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 Posted:   May 4, 2012 - 9:25 PM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

Since some people just can't seem to get it that one can love Alex North's music while at the same time not care for his Oscar-nominated score for DRAGONSLAYER, I just thought I'd note a few favorite scores of his that reside in my collection. In roughly ascending order:

THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN reuses some of the material from 2001 as well as more contemporary sounds. It's an epic score to something that isn't about battles and chases. Some of the quieter cues like "Kiril's Past" could be outtakes from AGONY AND THE ECSTACY, with the beautiful transparent string writing.

THE MISFITS is known for its "ballet" written for the horse roundup. I like the movie and North's score is a fine accompanyment to it, but "The Roundup Suite" really is the centerpiece. While the rest of the score is appropriately restrained, North really cuts loose for this, the scene where the visuals match the turbulent emotions the characters feel--while Gable's drunken outburst earlier in the movie is unaccompanied (if I'm remembering right), the music in this scene, which some have compared to Goldsmith's PLANET OF THE APES, could be from an action movie (some of the string writing seems to be echoed in some of Goldsmith's late actions scores like Rambo and EXECUTIVE DECISION's big climax cue).

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is known for being one of the very first Hollywood scores to incorporate jazz elements, and the rerecording conducted by Jerry Goldsmith is moody and slinky. I have to say, while I enjoy the Goldsmith rerecording, it really doesn't do justice to how the score works in the film.

2001 is a fine listen on its own, and I'm so glad it wasn't used. Just as (some) fans argue that people don't "get" North's music, I don't think North "got" what Kubrick was trying to do with the music to his film. If the classical pieces reflect amusement or fear at various points in the movie, North's score depicts whimsy ("Space Station Docking," maybe my favorite cue on the Varese disc, reminiscent of Mendellsohn), Stravinsky-like savagery in the Dawn of Man segments (outstanding cues on their own, but would have been clumsy and too on-the-nose in the movie), or grandeur (the main theme) that simply can't match the Strauss it emulates. (I think the final cue belongs to North's AFRICA.) It would have been a great score if someone filmed one of Clarke's early novels in Hollywood in the fifties--there is a George Pal optimism to some of the cues in the second half--but it simply isn't in the same solar system as Kubrick's film. No matter, I love it on its own.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTACY might be the best gateway score for those who are interested in trying out North's music yet feel intimidated by the talk of 'difficulty'. North brings his style to a Christian subject and treats it with reverence, writing music inspiring the sense of awe Michelangelo himself might have felt when painting his most famous work. The score is anything but obtrusive yet it doesn't hang in the background either. I've always thought there was a sense of stoicism about the material, such as the beautiful "The Sistine Chapel"--it's as if the squabbling main characters are being viewed from history's (or author Irving Stone's) tut-tutting distance, while the actual artwork depicting power and grace hangs above them, immortal.

What the hell am I gonna say about SPARTACUS that hasn't been said already?

CLEOPATRA is, to me, THE North historical score. While I of course appreciate and enjoy SPARTACUS, I freakin LOVE this one. North's approach is kind of the anti-Rozsa, using more percussion and more elusive melodies, if you know what I mean--his Overture almost resists being a Big Tune, and perfectly sets the scene for a tale of an Egyptian queen, creating a very exotic feel to the overpowering art direction. On the fantastic Varese 2-disc set this cue is followed by the main title which has a theme that, to me, has it all over SPARTACUS's love theme. "Fertility," :A Gift for Caesar," "My Love is My Master," "Only Yesterday" are cues that lovers of Poledouris's and Goldsmith's quieter pieces might enjoy, showing North's reflective side. (Since I have long forgotten the movie this score was written for, it's always been a kind of fantasy adventure score for me.) "Moon Gate" is right out of SPARTACUS with its percussion/woodwind and martial material. "Taste of Death" reminds me of some of Williams's RAIDERS underscore--not action oriented, I'm thinking of the stuff involving the Ark and in the desert, mysterious. "Death in the Garden" and "Caesar's Assassination" are full of stress and peril, high-tension cues that show North could write horror/thriller scores with the best of them if he wanted. "Interlude/Sea Battle" is a 14+-minute cue that isn't as swashbuckling as one might think from the title and length but if you liked the SPARTACUS battle material, it's in the same mode, and as a stand-alone track it would make an interesting test case for fans of Zimmer and Company's material in terms of how film music is DESIGNED, how it starts here and ends up there, carrying the audience along. I can't adequately describe such a long piece except to say it's like a stand-alone suite, building to a cymbal-crashing climax (and I swear to God Horner's danger motif makes an appearance at 13:33).

