Friday, November 8, 2013

A Soulful, Bounding Leap

Today’s formative-album replay: Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding. Restraint can be as dangerous a temptation for an artist as excess, and simplicity as false an idol as complexity. For every Rubber Soul and Nebraska--signature triumphs of stripped-down, pared-back songcraft by artists accustomed to working on denser canvases--there's a Rattle & Hum or a Sea Change, attempts at back-to-basics, show-your-roots music that only end up showing the seams, the gaps in inspiration or insight. As I wrote when I happily revisited Blonde on Blonde, I feared I'd over-idealized this lean, quiet Dylan masterpiece because of its spareness--that I'd been seduced by its hairshirt purity, that I'd mistaken asceticism for profundity.

I shouldn't have mistrusted my taste so. JWH is a great and singular achievement in a career not short on greatness or singularity. With its sidelong, almost casual vocal delivery, simply strummed acoustic guitar, frail harmonica, skittering drums, and flinty bass, it sounds like no other Dylan record--and yet in many ways its curiously timeless sonic palette and even-more-ageless lyrics represent the most distilled essence of Dylan. Blood on the Tracks may feature more intimately revealing and cinematic songwriting, while Blonde and Blonde showcases the brilliant effusions of a mad, manic blues Rimbaud. But JWH is the record, if I had to pick one, that most handily seals Dylan’s stature as that anomalous creature, the original folk artist--a writer and composer whose imagination has become indistinguishable from his memory, whose songs sound both like they have no author and that their only possible author could be him.

I think the key to the record's power is that, with the arguable exceptions of “All Along the Watchtower” and “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” every song here is honed down to one subject, one situation, one idea, even just one image (“Down Along the Cove”). The language is as bare and enigmatic as the music is thin. But rather than taking away meaning, feeling, or heft, this restraint creates empty spaces (negative capability, if you want to get fancy) into which harmonies, literal and literary, rush and reverberate, while seemingly simple sentiments--a plea to a landlord, a catalogue of an immigrant’s sins--swell with metaphor and mystery.

Even an ostensible two-chord throwaway like the buoyant “Drifter’s Escape” sounds for all the world like a winking, sidelong Passion Play. That’s the thing about this whole deceptively diffident record: It sounds like it was made in one breath, even a sigh. But, all these years later, its alchemical achievement seems ever more etched in stone.

Previous Dylan replays: The Times They Are A-Changin', Blonde on Blonde.

Comments:
Jason Benjamin Also worth noting: JWH is an album worth seeking out on vinyl. Aware that Dylan records are mainly cerebral experiences, I for one also love the sound of them. But every digital transfer I've heard of his classics is hideous, JWH especially. The spare, close-miked and home-grown sound was designed for a vinyl groove and it suits these songs marvelously. (Vinyl also accommodates Dylan's chainsaw harmonica approach much more generously than digital.)
Joseph Haj I love how you write. That is all.
Joe Drymala Wait, you don't like Sea Change?
Rob Weinert-Kendt Jason: I used to own pretty much all of Dylan on vinyl. The collection, and the turntable, did not survive the many moves that brought me to NYC, alas. Joseph: Thanks! Joe: No, not as a whole; I like some of it, just as I value some of RATTLE & HUM. I do love MUTATIONS http://trainmyear.blogspot.com/.../01/the-skin-of-robot.html but as a friend of mine put it, it's like Beck decided he was Dan Fogelberg for a record.
Joe Drymala I admit I have weird Beck-taste, since my favorite record is Midnite Vultures.
Rob Weinert-Kendt MIDNITE VULTURES is great...though I'd personally rank them MUTATIONS > ODELAY > MIDNITE VULTURES > MELLOW GOLD.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

O the bright sun!

