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CD Review: Autumn Thunder

by Jeff Bond

Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music ****


Cherry Lane Music

10 discs -- 182 tracks - approx. 491 min

Disc One: 19 tracks - 47:36
DiscTwo: 19 tracks - 50:22
Disc Three: 19 tracks - 55:42
Disc Four: 19 tracks - 65:56
Disc Five: 19 tracks - 43:26
Disc Six: 19 tracks - 41:15
Disc Seven: 18 tracks - 52:38
Disc Eight: 19 tracks - 52:30
Disc Nine: 16 tracks - 44:49
Disc Ten: 15 tracks - 36:58

If you were one of those FSM readers who was annoyed when we ran a cover story on the music of NFL films, stop reading now! First we raved about the long-awaited release of a single CD of Sam Spence's terrifically jazzy and aggressive music for years of weekly NFL Films football documentaries-now here comes a 10-disc set of gridiron film music with over eight hours of listening pleasure packed into a football-sized pigskin booklet.

Sam Spence created the template for this unique genre, keying off the catchy blend of jazz and big band kinetics that was the action soundtrack of the '60s and paying homage to standards like the Peter Gunn theme and Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven. Part of the fun in combing through the 182 tracks of music contained in this set is in discovering energetic knock-offs of Patton, MacArthur, Supergirl, The Last Starfighter, Silverado and numerous other big movie themes alongside Spence's wholly original approach to action, with heroically thrusting rhythmic lines and grinding trombones and basses countering more soaring, lyrical material put across by strings and a robust brass section.

All of the cues presented on the first NFL Films CD, The Power and the Glory, are presented here in much improved sound, without John Facenda's intervening narration, and often in longer, more complete renditions. Spence's music rightly dominates the first six- and-a-half discs, with early contributions from Martha Jane Weber and Beverly Herrmann (women, yet!) that quickly get into the spirit of the proceedings. Spence's work ranges from the mid '60s to the early '80s, so you get an entertaining overview of pop trends as he moves from the jazz-influenced '60s through funk and disco periods in the '70s and even some '80s electronica. Later on, younger composers David Robidoux and Tom Hedden fill Spence's shoes with a smoother sound that often lies between something like Basil Poledouris' Starship Troopers and Hans Zimmer. The moods range from no-nonsense action (you can just see the linebackers crashing through defenders in slow motion as you listen) to surprisingly lyrical passages and even some broad comedy.

It might take an abiding appreciation of football to truly get into eight hours of this material, but the overall sound of martial conflict, defeat, battle and triumph goes right to the heart of why most of us listen to movie soundtracks.

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