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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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Jurassic Park A Theme
First heard in: Jurassic Park (1993)

Given it is about unstoppable forces of nature (be it genetically modified), you might have forgiven Williams for going down the Jaws route for his musical representation of some older fearsome critters. Yet Jurassic Park's theme couldn't be more different. As the Palaeontologists, chaos theoretician and lawyer come across a brachiosaurus grazing by a tree, Williams gives us a string and choral piece — the voices are subtly effective — that speaks to the majesty of the animals and the wonder of the awe-struck scientists (it doesn't speak to the lawyer at all). It is romantic and ennobling and a good shout for the most gorgeous thing that Williams has ever written.

Listen to an excerpt:

Fawkes The Phoenix
First heard in: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2003)

Following on from his music for Harry's pet, the second Potter flick saw Williams create a memorable theme for Dumbledore's bird, Fawkes the Phoenix. It's a lovely lilting ditty that as the drama intensifies, Williams twists into something edgier during the duel with the basilisk, punctuating the battle with brass flourishes and explosive percussion. But it is best, as here, in this simple elegant arrangement.

Listen to an excerpt:

Mom Returns And Finale
First heard in: Home Alone (1990)

If you were looking to buy a John Williams Christmas album — the kind that Michael Bublé does — then Home Alone fits the bill. The first time the composer worked with filmmaker Chris Columbus — they have worked together five times in all — Williams' score throws every kind of tinkly, sleigh bell-y sound in the songbook mixing it with up with kind of comedy music that Scott Bradley composed for Tom & Jerry to describe Kevin McAlister (Macaulay Culkin)'s run-ins with the two hapless criminals (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern). You may require insulin to listen to this and it only really makes sense in the run-up to Christmas but it is a collection of pretty tunes that also highlights another bi-product of Williams' success. Over the years, he has done arguably more than anyone to introduce kids to classical music, be it Star Wars in the '70s, Indy and E.T. in the '80s and Harry Potter in the noughties — Home Alone and Jurassic Park represent this influence in the '90s, hugely popular family films that did wonders for exposing children to quality music rather than Mr. Blobby novelty records.

At the heart of the film is the song Somewhere In My Memory and Williams reworks the tune into the spine of the score. Despite being the most Oscar nominated person alive, Williams has had a chequered history with the Best Song category—chequered in that he has never actually won it. In the '70s, his nominated song Nice To Be Around from Cinderella Liberty lost to The Way We Were. In the '80s, If We Were In Love from Yes, Giorgio was pipped to the post by Up Where We Belong In the '90s, When You're Alone from Hook and Moonlight from Sabrina were beaten to the punch by Beauty And The Beast and Colors Of The Wind (Pocahontas) respectively. Somewhere In My Memory lost out to Dick Tracy's Sooner Or Later (I Always Get My Man) but Williams may have had the last laugh: Somewhere In My Memory has become a holiday staple in the US, often performed by choirs and schools. Not even Madonna is singing Sooner Ot Later (I Always Get My Man) any more.

Listen to an excerpt:

The Keeper Of The Grail
First heard in: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)

"The search for the grail," says Marcus Brody to Indiana Jones at one point during the Last Crusade, "is the search for the divine in all of us." To wit, Williams digs out a graceful theme, very English and pastoral in nature, that suggests both the mystique of the artifact and the dignity of the keeper himself. As Indy knows — but the baddies don't — the Grail is a thing of noble simplicity bereft of any flashy adornments. Williams' stately motif is a perfect replica.

Listen to an excerpt:

TIE Fighter Attack
First heard in: Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (1977)

No composer can do granite-hard battle music better than Williams and this is one of the finest examples. As Han and Luke wait it out for a TIE Fighter onslaught, the orchestra plays with anxious, expectant rhythms. The wait comes to an end with a broadside of chopping strings and bold-as-brass brass that delivers a full blown adrenaline rush but a surprisingly catchy one too — you just can't help but sing along.

Listen to an excerpt:

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7 of 16

Have Your Say
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Your Comments

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

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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