Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Ron Grainer “Tales of the Unexpected”
 John Williams “Jaws”
 Bernard Herrmann “Psycho”
 Bernard Herrmann “The Murder”
 Goblin “Profondo Rosso”
 Goblin “Suspiria”
 John Carpenter “Halloween”
 John Carpenter “Chariots of Pumpkins”
 Jerry Goldsmith “Ave Satani”
 John Williams “Superman”
 Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone”
 Harry Manfredini “Friday the 13th (Main Theme)”
 Harry Manfredini “Friday the 13th (End Theme)”
 Rick Wakeman “The Burning”
 Jerry Goldsmith “The Landing”
 The Prodigy “Funky Shit”
 Bruno Nicolai “La coda dello scorpione – Sequence 1”
 Charlie Kelly “Dayman (Fighter of the Nightman)”
I’ve always been wired for sound. While music has always played a poor second fiddle to film to me personally, it’s a whole different bandstand when the two are married together intelligently. One of my very earliest audio/visual recollections is a British television series that aired right through the eighties by the name of Tales of the Unexpected. Brainchild of the great Roald Dahl and largely based on his short stories, this suspenseful anthology series belied its low-budget origins by attracting guest stars the likes of Peter Cushing, Susan George, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Joan Collins, Ian Holm, Charles Dance, and Jennifer Connelly, among countless others. It wasn’t bad, but paled in comparison to the far more sinister Hammer House of Horror and I’d struggle to recall more than a handful of 112 episodes from its decade long run. However, there is one thing about it that I still remember as plain as day.
On its own, Ron Grainer’s theme tune may have been little more than quaint, but fused together with the unforgettable sight of nude female silhouettes prancing suggestively against a flaming backdrop, it became the soundtrack to my sexual awakening. As a result, my memories of Tales of the Unexpected are far sweeter than it probably deserves. My ears had now been opened and, the very moment my father took me to see the Jaws I & II double bill at my local movie house, I wished they bloody hadn’t.
John Williams was the culprit here as his composition tapped into fears I didn’t even know existed yet, and astonishingly, he and tuba player Tommy Johnson secured my consternation with a grand total of two notes. Alternating between F and F sharp to masterful effect, the Great White’s well-oiled theme has been suggested to mimic both its heartbeat and its victim’s respiration. Personally, it just said “SWIM LIKE FUCK!” to me as I didn’t need a degree in marine biology to suss out that 30 ft of fearsome predator was approaching. Sharks are known for being instinctual creatures and, while traditionally a little less groomed for roughness, piss one off in its realm and it’ll know not how to relent until the tuba subsides.
Speaking of which, Williams wasn’t done yet by a long chalk, and his most dastardly trick was reserved for the film’s grand finale. After two hours of conditioning my young, impressionable mind to associate Jaws with its ominous jingle, the Great White sprung forth from the choppy waters with absolutely no musical accompaniment or prior warning. Between this and the sight of Ben Gardner’s disembodied head surging from within the hull of a wrecked vessel, I was put off idyllic beach holidays for life. Since then, those two baleful notes have become synonymous with incoming peril and are likely the reason why I choose not to bathe often.
It’s okay though as, while clearly not safe to go back in the water, no marine mammal could ever hope to survive in the shower. Later in life, I’d manage to sneak a peek at Bob Clark’s Porky’s against my parents’ implicit instructions and rather enjoy my time hanging out with Paulie the Penis in the girls’ locker room. However, not before dropping the soap bar in blind terror years earlier. Astonishingly, Alfred Hitchcock’s original intention for Psycho was not to use music at all. Instead, he enlisted frequent collaborator Bernard Herrmann to score his beast and this resulted in one of the most memorable music compositions in the history of cinema.
Light-fingered beauty Marion Crane looked pretty smug as she lathered her skin beneath the warm jets of Room Number 1 at Bates Motel. Her little deception had pocketed her a cool forty grand and her boyfriend Sam’s debts would now be a thing of the past. Sure, the motel proprietor was a bit of a dick with ears and there were enough stuffed birds adorning front desk to cause Tippi Hedren to prolapse, but at least he’d been kind enough to prepare her a sandwich. So what if Norman Bates had a penchant for spying on his guests through a strategically placed peep-hole, Marion was feeling frivolous this night and saw no reason to foam her soft, supple pelt any less thoroughly. Besides, everyone knows women in the sixties didn’t possess breasts or a vagina.