Today’s formative-album replay: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shahen-Shah. Any list of the great singers of all time must include this Sufi qawwali powerhouse, whose vocal pyrotechnics on this--his first full record for Western audiences (and still his best)--feel closer to the Olympian achievement of a virtuoso instrumentalist, and not only because amid the ululated Urdu, the melisma, and the non-lexical vocables, this music doesn't hit me primarily verbally. No, it's really more that the extended, incantatory form of these six "naats" (essentially psalms to the Prophet Muhammad), and the way Nusrat's huge, raspy, imposingly precise but startlingly soulful voice sprawls and climbs and dances within that expansive form, make the listening experience uncannily akin to, say, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, or to Part's Fratres.

There's something else here, too, that gives this music a particularly strong, plangent sweetness, and I figured out on this listen that it's about the scales. Nusrat, along with his eight other singers and two harmonium players, bases nearly all of this music in bright, major-key modes--mostly Ionian, the scale we all learn in the West as the "major" scale, but also in sunny variants of it, like Mixolydian, a kind of happy-blues mode (into which, in the piece excerpted above, he inserts an utterly disarming extra "blue" note--listen for it at 4:07), and the open-ended gleam of the pentatonic scale. By contrast, there's only one Phrygian mode here--i.e. the classic, minor-sounding "gypsy" scale. These bright modes, which are also heard in a lot of African pop, give the record an extra sunburst glow. Nusrat's extravagant ecstasies here, then, have not only the soul-deep ache of all great sacred music but an irresistible spring in their step, as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Blues Bite (Guest Post by Mark Edward)

A high school friend of mine who reads the blog and is a fan offered this very thorough look at one of my favorite chords, and its use in some music I know (and some I don't). I first learned this distinctive chord at NAU Music Camp, where the late, great Grant Wolf called it the "blues bite," and I use it whenever I can, almost to a fault (it opens this song, for instance). Without further ado, here's Mark, and his thoughts on the quintessential blues chord.

The 7#9 has appeared in popular music for nearly a half century. It is arguably the “bluesiest” of all chords, consisting of a major triad supplemented with both a flatted seventh and a flatted third (the #9). The dissonance created by the use of both the major and minor third in the same chord gives the 7#9 a unique, pungent sound easy to recognize and difficult to ignore.

For many fans of pop/rock music, the first introduction to the 7#9 came from the Beatles’ 1966 hit “Taxman.” The verse begins with George Harrison playing a straight D7 over Paul McCartney’s rumbling bass line, creating an unsettling feeling underneath the vocals. But the disquietude only gets worse when, at the end of each line, Harrison adds the #9 to the chord (first heard at :13):
The jarring sound of the 7#9 provides a musical exclamation point that drives home the lyrics’ frustration.

Despite the popularity and priority of “Taxman,” the musician often credited with introducing the 7#9 into the rock lexicon is Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix’s 1967 hit “Purple Haze” put the 7#9 front and center for blues-rock guitarists (first heard at ~0:23):
Hendrix’s fuzzed-out guitar sound was the perfect complement for the natural dissonance of the 7#9, and the combination spread like wildfire. Hendrix deployed the 7#9 in other hits as well, including “Foxy Lady” (in which the chord is implied but not played in its entirety) and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” (in which the chord is used sporadically). As a testament to Hendrix’s influence in popularizing the 7#9, the 1-3-7-#9 voicing that he and other guitarists use almost exclusively is commonly called the “Hendrix chord.”

Jimmy Page, whose greatest musical talent lay in repurposing borrowed elements, picked up the 7#9 baton and ran with it in the early days of Led Zeppelin. E7#9 is prominently featured in “The Hunter” section of “How Many More Times” (first heard at ~5:32):
And in the main riff of “The Lemon Song” (opening measures):
from Zeppelin’s first two albums, both released in 1969. In both of these songs, Page uses the chord to punctuate ascending single-note riffs on the guitar’s bass strings. Page also scratches the same chord in a machine-gun rhythm to open Zeppelin’s 1970 concert in Royal Albert Hall with the first few bars of “We’re Gonna Groove” (opening measures):
With its sour sting, the 7#9 emphatically heralds the band’s arrival.

