Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Movie Themes

Movie Themes: Part 1

I love classic movies. And one of the best parts of these films from the 1960s is their iconic theme songs. So looks like it's high time we had a new post featuring the music that lives beyond the silver screen.
From the quintessential episode in the James Bond series, "Goldfinger" was the title song of 1964 film of the same name. Composed by John Barry, the song was performed by Welsh singer Shirley Bassey for the film's opening and closing credits. In 1965, Bassey enjoyed her only Top-40 Billboard hit with this title song, which peaked #8, while the original soundtrack of Goldfinger hit #1 in the US the same year. While technically a one-hit wonder, Bassey always sold out concerts in Las Vegas, and was a bigger star in her native Britain. Don't think anyone will ever forget this classic Bond number!
American composer, conductor, and arranger Henry Mancini is cited as one of the greatest composers in the history of film, having earned 4 Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, 10 Grammy Awards, and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.        Remembered for so many movies and TV scores, he is best known for the jazz-idiom theme to the The Pink Panther film series, the first film in 1963. The tune was issued as a single in 1964, reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart and won three Grammy Awards.With the tenor sax solo played by Plas Johnson (a Wrecking Crew session musician!), "The Pink Panther Theme" is noted for its quirky, unusual use of chromaticism which is derived from the Hungarian minor scale (gypsy/romani scale) with raised 4th and 7th degrees (that's for all your music theory nerds).
Speaking of Henry Mancini, he also composed the classic tune "Moon River" with lyricist John Mercer.  It received an Oscar for Best Original Song for its first performance by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. It also won Mancini the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Mercer the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Covered by many artists, it became the theme song for Andy Williams, who first recorded it in 1961 and performed it at the Academy Awards ceremonies in 1962, going on to sing the first eight bars at the beginning of his eponymous television show. Although his version never charted and Hepburn's version was not even included in the original soundtrack, an album version recorded by Mancini and his chorus was released as a single and became a number 11 hit. Here's the most famous version today by the late Andy Williams.

Next, we have the 1967 spy comedy film Casino Royale, loosely based on Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel.
The original music is by Burt Bacharach, an American singer-songwriter, composer, record producer, and pianist known for his 73 Top-40 hits in the US. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass performed some of the songs with Mike Redway singing the lyrics to the title song as the end credits rolled (a version of the song was also sung by Peter Sellers). The title theme was Alpert's second #1 on the Easy Listening chart where it spent two weeks at the top in June 1967 and peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. I tried to like this movie, but even with actors like Peter Sellers, David Niven, Ursula Andress, and Orson Welles, it was still an odd debacle. 
Now here's a movie I do love, and with another big Burt Bacharach song as well (also written with his lyricist buddy Hal David). The 1969 American Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid featured pop singer B. J. Thomas performing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," which won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year and hit #1 on the US chart in January 1970. Sales of also exceeded one million copies, with Thomas being awarded his third gold record.

It was recorded in seven takes, after Bacharach expressed dissatisfaction with the first six. In the film version of the song, B. J. Thomas had been recovering from laryngitis, which made his voice sound hoarser than in the 7-inch release. The film version featured a separate instrumental break when Paul Newman undertook stunts on a bicycle (clip of from the scene here). Here's a TV performance by the distinctive B. J. Thomas (I think he may have inspired Han Solo's wardrobe in Star Wars).