Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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"What is best in life?"

I first bought the soundtrack album for Conan the Barbarian the same day I purchased that for The Hunt for Red October; the latter was one of my first CDs (although not the very first; that would have been Jerry Goldsmith's score for Total Recall). Conan, however, was on one of those old white-shelled MCA cassette tapes with no Dolby and a lousy reduction of the LP cover art ("Note: There is approximately 1 minute 26 seconds of blank tape at the end of Program 1"). I still have that tape, almost worn down to nothing. I keep it for sentimental reasons.

I had just seen Red October and was impressed by several moments in the score (some of which were not on that album), and had remembered a bold theme from Conan the Destroyer that I really wanted to hear, so I figured that Basil Poledouris was somebody whose music I wanted to check out. Alas, that theme was not on the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack album, but by Crom what was there was one of the most impressive forty-seven minutes of music that I'd ever heard. I took to the battle music immediately, and as for the rest, more I listened to it, the more I wanted to listen to it, and this was my reaction completely divorced from the film, which I had not seen for quite a while at the time (and even then, probably only on television).

I eventually rented the film and was amazed not only by how much the film used its music as a narrative tool, but by how much really good music was in the film that didn't appear on the album. The film itself remains a personal favorite of mine for its exhilarating battle sequences and operatic tone. The score is hands down the most sophisticated aspect of the film, but it such a perfect musical reflection of the film's story, ideas and setting that it reaches heights of film/music interaction that Sergeis Eisenstein and Prokofiev would have been proud of (I don't always like John Milius' films, but they do always have great scores).

I also caught up to Conan the Destroyer on video and found the score to be much more conventional but with splendid highlights. Several cues seemed to be recycled almost directly from Conan the Barbarian, which I found somewhat odd. That theme that I had remembered, the one that prompted me to purchase Conan the Barbarian in the first place, it was right there in the main title, glorious and heroic. Unfortunately, in addition to the film being monaural, the music in the main title was obscured by thundering hooves, but I did record the end credits, which had a piece of that main title theme, and made finding the soundtrack album a priority.

Of course, as anybody familiar with the Conan the Destroyer score is aware of, the album omits the main title. The track titled "Main Title/Riders of Taramis" has a piece of "Conan and Bombaata Battle" tracked in before segueing into the cue for the fight at the shrine. To make matters worse, the cue that immediately proceeds the presentation of the main theme in the end title is heard as part of "Dueling Wizards" on the soundtrack album, making for something of a tease in that respect.

When Varèse Sarabande released these two titles on CD, I hit the roof when I saw that Conan the Barbarian had additional tracks on it — this was the first expanded release of a score I had ever seen! The disc of Conan the Destroyer, however, was a straight reissue of the LP configuration. Ford A. Thaxton has said that the reason why Poledouris chose not to include the main title on the soundtrack album is because he was dissatisfied with the performance, but I have to say that on a personal level I have always wanted that track, and it became one of my holy grails. And whenever someone would mention the possibility of myself making a Conan mix, I always cited the lack of available music from Conan the Destroyer as being a primary reason why I couldn't. I meant, of course, that I couldn't feel comfortable making a Conan mix without including this track. And of course, there was no third film which would make it somewhat difficult to make a decent concept album.

I am understandably not going to get into too many details here, but I have found, at long last, this holy grail of mine. It doesn't sound all that great, but it is in stereo and more than listenable (and I've made a lot of… special modifications myself; it actually consists of two takes recorded separately that I had to combine to replicate its intended flow). I can certainly hear why Poledouris had reservations about the performance, but it's just such an exciting piece of music that it transcends the playing (which could honestly be said about some parts of the Conan the Barbarian score as well). It's all here, that propulsive rhythm, the clanging adaptation of "Anvil of Crom," the brassy rise and fall of an adventure theme only Poledouris could have composed. And furthermore I had forgotten that it blossoms into a soaring rendition of the "Riddle of Steel" theme as Conan is seen praying at the shrine.

I finally have a piece of music that I've wanted for over twenty years and forget all that bullshit about "wanting" being better than "having," this is only two minutes and thirty-seven seconds and it's my version of bliss. What can I say? I'm even glad that I had to tinker with it.

But it gets even better. I couldn't make a Conan mix because I didn't have this track. I also couldn't make one because there was no third Conan film and therefore no third Poledouris Conan score. However, in addition to the two Conan features, Basil Poledouris also composed the score for The Adventures of Conan: Sword and Sorcery Spectacular stunt show at Universal Studios in 1983. The music for this program was released by SuperTracks, and it is quite a handsome work in its own right, and while it doesn't have direct quotes to the thematic material from Conan the Barbarian, they are referenced, and there are several ideas that the composer would develop and incorporate into the Conan the Destroyer score one year later.

As should be obvious from even a casual glance at this blog, I am somewhat addicted to making film music mixes. This comes from a love of the music, an interest in how music and narrative work and because it's just plain fun to do. I didn't really think that I would ever be able to make a Conan mix, but late last week I found myself on the other side of all of those barriers, ready, willing and able. Furthermore, the aforementioned presence of the "Riddle of Steel" theme in this piece makes it a perfect companion piece to "Anvil of Crom," the main title of Conan the Barbarian, and the symmetry the opening a disc with one and closing it with the other… well, let's just say a lot of the decisions made themselves.

If I'd been a bit scarce this weekend, it's because I've been in mix addict heaven. I even got to listen to my assemblies with the best weather we've had all this year. I suppose the title Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure may be a bit cumbersome (although I specifically typeset it to imply that it could easily be shortened to High Adventure for brevity), but what jazzed me about the Conan the Barbarian score in the first place was that sense of story in the music, even before I knew what was going on in the film. And since I opened the disc with Mako's introduction from the Milan CD (this doesn't appear on the Varèse CD, but the Milan CD doesn't have any of the extra tracks on the Varèse), it just seemed appropriate to me. And the disc art looks beautiful; while Arnold Schwarzenegger graces the front cover art, the inlay and disc feature Frank Frazetta paintings of Conan.

I'm almost done with it. I've made a couple of tweaks to the master here and there these past two days, but only to smooth over transitions and whatnot, not to make any structural changes. I will be ready to post the track listing and liner notes soon.

Work on The Early Mixes is revving back up again, and Dan and I are laying the groundwork for another project that we can begin working on upon its conclusion…

but that is another story.
Tags: basil poledouris, conan, film music, mix workshop
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