The Action Music of John Williams

Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 7th, 2012, 11:41 pm #1

Here at The Barn our love for John Williams knows no bounds.

That's why I'm proud to present 25 great action cues from our greatest living composer.

These will be presented CHRONOLOGICALLY. Ranking them is an exercise in futility.

Our first entry goes all the way back to 1975 when Williams burst into the public eye with one of the most memorable scores of all time...
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 8th, 2012, 3:02 am #2

1975 - Jaws - Man Against Beast

Although it will always be best known for its ominous two-note theme, Jaws is so much more than that.

And so with our first exhibit I present 'Man Against Beast.'

This is a brilliant example of the thematic action material that would come to define Williams' action style, and one we will hear quite a bit more of in our subsequent entries.

This aptly titled track finds the theme for the shark and that of our heroes quite literally squaring off as they alternate statements in triumphant fashion. THIS is great action music and a perfect way to kick off our list.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPVhOLCjN3I
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 8th, 2012, 11:31 pm #3

1977 - Star Wars - Tie Fighter Attack

Although Jaws was a breakout score for John Williams, Star Wars changed the entire landscape of film music. Its exceptionally memorable themes and triumphant orchestral fanfares were (and still are) the stuff film music dreams are made of.

Tie Fighter Attack is an absolutely infectious action cue. It contains thrilling statements of the fanfare for the Rebel Alliance and is constantly propelled forward by furious staccato blasts from the brass section.

Enjoy our second entry- Tie Fighter Attack!

Note: This track also contains the Ben's Death cue. Tie Fighter Attack begins about halfway through. Not that you wouldn't be able to tell!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmWzXCTrTXY
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 9th, 2012, 4:10 pm #4

1977 - Star Wars - The Battle of Yavin

With our third entry we go forward about 5 minutes from our second. The very next cue begins The Battle of Yavin- A monumental piece of action scoring that weaves together just about every major theme in the film. Ben's Theme (Now regarded as the general theme representing The Force) and Luke's Theme(Aka the Main Title) are given heroic statement after heroic statement. It's all interspersed with furious, propulsive and anticipatory scoring that heightens the tension all the way until its climatic resolution.

The Death Star Trench Run was unlike anything seen before; and Williams provided music that matched the incredible visuals and heroics.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEEOcqbeclg
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 10th, 2012, 10:36 pm #5

1978 - Superman: The Movie - Helicopter Sequence

How do you follow the best science-fiction score of all time? With the best superhero score, of course!

One year after the phenomenon of Star Wars, John Williams delivered the most iconic superhero theme of all time for The Man of Steel.

Although the most memorable moments for many would prove to be the incredible main title and the bombastic introduction to the Planet Krypton, it also delivers a first-rate action piece in Helicopter Sequence.

Much like the film, Helicopter Sequence builds and builds and builds before unleashing our hero in his full glory.

Swirling strings and ominous brass lend to the suspenseful anticipation before subtly introduced the first tones of the Superman theme and unleashing it full force at the three minute mark.

The transition to the love theme for Superman's rescue of Lois Lane is a sublime moment.

The rest of the cue is rounded out by gloriously heroic statements of the Superman theme.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naXNYPVM8bA
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 11th, 2012, 11:49 pm #6

1980 - The Empire Strikes Back - The Asteroid Field

With our fifth entry, John Williams returned to a galaxy far away for the sequel to biggest film of all time.

To say The Empire Strikes Back lived up to expectations is an understatement. It blew them away; delivering what many consider to be the best sequel in the history of cinema.

Like the film, John Williams' score was even better than the original. It introduced a myriad of new and extraordinary themes including the sweeping theme for Han Solo and The Princess, Yoda's Theme and, of course, The Imperial March.

So how good is Empire? Let's just say if I could only pick one Williams score, this would be it.

There are many excellent action pieces such as the massive Battle of Hoth and the entire escape from Cloud City portion of the film (Departure of Boba Fett, Rescue From Cloud City, etc.).

But the film's trademark action cue is the spectacular asteroid field sequence.

The Asteroid Field begins with several aggressive statements of The Imperial March as the Millenium Falcon is pursued by the Empire.

As the ship enters the field, the intensity and pace quickens with frantic strings and winds.

It very satisfyingly builds to a spectacular brass melody at around 2:15.

As the action comes to its explosive climax, the theme for Han Solo and the Princess is beautifully stated- A perfect end to a nearly perfect piece of action scoring.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVycvLAFXmc
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 12th, 2012, 11:49 pm #7

1981 - Raiders of the Lost Ark - Desert Chase

Spielberg, Lucas, Williams... How could it not have a good score? Well it didn't. It had a phenomenal one.

As is commonly known among score enthusiasts, The Raiders March was actually two distinct pieces that Williams combined when Spielberg couldn't decide which he preferred for his character's title theme.

