It's been a little bit of a break but I am finally back! It took me a bit because I had to continue my research into this post's topic, composers! We talked about some composer stuff on the podcast over at the Daydream Instruction Manual (making up the D.I.M. part of this blog's title), but I was saving some of my material for this post.
I've been thinking about this one for quite awhile, and listening to quite a bit of the music. I compiled a list of composers that I knew immediately off the top of my head to put into my rankings because I wanted this to reflect what casual people would notice while watching a movie (or in some cases, a television show). Most of the composers on this list you can immediately identify from their musical style, and that's what I was going for. I came up with a list of nine composers that I'm pretty sure you have heard of, or at least know the movie or show that they provide great music for.
Now I know there are many composers out there that could have easily been on this list, but they might be people that I'm not familiar with (I know, it's all subjective with what you watch) or they might have made some music that just didn't grab my attention.
We talked a little bit about music that could possibly be distracting on the show, but my feeling is that it can only enhance it. Most of the music soundtracks that I will list in this post take a movie from being good to feeling absolutely epic. I tend to enjoy great marches as they can really pump you up. There are a lot of soundtracks that can be defined as blasé (most of them sometimes can be from Hans Zimmer, sorry Hans), and they don't grab my attention and or they sometimes feel like white noise. My feeling is that if you can walk out of the movie humming the tune of the main theme or any other part of the movie, then it is a pretty memorable soundtrack. And no, the sound of beating your head against a wall doesn't count, Hans.
So in order to achieve my rankings, I developed a scoring system that breaks down as follows:
10 points for each Memorable Score
25 points for each Oscar Win
1 to 10 points for use of Awesome Industrial Sound
1 to 10 points for use of Exotic Sound (Matching Setting of Movie or show)
10 points for having a connection to THE BATMAN
10 points for Utilizing ZZ Top
-10 points for each Score in which you were granted a Writing Credit due to your Apprentice
and a special 25 Point Oingo Boingo Bonus
With that in mind, let's get to it!
9. Eric Serra
Memorable Scores: 20 (GoldenEye, The Fifth Element)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 10 out 10
Total Score: 30 points
Serra is best known for his industrial and techno scores and the two I mentioned above are his standout performances. His soundtrack to The Fifth Element is extremely noticeable and fits the film perfectly. It is a huge reason why he often teams with his fellow Frenchman Luc Besson on all his films is the futuristic sound he generates. Some Bond critics hated his GoldenEye soundtrack saying it didn't give the feeling of classic Bond movies, but I absolutely loved it. He masterfully created a vibe that screamed Cold War and still included many of the essential Bond elements. I love the way that Serra incorporates bass into his scores, it provides the low end any orchestra could create, but give it more of a comfortable vibe than a driving force.
8. Ramin Djawadi
Memorable Scores: 40 (Game of Thrones, WestWorld, Clash of the Titans, Warcraft)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 5 out of 10
Exotic Sound: 5 out of 10
Total Score: 50 points
Djawadi is certainly my up and comer on this list. He is rapidly becoming one of the most sought after composers and certainly has ambitious vision when it comes to creating music. His two television supershows make this list, with both Game of Thrones and WestWorld having some of the best soundtracks you could find on television. The Game of Thrones theme song is ingrained into anyone who watches an episode and his array of styles shine brightly in WestWorld. His industrial score comes from how he interwove two styles into the series, one of which being very heavy in tech vibes for all the 'real-life' scenes in the show. He combines bass-heavy tones to create a very futuristic feel while at the same time making it feel somewhat sinister in nature. He doesn't get full marks yet on his industrial sound since most of his memorable works are in his driving marches that usually revolve around medieval/mythological settings. The moment I heard the main theme from Clash of the Titans and the very first song from WarCraft, I knew these soundtracks were awesome.
7. Alan Silvestri
Memorable Scores: 40 (Back to the Future, Predator, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Avengers)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 2 out of 10
Exotic Sound: 3 out of 10
Utilizing ZZ Top: 10
Total Score: 55 points
Any Back to the Future fan knows the themes from all three movies without you having to even hum them. Silvestri made that music iconic, and he usually followed his buddy Robert Zemeckis around. The reason you don't see me giving full credit for all three BTTF movies is that the later two don't stand out that much different to me from the first one. You could almost take the score from the first one and apply it to the sequels, so I can't separate them out like I can for some later works coming in this list. Silvestri's industrial and exotic points come from his work on Predator. If you want to know what these two seemingly different styles sound like together, listen to this soundtrack. Sounds futuristic but in the jungle. Cannot forget to mention that he gets the ZZ Top bonus for including them in Back to the Future Part III and featuring an awesome acoustic version of Doubleback.