As that shower curtain was swiftly yanked back and Marion’s sud-filled eyes were greeted by what is best described as Miss Daisy Driven Crazy wielding an oversized bread knife, Herrmann and his entire string section bundled in to finish the job. Suddenly the cramped space played host to all manner of screeching violins, discordant violas, and capricious cellos, while Ms. Crane took her karma-laced punishment. Designed to confuse and disorientate, these erratic jabs of sound made their incisions just as decisively as the blade itself. With bathing and showering now well and truly ruled out, it was left to my overworked flannel to fend off any creeping fungus.
While we’re on the subject of creeping, nightmares tend to be chock-full of vile creatures that choose this particular method of transportation and it’s tough to think of another quite so magnanimous when it comes to painting his darkest dreamscapes on screen than Italian maestro Dario Argento. After failing to secure the talents of Pink Floyd for his 1975 classic Profondo Rosso to replace the composer he’d just fired, Argento turned his attentions back to his homeland and discovered a band of prog-rockers by the name of Goblin. Led by the enigmatic Claudio Simonetti, they thrashed out a soundtrack for his giallo in the time it would take to snarf down a bowl of spaghetti and the results were outrageous. Shifting a million copies in its first year, their feverish compositions marked the beginning of a truly beautiful partnership that stretched across decades.
Two years later, Argento’s gloriously contorted subconscious conjured up what many regard his pièce de résistance (myself inclusive). It doesn’t matter which part of Suspiria you scrutinize as it is immaculate from stem to stern. From the architecture of the sets, to his use of primary colors, the breathtaking brutality, and the general feeling of queasiness it evokes in its addressee, this is pretty much avant-garde filmmaking at its most quintessential. However, while 98 Kafkaesque minutes of Suspiria visuals ensured it burrowed deep into my psyche, it was Goblin’s twanging score playing on incessant loop every night when I laid my head down.
The boys really pulled out all the stops for this one. In addition to the usual instruments and tribal favorites such as the tabla and bouzouki, Simonetti also managed to get his hands on the much sought after System 50 Moog modular system and this synthesizer took their acoustics to a whole different level entirely. But they still weren’t done and found a couple of other nifty ways to chill the blood in our ventricles. Uncaring whispers danced around the chords like death’s darkest secrets, with occasional chants of “witch” on hand to loosen our skin from our bones even further. In keeping with the almost childlike flavor of the track, they then broke out into sporadic off-kilter lullaby and my last shred of innocence was relinquished that night. In all my 43 years, no single other piece of music has been so hard-wired to my mental motherboard.
The entire world was listening and one particularly keen pair of ears picked up on the soundwaves instantly. John Carpenter is often credited as one of the true pioneers of synthesizer in movies, but he’s the first to fess up as to where his inspiration derived and it is one big grazie to Goblin. Alongside technical team buddy Alan Howarth, Carpenter composed numerous electronic delights, including of course, the one about the night he came home. When Halloween first played to test audiences; the response was actually somewhat underwhelming, particularly from one bolshy female critic who bemoaned it for not being scary. The thing is, the version screened hadn’t been scored and quick-thinking Carpenter sensed that this was the all-important missing ingredient. Three days later, he’d turned something around and, while hardly the most sophisticated piano composition ever plucked from thin air, it’s unquestionably one of the more distinctive.
Suddenly the entire film was utterly transformed and Halloween went on to terrify audiences worldwide. Better yet, the synthwave was now upon us and Carpenter was right at the heart of it. Many of my all-time favorite movie themes emerged during the early eighties, from Vangelis’ title track to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, to Tangerine Dream’s Love on A Real Train from Paul Brickman’s Risky Business, and Carpenter’s composition for his very own Escape From New York, electronic was the way to go. However, if you asked me to name my personal darling of his multitude of audio achievements, then I’d have to stump for the bleeping brilliance of his score for Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of The Witch, which he composed with Howarth.
