Since my copy of the soundtrack from ‘Thumbsucker’, VDO’s latest feature film, arrived in the mail yesterday (and here it is):
I though I’d post what little I know about soundtrack collecting and some comments about some of the soundtracks to VDO’s films which are available on CD
Soundtrack collectors are an interesting breed. The vast majority of them collect what are called ‘scores’, that is to say, music specifically composed for a movie. The most famous film scorer you are likely to be familiar with is John Williams. Williams scored Star Wars, Superman, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Jaws, ET, Schindler’s List — a lot of movies including JFK (which VDO has a tiny cameo in).
Williams is schooled in classical music and very much interested in orchestral music and thus is probably the latest in a long line of classically oriented movie scoring composers.
But not all film scorers working today are classically focused. The best known of them is probably Danny Elfman. If you’re a child of the 1980’s you probably heard of his now defunct band ‘Oingo Boingo’. If you’re not, chances are you hear his work everytime an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ is broadcast over your TV into your living room. The same sort of career long pairings of John Williams and George Lucas or Steven Spielberg are true of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton. Elfman while not a classical musician sort of mixes it up between synthesizers and computer technology and an orchestra when he scores for movies like ‘Ed Wood’ or ‘Men In Black’ or TV.
But he can also write a pop tune like ‘Weird Science’ which also got used in the 80s movie of the same name. So Elfman’s pretty versatile as is say, Stewart Copeland, former drummer with the 1980’s band ‘The Police’ and now a man who has scored anything from TV series like ‘The Equalizer’ to films like the 1998 TV remake of ‘The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3’ (the one with VDO cast in the part of Mr. Blue which character actor Robert Shaw did such brilliant work with in the original theatrical version).
Since ‘American Grafitti’ — the classic George Lucas film, a second type of soundtrack is also prevalent — the ‘compilation’. What Lucas did that was so revolutionary in putting music to ‘Grafitti’ was to use his collection of old 45RPM records from his teenage years to provide the music for a story about California teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This of course was such a runaway hit with audiences that the widespread popularity of 1950s rock and soul and doowop today largely stems from Lucas getting those songs heard by a broad audience back in 1978 (there really wasn’t much in the way of ‘oldies radio’ in the USA until ‘Graffiti’).
How do most old time hardcore soundtrack collectors feel about the ‘compilation’ soundtracks? They largely don’t like them, mostly because they would like to see more original music created to go along with movies rather than trying to recycle popular music songs and grafting them onto a movie or TV show.To some extent, I think they have a valid argument.
The Rolling Stones or Prince already can release music anytime they want. But when big music groups or artists take on scores to the exclusion of a composer, that’s one less chance for a composer to reach his or her audience.
However, that’s not to say that a director can’t ever effectively add existing music to a movie and give the movie greater emotional impact. I don’t much care for Quentin Tarantino’s movies, but his soundtracks are great — they are largely like Lucas’s ‘Graffiti’ approach, pulling songs from your own music collection and putting them to scenes. As a recovering pop music collector, I can appreciate that approach. So even though I find both ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ boring to look at, I could hum along with Chuck Berry or tap my toes to Stealers Wheels.
So it’s no surprise that on really big movies, sometimes two soundtracks get released. “Malcolm X” has both a score by jazz great Terance Blanchard and a compilation album with R&B and soul tunes that reflect the changing times and life of Malcolm X.
And ‘Men In Black’ has both an Elfman score and an album of pop tunes including songs by it’s star Will Smith, half of pop-rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I collect both types of soundtracks. My only requirements are that the soundtrack be an authorized release (i.e. no bootlegs or CD-Rs) on CD (I got rid of my record player decades ago and I’m not that enamored of MP3s) and that it be related to a VDO film.
I do have a few foreign versions of VDO soundtracks on CD. ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ soundtrack in the USA is an orchestral affair scored by Harald Kloser which makes use of the Vienna Boys Choir.
In Europe though, the same soundtrack has only a few Kloser cuts but also has tracks by alternative acts ‘Orgy’, ‘Filter’, the Finnish group ‘H.I.M.’, and David Bowie. Same film scored differently for different markets.
‘Mystic Pizza’ also has a soundrtack CD in Europe that I can only describe as Eurodisco and Europop (the Swiss group ‘Hot Chocolate’ that wrote the disco hit ‘You Sexy Thing’ has a song on ‘Mystic Pizza’ called ‘What About You’ and that’s the most famous group on that CD).
There are a few expensive VDO soundtracks out there. ‘The Whole Wide World’ is much sought after by old school soundtrack collectors because scoring giants Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson Williams did such a beautiful job on the music and because so few copies got made (this I know is typical of ‘score’ soundtracks on CD — my soundtrack collecting customers used to buy up every score in sight as I got them in because they never knew if or when they might see a copy again!).
‘The Velocity of Gary’ score is also a little pricey because it is on an obscure record label, Bongos of Domani, which is out of business now. Peitor Angell did a very dance oriented soundtrack for ‘Gary’.
And there are days when a soundtrack to ‘The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys’ will sell for more than $25.00 because it is hard to find now and because fans of one of the few truly talented alternative groups out there ‘Queens Of The Stone Age’ are very enthusiastic and competitive (and 2 QOTSA members did this soundtrack).
While Klaus Doldinger’s CD score to ‘Salt On Our Skin’ is tough to get in America (it wasn’t released here), a German or other European can often find a copy in a used CD bin for a fair price (note to European VDO fans — you should be trading for US VDO things with copies of the ‘Salt On Our Skin’ CDs ;-)
But most of the other scores or albums will sell for no more than $25.00. So this is an area where anyone can afford to collect.
UPDATE: all of the available soundtracks to VDO films that are on CD can now be seen at: