Since I was a kid I've always been fascinated by music in films. When I was seven I first saw the 70's Walt Disney version of Robin Hood; there was a song that stayed with me for years. In a charming and beautifully animated jail scene, a rooster on acoustic guitar laments his and his friend's predicament with the song 'Not In Nottingham', written and sung by Roger Miller. My first band The Jennifers covered it in 1991 because we all thought it was such a cool song . It wouldn't have been out of place on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
Another early, and in many ways defining, musical memory was from the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and a great scene where the enigmatic Gene Wilder sings 'Pure Imagination' by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. The sweet but uneasy notes of the Celesta ring out as the doors are opened to the magical candy land. So fitting, in what is a sweet but ultimately dark & uneasy film. Its a piece of music I still love to listen to today.
Those two songs more than helped cement both films as lifelong classics for me, and when I now watch them with my kids thirty years or so later, I can't contain my excitement when I hear the first few notes and I'm all: "Kids check this out...turn it up...I love this bit ! " It re-enforced to me how fundamentally important music is to a piece of film.
The more I got into writing songs the more I realised how much weight and emotional depth a soundtrack can bring to a film. The lengthy docking scene in one of my favourites - 2001: A Space Odyssey- would have felt almost documentary-like, and far less cinematic without 'The Blue Danube' punctuating the gravitas of the moment. Or the opening scene in Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck strutting through New York City, cowhide suitcase in hand - made even more iconic by the use of Nilsson singing 'Everybody's Talkin'. A moment that was the catalyst for me to not only explore more of John Barry's work, but to delve in further and find the original version of the song by Fred Neil that led me to his 1966 album 'Fred Neil', a mainstay record through my late teens.
There's been so many important soundtracks over the years that have influenced my songwriting as much as bands and artists. John Barry and David Bowie in equal measures. When it works it truly transforms a film, it's the emotional glue.
In stark contrast, an example of when it doesn't work hit me when my wife and I recently watched the 1986 Sean Penn film At Close Range. The soundtrack was basically a loop of the Madonna song 'Live To Tell' throughout the 111 minutes. We were screaming at the TV for the music to stop so we could try and enjoy a bit of classic Christopher Walken. It totally detracted from what was a pretty good film. I mean how much 80s reverb can one man take ? Uncomfortable viewing. Still, I guess Penn was knocking her off around that time!
I see soundtracks from two perspectives: the written for film, incidental soundtracks by-to name a few of my favourites-composers such as John Barry, Lalo Schifrin and Ennio Morricone . These scores I find really creatively inspiring and were so important to me as a musical reference when I started writing my record Here Come The Bombs, which in some way was my very own soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist !
Then there's the song based, sourced soundtracks like Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski and one of my favourite films and soundtracks of
recent years - Inglorious Basterds. I think Tarantino is a master of the sourced soundtrack, he somehow manages to find these gems from established artists and composers. I mean one minute I think I've heard most of Morricone's work then Tarantino pulls one out of the bag and I think: "where was that one hiding ?"
Imagine a horror film without a soundtrack. Chances are it wouldn't be scary and in fact it would probably seem in some way pointless. Or Dark Star without John Carpenter's tense and eerie synth soaked score . Or those moments in films where I feel like I'm going to lose my cool and shed a tear (and it has happened on the odd occasion). It's the music that tips me over the edge.
With film and music, I love the way the two arts meet to create a concentrated shot of emotion. It is and always will be a constant source of excitement and fascination.
Gaz's album Here Come The Bombs is out now on Hot Fruit Records
Photo credit: Andrew Ogilvy