As you can tell I'm simply not equipped to write about what North does, but if there's one score of North's I wish people would investigate, this is it.

Also check out:

THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY and VIVA ZAPATA manage to bring North's bracing, energetic style to Coplandesque guitar and woodwind material that says "western" to Hollywood. Both are tinged with Mexican influence in the trumpets (ZAPATA obviously, but check out the main title of COUNTRY). I have just one track from DADDY LONG LEGS from a Varese anthology but within seconds you can hear North's sound in this very modern dance cue which fans of Leonard Bernstein's compositions might enjoy. (Completely unrelated note: Fans of Hollywood religious scores should check out Bernstein's MASS.) THE DEAD is a terrific small-scaled score that, to me, captures the Joyce story better than the movie it was written for. I admire North's restraint with the Irish instruments--Hollywood composers tend to go overboard with the blarney. CARNY I can't write about because I haven't put the album on in awhile, but I do remember liking it. big grin

These are the North scores I listen to the most. But since I don't like how DRAGONSLAYER works in the movie, it's too bad I don't like North's music, or challenging, unusual scores, huh?

 Posted:   May 4, 2012 - 10:06 PM   
 By:   Dana Wilcox   (Member)

While I agree on most of your Alex North likes, JSW, I was never able to get much traction on his 2001 score (as much as I love North, I'm okay with the classical stuff that ended up in the final film). I'd have to say that the only Alex North scores I've heard in which there was just absolutely nothing for me to love are: DRAGONSLAYER, 2001 and (least accessible of all) the tv score, AFRICA. I have a sort of twisted admiration for AFRICA, but it just bends my brain when I try to listen to it. To those you mentioned favorably, I would add: BITE THE BULLET, HARD CONTRACT, LES MISERABLES, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, I'LL CRY TOMORROW and THE RAINMAKER. Those titles don't get much ink around here but besides his big ticket items, these are some important reasons I love Alex North's music so much.

 Posted:   May 4, 2012 - 10:08 PM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)


I haven't heard BITE THE BULLET on CD but it is fantastic in the movie, which I really enjoyed. I picked up the DVD as a blind buy and found it terrifically entertaining, and loved the score.

I saw THE RAINMAKER years ago, and though I don't care for Burt Lancaster I enjoyed the flick and made a mental note to see if a score album was available, thanks for the reminder.

I really dig 2001. The two halves--the Dawn material and the space material--are so different, and yet bracing in different ways. It's like the first is composed to egg on the aggressive tendencies of primal man, and the second is high-minded "some day we will bring enlightenment to the stars" energetic material that brings to mind the space art of the late Bob McCall. That last track from AFRICA (the actual album of which I haven't heard) really sticks out, though.

BTW, just checked his list on IMDB--the guy must have the greatest impact on film music with the fewest number of scores since Korngold.

 Posted:   May 4, 2012 - 10:51 PM   
 By:   Ed Lachmann   (Member)

Please don't forget THE ROSE TATTOO with its smoldering jazz themes, soft romantic melodies and Italian folk songy bits, a true masterpiece in the STREETCAR vein. The wonderful LONG HOT SUMMER score is one of my favorites by North, as well, the Eula theme being especially memorable as a perfect mixture of jazz and early R & R. To me, every inch of THE MISFITS is perfect. If you love the jazzy side of North, this on has it all especially the sultry Main Theme and even more upbeat Roslayn while Compassion really unveils the genius where he reinvents it all in something that can only be described as sheer poetry.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 12:04 AM   
 By:   Dana Wilcox   (Member)

