Soundtracks, Soundtracks, Soundtracks: Oscar Winning Scores Part One

There are many things that make a movie what it is. It all starts with a story (according to what every How-To book on screenwriting tells us), there is the director and his crew, there are the actors, who bust their asses to bring a vision to life. Then comes the wonderful world of post-production. What is one result of that? The music. Soundtracks enhance the movie going experience. They can make us cry, they can pump us up, they can make us remember the 80's. Whether it be a musical band or a composer, soundtracks help our favorite movies stay etched in our mind forever.

From 1934 on, the Academy Awards ceremony has paid tribute to just about every aspect of filmmaking...one of which being the memorable musical scores that the best of the best have come up with throughout the years. Scores with different styles for a plethora of a different variety of films have received the honor, and some composers get more love than others as you will soon see throughout this article. What is great is that not only do the winners deserve their prize, but you can be turned on through so much more through all the nominees. Every single one of these scores mentioned, runner ups included deserve the praise they receive. This column will be a two part series culminating on Oscar night. So read and enjoy some of the legendary work that have won the big one.


Hearing Rota and Coppola’s work while seeing a young Vito Corleone making the journey to America, then walk the streets of 1920’s New York City is nothing short of beautiful. Nino has composed some of my favorite work and this is what started it all. A certain scene sticks with me, in which a boy Vito walks across the ship that has taken him to America, and a flock of immigrants make their way off of said ship with Nino’s track “The Immigrant” blasting through the speakers. Another great moment is of course the original theme hitting at the very end with an aged Michael Corleone on the compound completely alone staring off into the abyss that is his future. This work was up against some good competition in its year against the liked ofChinatown from Jerry Goldsmith and Towering Inferno by John Williams. WON: 1974.


It’s funny to hear the stories about what has become classic work loved by all who appreciate such things being criticized in a less than subtle way. Apparently, when John Williams approached Spielberg with the two prominent notes in this theme…he was laughed at. The rest as we say, is history. The terror Williams created with this score that had to do all the work in making us terrified of good ol Bruce before we saw the whole damn thing, well…who could do it better? John Williams is the man to beat at the Oscars folks, with a total of 43 nominations at the event, behind only Alfred Newman. Jaws had some great competition this year with scores from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Jack Nitzsche, The Wind and the Lion by Jerry Goldsmith, Bite the Bullet by Alex North, and Birds Do It, Bees Do It by Gerald Fried. WON: 1975


When the image of little Damien looking back and smiling at the camera, it gives me chills to this day. Goldsmith’s “Ave Satani” is one of the most chilling scores that have ever been featured in a horror film, and that is thanks to the ominous Latin chant throughout. The chant translates to “We drink the blood, we eat the flesh, raise the body of Satan” so as you can see, The Omen is very lighthearted and fun for the whole family. Interestingly, other tracks Goldsmith recorded for this film does portray a more pleasant time for the Thorn family before the sh*t hit the sh*t. Other scores nominated this year included Obsession by Bernard Herrmann (nominated after his death), The Outlaw Josey Wales by Jerry Fielding, Taxi Driver again by Bernard Herrmann, and Voyage of the Damned by Lalo Schifrin. WON: 1976.


I have reluctantly come to peace with the absence of Williams’ iconic score for the original Superman being removed from Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL in favor of a new approach…I don’t know if I could come to grips with the opening scroll and Williams’ main Star Wars theme being absent from Star Wars Episode VII. I would love to see Williams continue on with the franchise, however I would also like the idea of the likes of Michael Giacchino jumping on board to see what he could do. That aside, of all of Williams’ work this may still remain his most loved and iconic and the main theme is only scratching the surface, how about that Imperial March folks? This year John Williams went up against himself in his score Close Encounters of the Third Kind, including Julia by Georges Delerue, Mohammad Messenger of God by Maurice Jarre, and the Spy Who Loved Me by Marvin Hamlisch. WON: 1977


John Williams seems to be ruling the scores compiled for this section of the column and you know what, scores like this are what has earned him that right. Williams’ score making love to our ears during the famous chase scene on those damn bicycles are one of those sequences that remind me why I fell in love with film, not to mention film scores. What Spielberg presents to Williams brings out the best in him, they are dream team. Can they add another Oscar to the mantle from their collaboration on this years Lincoln? Williams had more great competition this year including the work for Gandhi by Ravi Shankar & George Fenton, An Officer and a Gentleman by Jack Nitzsche, Poltergeist by Jerry Goldsmith, and Sophie’s Choice by Marvin Hamlisch. WON: 1982

Extra Tidbit: Any scores prior to 1974 you feel deserve praise? For me Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Yankee Doodle Dandy come to mind.



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