordsmith W.S. Gilbert, who—like the Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog of the light-opera world, only less violent—created great art together even, or perhaps especially, when they didn’t get along. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh’s film about the fractious creation of The Mikado, especially Jim Broadbent’s performance as Gilbert.) I can still sing slabs of some of their best-known shows, such as H.M.S. Pinafore, from memory pretty accurately, and at Trinity College in Hartford I even got to sing the modest role of the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Y’see, on and off since I was a kid, Mom has played cello for Troupers Light Opera in God’s Country (aka Connecticut), which next weekend finishes its 65th production in Fairfield County, The Gondoliers. She sometimes woke me up for school by dropping the needle on a classic D’Oyly Carte recording—we’re going back to Martyn Green here—and I’ve seen the major shows more times than I can count. Now, I’m not gonna lie to you: these are not the world’s most polished productions, featuring a decidedly mixed bag of local talent. But it tells you all you need to know that TLO co-founder Fred Scharmer celebrated his 97th birthday during rehearsals, and was up there on stage in the men’s chorus that very same Bradley/Beatles anniversary night. They’re truly keeping the spirit alive, and I for one wouldn’t miss it for the world. So check out http://trouperslightopera.org/ for further details, and tell ’em Jean Bradley’s son sent ya.

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The Music, Man

I kept thinking I should be writing more about music here than the occasional mention, but I don’t have Tom Flynn’s gift for explicating entire albums, and of course it’s supposed to be film-related if possible. Not surprisingly, I figured I’d fall back on the old reliable list format, so here, without further ado, are my Top Ten Favorite Film Composers. The examples I give are not meant to represent each composer’s best work by popular consensus, or even necessarily good movies per se, but rather, in most cases, those whose music most resonated with me. I often used the criterion of whether I could hear the score in my head just by thinking of the title.

Some composers earned runner-up status for solid bodies of work that included multiple favorites: James Bernard (Horror of Dracula and its sequels, The Devil Rides Out), Danny Elfman (Batman, Planet of the Apes), Ron Goodwin (Where Eagles Dare, Battle of Britain, Frenzy), Maurice Jarre (Is Paris Burning?, The Year of Living Dangerously), Michel Legrand (Ice Station Zebra, The Three Musketeers), David Shire (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; Farewell, My Lovely), Howard Shore (Ed Wood, The Lord of the Rings), Vangelis (Blade Runner, The Bounty).

Others rated an honorable mention for a single score that stands out in my personal pantheon, whatever their other notable efforts (if any) may be: John Addison (A Bridge Too Far), Malcolm Arnold (The Bridge on the River Kwai), Peter Best (Crocodile Dundee), John Cacavas (Horror Express), Don Ellis (The French Connection), Anton Karas (The Third Man), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Alfred Newman (Gunga Din), David Raksin (Laura), Nino Rota (The Godfather), Popol Vuh (Nosferatu the Vampyre).

Ron Grainer deserves special mention for his TV theme songs (Dr. Who, The Prisoner), which in my book surpassed his work in features (e.g., The Omega Man). So, too, does Akira Ifukube, narrowly edged out at #11 for the musical motifs that added so much to Toho’s Godzilla and other kaiju eiga films. But for film scores that most consistently plucked my heartstrings, got my blood pumping, or occasionally both, the following can’t be beat. Once again, I’ve listed them alphabetically, because getting the list down to ten was playing favorites enough.

John Barry (b. 1933) would deserve a place on this list for his contributions to the James Bond series alone. Although it is credited solely to Monty Norman, various accounts suggest that Barry had a major hand in creating the Bond theme as we know it, and he wrote the complementary 007 theme used in many entries. Barry’s scores for all but the first of the early Bonds (From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever) were uniformly excellent. Add to those his more desultory work on the later Bonds, the world-weary theme for The Ipcress File, the heartbreaking beauty of Walkabout, the underwater atmosphere of The Deep, and the lush romanticism of Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time, and you’re talking about some real range here.

One of my wife’s favorite credits on any piece of filmed entertainment is “Scary music by Elmer Bernstein” (1922-2004) from the video of the late Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” That bespeaks the diversity of Bernstein’s career, encompassing more than a dozen Oscar nominations over almost fifty years, although perversely he won only for Thoroughly Modern Millie. He’d be here just for The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, but when you throw films as wide-ranging as The Silencers, Gold, and Ghostbusters into the mix, plus his many other collaborations with John Landis (including Trading Places), well, ’nuff said.