At around the same time, Joe Walsh of the James Gang availed himself of the 7#9 in 1970’s “Funk #49.” (In an interesting side note, Walsh sold Page the Les Paul that became Page’s main workhorse throughout the first half of the 1970’s.) But Walsh had his own take on the 7#9. After a beautifully sloppy opening blues lick, “Funk #49” finds its groove with a stabbing A mixolydian chord-based riff (at ~0:06):
This section is followed by a descending minor pentatonic single-note riff (punctuated by a few power chords), played four times in A and then four times in B (beginning at ~0:27). At the end of this sequence, Walsh slams an E7#9, then returns to the first chord-based riff in A (~0:47).

The difference between Walsh’s usage of the 7#9 and that of the previous examples is noteworthy. In the earlier instances, the 7#9 is used to “blues up” the tonic in an otherwise slow-moving chord progression – providing harmonic tension is an end in itself because it makes the chord or riff more interesting. By contrast, Walsh uses an E7#9 to facilitate the key change from the linear riff in B back to the chordal riff in A; the chord itself is not part of either riff but rather acts as a bridge between them. The E7#9 in “Funk #49” also has a different relationship to the prevailing modality of the song, being the harmonic dominant (the V7#9 in the key of A) rather than the tonic. As a result, the tension of the chord is resolved, albeit incompletely, when the A7 of the first riff returns, whereas the tension remains unresolved in the earlier examples.

A decade later, the 7#9 became probably the most harmonically complex chord – hell, maybe the only harmonically complex chord – in the recorded canon of AC/DC. In 1980’s “Shoot to Thrill,” E7#9 appears at the end of each verse, immediately before the chorus (first heard at ~0:59):
As in “Funk #49,” the E7#9 here is a dominant chord that is resolved to the tonic when the chorus in A kicks in. As a song construction device, the V7#9 in “Shoot to Thrill” is substituted for the well-worn V or V7 chord at the end of the verse to provide a little extra tension. Although the 7#9 chord is a seldom-used component in rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young’s toolkit (his chords often consist of just the root and fifth), it bears note that the individual elements of the chord (i.e., the 1, minor 3, major 3, 5, and flat 7) are staples of lead guitarist Angus Young’s electric blues style. Thus, the consolidation of these elements in a single chord is not so far afield even for a band with harmonic boundaries as narrow as AC/DC’s.

In contrast to AC/DC, Queen uses more than its share of harmonically complex chords, so hearing the 7#9 on “Don’t Try Suicide” from 1980’s The Game is perhaps unsurprising. What is surprising, however, is how Queen’s Brian May presents the chord. By 1980, May had carved his niche as a master of multitracked guitar harmonies, and his use of bent-and-released strings, finger vibrato, and whammy-bar dives in his layered guitar parts often gives the harmonies a fluid, syrupy feel. Even when strumming chords in a single stroke, May can seldom resist nudging the whammy bar to give the chords an underwater feel. Yet the recurring D7#9 in “Suicide” is played by just a single guitar, unadorned by other harmonic instruments, and sounds (to these ears at least) to have a touch of chorus as its only form of pitch alteration – certainly none of the heavier vibrato that May often uses. When the D7#9 appears in the opening riff, it follows a chromatically ascending bass line, creating a hot splash after the bubbling bass finally boils over (first heard at ~0:12):
Later, May uses the chord to follow a signature multitracked harmonic guitar solo played over a shuffle beat. In this instance, the single jangly guitar chord effects a transition from the busy-ness of the solo to the pared-down simplicity of the opening bass line and resets the entire mood of the song (at ~2:36). And May’s austere presentation of the 7#9 in “Suicide” reminds us that this chord has its own delightful flavor that needs no embellishment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nerves on a Knife's Edge


Original Facebook post here.
Today’s formative-album replay: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom. I half-dreaded revisiting this pivotal 1982 masterpiece, for fear it wouldn't live up to the high status it's long occupied in the critical firmament, and--after an initial resistance on my part to its self-contained musical brilliance--in my own Costello pantheon.

