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JAWS
by John Williams

Back in 1975 something extraordinary occured.  Over the past ten years, the orchestral score had declined into near nonexistence.  Films like The Graduate, laden with  pop song soundtracks, were kings of the cinema.  However, with two immortal notes, John Williams managed to make the film going public forget all about rock songs, at least for two hours.  That score, of course was JAWS (no, not the bad guy from James Bond flicks)  The movie owes most of its box-office success to the score.  I mean, who's going to get scared by a slow-moving non-functioning piece of metal named Bruce?  Williams gave the movie the creative voice that the limited special effects had no hope of achieving.  But there is so much more to the score than simply that motif.  There's actually a large collection of themes and motives, and most of them sound like they could have been written for a typical sea adventure.  As a matter of fact, if you removed the title and got rid of the main theme you could listen to it and have no idea it was written for a horror film.
Although this CD release is drastically incomplete, it forms an excellent listening experience.  Evidently Williams was unhappy with the performance and thought that the score itself would be too boring to listen to on its own, so he gathered his trusty studio orchestra and recorded a series of concert arrangements designed to give an accurate picture of the score while still being interesting on their own.  Unfortunately, the CD itself is in drastic need of remastering, and exhibits a pinched sound quality and mounds of tape hiss.  For liner notes, we get a typical blurb from Spielberg.

Track by Track Analysis:

1. Main Title (Theme from JAWS) (2:16)
The first of the concert arrangements, this is about twice as long as the film version.  Of course, it opens the same as the film with that endearing two note shark motif played quietly on low strings.  The second major aspect of the theme is the ominous tuba motif highlighted by low brass that livens up the shark music.  Theme #2, played on strings with majestic brass highlights, comes up next, constantly accompanied by the unshakable shark motif.  Hints of a sea chanty (Theme #3) appear briefly, only to be swallowed by more of the shark, now enhanced with pounding drums.  Finally, the shark motif fades out, and one of the most memorable main titles in history ends.
2. Chrissie's Death (1:40)
Probably the most dissonant, scary track on here, this is basically like the film version.  It begins with hints of the second motif from the titles, and the shark motif sneakily creeps up on us.  It builds in intensity, and gets some horrificly (is that a word?) dissonant string/brass outbursts.  Clanging anvil adds to the scary ambience, and the track ends with uneasy harp runs.
3. Promenade (Tourists on the Menu) (2:46)
After the horrific incidents from the previous two tracks, we finally get a respite in the form of this enchanting Promenade.  The best way to describe it is "Williams Goes Baroque."  It's basically a fugue with several great brass fanfares.  There's even a harpsichord in the background at some points.  Even here, however, he reminds us of the shark with hints of the motif in the strings.
4. Out to Sea (2:27)
One of the three pieces that Williams frequently uses at concert, this is another charming sea chanty with the signature woodwinds.  It follows the precedent set by Promenade, and has more subtle hints of the shark motif.  There's a short coda with quiet strings and a final statement of the chanty.
5. The Indianapolis Story (2:25)
We return to the horror scoring mode with another ambient track.  This is constantly augmented with delightfully insufferable (oxy moron!) strings and various percussive/brass lines.  He keeps it thematic by interpolating the tuba motif form the main titles.
6. Sea Attack Number One (5:24)
This has quickly become my favorite cue on the album.  Williams effortlessly combines all the major themes and motives into an all-out actionfest.  Present briefly at the beginning is the "Out to Sea" theme.  However, the infamous shark motif interrupts, and it's quickly joined by the sweeping string/brass theme (theme #2, for those of you keeping score at home)  A brand new theme bursts into the music, which we'll call the Shark Cage Fugue, since that's what Williams calls it in concert programs.  It doesn't really become a fugue until track 8, but oh well. :-) The fugue is in a minor key, depicting the nervousness of the crew of the Orca.  This track has another new motif, although it's actually just a trumpet fanfare, and it figures prominently into some of the rest of the score.  However, this fanfare is quite jubilant and upbeat; it attempts to represent the overall fun of the situation, even though the crew's in deadly peril.  The short chanty from the main title also appears a few times.  The very end of the track features the fanfare played on piccolo backed by fluttering harps.
7. One Barrel Chase (3:04)
Another action cue, this opens with the shark motif, quickly overtaken by the fugue.  Eventually a new theme appears in the strings; it's based on the fanfare from "Sea Attack", which appears again.  The whole track is very Korngoldian, making fun of the deadly threat.
8. Preparing the Cage (3:24)
This is basically a concert arrangement of the shark cage fugue, which finally actually becomes a fugue.  It's put through a number of interesting permutations.  Unfortunately, the track lacks that awesome brass finale present in the actual concert arrangement (available on the Spielberg/Williams Collaboration compilation, among other things.)  The final minute presents more quiet, calm music.
9. Night Search (3:29)
This appropriately paints a picture of the uneasy night and murky waters using harps, coupled with many ominous, quiet motives.   The brass don't appear much at all, except for a quick cameo of JAWS's theme and some horrific dissonance at the very end.
10. The Underwater Siege (2:31)
Written in the style of "Chrissie's Death," this frenetic action cue contains many atonal outbreaks in the orchestra.  There's a cool segment where a harp plays continuous glissandi up and down the registers.  And yes, Bruce's theme appears a few times, especially near the end.
11. Hand to Hand Combat (2:32)
This is the climactic action cue, written much the same as the others, but much louder & more exciting.  Finally, theme #3 (the sea chanty) gets featured in full, and all the other motives (including the Shark Cage Fugue) make scheduled appearances.  As the shark finally dies, we get a relieving horn solo beneath descending harps.
12. End Title (Theme from JAWS) (2:18)
Instead of flooding us with a reprise of the two-note motif, Williams bases the end credits entirely on the sea chanty, played first on a piccolo, then by strings.  It's a very pleasant way to end an awesome album.

This is another one of those albums that everybody who so much as looks at the soundtrack aisle needs to own.  In fact, I'd be surprise if you didn't already have it.  I thought I was the only one who waited so long. :-0  Try to ignore the sub par sound quality, and don't complain about the 36 minute running time.  I'm still giving it a high rating in length since the album is an excellent listening experience.  Sure it's not the very best of John Williams, but still ranks very high in his filmography.



 
JAWS: The Final Score
Music Rating 9/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 6/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10
Sound Quality 5/10
Length 8/10



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JAWS is Copyright 1975 by MCA Records.  Its appearance on this site is for educational use only.  ___  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  Opinions stated are not those of Tripod.  Ever wanted to meet Abe Lincoln? Now's your chance:                                      [ ___ | : - )=