Kevin Haney on his lifelong love of film scores, and how they’ve gone from the quiet corner of the record shop to something a whole lot more.
I love film soundtracks, film scores in particular. They were a huge part of my childhood and are still a priority to me now as an adult, even though I would say access to film scores is taken for granted these days.
Let me start at my beginning. I was in the new release section of my local Our Price, the much-missed record store chain, back in the summer of 1989. Not yet ten years old, this was the highlight of a shopping trip to the town centre where my dad would buy the latest chart-topping vinyl over the counter in person, at least before he succumbed to the lure of the Britannia music club shortly after.
When I was browsing the section, I happened across a light blue album cover with a picture of my favourite ‘ghostbusting’ foursome. The text said ‘Ghostbusters 2 from MCA Records’. What was this doing in the music section? Was this a vinyl record to accompany a ‘when you hear the “beep”, turn the page’ storybook? No, my dad told me, this was the soundtrack to Ghostbusters 2, the (as yet unreleased in the UK) sequel to one of the most formative movies of my youth. “A soundtrack?” “Yes, the music that’s in the film”.
This blew my young mind. You could actually buy a record of the music from the film? What a great idea, but how come this had not been thought of before and why did they start doing this with Ghostbusters 2? Well, imagine my surprise when my dad guided me to the soundtrack section of the shop. It turned out that there were also records containing music from many other movies. Shaking with excitement, I looked for a record cover with the iconic ‘No Ghost’ symbol. If there was a record with the music from the original Ghostbusters film, the VHS of which I had nearly worn out, then this could trump my cassette tape of music that I had created by holding my Fisher-Price cassette recorder up to my TV speakers.
I was in luck. There it was in all of its 33 1/3 rpm glory, the Ghostbusters Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album.
It was the first album I would ever own. Like the VHS, I would listen to this album to the point of warping. I loved the fact that I could hear the music without sudden stop-starts or clicks on the tracks where I had edited dialogue from the movie or where the songs would run into one another from an end credit recording. The album was made up of the titular number two hit (it never reached number one in the UK) along with other songs written specifically for the film and two score tracks from the iconic Elmer Bernstein.
This track layout was par for the course with ’80s and early ’90s movie soundtracks. You would commonly have a standard ten track album with a number of songs featured in or written about the movie, with a track or two of score at the end. This usually orchestral track would likely be an overture of the highlights from the film’s score.
As with Ghostbusters, there would often be a track on the album that had charted in the actual Top 40 (Billboard charts in the US) that would lead the parade of lesser songs that, out of context from the album, would not really make much sense and would be odd to listen to at your local nightclub or school disco.
By the late ’80s the market for soundtracks was expanding and industry had caught on to the extra cash that could be wringed by giving their movies a jukebox soundtrack of past hits or, very often, generic songs written specifically for the movie that didn’t mention its title or story points. Film soundtracks were becoming big business and the tandem arrival of the soundtrack and the movie on opening weekend meant you could watch the movie and then buy the album from Andy’s Records for your trip home. Many times the soundtrack for a film would have opened and charted long before the film even hit UK shores: people would have a soundtrack album in their cassette deck for a film they were yet to see or may never see. I would watch Top Of The Pops on a Thursday evening or The Chart Show on a Saturday morning to catch the music videos in the hopes of seeing clips from a movie I was excited about interspersed into footage of the band.
As my collection grew, I found myself feeling more and more frustrated with the marginalisation of the score tracks. On most albums, including Ghostbusters 2, you were unable to find a score track at all. There were the rare exceptions. Top Gun had actually gone as far as charting its score track where other films had abandoned them altogether – probably because Harold Faltermeyer had proved successful with Axel F, his pop song/ film score hybrid, a couple of years before.
Worse still were the dreaded ‘Songs from and Inspired by…’ albums that were starting to appear at a higher frequency.
The first completely score album I had bought was Alan Silvestri’s wonderful Back to the Future Part II. This was where my love of a pure score album began. You could immerse yourself in the movie entirely away from actually watching it. In a time where the home format release windows were long, this was a way to relive the movie while you waited the long six or so months for its home rental video release.
Yet if a film had a perfectly good score, why were they choosing to fabricate an entire album from pop songs that were neither featured in, or had little to do with the film that was on the album cover?
Well, two reasons, the first being that a particular label would have artists on their books that they wanted to showcase and this was one way of stealthily getting them into unknowing audiences’ cassette decks. Two, there was a perception (correctly at this time) that film scores would not generate the same volume of sales as your standard ten track pop soundtrack. If you were lucky, you’d find a more mainstream film release with two different albums released under its title: a soundtrack album and a score album, the former being available in your local record shop and the latter being a lot harder to seek out and often at an inflated price.
A great example of multiple releases from a single movie was in 1994 when the action blockbuster Speed hit the big screen. I saw Speed on a preview a week or so before its release and along with being exhilarated by the film itself, I was equally as enamoured by its music. The high-concept actioner opens with an amazing overture of Mark Mancina’s exceptional thematic score. Its themes and musical beats propel the movie’s momentum throughout and I would argue that Speed would be a lesser film without them.
I hoped the score would be available for home consumption when the film was officially released. The following week Speed: Songs from and inspired by the motion picture was available in record stores without a single track of score present. This broke my heart. The Billy Idol title track (which peaked at 47 in the UK charts!) led a pack of songs loosely relating to the film, including Cars by Gary Numan (seriously!), Hard Road by Rod Stewart (sigh), and Like a Motorway by St Etienne (are you kidding?).
Fortunately, a trip to London and the well-stocked Virgin Megastore on Tottenham Court Road rewarded me with an imported copy of a release of Mark Mancina’s opus. I was so thrilled. The score was as glorious in isolation at home on my stereo as I hoped it would be. My love for film scores was cemented.
As time moved on, the charting – outside of a Tarantino release – of traditional studio song soundtrack albums started to diminish and film score availability become more prevalent. Frustratingly, it seemed to be the trend to release incomplete scores. For some of these albums I would pay in excess of £15, though they contained less than 30 minutes of actual music.
Looking back, these initial releases were little more than a sample CD, especially when compared to the expanded releases that are more common nowadays. In 1999 I bought a copy of the score to The Matrix by Don Davis, which totalled ten tracks. 22 years later, I have purchased a release of the same score in its entirety, this time with 44 tracks over two CDs.
I now find myself a collector of rare, numbered, limited edition, expanded or complete scores that simply weren’t anywhere close to previously being available. We have access to vast back catalogues and lost compositions. To bring things full circle, we’re now lucky enough to have an official release of Randy Edelman’s score to Ghostbusters II after 32 years! In this instance the label has even gone so far as to reconstruct and re-record tracks that had been lost following the movie’s release decades ago. Not only this, but the Ghostbusters II score has been released on the mainstream Sony Classical label. These pressings are now neither limited or numbered and are available in your local HMV (ironically the Original Soundtrack is quite hard to track down now).
It’s some turnaround, and my younger self would have been in heaven. The older version of me isn’t doing too badly with it all, though, even if there’s no Our Price any more to find everything in.
It is a very exciting time to be a film score fanatic. Film scores in isolation can take on a life of their own. They take you back to your childhood, relax you in the present, or inspire for the future. Immerse yourself in them as you lie with your eyes closed. Let them enhance a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Let them make that daily commute more exhilarating. A film score can be a comfort, a muse, a waking dream or the soundtrack to your life. If my younger self had known the film score treasures that lay ahead, he’d have barely been able to contain his excitement. That is why, when we listen to the latest Hans Zimmer or classic Ennio Morricone, we should thank our movie-loving hearts that we live in this day and age and never, ever take them for granted.
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