I needn't have feared; if anything, the record sounds even richer and more resonant with age, from its magisterial songcraft to its utterly singular sonic palette, which is still unlike anything on any other Attractions record, let alone anyone else's. What struck me especially this time around was Elvis' impressively rangy vocal restraint, not to mention his ease in grabbing big notes without popping a neck vein. After years of getting used to the sound of his keening, straining, increasingly vibrato-addled larynx reach for a soulful wail or a punkish sneer, to hear his pipes gambol sweatlessly across these charts, not only the ballads but many of the rockers as well, feels like sweet relief.

Along similar lines, the record holds up as nearly oracular in terms of mapping out the diversions he would take in the coming decades: from Bacharachian and Big Band pop to tender piano standards, from stately neoclassism to spiky art-rock (I'd even rope in the word-drunk quasi-hip-hop of his newest release, Wise Up Ghost!; what else is "Beyond Belief," after all, but a kind of headlong, just-barely-sung rap?). Again, without quite sounding like any record before or after, Imperial Bedroom is like a deep-dish sampler of his pop stylings to come (with the glaring exception of country and folk, which he would spend another masterwork, King of America, mapping out). This might be why this record still turns off fans of the passionate pub-rock precocity of his debut record, or the glinting, unsheathed thrust and parry of his first great Attractions albums, This Year's Model and Armed Forces; by contrast, this Bedroom all sounds too polite, too orchestrated. It would be a mistake, though, to hear the album's sheen as a gloss, as even I did at first; I couldn't see that its considerable gleam was not deflection but crystallization--that by neatly placing the unhinged emotions and tightly coiled, self-defensive patter that are Costello's usual fare within perfectly poised pop constructions, this record achieves a cumulative intensity of feeling that's beyond the reach of the rawest punk scream.

The record does contain, in fact, a series of bloodcurdling, barely human screams (in the fierce framing music of the majestic, Dylanesque "Man Out of Time"), as well as plenty of jagged edges and dark corners. And examined for more than a moment, the architecture of even the most standard-sounding tunes here is actually pretty eccentric, and the record's seeming dips into genre (“The Long Honeymoon,” “Almost Blue”) are deceptively lulling. All the songs here, in short, are roiling, weird, as surprisingly shaped and idiosyncratic as any Costello has made. And the record's odd sound palette--the often absurd high-low vocals, the clatter of harpsichord and sitar, spacey organs that seem to float on their own otherworldly fumes, bull-in-a-China-shop bass parts that keep puncturing the decorum--makes an ideal match for the songs’ unclassifiable scope and scale. Costello has made great records since, and even some that hang together more or less as well as a whole. But I’d venture that if he wanted to, he could rest his reputation entirely on this exquisitely appointed Bedroom.

Comments:
Cinco Paul Well put. As you know, it's my favorite. The most perfect album ever made, outside of anything by the Beatles.
Rob Weinert-Kendt @Cinco: I feel that way even more now. It was an outlier at the time, and almost hard to see HOW great it was (for me). And even though it was early, it feels even more like a career capper.
Brian Parks A great record.
Joe McDade A few records simply floored me when I simply listened to them cold for the first time, without the hook of an already-favorite tune to ease me in. The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" and "Abbey Road," Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," Mazzy Star's "So Tonight That I Might See," and--don't laugh--Styx's "Grand Illusion." "Imperial Bedroom" is on that list. The first few second of "Beyond Belief" announced that something wonderful had been loosed upon us.
Justin Warner This was the one that hooked me. The sequence of Long Honeymoon-scream-Man Out of Time-scream-Almost Blue alone would be a worthy artistic legacy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Period of Grace

