The Musical Legacy of John Carpenter

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Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 2 of 2)

The James Bond movie theme song comes to a conclusion with the very best of the best! From the defining songs to the smaller but still fantastic pieces that have come along across the decades, these songs have come to thrill 007 fans throughout the years. While the franchise has changed over the course of 50 years, the need for a fantastic song to kick off the latest James Bond adventure has always stayed the same.

These 11 songs represent the very heights that theme songs can reach and what truly makes a great James Bond theme. They can be campy, weird, and downright silly, but there is still something uniquely wonderful about these odes to the British superspy.

For the many lesser to terrible James Bond movie theme songs, read Part 1! It’s still fun, I promise.

Have you own personal favorites? Let me know in the comments section below!
Continue reading “Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 2 of 2)”

Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 1 of 2)

The James Bond franchise is famous throughout the world for its signature elements – thrilling spy action, the debonair actions of its lead character, gadgets galore, and memorable theme songs for each installment.

The best James Bond theme songs that both improve the films they are part of and stand on their own as fun and memorable pieces of music. The rest? Not so much. But in either case, both the bad and good James Bond theme songs are fantastic pieces of film history. They mark both the changes in the James Bond franchise and the changes in the film industry as a whole. After 23 films, they are a wonderful tradition in a series that has hit dizzying highs and nauseating lows, both in the music and the movies as a whole.

While elements of “classic” James Bond film themes have come to define many of these 24 songs, they are by no means carbon copies of one another. The shifts and changes make the music of James Bond fun to study and critique, especially when things go terribly wrong, which is a lot of this first half of the countdown.

A few rules for the countdown. Since “Dr. No” had no real theme of its own aside from the signature James Bond Theme, it is not included in here, but look for it at the end of Part 2 as a way to wrap up the countdown. Also, the only songs included here are those used in the title credits sequence, so other memorable pieces included throughout a movie or in the closing credits are excluded from the list.
Continue reading “Ranking the James Bond Theme Songs (Part 1 of 2)”

13 Songs for Your Halloween Soundtrack

Every great Halloween needs a great soundtrack, one that is equal parts holiday-appropriate and thoroughly enjoyable on its own. While there have been countless songs created for the season, many them are, quite frankly, terrible. And not in a so bad it’s good kind of way. Don’t worry, there are plenty of those types of songs on this list.

So why bother sifting through countless playlists for Halloween weeding out the worst “spooky” tracks known to man? I’ve put together a fun and festive soundtrack for Halloween right here!

Whether you are looking to have a quiet night in passing out treats to kids or go out and have some fun out in the night in the spirit of the season, these songs are perfect for making the most of Halloween night, or really any other that you want to have a tinge of scariness.

Just click on the Spotify playlist above and read on for a little history and a few thoughts on these Halloween tracks. Happy Halloween!
Continue reading “13 Songs for Your Halloween Soundtrack”

Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 5

This is it, the final five! These are my favorite film score pieces of all time. Starting with around number 10, it was hard to put these in order, but these top five songs impact me like none other.

To look back at the previous 55 (wow!) songs that I listed, visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Let me know what you think of these songs and my rankings in the comment section below. As always, I can’t list everything and I’m sure there are plenty more amazing film scores out there that I simply haven’t heard. I’m only human after all.

5. This is Berk – John Powell

How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite film scores of all time. It’s mix of orchestra, fiddle, chanting, and powerful drums make it feel timeless yet ancient at the same time. And “This is Berk” is the perfect introduction, giving listeners all of the themes up front without seeming pieced together. Starting out soft, this is the musical equivalent of a roller coaster ride, shooting up to majestic peaks and diving down into powerful brass bases.

The piece is at times mysterious and dangerous, at others bold and daring, and at others romantic. It really encompasses most of the feelings of the film as a whole, without being too obvious.  This is a world filled with adventure and danger, but it’s also equal parts funny and touching. Powell knows how to balance all of these elements and “This is Berk” is a perfect example of all those elements coming together at once.

Since this is an intro to the film, the piece should help to quickly transition viewers into the world, and it does so with ease. Once the action elements are in full swing, you are in and there’s no looking back. By itself, it works perfectly, too. It’s a rousing call to adventure and courage. “This is Berk” is the type of music you’d want behind you as you march into battle, it would seem like you couldn’t fail. It’s beautiful, it’s exciting, and it’s incredibly fun. Continue reading “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 5”

Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 4

We’ve come down to some of my all-time favorite pieces of instrumental film score ever. These are the songs that have stuck with me, both while watching a movie and long after. Some are well-loved classics, others are minor pieces of beauty. In either case, they are irreplaceable to me.

Here I list numbers 15 through six and talk about these amazing songs in a little more detail than before. Each of the scores are burrowed into my brain and committed to memory. They bring out different emotions in me and they all make their respective films better. Of course, that may not be the same for you, but maybe you’ll come to love them like I do. Write your opinions in the comment section below and tell me your thoughts on these scores and your own personal favorites.

For Part 1, click here, Part 2, click here, and Part 3, click here.

15. Cinema Paradiso – Ennio Morricone

Morricone’s main theme for Cinema Paradiso feels equal parts romantic and mournful. It’s an elegy for lost love but also a remembrance of its importance. Morricone uses very soft piano notes to underscore the entire piece, while saxophone stays in the lead. The theme stays soft and subtle for its entire runtime, keeping it romantic and in tune with the film’s soft and subtle nature.

Cinema Paradiso is all about lost love and the power of memory. It’s also focused on the power of art, film in particular. As usual, Morricone knows just how to convey the core feelings of the film he scores while not overselling it or becoming too obvious. Happiness, sadness, fulfillment, longing – they can all be interpreted from “Cinema Paradiso Titles.”

14. The Ring Goes South – Howard Shore

This is a beautiful blending of intimate emotion and adventurous beginnings, all tied together with a stirring transition. Frodo’s fears and his commitment to saving Middle Earth are both on display here, as is the grand purpose of the Fellowship that forms around him. Like many of Shore’s tracks for The Lord of the Rings, “The Ring Goes South” is not long, but it packs a wallop. It’s hard to rank one piece of Shore’s score over another, but this is a distillation of everything that’s great about it and this track makes an impact on me every time I hear it.

It all boils down to this: Shore’s main theme for The Lord of the Rings is an absolute killer. It’s instantly recognizable, but can be played in so many different contexts. It always has that hint of adventure to it, but there’s also a real sense of emotion. The Fellowship’s journey will not be easy, but it’s a grand adventure that will save the world. “The Ring Goes South” comes in at about the midpoint of The Fellowship of the Ring, and it helps propel the film in a new direction as our heroes set off on their adventure. Fantastic stuff.
Continue reading “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 4”

Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 3

Welcome back to my countdown of the 60 Best Movie Instrumental Themes. In my opinion of course. To look back at numbers 60 to 46, click here, and for 45 to 31, click here.

Once again, guidelines. These are full instrumental pieces, no lyrics, save for potentially a choir, that were written directly for a film. Let me know what you think of these beautiful babies!

30. Promontory – Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman

This is the kind of theme you want for dashing through forests, cutting down your enemies, and saving the woman you love. The main refrain of “Promontory,” and the entire score of The Last of the Mohicans, is actually taken from the Scottish song, “The Gael.” It definitely gives the piece an ancient sort of feel, with bagpipes and strings provide the main propulsion of the song, while orchestra adds sweeping textures. Violins and drums swell and recede throughout the song, but the main refrain continues on and on throughout its runtime, giving it a tireless, driving, and focused feel that is both romantic and adventurous.

29. Peppy and George – Ludovic Bource

After many ups and downs, The Artist ends in joyous, old school fashion. George Valentine is saved from a destroyed career and nearly life-ending depression by Peppy and their film-finishing dance is both the means to his salvation and a perfect representation of his character’s rebirth. You can feel their happiness and they dance their feet off. “Peppy and George” is unabashedly happy, ending the film on a note that puts a smile on your face. Continue reading “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces Part 3”

Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 2

Welcome back to my countdown of the 60 greatest instrumental pieces in the history of cinema. These are my favorite instrumental pieces from films spanning the decades. Whether they are major themes or minor pieces, these have all made a major impact on me over the years.

As a reminder, these are purely pieces from film scores and do not have singing. If I’ve left something off or ranked something in a way you disagree with, let me know. Your opinion is always appreciated!

For numbers 60 to 46, visit Part 1 of the countdown. Now, on with the show!

45. Love Theme from The Godfather – Nino Rota

This luscious, emotive piece is all kinds of Italian. Mandolins, accordions, and acoustic guitars give “Love Theme from The Godfather” a romantic vibe, while woodwinds and a chorus eventually kick in to create a greater sense of grandeur. It’s one of the most unforgettable pieces from The Godfather and any fan will recognize it right off the bat. Like the film itself, it has a great balance between quiet intimacy and in-your-face emotion.

