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Feature
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 Magic Of Halloween
First heard in: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Over his career, Williams has written much music to convey a sense of flight, be it through a WWII prisoner camp, around the skyscrapers of Metropolis or over the Quidditch pitches of Hogwarts. Yet Williams greatest hymn to soaring through the skies comes in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The theme that accompanies cinema's most famous ride across the moon sees Elliott and E.T. almost carried through the night by the string section, the theme getting a triumphant statement as they get silhouetted by la luna. Yet the sense of euphoria we feel is part musical alchemy but also part clever foreshadowing. Williams has been preparing us for the theme throughout the film, suggesting the theme first in part, then in whole in various guises — we hear it as E.T. levitates the balls to display the solar system — so by the time we get to the forest fight, it feels like we've always known it. In this sense, the theme stands not just for flight — at the climax of the film it wafts the boys over the cops with guns/radios (delete where applicable) — but also for the creature's ability to wield magic and by extension the magic of the film itself.

Listen to an excerpt:


Harry's Wondrous World
First heard in: Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (2001)

Kicking off with a robust version of the second half of Hedwig's theme (although it is perhaps better characterized as a general signifier of Hogwarts, often appearing over long shots of the school) this segues into a warm theme that suggests Harry and the relationships in his life, be they familial or friendship. Light, spirited and infectiously optimistic.

Listen to an excerpt:


Remembering Childhood
First heard in: Hook (1991)

It's a little known fact that Steven Spielberg's Hook started life as a musical. Williams had collaborated with Bond composer Leslie Bricusse (also see The Love Theme From Superman — No. 38) on a Peter Pan stage production, completing ten songs before the project stalled. Three of the songs found their way into Spielberg's finished film — We Don't Wanna Grow Up is performed by kids in a school play at the start of the film, Pick 'Em Up is the song that sees the Lost Boys whip Peter into shape, When You're Alone is the ballad that Maggie sings to comfort herself in Hook's clutches — but, perhaps because Williams was working of the project for such a long time, it means that Hook is one of the composer's richest, varied, most satisfying outings. Few of Williams' (or anybody else's) scores have Hook's multitude of memorable themes, covering comedy tropes (for Hook and Smee), melancholy (Peter recalling Pan's past), delicacy (Granny Wendy), march-like formality (the food fight) and high adventure as Peter Banning (Robin Williams) takes flight as Peter Pan.

Listen to an excerpt:


The Asteroid Field
First heard in: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

While Williams' music is unfairly characterised as simplistic, here is the perfect riposte. With a failed hyperdrive, the Millennium Falcon heads into an asteroid belt to evade the Imperial fleet, dipping in and out of floating boulders, and the orchestra follows Solo every step away, swooping and soaring around the musical register. There are frantic rhythms, and heroic brass fanfares all adding up to a complex workout for the London Symphony Orchestra.

Listen to an excerpt:


  The Mission
First heard in: NBC Nightly News

In 1985, NBC commissioned Williams to write a quartet of pieces for its television news output. The standout is The Mission, a strident piece for the network's Nightly News show. Analysing the difference between American and British news themes, Bill Bailey described this theme as "E.T. on a horse being chased by Darth Vader." As good as that sounds, this is better — and here is Bailey providing his own lyrics.

Listen to an excerpt:

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1
freaking Lapti Nek is here but no Battle of the Heroes? Can we please stop pretending that the Prequel soundtrack is no good just because RLM doesn't like the films? More

Posted by NeoBrowser on Saturday May 4, 2013, 10:57

2 RE: RE:
Thank you sir. Your kind words will keep me sane when I get locked up for libel! More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:22

3 RE: RE:
L: Rob Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all.ote]   py07.gif]py07.gif]   ert of Mirth, I salute you More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 11:10

4 RE: RE:
Or more likely Darth Tax-eVader * .gif]ee what I did there?! *for humorous purposes only and in no way shape or form was it meant as a slander on his character. Just mediocre wordplay is all. More

Posted by Rob on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 10:51

5 RE:
L: howie71taylor A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? sp; rry dress up as Darth Maul ? More

Posted by JIm R on Tuesday February 14, 2012, 09:41

6 A true genius
Just about every film he's been involved in has been improved greatly by the soundtrack, sometimes subtle but always worthwhile. A great old fashioned genius, long may he reign as King of the soundtracks. Excellent article :) More

