NAZCA: IMAGINARY LANDING IN PERU
composed, arranged and conducted by Peter Thomas
Musicians include: Charly Tabor – trumpet / Olaf Kübler – sax & flute / Otto Weiss – piano & Hammond organ / Siegfried Schwab – guitar / Lothar Meid – bass / Klaus Weiss – drums
Original: LP "Chariots Of The Gods?" (Polydor US PD 6504) / "Erinnerungen an die Zukunft" (Polydor Germany 2371 035)
Tracks 02, 03, 08, 10, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24 & 25 are previously unreleased
Track 29: Co-arranged & co-produced by Charles Calello, recorded 1974 at Record Plant, New York / Original: Single "Chariots Of The Gods?" (Polydor Germany 2041 566)
DID ASTRONAUTS FROM ANOTHER
This is precisely the question Erich von Däniken claims to answer in his 1968 book, Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (Memories of the Future), published in the United States as Chariots of the Gods? in February 1970. As four decades have passed since this momentous question was first asked, it‘s safe to say now that a good, defensible answer is still forthcoming.
Däniken was born April 14, 1935, in Zofingen, Switzerland. The author of numerous similar books since then, he arranged his controversial ideas into a compelling narrative that asked whether some of Earth's most baffling mysteries were the result of intervention from ancient astronauts. Däniken points to statues, murals, stone carvings and other ancient artifacts that seem to depict human-like figures wearing space suits, using futuristic-looking tools and piloting flying machines. He also cites unusual features carved by ancient peoples into landscapes around the world. Examples include deep rectangular tracks in the side of a stone mountain in Bolivia and arrows and other designs carved into the surface of a plain in Peru that may have served as spacecraft landing pads or graphics designed with the help of aliens. Finally, Däniken points to accounts in documents ranging from the Bible to religious texts from Tibet and Central America that seem to describe spaceships and visitors appearing from the skies. He claims all of these as evidence, but the result is little more than engaging speculation.
Naturally, scientists and establishment professionals dismissed Däniken and his "answers" right off. Despite it, Chariots of the Gods? sold well into the millions, becoming the number two best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s. Clearly, anyone who wants to believe in ancient astronauts can find much to consider and enjoy here. Those seeking answers, evidence or "the truth" of such claims will be hopelessly lost in space.
THE BOOK THAT SHATTERED
By 1970, changes in the German cinema left one of its better directors, Harald Reinl (1908-1986), out in the cold. His earliest directorial effort, Bergkristall (1949), was a hit that launched Germany‘s popular Heimatfilm genre of the 1950s. After several more successful examples and a number of popular war films, Reinl directed the stylish Der Frosch mit der Maske/Fellowship of the Frog in 1959, the first in a long series of Edgar Wallace films. Reinl would direct four more of them, including one of the series' best, Der Unheimliche Mönch/The Sinister Monk (1965). He also directed many other popular genre titles during the 1960s, including most of the hugely successful Karl May westerns, three Jerry Cotton thrillers and the classic gothic horror of Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel/Castle of the Walking Dead (1967). But by the late 1960s, German audiences started to grow more interested in films containing sex and violence, something Reinl had no interest in, so he ended up directing a number of unfortunately forgettable comedies.
Then he happened upon Däniken's book. Working with Däniken's editor Wilhelm Roggersdorf, he cobbled together a script from the writer’s first and second book, Zurück zu den Sternen/Return to the Stars (1970), published in America as Gods From Outer Space (1971). Reinl traversed five continents and more than 40 locations over 12 months. His film is imbued with a number of haunting moments, notably at the mysterious Easter Island and the breathtaking Machu Picchu, but just as few "answers" as either one of the books. Erinnerungen an die Zukunft opened in Germany in April 1970 to positive if not exactly overwhelming reception. Variety's German emissary claimed that "this documentary is fascinating" and while it "looks overly conservative and could have been more sophisticated . . . average patrons will like it this way."
