Sunday, 22 January 2012

Top 30 CD Soundtrack Releases of 2011

2011 Merry Go Sound

Okay. So last year I was getting a lot of hassle from people to write an end of year, best movies list which I didn’t do because... basically... I was ashamed of having to exist these days on a diet of mostly US Hollywoodland releases when it comes to the first run stuff because my local multiplex, even though it has 15 screens, is too dumbed down to show non-English language movies (I have to catch up with any outstanding foreign releases on DVD and hope that the financial risk is good).

So, in it’s stead, I decided to write a review of the top 20 soundtrack CD releases of 2010 (read it here), something I felt more qualified to be able to write about, in the hopes that it would be enough to fob people off and distract them enough from the fact that I hadn’t done a “top movies” list.

Now then... this year I was all shameless and actually did do a proper best movies list (read it here) and so I thought I’d done my duty. Not so, apparently, because now I’m being asked what my favourite score CD releases of the year were. Doh!

Okay... I buy hundreds of these things every year and, with all the small boutique labels giving us restored “Holy Grail” type restored score classics on a regular basis in very small, buy-it-in-the-three-hour-window-it’s-available limited edition runs... well, lets just say that last year was a real humdinger for score releases. So much so, in fact, that I really couldn’t narrow it down to just 20.

However, I don’t always get time to listen to the stuff I buy more than once these days (I’m going to try to sort out that problem sometime soon although, apparently, my classic ipod is filled up with over a months worth non-stop listening of scores... something like 36 days of music end to end in there at the moment... thank you 160gb!), so please bear in mind that these entries are not going to be detailed. Also, just because a score is ranked higher than another, just means that “for the moment” I like that score slightly more than the other one... and that could change when I get back into listening to the other.

I’m not, for example, suggesting that The Chemical Brothers’ excellent score for Hanna is in any way, shape or form a greater score than, say, Ron Goodwin’s score for Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines... it’s just what I’m listening to more at the moment.

Also, be aware that these are CD releases for 2011... that doesn’t mean to say the film came out in 2011 and it perhaps says something about the state of modern film scoring (which is actually more to do with the state of modern film making than anything the actual composers are doing) that so few of my favourite score releases from last year were from films that were actually released last year.

The one thing that surprised me about this list was the fact that there was only one Italian release and no Japanese releases on it this year. Oh well... I’m sure they’ll sneak back in "big time" next year. Here, then, is my top 30... for better or worse. Please feel free to share your favourite scores lists in the comments section.

30. Green Lantern by James Newton Howard (Sony)
Okay... so this was a much maligned and underrated score to a much maligned and underrated movie. A movie which, perhaps, suffered at the hands of modern audiences from having a fairly simplistic plotline. The soundtrack is very modern, however, and I think a lot of score fans might be pleasantly surprised by this one if they gave it some time in their CD player or ipod as a stand-alone experience. It perhaps didn’t help that the US release of this was only marketed as a CD-R whilst the UK release was a properly pressed CD from Sony.

29 Mimic by Marco Beltrami
(The Deluxe Edition Varese Sarabande Club)
Okay... this is a heavily expanded and remastered edition of a score I didn’t know much about, from a film I’ve completely forgotten but remember thinking was okay when it was first shown on TV. It was such an “in demand” score that I decided to give it a go based on the posted sound samples because I half expected it would sell its entire limited CD run very quickly (which it did). It was a good call because it’s a classic piece of “semi-melodic-with-some-dark-atonal-textures-thrown-in” modern day horror scoring. Definitely worth picking up in this expanded form if you can still get a hold of one.

28. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World by Ernest Gold (La-La Land)
Ernest Gold’s vinyl re-recording of the score has been remastered and released at least twice on CD in recent history... but this new two disc edition from La-La Land is the one that gets it right by finally including the cues as they were originally recorded for the film. It’s always worth shelling out for this score just once, if only for the overture song and the main title music that accompanied the late, great Saul Bass’ incredible title designs.

27. Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines
by Ron Goodwin (Intrada Special Collection)
The first CD release of this fine score is given the full and proper two disc Intrada treatment. That opening title song is worth it alone with its very long intro which includes a bad orchestra trying to play Alfred Newman’s classic 20th Century Fox logo ident music. Put it on the speakers... it’ll go up-tiddly-up-up and it’ll go down-tiddly-down-down.