Desert Chase is a spectacular and thrilling piece of action scoring. There won't be a single entry on this list that I find more enjoyable.

This brassy and relentless piece features The Raider's March in its full glory with exhilarating statements of both its 'A' and 'B' themes. 7:18 begins my all-time favorite statement of the B-theme and, in my opinion, is one of the most exceptional moments in the history of action scoring. If that doesn't get you pumped, nothing will.

The piece features exceptional pacing and the energy never lets up for its 8-plus minute running time.

There are also some fantastic statements of the film's Nazi theme to counter the heroic outbursts of The Raider's March.

It is absolutely unconscionable that this magnificent score lost out to Chariots of Fire at the Academy Awards.

Nevertheless, enjoy our sixth entry, Desert Chase!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64si_NqMEng
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 14th, 2012, 12:50 am #8

1982 - E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial - Escape/Chase

Already an established action/adventure scoring genius, Williams proved he was also a master of drama with E.T. His tear-jerking, emotionally masterful finale is truly one of a kind. It follows Escape and Chase on this track. So you get that as a nice bonus for listening.

As the story goes, Spielberg actually edited the film's climax to fit John Williams' score. This is unheard of.

Williams' superlative work and Spielberg's ultimate respect for it made E.T. one of the most popular film scores of all time. No compilation is complete without it.

This 15-minute slice of film score heaven begins with the movie's mischievous chase theme in Escape. The theme gets it's most energetic interpretation here on blaring trumpets. It's a great action cue which then slows down for a sweet statement of E.T.'s flying theme.

But the action doesn't end there. Slowly building back, Williams unleashes the victory fanfare in Chase. It's a glorious piece with frantic strings and rousing brass. The interaction between the sections as well as the fanfare countered by the evil government theme is incredible.

Just as the tension comes to a head, the famous flying theme soars.

The track then transitions to Saying Goodbye, the incredibly emotional finale.

It all makes for arguably the best 15 minutes of music written by Williams and one of the most iconic moments in film score history.

And so I present our seventh entry, Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aII8tpF7PPc
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 14th, 2012, 2:14 pm #9

1983 - Return of the Jedi - Sail Barge Assault

To quote C-3PO, "Here we go again!"

Williams continued his incredible streak by delivering an epic score for the conclusion of the Star Wars Trilogy one year after our last entry.

And of all the great action material here, particularly the massive Battle of Endor and the choir-driven climactic lightsaber duel, it's the film's first action sequence that I have always loved most.

Sail Barge Assault is the exhilarating payoff to the film's first act on Tatooine.

This track begins with The Pit of Carkoon before transitioning into the Sail Barge Assault at around 55 seconds in. Isolated blasts from the horns begin the piece as strings build the tension.

The action erupts with a triumphant statement of Luke's theme followed by the Rebel Fanfare.

This cue makes great use of old and new material. Luke's Theme, The Rebel Fanfare and portions of earlier entries Tie Fighter Attack and The Battle of Yavin are integrated in thrilling fashion.

The theme for Jabba is there too as the giant slug faces his demise.

The highlight of the track is its victorious brass fanfare. An exceptional melody that is never heard before or after in the saga. Only Williams can write something this incredible and never have room for it again! It is first introduced at around the five minute mark and concludes the piece in gloriously triumphant fashion.

Without further delay, our eighth entry- Sail Barge Assault.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT34sc33q0A
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Joined: October 14th, 2010, 7:21 pm

June 15th, 2012, 11:18 pm #10

1984 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Slave Children's Crusade/Short Round Helps/The Mine Car Chase

Anyone familiar with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom knows that the film goes action crazy in its final act.

Williams was more than up for the challenge, providing incredible, thematic action music on a level rarely seen.

These three tracks represent a stretch of 11 straight minutes as our trio (Indiana Jones, Short Round and Willie) escape from the Temple of Doom.

Slave Children's Crusade is the film's trademark cue. It's a triumphant piece showcasing The Shankara Stones theme as the children are freed of their shackles and the action begins.

The music takes a turn for the suspenseful as Indy fights a giant Thugee warrior on the conveyor belt.

The cue transitions directly into Short Round Helps, a superb cue making fantastic use of both Short Round's Theme and The Raider's March. The two are frequently meshed together in extremely satisfying fashion (Check out 1:30 and 2:40).

The love theme for Indy and Willie is also heard here.

It all builds to a superb rendition of the Raider's March just past the four minute mark.

Then it's onto The Mine Car Chase; a really fun cue filled with eerie, ghostly string work, extensive use of Mola Ram's theme and a catchy recurring motif on Trumpet first heard 50 seconds in.

But enough blabbering. Enjoy our ninth entry (in three parts!) Slave Children's Crusade, Short Round Helps and The Mine Car Chase.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Hx8rCfgkOU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g32tJ3ksYKw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFUBeyCA9TQ
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