Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Review of the "It" Soundtrack

Despite the fact that the miniseries has extremely successful and remains very popular nearly twenty-five years later, the Emmy-winning score for It did not receive any sort of commercial release until Intrada stepped up, said "Hey . . . we got this," and put a two-disc release out in 2011.

I'd love to tell you that you can still get a copy, but if I said that, I'd be a liar: it sold out long ago.  If you are disreputable and know where to look, you can find MP3s of it floating around out there on the high seas of Internet piracy, but that's just not as much fun, is it?  

It's more fun than the other option, which involves buying a sealed copy from this piece of shit on eBay, who obviously bought a copy only so he could sell it to you later for over twice what he paid for it.  So far, he doesn't appear to be having much luck, and to that I say "good, I hope it never sells."

Can you tell that limited-edition hounds get under my skin?  I certainly don't make a secret of it.

But let's not focus on that.  Let's focus on something cheerier and less loathsome, the shapeshifting, child-mutilating semi-eternal evil that is Pennywise the Dancing Clown:

I'd bet my watch and my warrant on the fact that that image alone is enough to creep out a great many people, especially if they are among the demographic born between the years of, say, 1985 and 1995.  The miniseries seems to hold a very special place of horror for kids of that age group, and while Tim Curry probably deserves a great deal of the credit (blame?) for that, he didn't do it alone.

An under-sung contributor to that longevity of impact is composer Richard Bellis, who created an effective score that serves to underline Pennywise's looming presence.  It is a vital psychological component of the miniseries, and while I think the music probably works a bit better within the context of the film than it does as an isolated listening experience, that changes nothing: this is a great example of a dramatic score doing exactly what a dramatic score needs to do.

We're going to do things a little different in this review than we did in the other soundtrack reviews I've published lately.  Since the CD is out of print, I'm now going to replicate the entire booklet for you, and I may have comments about certain aspects presented in the liner notes.  These comments are likely to be supplemented by a few YouTube embeds of the music, depending on what's out there.

Here's the back cover tracklist, which is out of focus because my scanner doesn't like it when I leave the tray art inside its plastic case.  Some CD cases are easier to dismantle (so as to remove the tray art) than others, though, and I didn't want to risk breaking this one.  So if the lack of focus is bothersome to you, much apologizings are due unto thee.  By the way, until I scanned this, I'd never paid enough attention to notice that image of Pennywise that is in the background.  It sort of startled me.  Thanks a lot, Tim Curry.

This may be the first time I've ever encountered anybody making the claim that Silver Bullet and Cat's Eye were popular films.  Both have their defenders, but I'm not aware that either is considered, in the mainstream sense of things, to be anything other than flops.  Daniel Schweiger's liner notes are good, but in this particular instance, he's overstepping a bit, and making a faulty claim in aid of helping his thesis seem stronger.

"The franchise's most unique entry," says Schweiger of Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  I feel obliged to point out that there is no such thing as gradation of uniqueness.  A thing either is unique, or it isn't.  It's a debatable point, I suppose.  But Season of the Witch certainly does stand apart from the other Halloween films, no doubt about that.  I'm not a vehement detractor of that film that most people who've seen it are, but I do find it a bit depressing that in seeking to find a replacement for the director of Dawn of the Dead, the producers settled on the director of Halloween III.  That's a downgrade and no mistake.  I am mildly depressed by that, but outright horrified by the notion of Pennywise potentially being played by Harvey Fierstein.

Pretty cool to think about the fact that one of the kids being menaced by giant ants in Them! later wrote the score to It.  Less cool to think about same working for somebody named Leslie Uggams.

"Bellis' soundtrack is as much a masterwork of storytelling as King's book."  Daniel Schweiger, you need to settle the fuck down and/or stop huffing paint.  I like this score just fine, but suggesting that it is as great an achievement as King's novel is silly.

