01. Secret Code
“Secret Code” first appeared on Lalo Schifrin’s 1968 album, THERE’S A WHOLE LALO SCHIFRIN GOIN’ ON (Dot) and later re-appeared as a secret bonus on the 1994 CD compilation MISSION: ANTHOLOGY (One Way). The GOIN’ ON album is one of Schifrin’s rarest non-film albums – and, ironically, the most like a Schifrin film score. Indeed some of GOIN' ON’s songs are source cues Schifrin used in his films while others are brilliant miniature concept works (“Life Insurance” recites an insurance policy over party-rock rhythms). Rare as it is, the album’s cover must be seen to be believed. Schifrin is pictured holding a fried egg, while in an armoire filled with wheat, syringes and mushrooms. Totally wild. Schifrin recalls: “The art department made the cover, it was nothing to do with me. But this is a crazy LP. I like to do crazy things sometimes. Surrealistic music. Sometimes you just want to go off and do crazy things.” With its intricate combination of percussion, tabla and electronic keyboards, “Secret Code” is certainly one of those crazy numbers. It’s a striking musical distillation of the clever, technology-oriented capers pulled off in many MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE episodes. Like many of Schifrin’s most beguiling themes (“Mission: Impossible,” “Jim On The Move,” “Hunt Down” or even Schifrin’s 4/4 version of Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) the melody of “Secret Code” is carried by flute. It’s probably the echoplexed work of Bud Shank, a frequent participant on many Schifrin recordings during this period and a distinctive soloist who’s covered Schifrin tunes like “The Pin” and “Venice After Dark” on his own records. While Lalo Schifrin plays the synthesizer solo heard here, fans of the cult group Beaver and Krause will be pleased to note the presence of Moog synthesizer innovator Paul Beaver (1925-1975).
02. Wheat Germ Landscapes
“It’s pop art,” Schifrin says of THERE’S A WHOLE LALO SCHIFRIN GOIN’ ON. “It’s like a Campbell Soup Can.” Each piece is crafted as a concerto of popular confectionery and social commentary, crowned by Schifrin’s unique melodic gift. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Wheat Germ Landscapes,” Schifrin’s complex tribute to the health scene. Maybe. Wheat germ is supposed to be good for you. Right? And Schifrin himself is flanked by wheat on the album’s surrealistic cover. “Wheat Germ Landscapes” is good for you too. Check out the dizzying fusion of piano, tabla, wood blocks, two basses, striking horns, harpsichord and some wild scat singing from a healthy jazz cat. Yeah. Feels so good to feel so good.
03. The Gentle Earthquake
One could easily compile a few records of nothing more than Lalo Schifrin’s military cadenzas. The composer has ideally written many such themes for situations as diverse as the political documentary (THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1964), comedies (THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST, MRS. POLLIFAX – SPY, KELLY’S HEROES), war dramas (THE BEGUILED, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED), epics (A.D.) and even musicals (“La Represión” from TANGO). Schifrin’s attraction to military cadenzas is in perfect fitting with his strongest traits as a composer: utilizing percussion with purpose and employing melodies that seek to deliver a message. “Machinations,” from THERE’S A WHOLE LALO SCHIFRIN GOIN’ ON, could easily be the theme to any number of TV shows, even MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. After breaking stride, a wildly funky piano solo explodes into the groove. Then, order reappears briefly and nearly gets overtaken by crowd chatter (protesters?) before launching into an electric guitar solo. The crowd seems to be chanting with the cadenza by the end. There’s a whole lot of something political going on here.
05. Agnus Dei
During two weeks in April 1971 Schifrin composed a ROCK REQUIEM (Verve) in honor of “The Dead In The Southeast Asia War.” This liturgical suite, similar in text and sequence to a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, came at a time when others were finding success blending rock music with religious themes. JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR had found great popularity the year before and GODSPELL opened off-off Broadway in May 1971, the same month ROCK REQUIEM was recorded. Schifrin had earlier explored liturgical music in his 1964 Grammy Award winning JAZZ SUITE ON THE MASS TEXTS (RCA) for Paul Horn (revisiting the suite in 1998, with Tom Scott as soloist). But here, Schifrin, incensed by the senselessness of war, conceived a Mass, as he said at the time, “as a message of hope to instill the thought that war is absolutely not necessary.” The album it yielded, ROCK REQUIEM, bears Schifrin’s first credit as producer and blends jazz, rock and gospel forms into a cohesive orchestral statement that is as fully realized as any of Schifrin’s most impassioned film scores. Agnus Dei, a liturgical prayer that means “lamb of God” and addresses Christ as Savior, gets a Latinate reading from Schifrin, not unlike the composer’s “Recuerdos” (from the 1969 soundtrack to the film CHE!). The Mike Curb Congregation is featured on vocals, Tom Scott does the funky flute solo and Larry Knetchel grounds it all with his organ obbligato.
