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80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
We mark the movie maestro's 80th birthday with a celebration of his classic pieces

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The Adventures Of Tintin
First heard in: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (2011)

The most American of composers, Williams went all Euro for the animated title sequence of Spielberg's take on Hergé's boy detective. In its not-to-be trusted cool evoking trench coats and peering over newspapers, it shares qualities with the opening of Catch Me If You Can (another animated title sequence), starting with sneaky woodwinds that are energised by some jazz drumming — nice! — before virtuoso harpsichord joins the party. At 0.38, we are introduced to the Tintin theme that Williams will turn heroic and swashbuckling with brass later in the score — indeed rather than a theme for the character in the movie, this feels like a tune to represent and pay tribute to Hergé's universe and legacy.

Listen to an excerpt:

A Big Beautiful Ball
First heard in: Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)

Williams started his film music career composing scores for a series of bedroom farces and light comedies such as How To Steal A Million, Penelope, Fitzwilly and Not With My Wife, You Don't under the soubriquet Johnny Williams. Studying music at the noted Julliard School in New York, Williams also worked as a jazz pianist and many of these scores have a lounge-y music-to-mix-cocktails-and-take-your-best-gal-dancing-at-the-Copa feel that was dominant back in the '60s. A Big Beautiful Ball plays over the titles of Not With My Wife You Don't starring Tony Curtis and George C. Scott fighting over the same girl (Virna Lisi) and is typical of Williams from this period. It might seem a world away from Star Wars and Raiders but many of the hallmarks — colourful orchestration, huge optimism and a ridiculously catchy tune — are already present and correct.

Listen to an excerpt:

Cantina Band
First heard in: Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (1977)

However many times you hear the Cantina Band — or Filgrin D'An And The Modal Nodes to give them full Expanded Universe props— blissing out, they still sound fresh. As make-up men such as Rick Baker mimed on set in big headed masks, Williams employed trad jazz staples — trumpet, sax, clarinet — and combined them with more offbeat instrumentation — a Fender Rhodes piano, an Arp synth and a Caribbean steel drum — to create something that is simultaneously familiar yet otherworldly. "We filtered them so it clips the bottom end of the sound," remembered Williams. "We attenuated the low end a little bit and reverbed them so that it slightly thins them out." The band's other tune, heard when Han shoots first, is mellower but a little belter too.

Listen to an excerpt:

Lapti Nek
First heard in: Star Wars Episode VI Return Of The Jedi (1983)

Between the events of A New Hope and Return Of The Jedi, much changed. A brother and sister reunited. A father and son reconciled. An Empire got crushed. But less talked about was the shift in musical tastes in the galactic underworld. In A New Hope, the sleaze of Tatooine listened to up-tempo jazz in the style of Benny Goodman. Just four years later, the scum of Jabba's palace are now grooving to the disco pop styling's of the Max Rebo band — organist Max (real name Sirulian Phantele, you can see why he changed it), singer Sy Snootles, and on lead flute Droopy McCool — and in particular their hit song Lapti Nek. The song includes lyrics written in English by Williams' son Joseph and interpreted into Huttese by Anne Arbogast who also sung on the track — in case you've always wondered, Lapti Nek translates as "Work It Out". For the 1997 Special Edition, the song was unceremoniously dumped for the vastly inferior Jedi Rocks. The less said about that the better.

Listen to an excerpt:

Swing, Swing, Swing
First heard in: 1941 (1979)

It is no secret that Steven Spielberg has always dreamed of making a huge Hollywood musical. As such, trace elements have occurred throughout his work; with Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, he opened with a breathtaking staging of Cole Porter's Anything Goes translated into Mandarin Chinese that is straight out of the Busby Berkeley playbook ("I love Cole Porter," said Williams, "and I got the biggest kick out of doing that pastiche, with a female chorus and antique sax.") Yet Spielberg's biggest expression of his passion for musicals came with 1941, mounting a stunningly choreographed Jitterbug dance contest that develops into an equally balletic chase before exploding into a full-scale riot. Musically, the Robert Zemeckis-Bob Gale script outlined the dance would take place to Benny Goodman's 8 minute 1937 recording of Sing, Sing, Sing, an epic demonstration of big band virtuosity, and Spielberg used the song as playback for the dancers. Yet during post production, the cutting rendered the song unworkable with the images and Williams was brought into compose a parody ("I called my piece Swing, Swing, Swing — a little play on words thing there.") The result is just joyous, full of jumpin' clarinet, blarin; trombones, pulsatin' tom toms all played by a swingin' band yet full of musical accents for sync points that give it an almost cartoon-y feel.

Listen to an excerpt:

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

21 RE: At no point...
Best on line feature you have ever done Empire, please ensure this is always available to listen too, A true master at work. More

Posted by JIm R on Friday February 10, 2012, 21:06

22 At no point... my life have i come so close to orgasm just from an Empire feature. More

Posted by Swedle on Friday February 10, 2012, 18:27

23 Final Duel mistake.......
When Luke comes out of hiding, after accidentally revealing Leia's paternity to Vader, he doesn't say "Nooooooo!", he defiantly yells "NEVER!!!" before ending the climactic duel... Interestingly enough, that bit of music was also used in the final duel in the Lucasarts game Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. More

Posted by jws1272 on Thursday February 9, 2012, 17:56

24 Missed one!
You should've added 'A Window to the Past' from 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' More

Posted by dimitrifiani on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:40

25 The Greatest
Undoubtedly the greatest movie composer of all time. My only gripe with this list is the exclusion of The Lost World's main theme. I believe this is actually Spielberg's favourite piece from all the Jurassic Park music. feature=related More