The film was poorly received by critics, dismissed out of hand by many of the faithful fans, and utterly misunderstood by pretty much everyone. The thing is, to me it felt very much at home in the universe he’s created in 1978, and audio played a massive part in upholding the Halloween tradition. It achieved this by doing away with the slow piano melodies of his earlier work, in favor of something far more urgent and imposing. I’ll never forget the very first time I viewed Halloween III: Season of The Witch and vividly recall spending 98 minutes hovering anxiously over the edge of my seat. However, it was the acute electronic brilliance of numbers such as Chariots of Pumpkins to name but one that coerced me to the brink.
Dialling things back momentarily, Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Richard Donner’s The Omen bagged the composer a long overdue Oscar and delivered me to a different brink entirely. The movie’s theme Ave Satani was positively flooded with foreboding, awash with ominous choral verse and cascading sacrilegious Latin chant. The refrain “Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus, tolle corpus Satani” disquietingly translates to “We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan” and is punctuated by shrill cries of “Ave Versus Christus” or “Hail, Antichrist!” to give you an idea of the level of subliminal seeding that Goldsmith and his ensemble were culpable of.
Pint-sized diablo Damien Thorne was one thing and it was on account of our enfant terrible and Danny Torrance from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining that it was swiftly decreed I should avoid tricycles at absolutely all costs. But it was actually nefarious nanny, Mrs. Baylock, who truly threatened a bowel breach and her twin Rottweiler who were on hand to lap up the feces. Toss in a few chords of Ave Satani and I began to feel my very sanity slipping, panic-stricken at the prospect of learning the Latin for “Sick balls!”
Enough of the doom and gloom for a moment, I say we make this shit interactive and have just the near-impossible challenge to get those temple veins bulging. You may recall we spoke earlier of the great John Williams. Well aside from the two-note terror of Jaws, he was also responsible for some of the most loved movie compositions in modern cinema. For the purpose of this brief exercise, I have selected four of this best known theme songs – Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark – and unless you’ve spent the past forty years in suspended animation, I’m guessing all four will be at least vaguely familiar. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, may appear fairly elementary as I wish for you to recite all four in turn. However, I want you to reel them off one after the other and with no more than a two second pause between each. Good luck with that.
Right then, back to beeswax and I think I’m feeling a bit of Kenny Loggins you know. The American singer-songwriter and guitarist was busy boy in the eighties and this flush spell culminated in a number of well-loved compositions from various box-office smashes. “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack was swiftly followed with the title track and super-charged “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man)” from Footloose; “Meet Me Half Way” from Over the Top; and a pair of flameout fireballs from Top Gun, namely “Playing With the Boys” and the ever timeless “Danger Zone”. Bizarrely, I’ve never actually watched Tony Scott’s high-flier from nose to tail, although I could deliver every last lyric from Danger Zone without a solitary stammer, provided you didn’t request the aforementioned John Williams megamix prior to take off.
Keeping with the theme of incoming hazard, Harry Manfredini’s soundtrack suite for Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 slasher front-runner, Friday the 13th made it abundantly clear what was waiting, if you go down to the woods today. He didn’t have a large orchestra at his disposal, but it turned out he didn’t need one. Let’s start with the motif shall we? “Ki-Ki-Ki…Ma-Ma-Ma” were the first syllables of the words “Kill her” and “Mommy” meaning that, while Jason wasn’t actually the one doing the legwork, he was right there in mommy’s head the whole time, egging her on to crack some skulls in his honor through the power of reverb.
Manfredini used spiteful audio spikes sparingly and only ever when the killer was lurking in the midst. However, it wasn’t only their dissonance that ensured audiences remained on a machete-edge but the fact that each of his jarring stingers was different to the last and played out when we least expected them. Suchlike “scare gags” became a mainstay in eighties slasher cinema and Manfredini led the charge magnificently. However, the ultimate sucker punch was reserved for the penultimate scene whereby, having lopped off her adversary’s noggin with a rusty blade, sweet Alice makes the kind of ill-informed decision cunningly designed to have us screaming at our screens in sheer exasperation. No, Alice. Not the canoe! There’s a quad bike in the tool shed.
