Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rant #914: Let's Go to the Soundtrack

One of my hobbies in the digital age is to transfer my vinyl record collection--numbering in the thousands--to digital.

It is pretty easy to do. I use a turntable that I can hook up to my computer, and the transfer is just about seamless.

Over the past seven or eight years, I have transferred thousands of 45s and LPs to digital, and I also have a gizmo that can transfer tape to digital files, and I use that too.

Usually, I transfer over the files so I can listen to them in the MP3 player I have in my car. Other times, I transfer over the material so that others can hear it.

And I have plenty of stuff that you still can't get on CD, so the material I transfer over is often material that I couldn't get any other way if I wanted to.

Anyway, my latest obsession with my record collection is the large array of movie soundtracks that I have in my collection, and primarily my 1960s movie soundtrack collection, which numbers probably in the many dozens.

That really isn't that much when you look at the totality of my collection, but the interesting thing to me is that a lot of these LPs I haven't listened to in years, if ever.

My mother was a big record buyer when my sister and I were young, and when she went to a movie, or, for that matter a Broadway show, and she liked what she saw, she inevitably ran out and bought the soundtrack or the original cast recording, so I have plenty of material to choose from.

And she did exactly what the record companies wanted her to do. Movie soundtracks and Broadway cast albums were extras for those who saw these shows. You saw the show or film, you liked it, you just had to have the recording so you could relive the experience in your homes.

There was no home video in those days, so this was the closest thing you could have to actually owning the film.

Listening to a lot of these soundtracks, one had to really like the film to get some of these, because many of them are literally one-listen affairs. There really is nothing on them to sustain listening past that first time.

Others have a longer longevity, if you know what I mean. Repeat plays are essential, because not only were the movies really good, but the soundtracks are too.

And many of them were hits, spawned hits, and are essential pieces of a complete record collection.

My focus is on the 1960s for a variety of reasons. One, of course, is that the 1960s, to me, was the most interesting decade to be alive in. Hope was eternal, but a lot of that hope was shattered by senseless assassinations and war.

The movies reflected this perfectly, and through the decade, you could see that in the soundtracks. Earlier in the decade, the movie soundtracks were generally light and frothy. As rock and roll took center stage, they started to showcase that music, and late in the decade, the more serious music of the 1960s came out on those soundtracks, reflecting life as we were living it.

It is quite a changeover, and that is why I like what I hear on these soundtrack.

Notice that I haven't mentioned any soundtracks by name here. Yes, there are photos of some of these soundtracks throughout this piece, but whether talking about good or bad ones, they all share one thing:
someone--whether it be my mother or someone else, because some of these soundtracks I have picked up in used record stores on my own over the years--found it necessary to buy these LPs for their collections.

Someone decided that the film they saw was memorable enough that they wanted to have the soundtrack of the film for their collection.

There are some constants that run through a lot of the soundtracks--composer John Barry is one, especially on the James Bond soundtracks but certainly on others too--and whether good or bad, or for bad movies or good, this music meant something to somebody.

When I listen to the music in my car, much of it acts as white noise, a sort of background to my driving. Others perk my ears up, and I want to hear more.

And I do, whether I am listening to soundtrack veterans like a Julie Andrews, or just to a cut that really interests me.

And like these soundtracks when they first came out, when I am done listening, they are put away in my mind and my collection.

Perhaps I will listen to them again, perhaps not. But at least I took the time to listen to them with a 40-plus to 50 year perspective around them.

These soundtracks were new way back when, they are old now, but given that multi-decade perspective, I can truly appreciate the care that went into the creation of this music.

Things are different today. We are in a completely disposable society, and with iTunes and music files, I don't think that soundtracks really count that much anymore.

Sure, they are still produced on CD, but on the Internet, you can find the tracks you want, and you don't have to get the complete package.

My argument is that getting the complete package is vital to understanding both the music and the film, but I think that I am in the minority on that point today.

Whatever the case, I am glad that I rediscovered these soundtracks.

They are fun to listen to, and give me a personal glimpse of the music of the time, and what composers were trying to say with their music.

Listen to a soundtrack from that time, and I guarantee you will get what I am saying.

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