Obviously, there is a lot to love when you start digging through the North scores. Thanks, Ed, I feel remiss in having failed to mention both STREETCAR and ROSE TATTOO among my favorites. STREETCAR in particular is an amazing score. In re to JSW's comments, I should think that both BITE THE BULLET (Prometheus) and THE RAINMAKER (RCA Spain) are still around and reasonably priced. RAINMAKER is a straight release of the original RCA LP, so it is both short and not terrific in the sound department. It does feature one of North's most infectious themes ever, for the relationship between Lancaster and Hepburn. It would be a revelation in fact to most folks who think of Alex North as edgy and atonal. Let us not forget that Mr. North composed the melody for one of the all-time great romantic songs, "Unchained Melody" (rumored to be responsible for a spike in the birth rate nine months subsequent to each major recording of the song!) "Blanche and Mitch" from STREETCAR is not a bad little "love theme" of sorts, either.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 12:08 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

I saw STREETCAR again recently and while I always appreciated it, both the movie and the score just blew me away this time around. I am reluctant to even type this but I can't help myself, what North is DOING with the score here is simply beyond the mindset of directors who hire the Remote Control gang these days. Today's directors just seem to be afraid to allow a composer that kind of thumbprint on a movie, the score has to just be "scary" or "suspenseful" or "action is happening" sustains throughout a scene. North in STREETCAR is sitting off to the side and JABBING at the viewer/listener--I'm not able to adequately describe it, but if you've seen it you know what I'm talking about. (I hope) Kazan liked to use the black background extras as observers to the foolishness of the main characters in his south-set movies, and here North is doing the same thing, commenting on what's going on, not just underscoring emotions but saying "Look at these idiots!" big grin I'm also thinking of the "Stellaaaa!" scene where Brando is at the bottom of the stairs and Stella does that kind of slow descent, the music is that of a seduction--it's like Stanley's need for her makes Stella feel sexy, and the music isn't playing on the misery of the whole set-up but the perverse sexiness of an abused woman feeling she has power in that moment. Talk about audacious.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 2:36 AM   
 By:   Tom Guernsey   (Member)

Great post JSW. North is one of those "I really must listen to him more often" composers. I think the main reason people don't get Dragonslayer is that, as a fantasy score, it probably sounds a more appealing prospect than the historical epics or more straight drama offerings so many listeners will pick that one up one first expecing something like Willow. It was always on my radar in my younger days, despite the warnings of it being quite difficult, and as with many, I found it hard work. I still do. It didn't really grow on me as much as I hoped, but I thought I might rent the film at some point to see if that helps in appreciating it.

It has to be said that there's plenty of North that those with a more romantic aural pallette would prefer which you have already mentioned. Not sure if anyone mentioned Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a gorgeous score of chamber proportions. Of course, if you want really populist North you just tell people he wrote Unchained Melody. I don't think I've ever met a non-film music fan who had any idea who I was talking about...

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 2:41 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

Of course, if you want really populist North you just tell people he wrote Unchained Melody. I don't think I've ever met a non-film music fan who had any idea who I was talking about...


"'Unchained' Melody" is one of the very, very tiny group of melodies I would label as 'perfect.' To be completely, laughably cliched here because that tune forces me to it, it pierces right to your soul.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 3:28 AM   
 By:   ToneRow   (Member)

My favorite Alex North soundtracks include titles like AFRICA and the rejected 2001, which receive similar responses from some members as those leveled against DRAGONSLAYER.

So here's the rest of my North faves which don't enter much into the realm of North's abstract/contemporary music characteristics.






 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 3:51 AM   
 By:   ToneRow   (Member)

CLEOPATRA is, to me, THE North historical score. While I of course appreciate and enjoy SPARTACUS, I freakin LOVE this one.

North's "Symphony for a New Continent" from AFRICA is so historical, it begins with human pre-history! smile

As for period films, my love for 1952's LES MISERABLES has surpassed CLEOPATRA.
The "Barricade" cue lasting over 11 minutes is one of the most amazing musical setpieces that North ever wrote!