To be fair, her choice appeared justified after a minute or so of watching her comb the gentle waves of Camp Crystal Lake serenaded by dream-like chords of comfort. Of course, we all had an idea that Manfredini was setting us up for a fall, even way back in 1980. But he lulled us into such a sense of security and serenity, and for such a protracted time, that eventually we buckled and let our guards down. The moment we did… Blammo! When you watch this scene back now, it’s not actually all that jumpy, just like the closing stinger in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. But the conniving manipulation of our emotional states ensured that we felt the full brunt of Jason’s sub-aqua lunge.
Personally I was all about The Burning and prefer Tony Maylam’s one-time video nasty to Friday the 13th any day of the calendar month. This time it was crispy cretin Cropsy performing the salmon leap and Rick Wakeman’s sharp-pronged audio stabs showcasing the arrival of those savage shears. This was never put to better use than the infamous raft scene which landed the film in hot water with the censors and is still regarded one of the most all-inclusive package deals committed to celluloid to this very day. We’d spent the best part of an hour sharing bunks with the likes of Woodstock, Fish, Marine, Barbara and lovable love rat Eddie; and felt reassured by the old “safety in numbers” free pass as they headed off in high spirits to locate a canoe that had turned up missing.
Upon spotting it discarded just a few short paddles from their coordinates, the happy campers made a B-line straight for the seemingly abandoned vessel, and the gravest thought our racing minds could muster was that they’d happen across the sliced and diced remains of their camp mate Karen on arrival. Maylam drew their journey time out to excruciating levels, but it never felt that precarious as the banjos were in full and jubilant chorus the whole way. At one point, I began to ponder whether or not they’d become snagged in a vicious undercurrent and were about to be whisked downstream and dashed on the rocks, such was their complete inability to make a solitary splash of progress. But as our old pal and slingshot wizard Woodstock leaned in to claim himself a kayak, guess who had performed the seemingly impossible task of stowing away in the hull undetected? I’ll give you a clue – snippety snip bitches.
Cropsy came, Cropsy conquered, Cropsy pruned the numbers by a full five in the time it took Wakeman to stab our ears to shit. This is a pretty decisive way of securing the undivided attention of your audience, but it’s not the only way. You see, it’s all about knowing when to stick it to the addressee and when to refrain from underscoring the intimacy. One perfect example of this would be Goldsmith’s “tension and release” score for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Employing an archaic brass wind instrument named “Serpent” to personify the titular terrorizer and signify its on-screen presence, he was also aware of when to pull in the reins and the hallmark chestburster scene offered one such self-enforced embargo.
Realizing that sight of hapless host Kane giving birth to a hungry hot dog through his sternum and Lambert’s 100% authentic “Oh God” lament would be sufficient to hit home on this occasion, he supplied this blood-spattered buffet no audio side relish whatsoever, and the scene felt that much more intimate and demobilizing as a result. As a sufferer of chronic acid reflux, I understand how critical it was for Scott to focus on the astringent taste of this frightening food fight, as opposed to sound and my esophagus scorches at its recollection. Sometimes, less is more. That said, do you know what else is more? More. In excess of what is required. Too much, almost. But not quite. In many regards, just right.
How about a rousing slice of European techno breakbeat to liven this little soirée up a smidge? I can almost hear Pierre Fournier turning in his cello case as I write this but I reckon that’s just disco twinges. Enough of this Nostromo bullhang, set your stardates for 1997 as we’re off to the Event Horizon to pull some space shapes. Considering no one can hear you scream in the vast ocean of emptiness, it seems the ideal nightspot for an unlicensed rave and the good folk from beyond Event Horizon have even been kind enough to pitch in with a disco ball for that full-on night fever flavor. I say disco ball, when I hear the hovering black orb in question prefers to be known as dubious sphere and there is little euphoric about the mosh pit it leads to.
So let me get this straight. These people are having fun right? You’re sure they’re not suffering in ways most unimaginable? Is that a gurn I discern? Whatever happened to line dancing? Does nobody dolce doe anymore? If there’s any thigh-slapping planned, might I request that you slip back into your epidermis first. Not sure I wish to stick around for the grand crescendo you know. Yes I know that Sam Neill’s in the V.I.P. lounge but I think I’ll just hang out with Laurence Fishburne thanks. Tell you what, let’s just skip to the closing credits shall we and get down to what the flyer clearly stated. Special guests – The Prodigy. Over the years, I’ve sailed many a groove armada to this band’s pulsating electronic breaks and seldom has their presence been so welcome as it is here.
Had Event Horizon been the great film it repeatedly hinted at being, then perhaps something a little less euphoric than “Funky Shit” would have been better suited. However, while Anderson’s snappy interstellar teaser delivered us to the very brink of Club Event Horizon, it was ultimately turned away by the bouncers. Settling for very good as opposed to true excellence, it was now deemed kosher to beam up the boys from Braintree and predictably, they had they phasers set to stun. Of course, it helped that I was already familiar with the track from their Fat of The Land LP, but it just seemed perfectly placed to send me out of the auditorium on a high. Alas, the car park of the local multiplex isn’t the ideal spot to score yourself a hit of E but I was grateful for the token head rushes nonetheless.
At any rate, it’s started to dawn on me how gargantuan the can of worms I’ve opened with this one as dozens of gifted composers haven’t even received a mention yet. Thus, before we arrive at a rather unusual encore selection, please allow me to drop a few more names into the hat and extend my humble apologies to each of them for the woeful lack of coverage. Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Fabio Frizzi, James Horner, Howard Shore, Christopher Young, Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell, John Harrison, Jay Chattaway, Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave, Vangelis, Cliff Martinez, Noir Deco, Mica Levi, Disasterpiece, Sky Wiklar – all of the above any many more besides have been instrumental in bolstering my lifelong attachment to cinema and provided an additional layer of emotional resonance to numerous films I will always hold close to my heart. That said, my closing audio selection is for selfish reasons alone and feel free to commence the eye rolling if It’s Almost Sunny in Philadelphia doesn’t tickle your fickle pickles.
Having recently been renewed for a thirteenth and fourteenth season, FXX’s long-running series is in clear and present danger of becoming the most enduring live-action sitcom in American TV history and I’ll be overjoyed when it reaches that particular milestone as I’ve laughed myself fetal on occasions too countless to tally kicking back with “The Gang” in the Irish bar they call home and I call the last stop, Paddy’s Pub. This five-piece ensemble consists of twins Dennis and Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds aka The Aluminum Monster (don’t ask), their pals Charlie and Mac, and father in all but any responsibility whatsoever, Frank.
How best to sum up “The Gang” I ponder. Dishonest, narcissistic, self-serving, gluttonous, cocksure, petty, spiteful, underhand, conniving, manipulative, slothful, ignorant, unethical, downright sociopathic – and these are just their good points. Prepared to plumb the depths of human depravity in order to achieve their nefarious goal of inflicting mental, emotional and physical torture on one another (often for no better reason than personal amusement), the perfidious Philly five have gotten in quite the list of scrapes since the show first aired in 2005. Here are just a vague smattering of their escapades to give you a vague idea of precisely who we’re dealing with.
Foraging around in dumpsters for salable items, plugging up open wounds with garbage, huffing paint from old gym socks, smoking crack pipes and feigning mental disability in order to qualify for welfare, blackmailing people into sleeping with them, stalking their crushes, having sex with one another’s love interests (and mothers), jumping the bones of geriatric bums for craft beer recipes, seducing men of the cloth, hoodwinking fathers into putting on lap dances for their own daughters, orally siphoning gasoline from the pumps, getting out of awkward social engagements by starting house fires, feeding people their own dead pets, hiding naked inside leather couches to earwig on conversations, forcing each other to consume inedible items, taking out life insurance premiums on those on suicide watch, threatening to release deadly anthrax unless they are gifted Valentine’s cards, attempting cannibalism but only on white cadavers as they taste better, performing botched Botox on one another, pretending to suffer from AIDS in order to skip the queues at water parks before pointing out it’s “not the gay AIDS”, blacking up to shoot a racist home-movie trailer of Lethal Weapon 5 for high-schoolers – and that’s just the freaking pilot!
Seriously though, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is pure comedy plutonium and has been responsible for at least three of my minor strokes. It has also provided me with Dayman (Fighter of the Nightman) – a song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about a master of karate and friendship for everyone. Actually it is but damn is it catchy. And on that bum note, our short celebration of all things audible draws to a close. I trust you have enjoyed this jaunt through my mental archives and we’ll have to jam again sometime. Until that time comes, I shall remain truly, madly and deeply wired for sound.