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Super collection of great themes from an underrated composer

Music composed by

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Album cover copyright (c) 1997 David Shire; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall

One of those composers always mentioned in the endless "why isn't this guy working more often?" discussions between film music fans, David Shire had seemed to be virtually retired from film scoring until hired by David Fincher for Zodiac (though he had still been active in Broadway circles).  Hopefully that will lead to a resurgence in his career, which was so prolific (and brilliant) in the 1970s and 80s in particular.  This was all summed up beautifully in a promotional album pressed in the late 90s by his agency, Gorfaine-Schwartz, which was available for a while from the usual soundtrack speciality retailers.

It's a survey of his career up to that point, featuring themes from 24 scores between 1974 and 97.  There are so many gems here it's impossible for me to describe them all, but some of the particular highlights deserve special mention.  The album opens with Max Dugan Returns, a virtually-forgotten comedy directed by Herbert Ross - it's a tremendously catchy theme, full of sprightly life, one I can almost guarantee you would be humming for hours if only it weren't for all the other catchy themes which follow it on this disc!  After that comes what is probably the composer's most famous theme, The Conversation - it's an unbelievably good film, and Shire's all-piano score helps it no end, brilliantly heightening the tension and paranoia.  Another 70s classic is All the President's Men, whose score achieves a similar (ish) result by a completely different method, the composer using deep brass to create nailbiting suspense which aids the documentary-style film no end in its connection with the audience.

Return to Oz, the 1985 sequel to one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time, may not have set the world alight; but its music sure should have done.  The selection here is rapturous in its beauty, with passages for solo violin and cello alternating with the full majesty of the London Symphony Orchestra.  The full score was released by Bay Cities years ago, but much to the dismay of this reviewer (and no doubt many film music lovers around the world) the CD has been next-to-impossible to find for many years.  

Raid on Entebbe is another film which is not well-remembered, but its score (released in full by Film Score Monthly, accompanying - and overshadowing - Jerry Goldsmith's Morituri) is absolute dynamite, highlighted by the furious action peice featured here, for which Shire used four grand pianos and incorporated (in his words) "pseudo-authentic" Israeli textures.  It's one of the more memorable pieces of action film music you'll ever hear.  

One of Shire's most brilliant creations is The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, the legendary 12-tone score Shire wrote for the Walter Matthau thriller.  It's such a brilliant creation, has been so influential - and it's an absolute blast.  Creative film music at its best.  On the other side of the coin is the romantic theme from 2010, a sweeping orchestral piece from the end of the film (most of the score is actually electronic).  The gorgeous theme from the western Last Stand at Saber River (the most recent score represented here) is another true winner.

Shire's lightness-of-touch is one of the key reasons for his music being so engaging - a piece like the lighthearted Straight Time is a joy; and later, another of those particularly catchy pieces, The Kennedys of Massachusetts, is enough to bring a smile to any face.  This deft touch extends to the more emotional sections too - indeed, I am reminded of Elmer Bernstein in the way that the affecting love theme from Old Boyfriends manages to be so touching without being cloying or over-sentimental.  

Inevitably, with any collection such as this featuring 24 different main themes from 24 different films, there is a slightly bitty feel when listening to the album from start to finish.  However, there is barely a misfire here (the only cue which seems out of place is the disco music from Saturday Night Fever) and I can't really think of many composers who could have a collection of main themes as strong as this one presented.  The disc is probably very hard-to-find these days, but a wonderful introduction to the music of David Shire and highly recommended.


  1. Max Dugan Returns (2:27)
  2. The Conversation (2:30)
  3. Return to Oz (4:30)
  4. Raid on Entebbe (2:43)
  5. Paris Trout (3:32)
  6. All the President's Men (3:56)
  7. Farewell, My Lovely (2:31)
  8. The World According to Garp (2:17)
  9. Night, Mother (2:58)
  10. Bed and Breakfast (2:46)
  11. The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (3:02)
  12. 2010 (4:06)
  13. Last Stand at Saber River (3:32)
  14. Straight Time (3:43)
  15. Old Boyfriends (2:46)
  16. The Journey Inside (3:10)
  17. Monkey Shines (3:42)
  18. One Night Stand (2:12)
  19. The Hindenburg (2:56)
  20. My Antonia (3:07)
  21. The Kennedys of Massachusetts (1:35)
  22. Sarah Plain and Tall (2:35)
  23. Saturday Night Fever (4:13)
  24. Norma Rae (2:54)