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Best John Williams compositions of the '80s

John_williams Great '80s composers. When choosing the best, you can either listen to the insane rantings of pop music critics, or you can take it from today's guest blogger, Dan Vhay, a longtime Hollywood insider who knows a thing or two about great movies. Today, he tackles the topic of greatest film composers of the 1980s.

So the rest of my office is playing hooky and going to see the new Star Trek flick, but I guess I was not special enough for an invite (16 years gets you nothing in this biz, I guess), so I will try my hand at this guest blog thing-a-ma-jiggy.

So I submit to you, that John Williams is THE Composer Overlord of the decade we all know and love.

Nowadays, movie scores seem mostly built on subtle background ambience, and for action films, sadly it comes down to which setting to set your drum machine on.

John Williams seems to reach into the heart and soul of a film and create a score that fits perfectly. His themes for main characters could almost have come from the characters themselves, and his ability to both accentuate a scene without overtaking it is unparalleled. There are barely any scores of his that when you listen to them on their own, you can almost see the movie in your mind.

For this top 5 list, here are the ones from the '80s that DIDN’T make the cut: HEARTBEEPS (1981), MONSIGNOR (1982), INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984, close call for me), THE RIVER (1984), SPACECAMP (1986), WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987), EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987), INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) and ALWAYS (1989).

Already having scored JAWS, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and SUPERMAN in the late 1970s (and taking home two Academy Awards), here’s how he fared in the '80s, via my TOP FIVE:


5. BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY (1989): Oliver Stone’s movie would mostly feature songs from the various time periods he follows Tom Cruise’s Vietnam vet through. But when he needed to tie the film together with a signature theme, he turned to Williams. The central idea was a tune that starts out with a feeling of innocent nostalgia that midway through turns to sadness and longing, just like the character of Ron Kovic. He nabbed an Oscar nomination for it as well. [Listen]

4. THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (1988): Another non-action score for Williams, which finds him centering on a simple piano theme to hone in on William Hurt’s character of a solitary divorcee living with not only his reclusive siblings, but also with inexpressible inner grief for the loss of his son. Williams really plucks the heartstrings, but is able to alter things once Hurt meets the quirky Geena Davis. Yet another Oscar nod for Johnny boy. [Listen]

3. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980): The man could have easily just moved around a few notes from the iconic STAR WARS score and people would have loved it anyway.  Well, he used some familiar tempos all right, but also fashioned some new stuff, too. The Imperial March is still used in sports venues today, and the scenes of Yoda lifting the X-Wing fighter, the asteroid chase and Han Solo’s carbon-freezing scene seem to follow Williams’ lead, rather than vice versa. Did he get an Oscar nomination?  What do you think? [Listen]

2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): Absolutely thrilling. I dare you to listen to it and not want to don a hat, jump on a horse and search for lost treasure. When Harrison Ford looks down for the count, it’s John Williams who picks him up, dusts him off and keeps him fighting. Listen to the Desert Chase track, and you can literally see the film, shot for shot, gallop across your brain. Can you believe he lost the Oscar that year to Vangelis? For CHARIOTS OF FIRE? It’s not a bad theme, but it’s only ONE THEME! [Listen]

1. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982): At the beginning, he gets your pulse going with a chase through the forest, almost making Peter Coyote’s keys jangle on cue. But by the end, when the full orchestra kicks in, you see Dee Wallace’s face break into a laugh/cry, and then the face of Henry Thomas in one of the best child performances ever, John Williams reaches into your chest and squeezes the tears right out of your heart.  Magical stuff.  This time, he actually took home the Oscar while watching GANDHI beat E.T. for Best Picture. [Listen]

Okay, anyone disagree?

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 2:45pm]


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