Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Review of the "Creepshow" Soundtrack

I mentioned during one of my recent magazine-a-thons that I used to be a collector of movie soundtracks.  Well, there are several recent(ish) soundtracks to Stephen King movies that I've been wanting to review, and now seems like as good a time as any to make that happen.  So you'll be getting a few of those over the course of the next week.

We'll begin with the most recently-released one, and work our way back from there:




John Harrison's Creepshow had been released in the past, first on LP by the label Varèse Sarabande, way back in 1982.  There were only nine tracks on that LP, which represents nearly all of Harrison's music.  When the label La-La Land Records put out a CD in 2003, they ported over everything, and filled the disc out with several John Harrison compositions from other projects, including the King-scripted Tales from the Darkside episode "Sorry, Right Number."

La-La Land recently put out a limited edition release of the entire score, however, which is cause for celebration if you're a fan.  The previous release contained 41 minutes of Harrison's score for the film, whereas this new one contains the entire score . . . all 45 minutes of it.  So, yeah, not much new there.  However, the disc also contains 30 minutes of the rest of the score to the movie: namely, source music, plus the library music George Romero used.  This is great news, because it means that ALL of the music used in Creepshow is finally represented.  Or, if not literally every single note, then certainly the vast majority of it.


The release also comes with a 24-page booklet, which has short essays by both George Romero and John Harrison, plus an essay about the history of the film by Jeff Bond, as well as a track-by-track examination of the music (also by Bond).  For me, those liner notes are a big part of the appeal to releases of this sort.

This particular iteration of the soundtrack is limited to 3000 copies, which is annoying.  I simply don't like the idea of limited editions, personally.  However, if that's what it takes to make such comprehensive releases a reality, I suppose I ought to not complain too much.  And anyways, the run is not yet sold out, so if you want one and you've got twenty bucks (plus shipping), here's where you can make that a reality.

My copy came with a second booklet, which was identical to the first, except that it had been signed by John Harrison:




How cool is that?

Speaking of cool, before we talk about the music, let's talk about the vinyl release from Waxwork Records.  Yes, you read that correctly: vinyl.  Apparently, there is a small (but thriving) submarket for horror film soundtracks on vinyl, which, of course, means that this is a limited-edition vinyl.  How limited the run was I do not know, but I do know that it is sold out.  I was able to get a copy from an online record store called Light in the Attic, which may or may not still have a copy or two left; otherwise, you'll have to resort to the second-hand market (such as eBay, where your run-of-the-mill limited-edition hounds are already selling copies of the LP for as much as $150, the jackasses).

There are good things and bad things about the Waxwork release.  Let's start with the good: the audio quality.  I assume it's great.  I say "assume" because I don't own a record player.  That's right, kiddies; I bought this strictly for the novelty value and for the artwork.  But eventually, I'd like to get a turntable of some sort, because hey, why not?

Anyways, the artwork:




note: all of the images of the Waxwork release came from the company's website




As for the record itself, it was available in five different variant editions, one each for the five stories within the film:


"Father's Day" variant

"Something to Tide You Over" variant

"The Crate" variant

"The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" variant

"They're Creeping Up on You" variant

I got the "meteor-shit green" Jordy Verrill variant, which suits me just fine.

Now, the negatives: first of all, none of the music-library tracks are included.  Presumably, this is due to the limitations inherent in the medium of vinyl.  Personally, I would have thought that doing a two-disc release would be preferable, especially given how quickly the run sold out.  Still, it's an understandable omission.

Secondly, this edition does not include the essay or the track-by-track analysis by Jeff Bond.

Third: you basically can't get the fucking thing.  That's a pretty big drawback.

Still, it's a cool LP release, and I'm pleased that I was able to sneak in and pick one up for less than $30.  I wouldn't have been willing to pay more, so it worked out pretty well.

Now, let's talk about the music a bit.  I think what might be useful is to break the film down into its component segments, of which there are seven: (1) the prologue; (2) "Father's Day"; (3) "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill"; (4) "Something to Tide You Over"; (5) "The Crate"; (6) "They're Creeping Up on You"; and (7) the epilogue.  From there, I'll provide a track listing for both of the La-La Land CD releases (the 2003 and the 2014) for the sake of comparison, and maybe some YouTube imbeds so you can sort of listen along.