26.River Of No Return by Lionel Newman,
Leigh Harline, Cyril J. Mockridge paired on one CD with
NIAGARA by Sol Kaplan (Intrada Special Collection)
Okay. I’ll come clean. If River Of No Return was released on its own I wouldn’t have bought it... but I just love the score they’ve paired it with.... Niagara. One of my favourite Marilyn Monroe films and the song” Kiss” from this is woven into the score with a firm hand by composer Sol Kaplan. It’s rare for films by composers such as Kaplan and Harline to get a release in the modern soundtrack market place. Golden age composers don’t get a lot of attention these days, unfortunately, so it’s good to have stuff by less bankable composers such as Harline and Kaplan represented on the odd CD like this one.

25. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (Null)
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross made a name for themselves with a score I’ve not heard, to a movie I’ve not seen, called The Social Network. I was a bit defensive about the US adaptation of the first novel in the Millennium Trilogy but it really wasn’t a bad version of the book... And the score is pretty interesting, it has to be said. A very special friend bought me this for my Birthday and I’m really glad she did. Starting off with their noisy cover version of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, the score has a dark but lyrical electronic sound and it’s quite rare for composers in the medium to actually produce electronic music which holds its own against traditional compositional and performance techniques. Reznor and Ross really do this very well here though and it’s going to get a lot of listens from me, I can tell that already. It’s a much more appropriate musical support than the pleasant but clichéd score on the original Swedish movie and the record company have produced this generous three disc edition which is a lot more than most would. So... much applause for this particular record label on this one.

24. X-Men: First Class by Henry Jackman (Sony)
Ok, so apart from completely and blatantly contradicting various incidents from both the third X-Men movie and also the Wolverine movie, this film was actually pretty good. The music works really well and was amazingly popular with people. The driven ostinato that underscores Magneto is one of the most stand-out tracks of the year, in its various forms.

23. Humanoids From The Deep by James Horner
and Christopher Lennertz (Buysoundtrax)
Woohoo! James Horner’s schlocky horror score for the Roger Corman produced “when fish people attack and rape our women” movie gets it’s first “official” release. This is from the days when we all thought Horner was an original! Not only that, it also has some score cuts from the remake, scored by Christopher Lennertz.

22. Project Moon Base/Open Secret
by Herschel Burke Gilbert (Monstrous Movie Music)
Oh come one. It’s rare enough to get a score release from such an obscure composer. The fact that there are two of his scores on here and one of them happens to be a 1953 scifi movie scored with an orchestra augmented by an electric string quartet and a theremin is just the icing on the cake. What’s not to like about releases of this nature?

21. The Monster That Challenged The World
by Heinz Roemheld (Monstrous Movie Music)
And here we have another rare 50s scifi B-movie score... and it’s by Heinz Roemheld. Serously people, as far as I can make out, this is the only original Roemheld score to ever get a CD release to date... which is kinda criminal when you think he wrote the original opening title music to the first Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serial (uncredited) and some great stock music for Werewolf of London (also uncredited!). Anything with big sounds to score monsters gets a big tick in my book.

20. It! The Terror From Beyond Space
by Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter (Monstrous Movie Music)
And talking of big sounds to score monsters with... Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter are better known for their scores for movies like Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, The Fly, Jack The Giant Killer and Five Weeks In A Balloon. Here they score big again, bringing you their killer notes from beyond the far reaches of space and into your ears. Fear them!

19. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
by Hans Zimmer (Watertower)
This score builds on and plays around with the style and melodies which Zimmer created for the previous film. Heady stuff. Perhaps not quite such a brilliantly consistent listen as the first album, this score is still pretty interesting and it’s good to hear those little violin wisps wandering around the foreground of the tracks. Could have done without the additional bad cover version of Morricone’s excellent Two Mules For Sister Sara theme in it though.

18. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
by John Cavacas (Buysoundtrax)
Okay, so it’s probably a toss up as to whether the score to Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972 is more funkier than The Satanic Rites Of Dracula or not. I’d probably argue the former but this album is a lot more consistent in tone than the score to the previous film... even with the inclusion on the disc of some unused cues. Buysoundtrax is not a label I like dealing with due to orders that get consistently lost and absolutely abysmal customer service... however, in their defence, they do get some good, long sought after scores on the market and I try to order their stuff from other dealers now if I want to buy their product.

17. Thor by Patrick Doyle (Disney)
Patrick Doyle has never really been a blip on my radar before... until I heard this score both in the movie (which was pretty good) and then as a stand-alone CD experience (which was even better). Almost Korngoldian in its approach, this one will certainly get the goosebumps rising in certain passages. The score to Thor makes you go “cor”!

