Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by Todd Stadtman from Die Danger Die Die Kill, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.
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Casino Royale (1967), Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach’s score is the glue that holds the otherwise chaotic Casino Royale together, the one consistent character in a movie absent a traditional lead. It’s also essential Bacharach, at once sophisticated and playful, and almost proudly cheesy. Oh, and catchy as hell; there are certain scenes that’ve stuck with me stubbornly over the years due only to the music that accompanied them. Besides, how can a soundtrack with Dusty Springfield’s version of “The Look of Love” as its centerpiece not rate inclusion here?
You Only Live Twice, by John Barry. All of Barry’s 007 scores are close to my heart, but I think that YOLT is by far his most challenging. Spurred by the genre bending present within the film itself, he addressed YOLT’s sci-fi aspects with an even denser than usual pallet of queasily dissonant strings, while at the same time adding an element of Asian exoticism to his usual foundation of brassy suspense riffs. The result is one of the most mysterious, intoxicating and compulsively listenable out of all his imminently listenable Bond scores, not to mention one that would provide an irresistible source of samples for trip hop producers come the 90s. On top of that, you have Nancy Sinatra’s theme, which is, to my mind (sorry, Shirley) the runaway best of the bunch.
Asoka, by Anu Malik. Asoka is by far the most frequently played out of all the Bollywood soundtracks I own, which is saying an awful lot. Anu Malik’s songs somehow manage to capture the grandeur and gravitas of the historical epic which contains them while at the same time maintaining an infectious pop sensibility. Many of the hypnotic compositions also conjure an air of magic and destiny, making for tunes that are somehow at once hummable, haunting and head bopping.
Vertigo, by Bernhard Hermann. I worried that including Vertigo would be something of a cliché, but, if I’m being honest, it has to be here. As much as the contrarian in me resists admitting it, this officially sanctioned “greatest movie of all time” is among my very favorites, an affection that carries over to its also deservedly admired soundtrack. Living up to the film’s title, these are swirling, brain-fogging compositions that lend to mania, madness and obsession a purple, seductive beauty
Danger: Diabolik, by Ennio Morricone. This may not be everyone’s Morricone soundtrack of choice. But enamored as I am of the swinging 60s, Mod/pop art aesthetics that Danger: Diabolik exemplifies, there’s no choice to be made. To my mind, no film crystallizes that aesthetic — redolent of comic books, bubblegum, pop music, popped pills, and pulp thrills – better, and Morricone supplies the perfect accompaniment — from hammered harpsichords, to twanging baritone guitars, to “I can hear the colors” psychedelic flourishes. At the same time, Danger: Diabolik is one of cinema’s coolest love stories, something that Morricone nails with the woozy, liquid chord changes and anxious modulations of “Deep Deep Down”, masterfully capturing the essence of Diabolik and Eva’s mad, doomed, but overall groovy romance within a flawlessly crafted pop gem.
Honorable mention: Raumpatrouille Orion, by Peter Thomas. I know that the subject here is feature film soundtracks, which throws the score for this German sci-fi TV series out of contention. But I nonetheless want to honor it for being the ideal musical accompaniment to the type of roguish, cocktail-fueled space sex tourism that I thought was my birthright as a child of the 60s. I also wanted to give a shout out to Thomas, who contributed so much that was slinky, stylish and swinging to the sound of European genre movies during the decade — not the least being his themes for assorted Edgar Wallace Krimis and the Eurospy adventures of Jerry Cotton.
Todd Stadtman thought that Die Danger Die Die Kill! would be a good name for a blog and now he’s stuck with it. He’s been writing about international cult and genre cinema there since 2008, in addition to being a regular contributor to Teleport City. Soon you will be able to thrill to his contributions to the World Directory of Cinema’s Turkey edition.