10 Classic Film Scores: Jordan’s Take

Goblin Suspiria

Goblin’s partnership with Dario Argento is firmly etched in history

The below film scores should require no introduction.

Some are oft mentioned and referred to as inspiration when current film-makers wish to create rousing themes to reach the hearts of the audience, and others remain under-appreciated despite their unquestionable importance.

Then, there’s The Wicker Man.

Immediately you will notice a significant lack of John Williams, whose work I, like every other film fan worldwide admire, but I’ve endeavored to mention some that are more personal, and that I revisit time and time again. Be sure to check back in next week for Eddie’s list also, and whether you’ve heard the below themes and songs before or not, take a minute and enjoy some fine examples of one of the most important components of film making.

Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone – the legendary musician hard at work

10. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Music by Ennio Morricone. Film directed by Sergio Leonie

Great music has the ability to evoke strong emotions through its perfect composition,and in doing so binds a moment to your heart and mind indefinitely. The pan flutes that dictate Morricone’s score for Leonie’s swansong Once Upon a Time in America return me to the streets of Brooklyn and the tragedy that occurred there.

This is a beautiful theme that is impossible to forget.

9. Candyman (1992)

Music by Philip Glass. Film directed by Bernard Rose

Candyman is a haunting film. It is also a terrifically mature one, with a strong, adult heroine facing a supernatural villain scarred by a terrible past. Philip Glass’ piano score with vocal backing translates this mood wonderfully, escaping any blunt horror movie music trappings.

8. Cool Hand luke (1967)

Music by Lalo Schifrin. Film directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Paul Newman’s Luke being teary eyed, softly singing and strumming his guitar on his bunk after hearing of the death of his mother may be the standout music moment from Stuart Rosenberg’s non-conformist masterpiece for many, but for mine Lalo Schifrin’s Academy Award nominated score is just as lovely.

7. Taxi Driver (1976)

Music by Bernard Herrmann. Film directed by Martin Scorsese

I originally had Bernard Herrmann’s gritty, earthy jazz inspired main theme atop this list, so don’t let the fact that its slipped to 7th put you off. The sleazy, darkened streets of New York City as viewed by Travis Bickle come alive in a composition essential to the film’s longstanding power.

6. The Wicker Man (1973)

Music by Paul Giovanni. Film directed by Robin Hardy

The Wicker Man is an unclassifiable, strange experience; being part horror, thriller and folk musical. Each song has its own unique feel and meaning, with Corn Rigs and Gently Johnny being the most recognizable. The best though? Willows Song.

5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003)

Music by Howard Shore. Films directed by Peter Jackson

There wouldn’t be a fantasy fan alive who doesn’t feel inspired when listening to Howard Shore’s rousing music for the great trilogy, as essential to Middle Earth as Hobbits, Orcs and a certain ring. In my opinion this even tops John Williams’ work on Star Wars and his Spielberg collaborations.

4. The Thin Red Line (1998)

Music by Hans Zimmer and the Choir of All Saints. Film directed by Terence Malick

The effortlessly mesmerizing sound of the Melanesian Choir singing Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi backed by image of the picturesque Guadalcanal could be Terence Malick’s most astute moment as visionary director. The Thin Red Line is a study of the inherently violent nature of man and how it conflicts with the Earth’s natural majesty, and both these choirs and the score by Hans Zimmer do well to show to futility of war and hate.

Many time I have laid down and listened to both musical styles and marveled at the marriage between them.

3. Halloween (1978)

Music by John Carpenter. Film directed by John Carpenter

I’m hesitant to picture a world without John Carpenter synthesizer scores. It’s just too horrible to imagine. In 1978 he changed the face of the American slasher film with Halloween, and displayed in it not only his enviable tension building skills through taut directing, but also his ability to further a scene with a simple, relentless tune. This component of his work would wind up being his most influential, and he again produced excellent scores for The Fog and Escape from New York.

2. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Music by Ennio Morricone. Film directed by Sergio Leonie

It may surprise some that Sergio Leonie does not boast an extensive catalog, but the reason his name is still slipped into endless conversations is because his movies looked and sounded so extraordinary, and as a result are now synonymous with the mere mention of cinema itself. Before Once Upon a Time in America, he worked with Morricone on The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, and every single audio cue that makes its way through the speaker guarantees each of their legacies.

This main theme is mystical, adventurous and utterly unique.

1. Suspiria (1977)

Music by Goblin

Film directed by Dario Argento

Suspiria is renowned as being one of the most frightening and viscerally lavish film experiences of all time, and in order cultivate a paranoia among the cast that would seep through in their performances and add to the surreal aura, director Dario Argento would play the music of progressive rock group Goblin on set.

The theme to Suspiria ranks as Goblin’s biggest hit, and for good reason, the escalating bells and off-putting twangs combined with a voice that floats in and out of focus is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand erect, and remarkably its only one of many classic pieces they composed; their genius can be further explored in their other collaborations with Argento, most notably Profondo Rosso, Tenebre and Zombi (Dawn of the Dead).

29 responses to “10 Classic Film Scores: Jordan’s Take

  1. Good post here. That theme from Candyman is really good. I forgot how well made that movie was. It’s not your usual slasher movie and it belongs up there with something like Silence of The Lambs(whose music was composed by Howard Shore of LOTR). That theme from Suspiria still gives me chills when I hear it. Glad to see it’s number one

    • Hey mate. Agree about Candyman – I remember watching it when I was far too young and avoiding mirrors for a few days afterwards.. like silence of the lambs it’s a deeply chilling experience.

  2. Believe it or not I was listening to the theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as I opened and read this post! Movie soundtracks made up about 90% of my music collection until I was into my 20s. I remember doing a short assignment in school on what would movies be like without the soundtrack to go with them. Although there have been some very effective uses of silence also!

  3. I still maintain that Conan The Barbarian has the most consistently brilliant soundtrack – it’s the only full one on my iPod while many of the main themes above appear. Actually, full Departures soundtrack is on there too

  4. Ennio Morricone is easily my favorite of the old, classical composers. His sweeping scores often remind me of a time in which the west was won. He’s even done work on modern films, like Django: Unchained and been just as relevant as he ever was before.

    • Nicely put. I love his work on early Giallos too such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. His work with Tarantino has absolutely continued his legacy in a great way.

    • Hey Anna. I could never grow tired of listening to Goblin, and never get sick of watching Argentos films.. they are a partnership that shaped horror cinema!

  5. You probably could have fit Morricone in here a few more times without being too far off

  6. Your number 10 is my number 1. Thin Red Line is a stunning soundtrack and the inclusion of The Wicker Man is very cool.
    Some other notable soundtracks:
    Cinema Paradiso, Vertigo, Blade Runner.
    Great list. Nice work.

  7. Great article. I love seeing Suspiria on this list… and topping it! This is one of my fav horror themes. I heard it inspired Carpenter on Halloween. Any truth? For me, this theme compares to Exorcist, Tubular Bells(?).

    I love that you have Zimmer & Thin Red Line. I liked this introspective war movie more than Pvt. Ryan. Like most of your scores it compliments the imagery and themes, whereas Star Wars or Back to the Future take over. Still awesome, but just as triumphant when they stand alone.

    Have you ever heard Philip Glass’ score for Scorsese’s KUNDUN? It’s one of my fav underrated examples.

    Great stuff. Cheers on the article!

    • Yeah I think so. They never really collaborated but Carpenter did reference Argento quite a bit in interviews and you can hear distinct similarities in the 2. Tubular Bells is a masterful piece.
      Same with me – I like scores they evoke emotions other than just excitement which Williams is known for.
      No I haven’t! Will correct that shortly.
      Cheers, Jordan

  8. I just watched the trailer for Queen of the Desert and couldn’t believe my ears… They’re using the theme from Thin Red Line! How can they blatantly rip it off like that?

  9. Pingback: 10 Classic Film Scores – Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  10. Pingback: July 2015 Favourites | FILM GRIMOIRE·

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