Posted by jamiecfc on Monday February 13, 2012, 15:13

7 Indy's Very First Adventure - The Last Crusade
Cracking cue ploughs along with the train chasing Indy all the way! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 11:10

8 Departure of Boba Fett
Fantastic cue ending in four huge blasts from the whole orchestra - gob-smacking! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:59

9 Short Round...
There's a moment in Temple of Doom's end credit music that literally has the Raiders March & Short Round's theme playing AT THE SAME TIME and perfectly complementing each other - how ingenious is that?! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:46

10 Gasps of astonishment...
I once played Temple of Doom's Mine Car Chase to a friend of mine - a grade six flautist - she ran out of the room gasping!! More

Posted by wayne302919 on Monday February 13, 2012, 10:39

11 RE: We're gonna need a bigger list...
With any subjective list, the temptation is to point out anything that's missing, as opposed to what's there. So, let's get mine out of the way now: - Throne Room / Medal Ceremony from A New Hope? Lapti Nek from ROTJ is there but not this glorious piece of pomp and circumstance?! However, this article is one of the best that Empire has ever produced. Very deep research and clear evidence of passion and understanding of Williams' entire career. The temptation would be to go for the obvious, and I reckon I could come up with 80 highlights from Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones alone. Full credit for going beyond the obvious though, and here's another one - the original Lost In Space TV show had a theme tune from John Williams, although then he was still Johnny! My version of the ET soundtrack has Escape / Chase / Saying Goodbye in a beautiful 15min single track that I happened to be listening to when I started reading the Empire homepage today. I'd recommend that everyonMore

Posted by BelfastBoy on Sunday February 12, 2012, 11:19

12 We're gonna need a bigger list...
...but this is a magisterial survey. Superb work by Ian Freer and (presumably) team. I've been here hours, reliving old favourites and making a few rewarding new discoveries too. Thank you to John Williams for so many of the great tunes of my lifetime - and crucially, many happy returns! More

Posted by Dextraneous on Sunday February 12, 2012, 01:01

13 Thank You Empire
What an amazing feature, fitting tribute to someone as massively talented as John Williams More

Posted by james dean on Sunday February 12, 2012, 00:54

14 Wow
the man is amazing.....I will be testing my friends More

Posted by Paddy Kieran on Saturday February 11, 2012, 21:41

15 Thank you so much
Delighted to see The Towering Inferno titles and the Empire asteroid chase on here. Brilliant, thanks. More

Posted by Schnorbitz on Saturday February 11, 2012, 20:10

16 Amazing Feature for an Amazing Man
Ian Freer hats off to you, this is the best feature Empire's ever done, online or off, and I salute your encyclopaedic knowledge of the great man. And what a man. His music has lifted me so high, so often. Magic from start to finish. More

Posted by BondVsPredator on Saturday February 11, 2012, 14:44

17 RE: 80 Reasons Why John Williams Is The Man
Awesome feature Empire! It is a tribute to the Maestro that you can list so many great tracks and there are still bucket loads more that immediately come to mind: the main theme from "Jane Eyre" and the "Lowood" theme; "Cadillac of the Skies" from "Empire of the Sun"; "Dorinda's First Flight" from "Always"; the Main Title from "Dracula"; the "Call of the Crystal" from the last Indiana Jones monstrosity (that we shall mention no further). I bought the double cassette of Star Wars in 1977... then the double fold out LP... then I was hooked. Thanks John Williams for a lifetime of hummable tunes that work for just about every occasion in life! More

Posted by mellowwellowmann on Saturday February 11, 2012, 11:26

18 Thank You
I really enjoyed this. so many memories, so many wonderful pieces of music! More

Posted by orazzak on Saturday February 11, 2012, 10:06

19 A Humble Genius
Having had the pleasure of meeting him many years ago, he was most humble when I thanked him for the joy he he brought to my life. He said it was his pleasure. From Star Wars to War Horse, no one has brought more to the world of film music than John Williams, and may he continue to produce masterpieces for many years to come. Thank you Empire for THE BEST FEATURE EVER!! More

Posted by ddumbell on Saturday February 11, 2012, 04:26

20
A master composer and what a back catalogue. Did you know Tottenham Hotspur FC walk out to "Duel Of The Fates" for every home game? More

Posted by howie71taylor on Saturday February 11, 2012, 03:32

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