Original Facebook post here.
Today’s formative-album replay: Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones. All these years later, I still can’t figure out what on earth possessed this great American tunesmith to write a song about allergies, an ode to cars, and a ditty about numbers, as he did on this wildly uneven 1983 record. Was he secretly auditioning for Joe Raposo's old job at "Sesame Street"? Though he’d always flirted with novelty material ("Paranoia Blues," "One Man's Ceiling," even "Kodachrome" and "50 Ways"), the subject matter and lyrics, not to mention the saggy sound, of a fair amount of the tracks here betray nothing so much as creative exhaustion. After the somewhat unwieldy, often brilliant but cool-to-the-touch concept album/film One Trick Pony, he seemed to be flailing for something to sing about, or a reason to write songs at all. Even the good tunes here--the ambling title track, a kind of middle-aged sequel to "Kathy's Song"; the warmly glowing "Rene and Georgette Magritte"; the sidelong memoriam to John Lennon, "The Late Great Johhny Ace"--are sad, hollowed-out, apologetic-sounding folk pop. It’s true, this is not the case with the convincingly upbeat "Think Too Much," which sounds in hindsight like the missing link between this awkward middle period and the globe-trotting guitar pop that was about to make Simon a star all over again.

Still, I have a big soft spot for this burnished, melancholic record--his first new release at the time since I'd became a teenage fan of his lapidary songcraft--because it accompanied my own searching, introverted high school years. Though I generally remember that as a happy time, in fact, this record reminds me like few other artifacts of those days how much I partook of the solitary, self-dramatizing introspection that can be, in moderation, one of the satisfactions of that rough/tender age. I think part of his appeal for me, then as now, was that when he wasn't being weirdly trivial, as in "Allergies" or "Cars Are Cars" (actual title), he was singing with a kind of wry, quietly nervy circumspection about grown-up problems, about small ironies and serendipities, about spiritual conundrums; learning to love this music accordingly made me feel grown-up, too. And it occurs to me that even since his days with Garfunkel, Simon was always an old soul with an ear for young music--at least one reason why his most recent release, So Beautiful or So What, recorded in his 70th year, is among his best. His actual age is catching up with his spiritual age.

Certainly a part of the appeal of Hearts and Bones, too, was that literally no one else I knew in high school had ever heard of this record, let alone listened to it. It was my music. Then, in 1986, I went off to college, and Simon went to South Africa, and before I knew it, he belonged to everyone again. His underlying craft and lyrical preoccupations hadn't changed all that much, really, but mbaqanga--and later, batucada--clearly gave him the jolt he needed after this downer.

Comments:
Al Rose Nicely done, Rob
Greg Keller Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it's true.
David Tobocman One of my favorites. I love an underdog. Nice article.
Mary Kate Karr Petras "Cars Are Cars" is the one (and I mean only one) Paul Simon track I routinely skip. Not so crazy about "Allergies" or one of the "Think Too Much" tracks (can't remember which one), either. But "Rene and Georgette Magritte," "Train in the Distance," "Hearts and Bones" and particularly "Late Great Johnny Ace" formed a core part of my high school listening (just a couple of years behind you, apparently).
Jack Lechner That record is the equivalent of Neil Simon's play "The Star Spangled Girl," which inspired this legendary assessment by Walter Kerr: "Neil Simon, your friendly neighborhood gagman, hasn't had an idea for a play this season, but he's gone ahead and written one anyway."  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Break Down and Crawl

Original Facebook post here.
Today’s formative-album replay: Prince, Graffiti Bridge. Is this when Prince jumped the shark? Even at the time, this uneven soundtrack to the ludicrous 1990 film of the same title sounded half-flaky and half-inspired (at best). So why did I end up spinning it so much? I revere Sign O the Times much more, enjoy Lovesexy and Purple Rain more consistently, even think more highly of the Black Album than this largely tinny pseudo-revue. And yet song for song I know this record all too well, and I think it has partly to do with how much I love a handful of the tracks on it as much or more than any in Prince’s catalogue, and partly to do with the weirdly intimate, homespun quality those great songs have in spades, which the bad songs also partake of; it's hard to tear them apart, much as I'd like to.