In addition to his outstanding feature-film work, Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) wrote the theme music for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and scored such Twilight Zone episodes as Matheson’s “The Invaders,” returning to work on the ill-fated movie version of the series. A true Renaissance man, he applied his chameleonic style to thrillers (Seven Days in May, Seconds, Breakheart Pass), war movies (In Harm’s Way, Von Ryan’s Express, Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!), spy spoofs (Our Man Flint, In Like Flint), Westerns (Hour of the Gun, Bandolero!, 100 Rifles, Take a Hard Ride), SF (the original Planet of the Apes [plus Escape from…], Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Leviathan), film noir (Chinatown), and horror (his Oscar-winning The Omen, Gremlins). And damned if he didn’t excel at all of them.

Although he was nowhere near as prolific as most of the others listed here, I’d be willing to entertain the notion that Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) was the greatest film composer of all, making it utterly appropriate that his first credit was Citizen Kane. Certainly his work with Alfred Hitchcock ranks among the great director/composer collaborations, most notably on Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. But let us not forget his hypnotic The Day the Earth Stood Still, his foursome for stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen (including my favorite, Mysterious Island), his splendid Journey to the Center of the Earth, his quirky Fahrenheit 451, or…you get the idea. And, like Goldsmith, he scored one of Matheson’s Twilight Zone episodes, “Little Girl Lost.”

Henry Mancini (1924-1994) was best known for his decades-long collaboration with Blake Edwards, which produced his immortal themes for The Pink Panther and the series Peter Gunn (and, yes, okay, his Oscar-winning “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, if you insist). But those were just a drop in the bucket, since his work also graced everything from the dozens of films he worked on uncredited as a member of Universal’s music department during the 1950s (including several of Jack Arnold’s) to Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, Stanley Donen’s Charade, and Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce.

When it comes to director/composer collaborations, the one between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone (b. 1928) is perhaps the most notable. It’s unthinkable to imagine any of Leone’s essential films without the perfect fusion of music and image in A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West; Duck, You Sucker; and Once Upon a Time in America. Tom will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they reversed the usual process and had Morricone compose his major themes before shooting, so that Leone could play them on the set and get his actors in the mood. Fairly or unfairly, the results overshadow the hundreds of other scores he wrote for Mario Bava, Don Siegel, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Carpenter, Roland Joffé, et al.  When I look back on the highlights of my life, hearing the Maestro conduct his own work at Radio City Music Hall will surely be among them, thanks to Tom.

Like Grainer, Goldsmith, and Mancini, Lalo Schifrin (b. 1932) created an immortal TV theme song, in his case for Mission: Impossible. Among his films are eight starring Clint Eastwood, e.g., Kelly’s Heroes—a Word-Man evergreen—and three of the five directed by Schifrin’s frequent collaborator, Don Siegel: Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, and Dirty Harry, plus all of its sequels except The Enforcer. Other standouts include Murderers’ Row (featuring the only instrumental main-title theme in the Matt Helm tetralogy), The Four Musketeers, and The Fourth Protocol.

Written by Max Steiner (1888-1971), the score for RKO’s King Kong is considered a milestone in film music, and he also did an outstanding job on its companion piece, The Most Dangerous Game. Without taking anything away from those, it is for his work as a Warner Brothers mainstay in the 1940s that Steiner squeaked onto this list, since it was there and then that my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart, did most of his best work. Steiner scored a whopping twenty-one Bogart films, and while not all of them were classics, they include three of the very best: Casablanca, The Big Sleep, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Among my other (non-Bogart) standbys are Arsenic and Old Lace and Mildred Pierce.

Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) also narrowly made it onto the list, partly because among his five features with Frank Capra (plus the “Why We Fight” series and other World War II documentaries) is It’s a Wonderful Life. But then there’s his work with Hitchcock (including Strangers on a Train and Dial M for Murder), and on SF (The Thing), and Westerns (High Noon, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), and wartime espionage thrillers (The Guns of Navarone, 36 Hours), and I guess it’s not hard to see how he slipped on.

In my book, the big dogs in the musical kennel of John Williams (b. 1932) are Jaws and Star Wars, but The Incredible Franchise Man also has Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark to his credit, along with the dozen-plus sequels to all four films. His relationships with blockbuster directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, each of which stretches back more than thirty years, are but the tip of the iceberg in a career also highlighted by the likes of The Fury and especially the riveting score for John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday.

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