The film was initially released in the United States by "Astral Communications, Ltd.," which had it premiered aboard a Boeing 747 - and little else. Still, the film was nominated for an Oscar award in 1970 for Best Documentary. American producer Alan Landsburg then purchased the rights to the film and restructured it into a tighter 60 minutes, adding stock footage and replacing most (not all) of Peter Thomas‘s distinctive compositions with library music. The result, In Search Of Ancient Astronauts, was broadcast on NBC-TV on January 5, 1973, featuring convincing narration by Rod Serling, whose The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had already convinced many to believe in the unbelievable.
About the same time, another small independent company, Sun International Productions Ltd., picked up Reinl's film for distribution. The film finally received its American theatrical release in February 1974. It grossed $26 million over the next year, playing mostly low-rent theatres for several weeks, and launched Sun International into other such "family entertainments" following the exploits of Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, Noah's Ark, UFOs and other alien documentaries.
THE BOOKS ARE BEST-SELLERS.
If music can be said to make or break a film, then Peter Thomas's magnificent score for Chariots of the Gods? certainly makes this surprisingly ordinary film into something extraordinary. Thomas has become famous for unerringly unique scores to some of Germany‘s most distinctive genre films (the Edgar Wallace and Jerry Cotton series, westerns, sex comedies, etc.) as well as many TV shows (Raumpatrouille, Sergeant Berry, Der Alte). Of his hundred or so scores, Chariots of the Gods? may well be the best and best-known. By all accounts, it was a pleasant assignment, reuniting the composer with a director he‘d worked with on nine previous occasions. As a documentary, Chariots of the Gods? required a great deal of music. In the space of 93 minutes, the film provides some 70 musical cues, in fact, there are only about six minutes where the film has no music at all. Peter Thomas gave it his all, creating a huge quantity of melodic and majestic pieces with the verve and versatility absent through much of the film. A soundtrack album featuring 19 tracks was issued in Germany in 1970, but the American version of the soundtrack did not become available until 1974, following the American theatrical release of the film.
UNSOLVED MYSTERIES OF THE PAST
When Chariots of the Gods? finally garnered its American theatrical release in early 1974, Polydor recognized an opportunity to capitalize on the book's sensational popularity. The American folks at the company originally asked James Last to record a radio-friendly version of the theme. When he declined, the job went to Peter Thomas. Thomas insisted that an American-style recording demanded a recording on location with American musicians. Polydor consented and flew Thomas to New York City, some four years after the original recording, where a special session was set up.
The American musicians' union demanded that an American musician had to be involved, therefore Thomas shares the arranger credit for the re-recording with Charles Calello (arranger of The 4 Seasons and many other hit acts). Together both crafted a vaguely Blaxploitation arrangement that was popular in so many film themes at the time. Peter remembers that during the sessions at Record Plant studios, Eumir Deodato dropped by and was suitably impressed. The Brazilian composer/arranger/keyboardist, who was riding high at the time on his hit "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)," asked Thomas if the song he was recording was, like the Richard Strauss classic that gave Deodato his fame, a "classic" in the public domain. The ever witty Thomas replied, quite simply, in his ever inimitable way, "not yet."
In one of those ironic twists of fate so prevalent in the recording industry, the single was, despite all the effort, never commercially issued in America. The 45 was however released in Thomas's native Germany and appears here as a bonus track. Another cover of the theme appeared in 1978 on Deodato's album Love Island (Warner Bros.) in a mild funk arrangement led off by Larry Carlton‘s wailing guitar. Even though the song is titled incorrectly and strangely credited to other writers, there are no doubts whatsoever about the true origins of Peter Thomas's utterly gorgeous theme.
Somehow, the main theme - which is among Thomas's best and most distinctive pieces - never caught on the way it deserved to be. Perhaps this unsolved mystery of the past will be corrected someday and the song will be given the credit it absolutely deserves. Perhaps this definitive release of the soundtrack will help it reach the stars . . . where it belongs.