Prologue

2003 CD tracks:
#1 -- Prologue / Welcome to Creepshow (4:05)




2014 CD tracks:
#1 -- Prologue (1:37)
#2 -- The Creepshow Welcomes You (2:24)

These two tracks are essentially the exact same thing, but split into two tracks, which arguably makes sense.  The music is playfully ominous, with very dark piano tones at the outset that eventually give way to a lighter piano theme.  Musically, these two tracks make for a very good short overture to the remainder of the score, and right there, John Harrison has accomplished something that a great many film scores do not: he has created something that works both as a film score (i.e., it dramatically enhances the movie in an effective way) and as standalone music.  There's room to argue over whether those things are true, of course, but for me, it handily satisfies both requirements.  If you balk at it, odds are it'll be because of the eighties-ish synthesizer effects.
  
Not me, though; I think they're great.  Rarely does an October slip by without me playing this score half a dozen times or so; it fits the mood of that season impeccably, at least for my tastes.

Father's Day

2003 CD tracks:
#2 -- Father's Day (7:29)

2014 CD tracks:
#03 -- Henry Is Told the Family Secrets (1:25)
#04 -- She Bashed His Head In (0:53)
#05 -- Bedelia Arrives (0:47)
#06 -- Where's My Cake? I Want My Cake! (1:38)
#07 -- Nate Comes Out of the Grave (1:18)
#08 -- Henry Goes Looking (1:03)
#09 -- Henry Meets Nate and Gets Crushed (0:54)
#10 -- I Got My Cake (0:52)
#11 -- Sylvia on a Platter / A Meteor Arrives (0:59)
#35 -- Don't Let Go (source music, performed by Unit Eight) (3:35)

This section of the score is very heavy on the synthesizer; at times, it is used in a very low, ominous register, and at other times Harrison uses high-pitched screeches that mostly function to represent shock moments for the characters.  Some of these unnerve me ever so slightly, but in a good way.

Track #35, "Don't Let Go," is a disco song from 1978 that plays during the infamous scene in which Ed Harris "dances."





I have to admit that I am kind of a sucker for disco, and that -- yes -- I actually kind of like this song.  If the song had a scent, the scent would be of cheap shampoo and/or corduroy, but I guess I can live with that.  Anyways, it's nice to have the song on disc.

The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

2003 CD tracks:
#3 -- The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill (2:34)

2014 CD release tracks:
#12 -- Jordy Discovers His Meteor (1:00)
#13 -- Jordy Hallucinates and Takes a Bath (1:37)
#36 -- Graduation Day (library music, composed by Gaudeamus Igitur) (1:24)
#37 -- Spy Fingers (library music, composed by Ib Glindemann) (1:55)
#38 -- Danger Tension (library music, composed by Ib Glidemann) (1:50)
#39 -- Freedom Flight (library music, composed by Jan Kennedy) (3:55)
        

"The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" is fairly sparse as far as score goes, and most of what's there is used for comic effect.  One thing I learned from Jeff Bond's liner notes is that the comic synthesizer notes in "Jordy Discovers His Meteor" are a replication of the melody of the generic graduation-style music that can be heard in the library track "Graduation Day."  I'd probably never have figured that out on my own, so I'm glad Jeff Bond was there to do it for me!

A brief word about library music seems in order.  I'll direct you to Wikipedia for a fuller summary, but the short version is this: library music is music written for the express purpose of being licensed out to companies for use in movies, commercials, television shows, or whatever else they sit fit to use it for.  Low-budget film and tv projects have often used library music (also known as production or stock music), and one of the best-known examples of a movie that was scored that way is George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  Romero initially planned to score Creepshow the same way, feeling -- not without merit -- that that sort of style went well with the EC-homage nature of the film.
  
John Harrison was Romero's assistant director on the film, and since he had a musical background, he was a natural fit to help try and smooth out some of the kinks when Romero's library-music approach proved to not quite be fitting the film's production values.  Which is how he ended up composing so much music for the film, and also is how and why some of the library music remains.

I like much of the library music in Creepshow, and I especially like the two Ib Glindemann pieces used in "Jordy Verrill."  They fit the story well, and I assume that much of that is because of Romero's facility at finding appropriate pieces of music.  I also assume that composers who provided (at hire) music for companies such as EuroScreen Music -- from which the Ib Glidemann pieces come -- must do so in a manner designed to create a certain type of mood, but not be so powerful that they cannot be used in a malleable fashion.  I'm not a musician, so I don't know what goes into creating pieces like this, but it seems to me that writing stock music must be a gig that has challenges and rewards that are mostly unique to that specific sub-industry.  It's a thing I'd love to watch a documentary about.

