No sooner do we finish Oscar season than Emmy season is upon us. But it’s always fun if a bit of a scramble to see as many television shows as possible before interviewing their composers for Variety and the SCL. We looked at the superstars vying for Emmy song nominations here; the nominations in all seven of the Television Academy’s music categories were announced July 12. My analysis of the nominees, particularly the lack of superstars in the song categories, is here; more importantly, the diversity among this year’s nominees was notable. I discussed every nominee in all seven categories here; and the winners were finally announced on Sept. 3 and 4. My one regret: that my favorite TV song of the year, Mick Jagger’s Slow Horses theme, wasn’t even nominated — especially after I went to a lot of trouble to get him on the phone for an exclusive story.
I was thrilled to collaborate with my UK friends Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker on this book. They wrote the definitive Barry bios, The Man With the Midas Touch and Hit and Miss: The Story of the John Barry Seven, about this tremendously important British composer. Music by John Barry takes an in-depth look at 42 of his scores; I covered 20 of them, along with writing the introduction (based on an interview I did with Michael Caine) and afterword. My contributions included many of the classics: Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Mary Queen of Scots, Somewhere in Time, Body Heat, Out of Africa, Dances With Wolves and several other favorites that are not as well remembered but equally significant in his oeuvre (Deadfall, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frances and others). This was a true labor of love, and maybe the most fun I ever had writing a book.
It was wonderful of Gary Gerani (author of one of my favorite books, Fantastic Television) to call and ask me to contribute to his long-in-the-making documentary on composer Billy Goldenberg. Billy wrote some of TV’s greatest themes and TV-movie scores, including the Night Gallery pilot, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Ransom for a Dead Man, Harry O, Kojak, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, and so many more. (Here is my 2020 obituary, written for Variety.) I am on screen as well as such luminaries as directors Spielberg and John Badham, actors Robert Wagner and Susan Clark, among others, discussing Goldenberg’s music and his impact on (especially) 1970s television. You can find this on Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of The UFO Incident.
This was a special one. We discovered that John Williams was writing a new theme for Lucasfilm’s Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi and broke the story for Variety in February. Then we got to sit down for lunch with British composer Natalie Holt, who galvanized us all with her Loki music and never stopped for minute, diving into the Star Wars world with her own take on music for the Jedi Master. That interview ran as the series was just beginning in May.
Billie Eilish and Hans Zimmer take on James Bond! Those were the headlines for weeks in early 2020 as production on No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was winding down. A year later, Eilish and her brother, co-writer Finneas O’Connell, won the Grammy for her title song even though the film had not yet been released. When we finally saw No Time to Die in October, we discovered that Zimmer had incorporated “We Have All the Time in the World” as part of the dramatic score, and I wrote a Variety story explaining the references to John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score (including that song). In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Billie & Finneas about their title song, and in January it was a special honor to interview the entire Bond team — producer Barbara Broccoli, director Cary Fukunaga, composer Zimmer, songwriters Billie & Finneas, and associate producer Greg Wilson — for a 40-minute Zoom conversation on music in No Time to Die. And of course Billie & Finneas won the Oscar in March.
When record labels come calling and offer you a John Williams title, you don’t say no. Especially when it’s a score from decades ago that you loved then and love now. The Eiger Sanction, a Clint Eastwood movie from 1975, was classically styled and yet also jazzy, the perfect combination (of course! it’s Williams!) for this spy thriller. I would have been happy with the original MCA album but producer Michael Matessino was able to expand it to include all of the original film score as well as the soundtrack LP, which made it so much fun to listen and write. I’m going to go listen to this right now!
Somewhere in Time has long been a favorite score, not only for John Barry fans but for fans of romantic music from movies who might not even know his name. For this first-ever expansion of the 1980 score for the Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour fantasy, I interviewed Seymour herself, as she was the person who felt that a Barry score would elevate this “little” movie about love transcending time. I also talked with director Jeannot Szwarc, who detailed his process with the composer, and incorporated a number of things Barry said over the years about it. He often said that he got more letters about Somewhere in Time than any other score he ever wrote. And, indeed, the bittersweet romantic qualities of that music are timeless, and working on this project was a highlight of the year for me.
No, not the Kenny Rogers Gambler movie! Rather, Karel Reisz’s terrific The Gambler from 1974 with a greatly underrated performance by James Caan and a fine script by James Toback. For the remastered Blu-Ray release, I contributed On the Morning After: Composing The Gambler, a 10-minute featurette on Jerry Fielding’s music. It was an unusual situation, as the filmmakers asked the composer to base his score entirely on Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Fielding essentially took bits and pieces of the Mahler First and rebuilt it into a dramatic score for Caan’s obsessive gambler character.
John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy score has always been a favorite of mine, so when Quartet Records informed me that they were going to do an expanded edition of the classic, Grammy-winning 1969 soundtrack album, I leaped at the chance to be involved. I wrote a 3,900-word essay that — I am proud to say — is the most detailed look at the creation of that soundtrack (both songs and score) that has ever been attempted. I tracked down director John Schlesinger’s assistant Michael Childers, who amazingly had several photos he took during the recording sessions (and which we reproduced in the booklet) as well as wonderful recollections of the shoot and the music. I was thrilled to receive my second Deems Taylor Award for outstanding music journalism for these notes.
This was a real labor of love. When we decided to do a series of albums of music from Quinn Martin productions, The Streets of San Francisco was high on my priority list. I knew and loved Pat Williams, a dear friend and brilliant composer who won several Emmys for his TV music. And that Streets theme, with its distinctive clavinet and roaring big-band sound, just screams “1970s cop show” to me and millions of others. I decided to devote the entire 2-CD set to Pat’s pilot and nine episode scores (and it was a bear to track all of those tapes down!), but there was room enough at the end to include his fun pilot score for the short-lived QM spy show A Man Called Sloane.