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Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Warner Bros Ent., Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Impressive double album of a tv classic


One of the most popular television miniseries of all times, The Thorn Birds is an adaptation of Colleen McCullough's bestselling novel telling the sprawling tale of several generations of the Cleary family in Australia, centered around the (initially) young daughter Meggie.  For years, Warners wanted to turn it into a film but couldn't work out how, so producer David L. Wolper eventually got given the chance to turn it into a miniseries (having gained so much success with his production of Roots shortly beforehand).  Starring Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck, Christopher Plummer, Jean Simmons and others, it wasn't exactly short of names in the cast, and it got a big one on the scoring stage too, with the already-legendary Henry Mancini being persuaded to make a rare venture into television.

As with any project of this size, Mancini wrote a lot of music, but despite the enormous popularity of the series and indeed of Mancini's music in particular, remarkably there was no soundtrack release at all.  It took 21 years for Varese Sarabande to finally unleash the music on the public, though it was worth the wait, with this deluxe double-CD album containing nearly two hours of vintage Mancini music.  There are of course numerous themes, but most prominent - and in many ways the foundation for the whole score - is the main theme heard in the opening titles, but then repeatedly over what follows.  Somewhat controversially (based on comments at internet messageboards), the opening track omits the dulcimer which is meant to play the theme, though the theme is intact so many times through the rest of the score I'm not entirely sure why people got quite so worked up over it.

There is so much more to this score besides, from the tragic to the romantic to the outright comical.  The latter is best exemplified by the quirky, delightful "It's Shearing You're Hearing", pure lighthearted fun.  There are frequent moments of romance, often expressed through tender use of the second main theme, "Meggie's Theme", in cues such as "Luke and Meggie" and "Marry Me, Meggie", which are simply gorgeous, with an almost Delerue-like deftness of touch; and also a major secondary theme for the ranch on which the family lives in Australia, "Drogheda", heard first in the cue of that name on the first disc.  There are darker moments too - the first disc's "Stuie Grows Up", "Baby Hal Dies" and "Fire on Drogheda" showcase what a superb musical dramatist Mancini was - something for which he has never been given credit.  "Arrival at the Vatican" is a grand, ceremonial piece introducing a different tone - essential in an album of this length - which is another impressive cue.  

The second disc begins nicely with laid back presentations of the two main themes in "Meggie Leaves Drogheda" and "Arrival at Queensland", but things soon take a sour turn in "Beginning of the End", a piece simply bristling with anguish and heartbreak.  Mancini's gift for romance has never been in doubt, but of course it's usually associated with his various classic songs or pop arrangements - just listen to "New Kid in Town" to see how well-equipped he was to do it in a more orchestral setting though.  That more famous side of the composer is given an outing, however, in the gentle "Beach Walk", a light pop arrangement of the main theme.  Much of the more romantic music is of chamber dimensions, but Mancini does crank things up again, particularly in the soaringly dramatic "Paradise Lost".  As the second disc wears on, the music takes on a more and more poignant feel, gradually becoming more dramatic as things progress, including the beautiful highlight "Loss of a Son", as mournful as you may expect, but also with an element of joyful recollection.  Things climax with the exceptional finale "Ralph Dies" (cheerful track titles are in abundance, as you may have noticed!)

The album is rounded off by a nice song, "Anywhere the Heart Goes", with lyrics by Will Jennings (a bit of a step down from Mancini's old collaborator Johnny Mercer, I would suggest).  This polishes off what is a very impressive album quite nicely.  As with virtually anything this long, there probably isn't quite enough variety to sustain interest for the full two hours, but it is difficult to find fault beyond that (well, except the horrible cover art - not particularly nice on the American version, simply horrendous on the European).  Liner notes by Jerry McCulley are interesting, and there is a nice photo of Clint Eastwood and Quincy Jones (among others) unveiling 2004's Henry Mancini stamp.  This one comes highly recommended.

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Disc One

  1. Main Title (4:15)
  2. Go! (1:14)
  3. Drogheda (1:34)
  4. Young Meggie (1:29)
  5. Ralph, Meggie and Mary (2:23)
  6. Stuie Grows Up (1:27)
  7. Paddy and Fiona (2:44)
  8. Passion Play (3:21)
  9. The Story of the Thorn Birds (2:15)
  10. Meggie Grows Up (1:31)
  11. Baby Hal Dies (3:02)
  12. The Rams and the Ewes (2:04)
  13. Parting (1:52)
  14. The Thorn Birds Theme (2:34)
  15. Fire on Drogheda (2:41)
  16. Search for Paddy (3:05)
  17. Father Ralph Returns / Funeral Procession (2:36)
  18. Meggie's Heartbreak (4:01)
  19. It's Shearing You're Hearing (4:17)
  20. Luke and Meggie (2:31)
  21. Marry Me, Meggie (2:17)
  22. Arrival at the Vatican (2:02)
  23. The Announcement (:50)


Disc Two

  1. Meggie Leaves Drogheda (1:19)
  2. Arrival at Queensland (2:10)
  3. Beginning of the End (2:26)
  4. Welcome to Himmelhock (1:50)
  5. New Kid in Town (1:20)
  6. Matlock Island (3:22)
  7. Beach Walk (2:27)
  8. Forbidden Love (1:37)
  9. Ralph and Meggie (1:55)
  10. Paradise Lost (3:08)
  11. Vacation's End (3:28)
  12. Meggie Leaves the Himmelhocks (1:42)
  13. Meggie Goes Home (2:43)
  14. Photographs (2:14)
  15. Together (1:09)
  16. Goodbye, Dane (2:04)
  17. Justine Visits Drogheda (1:28)
  18. The Greek Tragedy (1:33)
  19. Bye Bye Dane (1:43)
  20. Loss of a Son (2:52)
  21. Meggie Reveals the Truth (5:04)
  22. Be Happy (5:10)
  23. Ralph Dies (3:34)
  24. End Title (:43)
  25. Anywhere the Heart Goes (2:28)