Listen to this track by British pop chanteuse and peerless interpreter Dusty Springfield. It’s “Windmills Of Your Mind”, a shimmering pop gem as taken from her seminal 1969 album Dusty In Memphis.
That album was a strategic move on Springfield’s part to make a bona fide R&B album in the very heart of where some of the greatest soul albums were created during that era. The results of this and the story behind them is an epic tale with a who’s who of characters including Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, and The Memphis Cats all in tow. But, all the while, Springfield proved above all that she was able to sing anything and in any style and make it all work on an LP that comes together in an extraordinary way. This tune isn’t strictly a soul song, for instance. But, it certainly has soul as Springfield sings it. So, it fits because of her voice.
Among other places, it was featured very prominently in the film The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen, and sung by Jose Feliciano at the 1968 Academy Awards, at which “Windmills Of Your Mind” won for best original song. Its place in the film is where a lot of casual music fans will recognize it the most. So, how did Dusty Springfield take this song, and make it the one by which all others must be judged? Read more
Listen to this piece by world music enthusiast, soundtrack composer, and sometime pop star Peter Gabriel. It’s his ‘The Feeling Begins”, the studio version of which appears on his soundtrack album Passion, which is comprised of the music featured as the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie the Last Temptation of Christ.
The lead instrument here is a duduk, which is a double-reed wind instrument that is widely used in the Middle-East, as well as being related to a family of instruments that can be found in places as far flung as Armenia and Russia. Its use is said to predate the time of Jesus by a thousand years. And a more mournful use of it I can’t imagine. This piece is truly atmospheric, spooky even, and completely evocative of a stirring feeling that makes you think that there are forces in the world which have been deployed to challenge your mettle. In short, it’s perfect for the story behind which it sets the emotional stage.
Yet, I think too that Gabriel designed this music to be listened to as well as to serve as a soundtrack to the story, so full of (here it comes) passion as it is. And when you really consider a lot of his post-Genesis material, it’s really not too far away from his usual modus operandi in any case.
For instance, the percussion is way up front in this, and on many of the other pieces on the album too. Even if this music is a bit of a departure in other ways, it’s still strongly flavoured with Gabriel’s unique taste for musical fusion cuisine, here throwing in some North African sounds in with those of the Middle East. Read more
Just to continue with late 60s-early 70s soundtracks, another one of my favourites is the soundtrack to 1971’s Get Carter, starring Michael Caine as the titular Carter, a London mob enforcer come to Newcastle to investigate the death of his brother. In addition to the spare, yet striking soundtrack by Roy Budd, this film is one of the grimmest gangster movies you’re ever likely to see, with Carter as little more than a revenge machine, not driven by love or passion in the end, or even by anger, but just driven by an instinct to protect his family honour by seeking vengence on those who have harmed his kin.
Here’s a link of film composer Roy Budd playing the theme to the film, with some of the opening scenes included.
Note the use of the tabla along with the jazz instruments; the tabla takes the place of the drum kit, which leaves some great spaces in the overall sound. Yet, the percussion line is distinctive, insistent. That harpsichord-like instrument is a celesta; a really ghostly sound, ominous, yet delicate at the same time. And that warm, relentless bass line; magic.
The theme remains to be well-known in Britain, as is the film as a whole, with Caine’s take on the character having become established as a national icon. The groans of displeasure across the Atlantic when word of the Sylvester Stallone version hit their shores were deafening. Stallone plays him as a tough guy, not a bad guy. Caine’s take on him is decidedly amoral, a true British anti-hero; for him, “it’s a full-time job”.