06. Theme From Medical Center
MEDICAL CENTER started life as an April 1969 CBS-TV movie scored by Lalo Schifrin called U.M.C. (University Medical Center). The series, launched in September 1969, starred Chad Everret as Dr. Joe Gannon, professor of surgery, and ran until September 1976 – becoming the longest running medical drama in the history of Prime Time. The show’s first season had no music for the opening credits. Schifrin scored the pilot episode and created an end-title theme. It wasn’t until the show’s second season in 1970 that Schifrin’s provocative and now well-known theme was used to start the show. Schifrin, at the time exploring the many possibilities of synthesizers, produced a simple ambulance siren wail using a particularly well-programmed Moog synthesizer. A version of the up-tempo theme was recorded on September 18, 1970, for a 45-rpm single release on MGM Records and the compilation album, MEDICAL CENTER AND OTHER GREAT THEMES COMPOSED AND CONDUCTED BY LALO SCHIFRIN. In March of the following year, the exact same recording of the theme was “revised” for a 45-rpm release on Verve Records. The new recording was timed to be issued at the start of the show’s third season and replaces the theme’s horn counterpoint and Ray Puhlman’s pulse-like bass with furious guitar flourishes, fuzz bass and chaotic maracas. In its “revised” form, “Medical Center” has a rougher edge that’s typical of the famed Muscle Shoals Sound heard on the hits at this time by Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers and the Rolling Stones. This little-known version of the “Medical Center” theme makes its first-ever appearance on LP or CD right here.
07. Spill The Wine
Throughout nearly five decades as a composer, musician and conductor, Lalo Schifrin has rarely covered pop-rock tunes by others. For the 1970 non-album B-side to the MGM single of “Medical Center,” Schifrin zeroed in on War’s hit “Spill The Wine” (originally heard on ERIC BURDON DECLARES “WAR”). Forgoing the song’s goofy party lyrics and digging deep into the hypnotic Latin groove (similar to the groove heard on his soundtrack to CHE, some parts of ROCK REQUIEM and Schifrin’s contributions to the 1972 album LA CLAVE), Schifrin explores the textures and moods of electronic keyboards as they interact and relate to rhythmic devices. Schifrin would soon thereafter elaborate on these ideas in his 43-minute concert work, “Pulsations” (1970), commissioned by Zubin Mehta and performed by Schifrin (on keyboards) with a jazz rhythm section and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in January 1971.
08. Dirty Harry
Two of the most intense themes in early 1970s cinema were heard early on in Don Siegel’s provocative film, DIRTY HARRY (1971), a showpiece for Clint Eastwood’s iconic San Francisco cop. Schifrin’s five-minute main title theme, a dazzling, near symphonic musical sequence which provokes many a rewind, yields several scenes later to a thoroughly sinister theme for Scorpio, the serial sniper of Harry’s pursuit. Perhaps the experimental, near avant-garde nature of Schifrin’s score prevented Warner Bros. from issuing a soundtrack album (the main theme was eventually issued on a 1974 British compilation while both the Dirty Harry and Scorpio themes were issued on a 1983 LP anthology and later on a 1998 CD anthology). But the film – and its music – found great popularity, prompting Schifrin to record a hybrid of the two themes for Verve one year after recording the film’s original soundtrack. This version, called simply “Dirty Harry,” is far more dependent on the rhythm – laid down with expert precision by percussion great and actor King Errisson – than the original and serves to blend the two themes in a way that suggests a disturbing assimilation of the film’s main characters. Think of it as the good, the bad and the deranged.