I understand the value of discussing the tracks by grouping them according to thematic relevance, but I find that a track-by-track analysis is vastly to my preference.  Here, when Schweiger writes a sentence like the one including the phrase "...another tender theme which is first heard after a run-in with the 'Punks', continuing over 'Audra' 's concern..." he is doing a disservice.  Reading that implies that the tracks follow one another.  They do not.  The former is on the first disc a mere five tracks in, while the latter is over a third of the way into the second disc.  That's a wide gulf between the two, so continuation is probably the wrong idea to assign to what's going on there.

I would say that the moments when Bellis uses the electric guitar as a motif for Henry are handily my least favorite moments of this score.  In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to think of ANY score that has ever made hay by using an electric guitar to sonically stand in for a villain.  Maybe in a spoof of some sort, but otherwise, that's a no-go for me.

I could not locate it on YouTube, but nevertheless feel like I ought to mention that the track "The Fog" will not in any way make you think of John Carpenter's score to the movie The Fog.  If it sounds like anything, it sounds like the scores Christopher Franke (of Tangerine Dream) would do for episodes of Babylon 5 a few years down the road.  If you can handle synthesizer music of that sort, you might, like me, find this track to be a delight.  I also like "The Spider's Web," in which Bellis is working like a champeen to help convince you that that awful rubber spider is actually scary.  It doesn't work, but the failure is not because Bellis doesn't give it a valiant effort.

As always, I am glad for them to be here, but source-music tracks like (especially) "Richie's Talk Show Play-Off" really do not sit well side by side with the tracks that comprise the score proper.

I always love it when score CDs include a word from the composer.  I know nothing of Bellis's work outside It, unfortunately.

To be honest, I don't really know what any of this means.  Are those the specific takes that were used for this album?  Seems like that's a decent guess, at least.

Very classy.  Not many score albums take the time to actually list the musicians.  I mean, jeez, they only played the fucking music...

And that, ladies and gents, is the entirety of the booklet.

I'd hoped to have more to say about the music than this, but it seems that that simply isn't going to be the case.  Some blog posts are better than others, I reckon.

Speaking of which, my next one will be either a short piece about The Waste Lands (which I finished rereading last night) or a ranking of scores to King movies.  Whichever comes first, I hope to be more entertaining then!


  1. I think Bellis's score does it's job well enough, though I admit I didn't hear any particular soundtrack as far as the book is concerned. The closest I ever came was the main piano score, and of course THIS song (which I wonder if King had in mind all along as a main theme, either way it seems to fit perfectly to the story):

    A real good question is, what other popular rock songs does everyone think would fit the story?


    1. I am kind of nonplussed by Neil Young overall, but his good songs tend to be GREAT songs, and that is certainly one of them.

      I also failed to note that despite its prominence in the miniseries, "Fur Elise" is nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. That's a mild shame.

    2. Having listened to this immediately after watching the new episode of "Game of Thrones," the bit in the lyrics that goes "the king is gone but he's not forgotten" has a bit of unintended resonance.

      Great song. So good it makes me want to cry, or laugh, or something; so long as it's intense, I'm not sure it matters.

  2. Nice looking booklet with a wealth of info.

    I confess I don't recall the soundtrack too much - even these clips don't trigger any memories or associations, and I watched it relatively recently - but it all sounds pretty good. I'll keep all of this in mind / refer back to this on the next re-watch whenever it (make that It) materializes.

    I agree on the electric guitar motif, tho - that doesn't work.

    As for what popular rock songs would fit the story, outside of the ones referenced in the book itself (none of which I can remember offhand) I haven't the foggiest. I've tried to come up with one, but none of what comes to mind really fits. (If Mr. Sandman wasn't already so well associated with Halloween, I'd say that one - that'd be creepy.)

    I like Neil Young, but I'm not sure he'd be my first choice for the material.

    1. I think you would have to stick to period-specific tunes. And God knows there's a bajliion of them, even if you subtract the ones already used in "Stand By Me" or "American Graffiti" or whatever.

      I'd try to find the ones with the most unintentionally creepy lyrics.