44. The Asteroid Field – John Williams

John Williams knows how to score an action scene. “The Asteroid Field” is tense, chaotic, and unpredictable, just like the chase scene that is happening on screen. As Han, Leia, Chewie, R2, and C-3PO make a mad dash through an asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back, they take exciting risks to save their lives. The piece is full of cymbal crashes and racing strings, with every instrument playing at a frenetic pace as the score swells and recedes at just the right moments. You can practically feel The Empire right on your tail with danger closing in on all sides.
Continue reading “Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 2”

Film Scores in Focus: The 60 Greatest Movie Instrumental Pieces, Part 1

Several months ago, I did a countdown of The 30 Greatest Movie Theme Songs. It was a lot of fun to create and sparked requests for a list counting down instrumental themes. So due to popular demand and my own obsession with film scores, I present my 60 favorite instrumental pieces from film!

A couple notes on guidelines, as always. These are instrumental pieces written for movies and do not have lyrics, but some light choir work is allowed! Their titles and length are determined by their track listings on official albums. These aren’t just main themes either. If I included only them, I’d be excluding a lot of great music!

Of all the lists I have written, this has the greatest room for oversight, since there is no way I could ever have a comprehensive knowledge of all film scores. If I left something out that you love, let your opinion be heard!

60. Your Hands Are Cold – Jean Yves-Thibaudet

From the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, “Your Hands Are Cold” feels like a piece of classical music that has been around for centuries. It never overplays the romance happening on screen or bashes you on the head with overly romantic sentiment. Rather,Yves-Thibaudet’s piece beautifully underscores the relationship playing out on screen, only swelling at the right moments to squeeze your heart.

59. Stark – Brian Tyler

It took them long enough, but Marvel Studios finally gave Tony Stark a recognizable theme in Iron Man 3. Tyler’s “Stark” is a great mix between the hero theme and frenetic action scoring, making the helicopter attack set piece exciting, dangerous, and heroic. Iron Man’s theme feels much more fitting for a super hero than previous efforts, with strong brass standing out among the other instruments and announcing the hero’s presence on screen. It may be not as strong as other hero themes you’ll see on this list, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for Marvel.

58. Captain America – Alan Silvestri

This is how you score the most patriotic superhero of all time. Silvestri’s Captain America theme is the musical equivalent of the American flag blowing in the wind. The heavy emphasis on brass and soaring strings makes it feel like something from the 40’s and the rolling snare drums give it that military edge. Captain America himself is bold and powerful, so his presence on screen needs to have that strength. This theme does him justice.

57. Mark II – Ramin Djawadi

Until Iron Man 3, the Armored Avenger never really had a theme song, but if there had to be one that most defined him, it’s this. “Mark II” is not nearly as big and bombastic as other hero themes, but its mix of electric guitars and electronic blips give it a modern feel appropriate for the technology-focused hero. A great score for both making new armors in a workshop and slugging it out with an armored bad guy in the streets.

56. Over Hill – Howard Shore

A lot of The Hobbit’s score is somewhat forgettable, often with bits and pieces taken from Shore’s work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But “Over Hill” is the strongest piece so far in the new trilogy and it firmly plants itself in the new themes Shore has created. Most compellingly, it takes large pieces of its melody from the dwarves’ “Misty Mountains” song. It gives the score a more cohesive feel and implants the ideas of an epic quest with a firm goal in the minds of viewers.

55. Happy Ending – Danny Elfman

This is an appropriately sweet yet quirky way to finish a film that’s all about flawed people finding happiness. Like the story of Silver Linings Playbook, Elfman’s “Happy Ending” finishes on a positive yet realistic note. The light guitar, quiet piano notes, and soft singing that have faded in and out throughout the film come back strong to finish things out. It gives a sense of closure, warmth, and hope that goes great with the themes presented one of the favorite films of the last several years.

54. Duel of the Fates – John Williams

This is easily Williams’ most iconic piece from the Star Wars prequels, and probably the best thing to come out of The Phantom Menace. With its huge choir singing inscrutable Welsh lyrics at the top of their lungs and a full orchestra playing till their arms fall off, you can tell that “Duel of the Fates” is trying to be as epic as possible. And it works! It gets a bit exhausting by the end (just like these prequels), but the song has become as inseparable from Lucas’ films as any other piece by Williams.