6. Hans Zimmer
Memorable Scores: 100 (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest, At World's End, The Rock, The Lion King, Batman Begins, Sherlock Holmes, The DaVinci Code, Inception)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 2 out of 10
Exotic Sound: 2 out of 10
Connection to THE BATMAN: 10
Oscar Wins: 25 (1 win)
Writing Credits: -40 (The Rock, The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: Black Pearl)
Total Score: 89 points
Hey, Hans, how's it going? Despite all the negative things I've said about some of his recent works, he does have a ton of good ones. Some of them I feel like he took all the glory on because his name was listed as having worked on it, but had his apprentices write most of them. It could be the other way around, but on Pirates, Klaus Badelt was known to have written most of the music, under the supervision of Hans. As much as I love the music from The Rock, I recognize Nick Glennie-Smith as the composer, but Hans has his name attached to this score as well as Nick was yet another Padawan learner. I know this is a petty way of docking him points, but such is. He could have done the lion's share of Simba's movie (haha, pun intended, dad joke) but we all feel Elton John did the most work. Heck, after listening to the awesome march from Pirates, I feel the awesome march from Gladiator was also done by Badelt (who was known to have worked on that film). Hans almost feels like the guy at the top of one of those Ponzi schemes, and we know how much we like guys like that.
5. James Horner
Memorable Scores: 60 (Apollo 13, Aliens, Braveheart, Titanic, The Rocketeer, Jumanji)
Oscar Wins: 50 (2 wins)
Total Score: 110 points
James Horner passed away too early (at 61). He usually teamed with director James Cameron, hence the Titanic and Aliens connections, and his Apollo 13 score feels me with a lot of emotion every time I listen to it. I literally break out into goosebumps when I listen to The Launch song as it encapsulates so much of what is happening on screen. He should have won an Oscar for Apollo 13, but alas, there was a problem and he didn't win (Il Postino did). Ironically the year that Apollo 13 was up for the Oscar, Horner had 2 of the 5 nominations as Braveheart was that very same year. Even with Jumanji in his list of credits, his exotic score doesn't register because for a movie with a lot of jungle elements in it, he didn't really incorporate the vibe I feel you should get (No, the jungle drums simply do not count).
4. Howard Shore
Memorable Scores: 60 (Lord of the Rings: Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King, The Hobbit, Gangs of New York, King Kong)
Oscar Wins: 75 (3 wins)
Total Score: 135 points
Howard Shore is one of those guys that you might not know his name but you know his stuff. Usually Peter Jackson's partner-in-crime, his driving rhythms from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are what deliver that epic feeling to them. You can't tell me that when the main theme of The Lord of the Ring booms out in the massive battle scenes, or when the Fellowship begin their quest that you don't feel like standing up and yelling, "HELL YEAH!" I include all three of his LOTR scores because although some of the themes are reused, there are enough differences that I could pick out which movie they are from. For instance, Two Towers is filled with more of the Uruk-hai themes than the Fellowship. For one of the most out there scores in this post, Gangs of New York in a lot of places feels disjointed and odd, and in no way would I ever forget the weird rhythm of the opening flutes.
3. Danny Elfman
Memorable Scores: 100 (Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, Men in Black, PeeWee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Dick Tracy, Sleepy Hollow, Mission Impossible)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 1 out of 10
Connection to THE BATMAN: 10
OINGO BOINGO BONUS: 25
Total Score: 136 points
Mr. Elfman has created some of the quirkiest music I have ever heard in my lifetime and I love it so much. I guess it goes hand in hand with his buddy Tim Burton, in that Elfman does every movie that Burton puts out. Every track from the original Batman movie his amazing, Batman Returns takes it and makes it creepier while maintaining the same bombastic quality of the first one. Dick Tracy has an awesome theme song and part of the reason it is my favorite comic book movie of all-time. PeeWee's Big Adventure brings a smile to my face every time and makes me laugh. For all the quirks in his music, he gets his industrial point for Mission Impossible. And who knew the guy could write lyrics as he did for all of the Nightmare Before Christmas? OH THAT'S RIGHT, HE FORMED THE AWESOME GROUP OINGO FREAKIN' BOINGO! This guy doubled as the frontman for one of the best bands in the 80s.
