My Top 20 Film & Television Soundtracks From 1970-1980
(with a focus on horror, science fiction, and fantasy)
On rare occasions, when I am not making music, I have time to listen. When I listen, it is generally to radio plays. I also enjoy listening to soundtracks. There were a lot of great films made in the 70’s and 80’s and, as you would expect, some great music was created to go along with them. Of course, there is no guarantee that a great film will have a great score. Sometimes you can find great music in a bad film. Whatever the case, there are many excellent films out there to enjoy and just as many fascinating soundtracks and scores to listen to.
I have enjoyed horror films and the music contained therein since I was a kid. Speaking of my childhood…the first film I remember seeing (not at home) was “Escape To Witch Mountain” at a drive-in theater in 1975. They also played Pink Panther cartoons that night. While none of the music from “Escape To Witch Mountain” stuck with me, the theme from the Pink Panther cartoons certainly did. It wasn’t the beginning of my life-long love affair with film and television music though. That happened when I heard the theme from “The Twilight Zone.” There was a lot of great music in “The Twilight Zone” created by incredibly talented artists like Nathan Van Cleave, Jerry Goldsmith, Fred Steiner, and Bernard Hermann, just to name a few.
In my youth, I also enjoyed watching classic Universal and Hammer horror films, Godzilla movies, Three Stooges shorts, Marx Brothers films, and plenty of cartoons. Speaking of cartoons, Carl Stalling, anyone? m/ Since I’m digressing a bit, I should mention that there are some great pieces of music hidden away in thousands of radio plays. Not just CBS EZ Cue drops, either. Okay, back to film and television. Once the 70’s came around, synthesizers became more commonly used in film music. This is where my interest comes in.
The first time I heard synthesizers, I knew it was the future pouring into my ears. Hearing them used in film music was inspiring to me…no matter how cheesy or how low the film budget may have been, I couldn’t get enough of those futuristic sounds! Quite a few of my favorite tracks from film and TV have synths in them and most are from horror/science fiction/fantasy genres with a few exceptions. I will also confess I may have some sort of Mellotron fetish, but that can be addressed in another post.
On to the list!
20. Monty Python’s Life Of Brian – Brian Song by Michael Palin, André Jacquemin, David Howman, John Du Prez, and Sonia Jones (1979)
Lyrics by Michael Palin….and fine lyrics they are!
Talk about futuristic sounds…lots of found sounds and atonal noise to put you on edge. The soundtrack was released on a hexagonal-shaped LP and can set you back $30-400! Perfect for fans of noise and difficult listening. You can see some photos of the LP on this blog.
13. Kolchak: The Night Stalker – Theme by Gil Mellé (1974)
I used to watch this show with my father and it scared the hell out of me. I still love it and the theme remains a favorite of all-time.
Having enjoyed cartoons since childhood (Warner Brothers, Tex Avery, Hanna Barbera, Filmation), I also love quite a few animated feature films. This is one of the best from the 70’s in my opinion and the groovy soundtrack is quite enjoyable.
11. Phantasm – Intro and Main Title by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave (1979)
Do you like silver balls? Do you like silver balls that can fly? Do you like silver balls that can fly through the air, pierce your skull, and suck your blood out? Hell yeah! Don’t we all?!? This soundtrack has a strong scent of the 70’s, but don’t let that discourage you. It’s worth throwing on your over-sized headphones, kicking your bellbottom-covered legs up onto the speaker, and staring at your black light poster collection as you wig out to the freaky sounds created for this happenin’ film from 1979.
09. A Clockwork Orange – Title Music by Wendy Carlos (1971)
This powerful title theme (Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, Z. 860 by Henry Purcell) reinterpreted by Wendy Carlos still resonates with me after all these years. It’s hard not to visualize pieces of the film when you hear the music. Some may accuse electronic music of having no “soul” or depth or warmth, but I say Wendy Carlos proves that to be wrong.
07. Nosferatu the Vampyre – On the Way by Popol Vuh (1979)
Florian Fricke, founder and mastermind behind Popol Vuh, worked on a handful of great Werner Herzog films. While originally interested in electronic music, he returned to acoustic music and composed some of the most majestic and beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard. This particular track is fairly minimal and works quite well outside of the film.
What 70’s soundtrack list would be complete without something from John Williams? What else is there to say? Well, I can still remember quite a lot about seeing this in the theater when it came out. When the music started, everyone in the room new it was going to be something special.
05. Halloween – Halloween Theme by John Carpenter (1978)
Yes, it’s the Top Five! This is a legendary piece of horror film music. I recall John Carpenter saying that the origins of the piece came from his father teaching him an exercise in 5/4. If you are a horror film fan and you haven’t heard this theme, you may live under a rock.
04. Aguirre, the Wrath of God – Lacrime Di Re by Popol Vuh (1972)
This is an incredibly beautiful piece of music. I never grow tired of it. While I have only seen the film once and enjoyed it, this track stands by itself extremely well.
Doctor Who left quite an impression on me as a young teenager. Who can forget Tom Baker and his impressive hair, long scarf, and wicked grin? The original theme is my favorite version, but this list only covers ’70-’80 and I really like the Peter Howell version too!
02. Dawn Of The Dead – L’alba Dei Morti Viventi by Goblin (1978)
If you will recall, I mentioned Goblin being one of my favorite bands, so it should come as no surprise to see them appear in the Top Five! Great movie, great soundtrack, great film library music cues, too! This track has been very inspirational to me as a musician (as well as Goblin). It is also another example of film music that needs no film to be thoroughly enjoyed.
01. The Shining – Main Title “The Shining” by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind (1980)
Finally we arrive at my #1 pick for the best film/TV soundtrack. The film itself is also at the top of my list of favorite movies. Symphonie Fantastique: Dies Irae connection? Sure! Dig those crazy tubas, man! But…this is so much better to me. I find it almost impossible to hear this theme and not picture the car driving through the mountains at the beginning of the film. I love all of the music used in the film. Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti, Béla Bartók, Henry Hall and the Gleneagles Hotel Band, Al Bowlly & Ray Noble Orchestra, Jack Hylton And His Orchestra. It is an unforgettable piece of music and will probably remain at the top of my list for the rest of my life.
There you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and perhaps discovered something new. Feel free to leave a comment with your own top 20!