09. Theme From Enter The Dragon
Lalo Schifrin’s biggest hit from the seventies is his theme to producer Jerry Weintraub’s ENTER THE DRAGON, the 1973 film that finally made Bruce Lee a star. Schifrin, a dedicated musicologist who to this day studies countless musical cultures, languages and history, hadn’t previously scored a film using Oriental elements – although he had explored Asian harmonics and scales in his arrangements for Cal Tjader’s SEVERAL SHADES OF JADE (Verve – 1963). Here, Schifrin cleverly combines authentic Asian influences with a wildly charged-up Blaxploitation groove and comes up with one of his strongest-ever themes, covered by everyone from Percy Faith to The Turbo A.C.’s and sampled by De La Soul for their song “Oooh.” Schifrin would go onto score Weintraub’s other Asian action epics, GOLDEN NEEDLES (1974) and THE BIG BRAWL (1980). Astute listeners – and, of course, martial-arts film fans – can also hear “Enter The Dragon” updated by Schifrin, at director Brett Ratner’s request, as part of “Lee Arrives In L.A.” for the Chris Tucker-Jackie Chan film, RUSH HOUR (1998).
10. Ape Shuffle
Although subtitled “Theme From Planet Of The Apes” – and, confusingly, the b-side to the 45-rpm single of the real theme – “Ape Shuffle” bears more similarities to Schifrin’s “Enter The Dragon” theme (with related sound effects), sixties spy film cues (MURDERER’S ROW, THE LIQUIDATOR) and one of his earliest American film themes, “Rhino Romp” (1964), than it does to the very discordant mix of electronics, horns and strings the composer used to score the first APES TV episode. Schifrin’s score defers, perhaps, to peer and musical compatriot Jerry Goldsmith’s original APES film cues. But Schifrin had tip-toed through abstract composition at least as early as THX-1138 (1971) and, even more notably, in such documentary scores as National Geographic’s THE HIDDEN WORLD OF INSECTS (1966). Here, Schifrin dresses the apes up for the town to get on down with the able assistance of Motown legends James Jamerson on bass and Dennis Coffey and Melvin Ragin on guitar. You can almost hear the dawn of man’s disco evolution here in the monkey’s “aww…beep, beep.” Proof, indeed, that Lalo Schifrin got to the party early and, at least through GYPSIES (1978), did some good while he was there.
11. Escape From Tomorrow
After six feature films between 1968 and 1973, the rather tired PLANET OF THE APES franchise came to CBS-TV in September 1974. Featuring original ape Roddy McDowall and such guests as Royal Dano, Roscoe Lee Browne and Sondra Locke, the show found a huge audience in Britain, but never really caught on in the United States. It was pulled rather abruptly after only 14 of the scheduled 24 episodes had aired. Lalo Schifrin was called in to score the pilot episode, titled “Escape From Tomorrow” (which was later combined with the third episode, “The Trap,” for a 1981 TV film called BACK TO THE PLANET OF THE APES). To publicize the show in late 1974, 20th Century Fox issued a 45-rpm single featuring the main theme, spiced with a bit more melody and an intoxicating disco beat, and backed it with another slice of good groove called “Ape Shuffle.” It didn’t help. The show disappeared and this grooving little piece of Schifrinana – which is far funkier than anything heard in the show – vanished quickly too. “Escape From Tomorrow” makes its first-ever appearance on LP or CD right here.
12. Theme From Jaws
Schifrin’s signature is so thoroughly fused with this still-cool disco version of the theme to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 hit film, that many believe it’s a Schifrin original. In fact, the picture sleeve of the French 45 even shows JAWS on the movie marquee of New York’s famed Rivoli theater, slyly inferring that this is the original version of the song. Of course, “Jaws” is one of film composer John Williams’s first big hits – one of those themes, like “The Twilight Zone” and Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible,” that are easy to hum and always familiar. Schifrin’s cover of “Jaws” kicks off side two of the original LP, BLACK WIDOW, the first of two albums Schifrin recorded for Creed Taylor’s CTI Records in 1976. Note the hypnotic groove set by bassist extraordinaire Anthony Jackson, architect of “The Sound Of Philadelphia” and co-writer of “For The Love Of Money,” one of the all-time great breaks. Hubert Laws is the funky flute soloist. “Jaws” was issued on 45 throughout Europe, but its American release on one of the early 12” dance singles easily helped it become a club favorite at the time.