2. Jerry Goldsmith
Memorable Scores: 100 (Congo, Mulan, Ghost in the Darkness, Alien, Planet of the Apes, Patton, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The 13th Warrior, Total Recall, The Mummy)
Awesome Industrial Sound: 2 out of 10
Exotic Sound: 10 out of 10
Oscar Wins: 25 (1 win)
Total Score: 137 Points
Sadly, Jerry is another composer who is no longer with us, but his music is widely known even if you didn't know his name. My favorite thing about Goldsmith was his ability to incorporate a variety of instruments you don't normally find in orchestras and create music that spans the globe. His works from Congo and Ghost in the Darkness make you feel like you are in Africa and his Mulan perfectly encapsulates Chinese styles. He was a master of exotic sound, truly a student of the world's music. His score from the 13th Warrior is one of the first movies I felt had that driving adventure/epic march to it that movies like LOTR, the Hobbit, Gladiator, and Clash of the Titans would later use to illicit much of the same feeling. His older works of Alien and Planet of the Apes, although not the massive overtures that most movies have, were very effective in conveying the feeling of the movie while adding a layer of mysteriousness. He even adapted into a little bit of industrial styles with his Total Recall score while not completely abandoning his classical style.
1. John Williams
Memorable Scores: 170 (Star Wars: Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, Harry Potter, Superman, Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Home Alone, Hook, The Patriot)
Exotic Sound: 3 out of 10
Oscar Wins: 125 (5 Wins)
Total Score: 298 points
The man, the myth, the legend. John Williams is the absolute epitome of composers for my generation. He has not only provided the soundtrack for most of my life, it is ingrained into a lot of people. All six of his Star Wars pieces are distinct from each other. Sure, some use themes from one to the next, but he then fills the score with new music that is vastly different from the one before it. Same with the Indiana Jones series. To me, the first three Indiana Jones scores are the single best trilogy of scores of a single property that exists in the world. Temple of Doom is so different from Raiders as Last Crusade is different than both of them. I can also see the entire movie from what Williams does with the scores for all three Indy movies, and that speaks volumes. His Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back might be the most iconic piece of music ever written for film. The Jurassic Park theme is forever etched into my mind, and what set his Jurassic overtures apart from some of his other work is the island feel he inserts into a bunch of songs. He puts a lot of tropical flair into songs like Jurassic Park Gate, Dennis Steals the Embryo, and Malcolm's Journey as well as other on the Lost World soundtrack. Keeping this in mind though, you can always tell a John Williams score from almost anyone else, and can't help but admire the London Symphony Orchestra, in which Williams uses every bit of them as he can. I've not heard a composer that literally uses every single instrument available to them that he does. Williams single handedly made bassoons cool. Look it up. Any kid that grew up with the Harry Potter franchise associates Hedwig's Theme with the books and anything associated with it. I'm pretty sure that one of the two things people love from The Phantom Menace is Williams's song Duel of the Fates alongside Darth Maul. Everytime I hear the themes from Hook, I feel like I want to go to Neverland (No, not the Ranch). And boy, how many people don't want to go into the water because of the music from Jaws (or you know, that shark). His themes are some of the most iconic in cinema and he is the golden standard. If you want yet another reason to bask in glory of his work, go listen to the Mine Car Chase from Temple of Doom and tell me that those violins don't blow you mind. I mean, who thinks of that stuff?! That's why he's the best.
There you have it, my ranking of composers of my generation. Yes, there has certainly been a number of absolutely fantastic composers from a time way before me, like Henry Mancini (who is awesome), but these nine guys are the ones who have definitely had an impact on my life. I hope to you readers that you remember some of the works that I listed above and makes you happy about the role it played in your life, or that you enjoy it as well. As always, if there are some that I didn't list (and I know there are a lot more I could've added as almost all these guys have 50+ credits on their resumes), list them in the comments. I hope you guys enjoyed reading this as this is a subject that I love to talk about if you want to chat, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thanks for reading,