Back to the Future Soundtracks Part I

As an avid fan of Back to the Future I was keen to get the Mondo special edition double albums of the great Alan Silvestri soundtracks to the Back to the Future trilogy for my ever growing collection. I was unaware exactly how beautiful they were! There are two editions: the UK edition here and the US Plutonium box trilogy boxset (which I still can’t afford!).

The classic 1985 album was played non-stop on my cassette deck when the film came out and then later on CD around 1988 when they were readily available. The above picture disc came out (probably in 2015 like most of the anniversary memorabilia). It contains the main songs by Huey Lewis and the News: The Power of Love (randomly writting for the film) and more specifically Back in Time for the end credits; Eric Clapton and Phil Collins (on drums) performing Heaven is One Step Away, Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham’s track Time Bomb Town, plus great 1950s songs such as Earth Angel and Johnny B. Goode and one jazz instrumental Night Train – but none of the other jazz tracks written by Alan Silvestri – and only about 12 minutes of orchestral score: The end credits theme and the “Overture” which is really Marty’s Letter / Clocktower / Lone Pine Mall stitched together.

The cover art for the new gatefold score album to Back to the Future.

The orchestral score is fantastic – not just on a “hey isn’t this a great theme” but with leitmotifs for the characters and a whole musical language based around tritonal harmonisation of octotonic scales…. yep. When all is well with Marty, you get notes 5-1-4 nice, perfect, harmonious and resolved. When things go wrong (which is most of the time), Silvestri sharpens the 4th (5-1-4#) to get the Devil’s interval or the tritone. This is further explored with the harmonies of triads Db and G vs E and Bb – both pairs of major triads at the tritone. You add in Doc’s ticking clock motif and Biff’s impending quaver ostinato and you’re there! In fact you have to wait about 17 minutes into the film (when the Delorean is first seen) for the orchestral score to start!

On the 2CD special editions on the Intrada label, you also get the alternate takes (perhaps the Eric Stoltz version?!) and variants plus more source music: Part I – the jazz tracks include the gentle Goodnight Marty (played after Johnny B Goode), Marvin Bebop (from their car radio) plus the unused Ling Ting Ring which is a fun blues number, the latter not included on the vinyl 2LP. It’s odd that Dance With Me Henry (on the jukebox) is included but not The Ballad of Davy Crocket nor Mr Sandman by the Four Aces or Pledging my Love from the “park” scene.

In Part II, we explore the future, the past and 1985A – an alternate reality where Biff Trump – sorry – Tannen – has risen to dizzy heights, both politically as a violent and corrupt major (“Kid, I OWN the police!”) and also on the 27th floor penthouse suite of the Biff Tannen Pleasure Paradise (towering above the Courthouse). Apart from a few comedy pizzicatos and glisses, the music is mostly darker than the original – with C#m, Gm, Em and Bbm replacing their major counterparts and the famous diminished 5th motif (Baah Baah Bahhhh!) becoming an augmented 5th in the topsy-turvey world of 1985A. The other tracks follow the patterns set up by the brilliant screenwriting – “Mom, is that you?” featuring a celesta playing the main theme like a lullaby etc. None of the pop tracks are included thankfully in this release – Beat It, I Can’t Drive 55 and Papa Loves Mambo. (Did you realise that the sports commentator on Biff’s car radio was in fact the actor who voiced He-Man in the 1980s! “I HAVE THE POWER!”).

The cover art for Part II – complete with flying Delorean and the glass fronted Courthouse.

At the end of Part II and into Part III (which was conceived to be one long movie until they split it up), we enter the Western, complete with harmonica solos and breathy flute cues. Doc’s future shirt from 2015 (of two cowboys on horses chasing a train) brilliantly foreshadows the plot of Part III and after spending 9 months in the wild west of Hill Valley 1885, it actually becomes the neckerchief/bandana worn in the train-heist scenes. Great Scott!

Musically, it’s a combination of traditional western: heroic horse-scapades, exilerating train music and a beautiful love theme for Doc and Clara (inspired by the Forrest Gump soundtrack perhaps?).

The tie-in single release of ZZ Top’s Doubleback was not included on the album however there is an edit of the hoe-down version on the original Varese Sarabande album and a full version on the 2CD edition. ZZ Top are on screen in the hoe-down band – complete with rotating guitars and drum, much to Marty’s bemusement. You also get such 1885 hits as My Darling Clementine, Turkey in the Straw, Arkansas Traveller, Devil’s Dream, Pop Goes the Weasel, Virginia Reel and the Piano Saloon Medley plus some drum rolls, bugle calls and the fanfare for the new clock installation (badly played!). (There are more on a bootleg version too!).

The cover art for Part III – of the incomplete Courthouse in 1885.

Here are some remaining photos of the beautiful pencil sketches and the splattered translucent vinyl. I’m not convinced by the time circuits – I think some of the times are incorrect…

Thanks for reading. Next time – more on the original releases, LPs, Laserdiscs, CDs and the 12″ and 7″ singles.

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