If "homespun" seems an odd word for the often dense soundscapes Prince concocts, I find it an apt way to describe the intense single-mindedness of the record’s sound, the sense of a solitary musical vision rattling around in a self-reinforcing echo chamber, both figuratively and literally--I can almost see the man building these songs layer by layer, sound by sound, into the wee hours in some tricked-out home studio. I think this roomful-of-mirrors aspect accounts both for the special intensity of the record’s highs and for the bad-idea pile-ons of its low moments.

Indeed, though it’s above my pay grade, it probably says a lot about Prince’s psychology that a sense of solitude would emerge so strongly from a record so crowded with guest appearances and group-chorus singalongs. But the too-closeness is there from the opening “Dear Dad” monologue and tantrum-like drum blasts of “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got,” an upbeat song in a major key that nevertheless manages to set a tone of teeth-clenched tension, and which establishes the record’s junky, springy sound, a mix of electric guitar crunch and synth honey over taut, hip-hoppy beats. “New Power Generation” is a somewhat perfunctory anthem, and it’s not until the third track, “Release It,” that the record really takes off, with Morris Day doing his slickster shtick over Prince’s snappiest, slipperiest backing track ever. The high is sustained through the sinuous stomp and sweep of “The Question of U” and the light, tasty grind of “Elephants and Flowers,” and it rises again with the smoky, sneakily dramatic “Joy in Repetition,” one of many such songs that makes you wish an actual film had sprouted around it.

That’s pretty much the sum of Graffiti Bridge’s achievement--four or five great tracks out of 17--with the rest alternating between disposable pop, clammy funk, and heavy-spirited balladry. Guest appearances by Tevin Campbell, Mavis Staples, and George Clinton are, if not outright embarrassments, then missed opportunities, while the rest of the songs with Day and The Time are shruggingly average party jams at best. But all have the thing that make this record compelling, if only intermittently listenable--that gritty/cute bounce swathed in ever-more-baroque production that was Prince’s mid-career signature, and the sense that the general had gotten lost in his own labyrinth, where the path had become both interestingly dark and frustratingly opaque.

Comments:
Kurt Kassulke Joy in repetition is one of my favorite lesser known Prince songs. I liked Tevin Campbell (round and round?) as well. And Mavis Staples is always amazing.
Jason Benjamin The beginning of him losing all restraint and me bailing out as a fan. Graffiti would have been a very strong album if he had kept it to 8-10 songs. There is no saving the movie, although the Rifftrax crew could probably have a ball.
Rob Weinert-Kendt Yeah, for all my love of those four or five great songs, this was basically the end of my following his work with any kind of attention. And I would LOVE to see a RiffTrax of the movie.
Kirk Pynchon Release is brilliant simply for this one lyric" "Who told you women liked men with no money?"
Mark Watkins release it boy
Mark Watkins tick tick bang - c'mon!
Mark Watkins He worked on a couple pretty good/great songs on the new janelle monae abum (sic)
Mark Watkins post hog -- sorry, went back and listened -- my 2 goose bump tracks have always been Question of U and Still Would Stand All Time (if you can get past the treacly Disney beginning at 3:20 it kicks in hard) for the coordinated hand claps and choir work -- both are emotional experiments, creepy and beautiful. definitely this --> compelling but intermittently listenable
Rob Weinert-Kendt @Kirk: Believe it or not, but I have always heard that line as "Who tortures women like men with no money?" I don't know what that says about me. And @Mark, the new Janelle joint is great--she's his true heir, it seems clear.       