16. Hanna by The Chemical Brothers (Sony)
Again, I’ve never heard of The Chemical Brothers before but, hmmm, you know when I said earlier how hard it is to do a decent electronic score? Well these guys (?) have really got a handle in electronic music too. This one really gets under yer ear flaps. Very melodic and poppy but strangely listenable.

15. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Volumes 1 & 2
by Bernard Herrmann (Varese Sarabande CD Club)
Woah! Right here is one amazing release... except it’s not. These are two separate multi-CD releases so I kinda cheated there I’m afraid. Didn’t want to call the article 31 best score releases of 2011, okay? I never thought I’d get any more previously unreleased Herrmann for Hitchcock releases in my lifetime. This is an amazing find and is, as to be expected, the very definition of Herrmannesque. At times dark, broody and rumblingly repetitive and at other times absolutely beautifully moving, these two limited edition sets should not be missed.

14. Metropolis by Gottfried Huppertz (Capricio)
Well, this is technically a re-recording of Gottfried Huppertz original score to Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece Metropolis (they used to send the scores out to the orchestras or piano transcripts of them to the cinemas showing these things). What’s that you say? A rerecording on a list of movie scores? Well... yes and no. Actually no. You see, this recording is the one which now accompanies the DVD so it can be heard closer to the original vision of the film would have been... and not with some fly-by-night VHS or DVD label running classical music over it instead. Also, it’s a very important artefact of film history because the score was used a great deal in working out how to put the jigsaw puzzle of the full print of Metropolis back together again after all these years. It’s a not half bad album either! This is now, and ever shall be, the score to Metropolis.

13. Battle: Los Angeles by Brian Tyler (Varese Sarabande)
I’m beginning to really warm to Brian Tyler now. I first started taking him seriously when he stood in for the late Jerry Goldsmith by composing a score, utilising one of Goldsmith’s original themes, for Stallone’s fourth Rambo movie. Battle: Los Angeles is actually a nice little alien invasion movie and Tylers score is surprisingly melodic and, for a modern movie, uses a surprising amount of “martial percussion” in its make-up. A really great little listen.

12. Masada by Jerry Goldsmith and Morton Stevens (Intrada Special Collection)
The theme from Masada was a long held and very popular staple of Jerry Goldsmith’s concert days. The main title is a rousing piece of music which is completely addictive to the ear. This two disc restoration of the original mini series score also includes a good deal of Morton Steven’s score from the same mini series. This music really rocks!

11. House of Usher by Les Baxter (Intrada Special Collection)
I never thought this would see the light of day. Most of these old Corman scores are totally lost but they are so often requested that some companies have been releasing the few cues they do have from various films and putting them out like that anyway. House of Usher is a classic Baxter score for a Poe movie and really gets the atmosphere. This was a must buy!

10. Gremlins by Jerry Goldsmith (Film Score Monthly)
After decades of just having four small cues of score available from this classic Joe Dante movie, Film Score Monthly bring us a definitive 2 disc edition of the whole score. Utilising his own violin motif he wrote for the “Gremlin-on-the-side-of-the-plane” remake in Twilight Zone The Movie, Goldsmith’s score will move you but also keep you in stitches. There are some witty and inventive cues in this score. An absolute classic.

9. Doctor Who Series Six by Murray Gold (Silva Screen)
Continuing his tradition of being one of the most popular composers on the UK scene, Murray Gold’s seventh collection of scores from the well loved TV show is another generous double disc helping and the Bond-like action cue from the opening of the second episode (track 5) is so good that I’m convinced this guy should get to score at least one Bond movie before he dies.

8. 1941 by John Williams (La-La Land)
Again, a long overdue expansion of a timeless classic. 1941 may not have made much of a splash at the box office but the score is typical Williams ear candy and, frankly, once you get that march in your head, it’s not going away again without a fight!

7. The Black Hole by John Barry (Intrada/Disney)
Not only a properly expanded release but also the first ever non-bootleg CD of John Barry’s amazing score to this underrated Disney movie. The overture is Barry’s homage to the Korngoldian resurgence in film scoring popularised by John Williams’ score for Star Wars and the rest is... classic Barry. Sinister and driven and an absolutely beautiful score.

6. Devil - Fernando Velázquez (Varese Sarabande Club Edition)
This score to the M. Night Shyamalan produced horror story about some people stuck in a lift with the devil was overlooked by audiences... but it was quite a nice little horror movie. The score was very strong and I’m really glad it’s got a release (albeit in a limited edition which sold out very quickly) a couple of years down the line. Really good atonal horror fest music that I find myself playing more and more.