In 1975, Lalo Schifrin issued a hypnotic disco version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” preceding Walter Murphy’s hit disco take on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by nearly a year! The 20th Century Fox 45-rpm single was backed with this little gem. The Donna of la canción is Doña Schifrin. The attractive and articulate, elegant and erudite Mrs. Schifrin is Lalo’s road manager, project coordinator, financial director and probably her husband’s biggest fan. Somehow she also finds the time to run Aleph Records, the Schifrins’ showcase for Lalo’s many diverse musical projects. Together, they’ve issued over two dozen Aleph sets since 1997, ranging from original scores and re-recorded soundtracks to specialized jazz and classical projects. Here, in the first of many dedications to his wife (there’s also “Love Poem For Donna” and, recently, “Donna’s Dream”), Schifrin essays a beguiling Latin funk theme, built on the composer’s entrancing keyboards and carried bodily by Clark Spangler’s heavenly synthesizer voicings (a beautiful reflection of what Schifrin often does with strings). “Doña Donna” makes its first-ever appearance on LP or CD right here.
14. Theme From Most Wanted
MOST WANTED brought Untouchable Robert Stack (1919-2003) back ever so briefly to TV in 1976 as the leader of an elite team of the LAPD in charge of apprehending “most wanted” criminals. Schifrin’s rousing and exotic disco/action theme replaced Patrick Williams’s original from the March 1976 pilot episode and was used for all 22 episodes of the show, broadcast on ABC-TV between October 1976 and April 1977. The version of “Most Wanted” heard here features John Blair on electric violin – who “plays very soulful, like Jean Luc Ponty, only more funky,” says Schifrin – and comes from the composer’s second CTI album, TOWERING TOCCATA (where Lalo is pictured towering over the sadly decimated World Trade Center). Producer Creed Taylor, excited by the song and perhaps sensing a hit on the level of “Mission Impossible,” intended to release “Most Wanted” as a single. However, the American popularity of the film ROLLERCOASTER, whose theme composer Schifrin featured on the same album, led to the 45-rpm single release of “Rollercoaster” instead. “Most Wanted” did, however, get an a-side 45-rpm single release (with “Rollercoaster” as the b-side) in the United Kingdom.
Disasters became the subject of a bewilderingly popular film genre during the 1970s, attracting some of Hollywood’s biggest stars to imperil their lives (and their careers) in such ticking time bombs as embattled airplanes, defaulting fault lines, volcanic resorts and fiery skyscrapers. Lalo Schifrin scored several disaster films during this time, including VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (1977) and AIRPORT 79 – THE CONCORDE (1979) as well as two by director James Goldstone, WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980) and ROLLERCOASTER (1977). The man-versus-roller-coaster film yielded one of Schifrin’s most diverse scores of the 1970s, traversing symphonic cues and big-band stompers to funhouse funk and disco delights. In the film’s main theme, Schifrin masterfully manipulates disco to suggest the up and down thrills of a fun-park ride (track-clacking percussion, spine-tingling guitars and pulse-racing bass) gone completely out of control (menacing flute underscored by throbbing electric piano). A very similar version of the “Rollercoaster” theme was also recorded by Schifrin several months earlier in New York for the composer’s album TOWERING TOCCATA (CTI), and issued as a 45-rpm single at about the same time this version of the theme was available on LP and 45.
16. Amityville Frenzy
Surprisingly, Lalo Schifrin has scored very few horror films. But just one listen to the few he has scored – THE DARK INTRUDER (1965), EYE OF THE CAT (1969), THE EXORCIST (1973 – rejected) and this one for THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979), for example – reveal him to be exceptionally adept at conveying the moods and emotions of the genre. Indeed, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is one of Schifrin’s finest orchestral achievements and features one of the genre’s most haunting themes since Bernard Herrmann’s string attack in PSYCHO (1960). The film’s soundtrack was released on American International’s short-lived record label, which was distributed at the time by Casablanca, then the high house of disco (Donna Summer, Village People). This necessitated the inclusion of a disco version of the film’s theme. As absurd as it sounds (the song wasn’t even used in the film), Schifrin’s theme lent itself surprisingly well to a compelling disco beat, becoming in essence a sort of dance macabre. Producer Alan Douglas, whose Douglas label was also distributed by Casablanca at the time, is amusingly credited here as “disco boogie consultant.” Schifrin, who revisited Amityville for only the first of many sequels, AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982), re-recorded the original film’s score in 2002 for his own Aleph label – but did not recreate this intoxicating disco variation, which is making its first-ever appearance on CD right here.