Posted by Ballschin on Thursday February 9, 2012, 12:17

He simply has no equal; nobody else has ever treated every-single film as though it was a first assignment that needed special attention, (unless you knew, how would you know that the guy who did Heartbeeps also did Jane Eyre and, his masterpiece, Superman?) and when he is inspired by what he sees, (most recently by War Horse) we are elated. More

Posted by Frank Comiskey on Thursday February 9, 2012, 10:52

27 The force is with him...
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term 'genius' as "exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability". Although used far too often these days, John Williams REALLY is a genius and I thank him for the many years of great music he has given me (man and boy). Happy Birthday John ...and many more of them. More

Posted by melverley on Thursday February 9, 2012, 09:15

28 Favorite tunes that dont appear here
Visitor in San Diego (from Jurassic Park The Lost World): Pure adrenaline!!!! Dartmoor 1912 (From War Horse) The Battle of Hoth (do I need to tell you???) Dinner With Amelia (The Terminal) Sabrina's Theme (just BEAUTIFUL) Anakin's Dark Deeds (Episode III) EPIC of epic epicness!!!!!! Where Dreams Are Born (A.I) maybe the most BEAUTIFUL track he's ever written!!! i cant helpto cry EVERYTIME) Confluence (MEmoirs of a Geisha) perfect... just perfect in allthe extent of the word THE ENTIRE MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, for me his best album EVER!!! Exsultate Justi (Empire Of The Sun) aleluyah!!!! Homesickness (The Terminal) Am I Beautiful? (Far& Away) Aunt Marge's Waltz (Azkaban) A Window To The Past (Azkaban) Dennis Steals The Embryo (Jurassic Park) The Trek (JP: The Lost World) Rescuing Sarah (JP: The Lost World) Ludlow's Demise (JP: The Lost World) Jango's Escape (Episode II) Princess Leia's Theme Luke And Leia Battle Of The Heroes (Episode III) The Battle Of Endor SaiMore

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:36

29 RE: The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
It's been a long time since I posted here. but this feature is so good!!! I can't start to describe how much I love and admire John Williams, how grateful I am to live in his era (although he is 50 years older than me!!) For me it all began when i was 11 and watched Jurassic Park, now i have more than 40 albums and he never fails to surprise and move me. I owe him SO much! and this year he gave us War Horse, a magnificent and perfect album that is 100% Williams, god how I love that soundtrack!!!! I just can't pick a favorite of his, everything he's done is so close to perfection. man, to think of everything he's done and everything i haven't heard.... I posted a link to this feature on facebook, and i recommended it to everyone, let's all do the same so the whole world knows how lucky we are to have him!!!!!!! finally: OU VERY MUCH, MAESTRO, FOR YOUR ENDLESS AND RESTLESS TALENT, I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!!!!!!!!!!!! More

Posted by John Mulder Simpson on Thursday February 9, 2012, 08:02

30 The Best Feature of 2012 so far!
Kudos Empire - this truly is a fitting feature for one of Cinema's most important figures. A film is nothing without it's music and it's Williams who fills that void so beautifully, so emotionally and so wonderfully. Rarely do pictures move me to tears, but a Williams score can have me sobbing like a 15 year-old girl watching The Notebook. More

Posted by haydonsmovies on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:10

31 Floods of Tears
Having sat and listened to all the excerpts and read this whole blog I am a total mess tears of joy and emotion on my face. The word genius is vastly overused about people with little more than mediocre talent at best, but in John William's case I think it doesn't even come close to describing him. He simply is the one of the greatest musicians and composers alive. More

Posted by mcmikeyboy on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 12:00

32 Great selection
The Witches of Eastwick, The Fury, Amazing Stories AND The Mission ? Dear Empire ... I'm impressed ! More

Posted by Dropje on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:58

33 Hook
One of my favorites must be "The Face of Pan", from the Hook soundtrack. Not very famous but still, simply beautiful. More

Posted by buffy_1008 on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:28

34 Great Feature
This has to be one of the best features you have ever done Empire, congratulations! Although justifiably, it could just be Williams' music that makes it so great! Happy birthday to one of the greatest composers we'll ever know. More

Posted by magikdethmonkey on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 11:24

35 A true poet and a genius
John WIlliams means more to me than any figure in either movies or music. Good feature Empire! More

Posted by mattpbrown on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:17

36 Wonderful Piece Empire
Written with real heart and knowledge. Big salute to Sir John! More

Posted by Blyman on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:10

37 Brings tear to the eye
What wonderful nostalgia. Skipping through decades of my emotional development through movies and Williams' music! So glad you mentioned the importance of Home Alone (it's our family's staple Xmas album). By the time we got to War Horse, that's it - I'm in pieces! Only snag is the general oversight of AI. Stored Memories/Monica's Theme is the most beautiful piece he wrote IMO (the slow beginning builds up to hauntingly beautiful & understated climax). And Catch Me If You Can, which has many great cues. But thanks Empire fo collating this for us. Made my day :-) More

Posted by oliraceking on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 10:04

38 Soundtrack of us
The importance of Williams as a greatest composer of our times - and I mean OUR - is confirmed simply by the grounds of those tracks. Just close your eyes and listen to them. And you can see the movies right there in your head. It's all you need. More

Posted by Pelle on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 09:24

that was amazing. thank you empire More

Posted by artaylor on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 05:43

40 Here's to another 80 years
Two disappointments were omissions of the last twenty minutes worth of empire strikes back. The reason that film is regarded as the best in the star wars franchise is its finale. The other is the prisoner of Azkaban there are at least twelve tracks worth mentioning. If you ever buy a Williams soundtrack buy these two I promise you its the best things he's done as an entire soundtrack since the first star wars a new hope 35 years ago. More

Posted by GrassyNol on Wednesday February 8, 2012, 00:49

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