I still love CLEOPATRA, though. Both LES MISERABLES and CLEOPATRA appeared on my "top 5" Varese Sarabande soundtracks thread.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 3:55 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

There's no greater admirer for North's "I'll Cry Tomorrow" score than me, as I gush forth in this thread:

And speaking of The Mentor to Jerry, Miles Davis thought the world of Alex North's music, though no word on Dragonslayer, specifically:

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 3:56 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)


I've never heard a note of either LES MISERABLES or THE OUTRAGE. I'll have to pick 'em up seeing their mentions here. I dig that North's scores for dramas in past historical eras are so unusual, not going with the expected romantic styles one might expect from Hollywood.

Jim Phelps,

Great, now I got IN A SILENT WAY and Paul Bowles running through my head, and five hours of work and no sleep....

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 4:16 AM   
 By:   ToneRow   (Member)

Great post JSW. North is one of those "I really must listen to him more often" composers. I think the main reason people don't get Dragonslayer is that, as a fantasy score, it probably sounds a more appealing prospect than the historical epics or more straight drama offerings so many listeners will pick that one up one first expecting something like Willow.

I was thinking the same thing about how listener's expectations with the fantasy genre gravitate towards James Horner soundtracks (such as that WILLOW) as the "norm".

I'm on the opposite side of you, though, when it comes to listening to North. smile
I listen to North soundtracks more frequently than any other "career" film composer (and that includes Jerry Goldsmith!)

Perhaps some of the biggest stumbling blocks as to why albums of North music don't move/sell as much as they deserve could be that 1) the bulk of North's contributions to cinema exist prior to 1975 (the year which seems to be the earliest year that many people can reach backwards to - no doubt with the unwritten belief that cinema and music all commenced with JAWS) and 2) North's jazzy aspects plus the old-school techniques with which the Hollywood studio musicians had performed on vintage recordings make North's music sound (unfairly) as if it belongs to the "grandparents" generation of the current 30-something/20-something collectors... the obvious shrinking market for sound recordings greater than 50 years in age.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 5:09 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)


I think the major thing that keeps North from being popular with some folks around here is that he didn't score popcorn movies. He scored movies that at least attempted to be for adult audiences.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 5:22 AM   
 By:   Graham S. Watt   (Member)

Just a quick thumbs up for two of the very greatest scores I've ever heard by Alex North, and both so different. They've been mentioned above, but for hothouse blues, delicate romance, hard-hitting jazz and spikey percussive piano you can't get much better than the terrific THE SOUND AND THE FURY. This one seems to get overlooked in the wake of the admittedly also great STREETCAR (in its original recording).

And CLEOPATRA may be my favourite North of all. It's sheer bliss (and I too favour it over SPARTACUS).

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 5:26 AM   
 By:   JSWalsh   (Member)

And CLEOPATRA may be my favourite North of all. It's sheer bliss (and I too favour it over SPARTACUS).

Ha HA! We be legion! (Or somethin...) big grin

I just find CLEOPATRA to be magnificent and full of COLOR and variety. The first time I heard the CD it was almost overwhelming. I had an album from the sixties that I've since lost so I can't compare it, but it didn't even hint at how rich this thing was. There is so much variety in it, that when I first put on the CDs I just couldn't grasp everything that was going on. It's years later and I still don't, really, but it's an incredible listen. It's one of those scores that keeps revealing new facets over time.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 5:48 AM   
 By:   DavidCoscina   (Member)

I love his score to Good Morning Viet Nam. That's a holy grail id love to see released. It's not long but what music he did compose was beautiful.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 6:44 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

I recall reading somewhere that North considered Member of the Wedding to be his favorite among his works. The picture is not particularly obscure, yet nobody ever mentions the score.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 7:03 AM   
 By:   Morricone   (Member)

I can't beieve no one has mentioned DEVIL'S BRIGADE or for that matter CHEYENNE AUTUMN.
And underrated among the LPs I have from him is SOMEBODY KILLED MY HUSBAND and DREAM OF KINGS. The melodic side of North was pretty vast but the films simply not as known.

 Posted:   May 5, 2012 - 7:13 AM   
 By:   ToneRow   (Member)


One is temped to say DREAM OF KINGS is ZORBA THE GREEK five years later in Chicago.

I like DREAM OF KINGS, mind you, but trying to get an FSM forum full of Marvel & DC superhero fans to listen to Greek bouzouki music is like attempting to get 20-something Bollywooders to listen to Ravi Shankar's sitar!

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