Way back in 1984, my Dad took me and my elder brother to see Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom. I didnât really know what to expect - at the time, I hadnât seen the first Indy film - but Jonesâ blend of all-action heroism and laconic wit quickly won me over.
Several things about that trip to the cinema stick in my mind. I distinctly remember not being able to take my eyes off the movieâs breathless 20-minute opening sequence and, later on, the look of disappointment on my Dadâs face when I asked him to take me to the toilet right in the middle of the white-knuckle mine cart scene. One of the things that struck me most, though, was John Williamsâ stirring score.
I wouldnât nominate the Indy theme as the greatest in film â Iâll get to my favourites shortly â but, perhaps because of the memories it brings back, it still has the power to set my pulse racing. Just hearing it playing over the trailer for the soon-to-be-released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was enough to convince me that the new movie will be worth watching.
Others, though, are less convinced of Williamsâ talents â a discussion in the MusicRadar office led to him being described as both âThe Status Quo of soundtrackingâ and âthe most overrated film composer everâ.
It is true that some of his scores sound similar â I discovered this when I was a child, when Iâd start off singing the Star Wars theme and inadvertently switch to the main riff from Superman â but Iâd still wager that you can know more of his stuff than anyone elseâs. Oh, and Iâd also argue that nothing says âimpending shark attackâ quite as well as Williamsâ main Jaws motif.
If youâre looking for a truly great film composer, though, I wouldnât hesitate to nominate Ennio Morricone. His score for Once Upon A Time In America is easily the most touching Iâve ever heard â I even chose parts of it to be played at my wedding reception â and his work on Brian De Palmaâs film version of The Untouchables turned a good film into a great one. Iâd put both of these on my list of favourites; in fact, Morricone has written so many great scores that he almost deserves a list of his own.
Going back a bit, Iâd also suggest that Elmer Bernsteinâs score for The Magnificent Seven has achieved greatness (try singing the main theme with a mate, with one of you taking the rhythmic âbassâ part and the other covering the melody) and surely everyone reading this can hum a passable version of his theme from The Great Escape.
Other âBest Scoreâ nominations from the MusicRadar team include John Barryâs Midnight Cowboy (no one suggested his James Bond soundtracks, incidentally) and there were a couple of votes for Bernard Hermannâs Taxi Driver. Philip Glassâs name was mentioned twice, too â for his work on Koyaanisqatsi and The Hours â and everyone â Slash included â seems to love Nino Rotaâs score for The Godfather.
If youâre looking for rock musicians whoâve written rather than butchered great scores, you could do worse than seek out Jonny Greenwoodâs There Will Be Blood and Mark Knopflerâs Local Hero. Electronic musicians whoâve credibly written for film include Vangelis (Blade Runner), John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13) and Air (The Virgin Suicides).
Sadly, though, synthesized scores donât always work â in fact, my nomination for 'worst score ever' may have to go to Harold Faltermeyerâs Beverley Hills Cop. The soundtrack album and lead single Axel F may have done swift business, but the score itself (which, thankfully, was never available to buy) has dated horribly. Faltermeyer also deserves to be exposed as the writer of the offensively bombastic Top Gun Anthem.
Letâs not focus on the dross, though â tell us what you think is the greatest ever film score. Keep in mind that weâre not talking about soundtrack albums here, so no Saturday Night Fever or Reservoir Dogs. Weâll save those for another timeâ¦
By Ben Rogerson