53. Hope and Memory – Howard Shore

For being only 1:46 in length, “Hope and Memory” quickly runs the gamut between soft emotions and sweeping grandeur. By this point in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, viewers were already swept away into Middle Earth. But tracks like this helped to cement them further in the world. It’s just one of the many pieces of Shore’s score, but it’s a perfect example of why the soundtrack became so ingrained in the minds of film fans.

52. Star Wars Main Title – John Williams

It’s big. It’s bombastic. It’s iconic. Fans can’t really think of Star Wars without memories of Williams’ score and the opening scroll running through their heads. The two are forever inseparable. It’s also really in your face, lacking the subtlety and nuance of some of Williams’ other Star Wars work, but its iconic place in film gives the “Star Wars Main Title” an automatic place on this list.

51. Art Gallery – Mychael Danna & Rob Simonsen

(500) Days of Summer is known for the many great pop songs that are played throughout the story, but its score by Danna and Simonsen helps give the film real heart. “Art Gallery” is sweet and subtle, helping the on-screen romance feel tender and hopeful, just like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character Tom. Ukulele, bells, and piano form this very loving piece of music. Their bright tones help the film always feel positive and light, despite the heartbreak that informs much of the movie’s focus.

50. The Third Man Theme – Anton Karas

Played completely on a zither by one man, this jaunty theme opens this iconic film noir, underscores many of its moments, and ties it to the Vienna setting. What makes “The Third Man Theme” great, besides its expert composition, is that it stands in stark juxtaposition to the dark story playing out on screen. The Third Man is full of murder, deception, and underhanded dealings, but the theme feels light, happy, and carefree.

49. Why So Serious? – Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

While most of Zimmer and Howard’s work on The Dark Knight Trilogy is firmly based in orchestra, their theme for The Joker in The Dark Knight is a sharp contrast. The piece has a focus on rough electric guitars and an psychotic electric cello. “Why So Serious?” feels schizophrenic, like a mad man hiding in the shadow and ready to pounce at any moment. A whining single C note, two notes (D and C) hammered away on the electric guitar as punctuation, and an almost sub-audible bass give it a thrilling blend of punk rock and chaotic evil.

48. Collette Shows Him Le Ropes – Michael Giacchino

Like the rest of Giacchino’s Ratatouille score, “Colette Shows Him Le Ropes” is fun, light, and French. The piece feels like a romantic dance. It’s quite appropriate for the romance blossoming between the characters on screen. Lead instruments constantly switch throughout its three minutes with guitars, strings, and bells all playing the refrain at different points. It seems like Giacchino had loads of fun making this piece, along with all of the film’s score. It’s a feeling that easily transfers to listeners and the film as a whole.

47. Yojimbo Titles – Masuro Satoh

Satoh’s main theme for the samurai showdown film Yojimbo is brassy, swaggering, and very sure of itself. So it’s a perfect complement for its hero. While it opens and closes the film, it is also often played to accompany the main character as he moves from place to place, giving him a legendary feel. While Yojimbo is fairly grounded in reality, the score help it to feel a little larger than life, especially once the action becomes bombastic. Even when the odds are stacked against the nameless protagonist, the cocky score helps assure the audience of his coming victory.

46. The Son of Flynn – Daft Punk

This is a bubbling, dazzling piece of synth work by Daft Punk. Played near the beginning of the film, “The Son of Flynn” helps bring viewers into the world of Tron: Legacy and the type of score that will accompany the film throughout its run time. It’s almost hypnotic in its repetition, as the synth notes rise higher and higher while orchestral undertones drop down lower and lower. The mix of electronic and orchestral is just a small example of what makes the Tron score so great.

That’s it for Part One. Think some of these should have been higher? Left off the list entirely? Let me know. Click here for pirates, robots, superheroes, and more scores with Part Two!

5 Fantastic Christmas Songs to Make Your Holiday Bright

Merry Christmas! In the spirit of the season, I’ve decided to highlight holiday songs that I absolutely love that aren’t your traditional hymnal or tune. I won’t take up your precious holiday time with too much reading.

So kick back, enjoy those new presents, and let these five songs provide the perfect backdrop to your Christmas day or night.
Continue reading “5 Fantastic Christmas Songs to Make Your Holiday Bright”