5. The Egyptian - Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann
(The Deluxe Edition Varese Sarabande Club)
Well... what can one say about this incredible score co-composed by two of the greatest names in the industry. So many previous releases of this have been out in the past but this limited two disc edition is the first time the whole score has been made available... and it’s an incredible piece by two great writing talents. A necessary foundation stone to any soundtrack library.

4. Casino Royale - Burt Bacharach (Kritzerland)
Woohoo. This umpteenth reissue and remaster of Bacharach’s classic comedy Bond score is slightly expanded but, more importantly, its really well mixed this time around and has never sounded better. No wonder it sold out so quickly. Not only that but this is the first release ever... can you believe it... to feature that groovy end title song on it... “Have no fear Bond is here!” My only caveat is that there’s apparently an even more expanded two disc edition coming out from Quartet Records in February. Looks like I’ll be splashing the Bacharach cash once again then.

3. The Great Train Robbery
(aka The First Great Train Robbery) - Jerry Goldsmith (Intrada)
This is the third time on CD and, frankly, this is the expansion and remaster where the label in question got it right and did a much better job than all the previous labels who have worked with these masters. This is a seriously great “Englishified” Jerry Goldsmith score and I can guarantee you I’ll be playing it for years and years. It is so cool!

2. Lo Strano Vizio Della Signora Wardh
(aka The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) - Nora Orlandi (Quartet)
A track from this score to one of my favourite giallo movies was featured in Kill Bill Volume 2... but for some reason everybody assumed it was tracked in from a spaghetti western. Whatever... all I know is that this is a great album and I’m so pleased it’s finally got a legitimate, if limited, release. Groovy in places but... very, very haunting in others. A great piece of work from the only female composer featured on this year’s list.

1. Bernard Herrmann at 20th Century Fox Box (Varese Sarabande Club Edition)
Blimey... this really was a massive release... and a complete, and very expensive, surprise. This was released on 27th December and has 14 discs worth of numerous Bernard Herrmann scores, some of which have never been released, some of which are expanded and all of them remastered. Plus a 100+ pages accompanying booklet. At $230 (including postage to the UK) I couldn’t really afford to buy this... but I went ahead anyway and scrimped and saved on other things because Bernard Herrmann is my absolute favourite composer and they only made 1000 of these things which sold out very quickly. I was further alarmed that customs charged me a whopping extra £36 on top of that but every time I hear how great classic scores like The Ghost And Mrs. Muir and Garden Of Evil sound in this set, I just can’t bring myself to regret this purchase. An absolutely brilliant end to the year and it easily takes my number one spot.

Honourable Mentions

HM1. The Music of Battlestar Galactica For Solo Piano (Buysoundtrax)
Some solo piano transcripts (transcribed by the composer himself and played expertly by Joohyun Park) of a selection of Bear McCreary’s score for the recent TV show of Battlestar Galactica is a really great two disc set. Because it’s not been used as a score in its own right, I couldn’t include it in the main list... but it’s well worth getting your ears around if you like the music from the TV show.

HM2. The Golden Child (La-La Land)
This three disc set includes the score to the movie by Michel Colombier but that’s not the reason to buy this album. The reason to get hold of this one before it sells out (think it’s still available) is because it also includes the full rejected score by John Barry... and what a classic Barry score it is. Absolutely brilliant listening experience for any Barry fan. It’s really worth shelling out for.


  1. Lovely list, glad to see your ear has not let you down, keep up the good work.

    Regards and Salutes

    Big Silence

  2. Somebody sent me this page. Thanks for putting all three of our Monstrous Movie Music releases on the list. Hopefully one or two of our 9 or 10 release of this year might fine a similar place of achievement on your well-thought-out presentation. I have many of the discs on this page, and multiple copies of our own releases, which are not sold out yet! David Schecter

    1. Hello there.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      You can bet I'll be putting some of your excellent releases on next years list. I've been supporting your label since you started it up and you've just gone from strength to strength.

      And, whatever you do, don't read about my disagreeing with something you wrote to me once in my review of The Alligator People. In fact, don't even go near my review of The Alligator People ;-)

      Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment. All the best to you!

  3. Anybody who agrees with me all the time is nobody I want to be around! The more people disagree with me, the more I respect them! In October we'll be offering some tasty new treats for classic sci-fi/horror lovers, including a stereo version of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, MISSILE TO THE MOON, SHE-DEMONS, the original, complete DESTINATION MOON for the very first time (not the re-recording), and some more treasures!

  4. Hi again.

    Yeah, those all sound like solid future purchases to me. Which means my wallett will be nagging at me to leave it alone again.

    Thanks for the preview and for taking the time to comment.

    All the best to you and your label.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.