Something to Tide You Over

2003 CD tracks:
#4 -- Something to Tide You Over (5:24)






2014 CD tracks:
#14 -- From the Farm to the Beach (0:27)
#15 -- Get in That Hole, Harry (1:45)
#16 -- If You Can Hold Your Breath (2:10)
#17 -- Richard Watches Them Drown (1:38)
#40 -- Haunted Castle (library music, composed by Ib Glindemann) (1:35)
#41 -- Dramatic Eerie (library music, composed by Philip Green) (1:30)
#42 -- Space Suspense (library music, composed by Erik Markman) (0:57)
#43 -- Danger in Space (library music, composed by Ib Glindemann) (1:19)

Musically, this is my favorite section of the film.  Harrison's score is based on the melody to "Camptown Races" (which Leslie Nielsen's character is heard whistling at one point).  Lots of heavy piano, plus synthesizer effects that simulate ocean sounds.  It's all very creepy, and the "Camptown Races" use makes it only creepier.

The library music for this one is good, too, especially "Dramatic Eerie," which features a solo female voice of the sort that might be heard in an episode of original Star Trek.

By the way, speaking of the library music, it's worth mentioning that in some cases, only snippets of the tracks heard on this CD were actually used in the film.

The Crate

2003 CD tracks:
#5 -- The Crate (5:27)
#6 -- They're Creeping Up on You (7:33)

2014 CD tracks:
#18 -- From the Beach to the College (0:30)
#19 -- Mike Discovers the Crate (0:32)
#20 -- Dex and Mike Move the Crate (1:41)
#21 -- Dex and Mike Open the Crate (1:50)
#22 -- Mike Meets Fluffy (1:20)
#23 -- Henry Leaves Wilma a Note (4:10)
#24 -- Wilma Goes Under the Stairs (1:00)
#25 -- Wake Up! Wake Up! (0:50)
#26 -- Fluffy Eats Wilma (0:44)
#27 -- Henry Dumps Fluffy (0:48)
#28 -- What Are Friends For (0:30)
#44 -- Mystery Hour (library music, composed by Ib Glindemann) (2:16)
#45 -- Eternal Light (library music, composed by Roger Webb) (2:05)

I did not realize it until this new CD came out, but the track on the 2003 release that is titled "They're Creeping Up on You" is actually music from "The Crate."  Gotta love typos, and that's a doozy.

"Eternal Light" is my favorite piece of library music on the soundtrack.  It is a synthesizer piece that doesn't sound anything like the other library cues; it sounds like the sort of thing that would have been in the original Carl Sagan Cosmos, or something like that.





There seems to be an entire album of Roger Webb music that "Eternal Light" was on; this may or may not have been a compilation of his stock music work.  I may have to see if I can track other tracks from that album down on YouTube, just to see if I like them as much as I like "Eternal Light."

They're Creeping Up on You

2003 CD tracks:
#7 -- Epilogue (3:42)

2014 CD tracks:
#29 -- Bastards (1:21)
#30 -- Bugs Start Creeping Up on Pratt (0:35)
#31 -- Blackout (1:22)
#32 -- The End of Pratt (0:33)
#46 -- Vaudeville (library music, composed by Neil Amsterdam) (2:55)
#47 -- Big Band Era #4 (library music, composed by Neil Amsterdam) (2:16)
#48 -- Dixieland (library music, composed by Dan Kirsten) (2:01)

There is not a huge amount of John Harrison music from "Creeping," and what's there is atmospheric, weird stuff.  But I like it.  It's mostly synth, and a lot of it could be described as sound design moreso than as actual music.  The 2003 release mistakenly labeled the score from this section as "Epilogue," which is unfortunate.

The 2014 release also has the library music, which consists of decidedly non-horror-based music.  Those work okay in the movie, but on disc, they seem rather out of place. 

Epilogue

2003 CD tracks:
#8 -- Until Next Time (End Title) (4:26)

2014 CD tracks:
#33 -- Garbage Men Find Billy's Comic Book (0:57)
#34 -- Until Next Time (3:38)

If I had to pick a track on the disc to represent the score, it'd probably be "Until Next Time," which is comprised mostly of the main theme for the movie, but also touches on elements of "Father's Day."  So if I were making a compilation of King scores, this is probably the track from Creepshow that I would choose.

*****

I didn't spend much time talking about the liner notes, but they are very good.  Here are a couple of sample pages:





Now that I think about it, that's four sample pages, isn't it?  I hate it when people misuse the word "couple."  It means "two."  Doesn't mean "three," and definitely doesn't mean "four."

I'm sort of tempted to post the entire booklet for your perusal, but since that's one of the things that makes the CD valuable (in my opinion), it would seem wrong to post it all while La-La Land still has copies to sell.

However, the 2003 release is hella out of print, so I don't mind posting the entire booklet from that release (which will give you some info about the non-Creepshow tracks on that disc and save me the trouble of doing it):


I honestly don't know which cover I prefer.  This one uses the teaser-poster art, whereas the 2014 uses the release-poster art.  I adore both.













The next soundtrack I'll be looking at in this series is Room 237.  See you in a few days!

8 comments:

  1. "If the song had a scent, the scent would be of cheap shampoo and/or corduroy, but I guess I can live with that."

    That is perfect. And really spot-on, when you look at it /listen to it that way.

    The booklet art looks so incredible. Great vinyl variants, too. The whole vinyl experience lends itself so well to grandiose designs. The most pop art of all musical delivery mechanisms. All of it looks fantastic, actually - the photo-log essays, everything.

    John Harrison's had a lot more varied career than I knew of.

    As a kid, I was always puzzled by incidental/ library music and always felt cheated when I got the soundtrack and something I wanted to listen to from the movie wasn't there. That was a pivotal a-ha-it-all-fits-now moment, once I discovered the whole idea of library music.

    I like this soundtrack more than I realized, I guess, everything I click on here sounds great to me.

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    1. I love it when moments like that realization of yours arrive. I've had several of those that are soundtrack/score related, such as when I figured out -- via reading about it -- that the reason why the music sometimes sounds different on the CD/cassette/whatever than in the movie is because different takes and arrangements are often used for the album presentation. I'd been vexed by that one for years. As far as forced epiphanies go, it's a lame one, but no less real for its lameness.

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  2. Thanks for posting those pages. I bought the brown vinyl, havent opened it yet, so I hope that's what they sent. I really don't care about the limited edition-ness of it but thought it was odd they didn't give actual numbers of the pressing.

    I really would like to get Joe Hill to sign that page he's on.
    I would love for these guys or Mondo to do Gremlins soundtrack.
    -mikeC

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    1. That really would be a great thing to get autographed by Joe Hill.

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  3. Believe it or not, I'd actually heard about Romero's idea for the sci-fi version of Tales of Hoffman, I think he mentioned it on the anniversary edition NOTLD. What is interesting is his idea for a 50s monster spoof. That I'd very much like to see. I also wonder if he could ever try and adapt Joe R. Lansdale's Drive In.

    As for the soundtracks, I agree that Harrison has created a nice work of art all it's own, something that puts me in mind of Alan Parsons. As I listened through all these tracks, what I realized for the first time is how big an influence synth was during the 80s. All you have to do to see that is think back on Brad Feidel's score for the first Terminator, or the main theme from Gremlins.

    What's interesting is how all these films, including Creepshow managed to put an instrument that's somewhat looked down on to good use. Even stock music is put to good use. For instance, in the original NOTLD, they used a lot of cheesy 50s sci-fi Drive In related music, and yet the irony is he was somehow able to turn cheese into ominous doomsday music.

    If there's one thing going over this soundtrack has taught me it's that there's always room for 80s synth.

    ChrisC

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    1. Agreed. And I think it had a huge influence on where music is today. Many people say it's for the worse, but bollocks to them, says I.

      Another particular favorite of mine that fits into this mold is Vangelis's score for "Blade Runner," which is a thing of beauty. It doesn't negate the beauty of a great symphonic score (like "Conan the Barbarian" or "E.T." or "The Wrath of Khan" from the same summer), it's just its own thing, and when used well, it's great.

      I also like Tangerine Dream's "Firestarter" music.

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  4. How about the LadyHawke soundtrack? Haha.
    -mikeC

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    Replies
    1. I don't remember that one, although I liked the movie when I was a kid.

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