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Land of Hope and Glory*



Original Facebook post here.
Today’s formative-album replay: John Williams, Star Wars. How much tunefulness can a film score bear? This revisit to an iconic record of my childhood makes me realize why I’ve since come to prefer Alex North’s glinting, tectonic dissonances and Bernard Herrmann’s tense, swollen fugues to the brash, foursquare tunesmithing of Williams. Don’t get me wrong--Williams has also proven to be a master of the savvy melodic minimalism that ideally suits the film medium, not only with Jaws but with some pulsating cues from JFK (“The Conspirators” is a particular favorite). And there is no denying the immediate and visceral appeal of the alternately soaring and swirling space-opera themes he generated here from spare parts of Holst, Korngold, and Stravinsky, among others, or with his churning, oceanic orchestrations; when all the cylinders are firing, this music epitomizes the ripe, earnest pop triumphalism that made these films explode in, and effectively redirect, the cultural bloodstream.

But the downside of the score's sugar highs is that all those big, 16-bar melodies jockey and crowd each other for dominance in too many of these tracks. All those catchy tunes are too catchy by far, and as such they resist the constant repurposing and reshuffling that is much of the work of a film score. The result is leitmotif overload: a smattering of the Force theme here, a little brush of Leia there, a stab of Luke's octave-leaping signature to top it--all stitched together with a surfeit of scare chords and melodramatic vamping. The tracks that tend to work best, by contrast, spin engaging textures from simpler, sturdier material, like the Rite-of-Spring-derived desert music linked above. There’s real wit and menace, and wonder and indeterminacy, room to imagine, in this stuff--the sweet spot of a good film score.

Next to a propensity for melody, Williams' other strength-to-a-fault is rhythmic propulsion; while much of this score is rightly seen as derivative in one way or another, the pulse-pounding punch of the "Tie Fighter Attack" music, for instance, sounds like a fresh contribution to the medium, hotwiring a swashbuckling orchestral assault to space-borne action in a way that may seem inevitable or old-hat now but was a breakthrough of a kind at the time.

But there's a reason that while I can listen to North's Spartacus soundtrack, or any of the Herrmann/Hitchcock big three (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho) straight through, I long ago trimmed this record to a mix of a few indispensable tracks (including, of course, the sly, letter-perfect “Cantina Band” swing). While a film score’s effectiveness is most properly judged in tandem with the film it was written for, there’s evident pleasure in hearing film music by itself or there'd be no market for records like this. And all these years later, this record sounds to me like a white elephant. (I feel duty-bound to add that I’ve based these observations on a replay of the original 1977 double album, a notorious cut-and-paste job by Williams himself; the more recently remastered “New Hope” release does seem to be a more satisfying listening experience, based on a cursory sampling, than this collection’s exhausting kludge.)

*This is how Williams describes the "throne room" theme in the original liner notes.

Comments:
Sean Williams This is fantastic. I was doing some animation for a Music Education publisher and my six-year-old was forced to listen to "Mars" about 800 times. When someone pulled up Angry Birds; Star Wars on their iPad, he said, "Hey dad, is that the piece you were animating?" I was able to play through the original piece with him, show him the time signature and the subtle movement changes and he really responded to it. I know the charges of theme-borrowing is a given at this point, but it's interesting to me *how much more interesting* the original is.
Douglas Green Wow, Rob - WOW! Your writing and depth is amazing. I guess I'd disagree with your general thesis here, I think because I'm old enough to have been a movie-geek teen when this little flick came out, and was charmed at the time by its simplicity and obviousness - the score fit perfectly with the dorky retro nature of the fun movie. It was only later that it became taken so seriously, and compared to Cinema Greats. Everything you say here is true, but to me it's like saying "The Little Mermaid" soundtrack is simplistic compared to "West Side Story." Of course it is - it's a kids' movie. Well once, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, so was "Star Wars!" But still, I'll repeat... WOW!