- Composed by James Horner
- MCA Records / 1989 / 39m
A weepy drama written and directed by Gary David Goldberg, 1989’s Dad starred Ted Danson as a man forced into examining (and repairing) his relationship with his father (Jack Lemmon). This bonding exercise inevitably leads to him then thinking about his relationship with his own son (Ethan Hawke). Praise for Lemmon’s performance aside, the film received little positive attention from critics and has been largely forgotten in the years since its release.
James Horner’s 1989 was a pretty impressive year even by his standards – Dad was the fourth of five movies he scored during the year, which started with Field of Dreams and went on through Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and In Country before ending with the appropriately-titled Glory. Given the strength of the others it is no surprise that Dad is mentioned far less frequently, but it deserves to be better-known. The composer went on to score various other syrupy dramas like this one and while he did explore similar musical territory in some of them, there is a freshness to this score that makes it very attractive.
It’s all about the main theme, really, which is introduced in the main title piece after a couple of minutes of a beautifully shimmering prologue (a sound later explored further in The Spitfire Grill and The New World, and others). When the theme does kick in, it’s an absolute beauty, a playful and dancing piano playing the A melody before an oboe takes over for the B section, later taken up by the strings before the piano comes back, this time with an array of winds; finally a subtle pop beat is added. It’s such a lovely piece – innocent, warm, joyful.
It’s interesting how much mileage Horner gets out of the theme and how different he manages to make it, fitting it into different roles. In the second cue, “Saying Goodnight”, the warmth is still there but this time it’s a very different feeling, one of tenderness and no small amount of nostalgia rather than the playfulness which marked the opening cue. “The Vigil” launches off from one of the sprightliest arrangements of the theme into a new but closely related melody, the secondary theme, which would melt any heart.
“Playing Catch / The Farm” further explores and expands on the music of the prologue, that piano dancing around wide intervals, the effect dreamlike, hypnotic; later, the brief “Recovery” also returns to the style, that cue sounding a bit like a fog lifting. The most weighty cue is “Taking Dad Home”, in whose opening bars Horner ditches any restraint and goes full-on manipulation, with a great sweep. Later in the same piece, a string version of the main theme and piano version of the secondary theme, which has a sadness running through it, really push home the emotion ever further. “The Greenhouse” features some glorious string writing as the composer starts tugging ever more at the heartstrings before finally going for the jugular in the finale, the nine-minute “Goodbyes”, which is a powerhouse of a cue going over the score’s thematic material.
There are only two real departures from the course over the album (which is very short by Horner standards) – “Mopping the Floor” is a lovely piece of country/bluegrass with a surprising twist, plucked bass and fiddle joined by steel drums (it’s really lovely); and the titular seventh cue, presumably recorded just for the album, is a pop version of the main theme with extra synths and a very 1989 sax solo.
Horner did this sort of thing so well. It’s full of direct emotion, full of feeling, the sort of score that film critics tend to hate (even more so today than when it was written), the sort that James Horner detractors tend to hate but old softies like me tend to love. It’s surprising how warm it is – superficially I guess it’s similar to something like To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday – which I suppose is a superficially similar film – but this one has a more “Hollywood” feel to it, a degree of schmaltz perhaps but a satisfying one. The album has been out of print for years but is surprisingly easy to find even in physical form, and it’s been released digitally on iTunes etc. It’s one of those James Horner scores that never gets mentioned but which is certainly a must-have for his fans.