My $95 Star Trek III CD
I had fun yesterday talking about my earliest soundtrack collecting experiences in the 1980s. As with a lot of geek kids of the era—I was born in 1974—Star Wars was my entry-way into sci-fi and fandom.
But I soon discovered Star Trek, via the ubiquitous reruns. In our market, channel 10 from Providence ran them in the afternoon or evening. As a little kid, it always seemed to be “that show where everybody was always getting sick”—I think I chanced upon “The Naked Time” and “Miri” back to back, and it was a little creepy.
For some reason, I have a memory of being at miniature golf in Vineyard Haven and seeing Star Trek on the TV screen in the office shack—“Oh, there’s that show again.” It was intriguing, the colorful costumes and serious man with the pointed ears.
The first film I saw in a theater was Star Trek III in 1984, when I was about to turn ten. I was already pretty steeped in the mythology by then—I knew what was going on. Star Trek II I must have seen on videotape (the ear eels were scary) and The Motion Picture premiered on ABC (with extra scenes) in 1983:
There were also comics, novelizations, the crappy TMP action figures—and this lame but, now that I think of it, aesthetically pleasing pop-up TMP book, which I still have:
I loved the James Horner scores to Star Trek II and III—so much so that it was a shock when I first saw Star Trek IV in 1986, and the music was different (by Leonard Rosenman).
That was when I learned to start checking movie posters to I.D. the composer, so I wouldn’t have any more rude surprises! Which is how we rented Krull and Brainstorm from the local video store—“Music by James Horner” was the selling point.
As I wrote yesterday, the first soundtrack LP I ever bought was The Star Wars Trilogy (Varèse Sarabande/Varujan Kojian recording). I’m pretty sure the first CD I ever got was Star Trek IV, even though I didn’t care for the music (at that time), because we saw it at a big music store “off-Island”—and it was Star Trek, and I had enjoyed the movie.
This might have even been before we had a CD player. It was exciting new technology! The idea of getting perfect playback every time, and that the disc was played not be a needle but a LASER, was like time-machine-level sci-fi technology.
The second CD I ever got was You Only Live Twice—this was the first movie I had ever taped at home on a VCR (again, from an ABC showing), and I loved the John Barry music.
After that, I’m not really sure what I got in what order...and I guess it’s really not important. I definitely found the CD of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And there were a handful of albums of Star Trek TOS TV music coming out, though I’m unsure of when I got them.
But the Star Trek music I really wanted was the James Horner soundtracks to II and III. And they had never been issued on CD.
I found a vinyl of Star Trek III one way or another (maybe mail order?). I remember the letdown of learning it was a gatefold album—but the second disc was just a crappy pop-rock version of the theme performed by “Group 87” (which I later learned was Mark Isham and Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio).
But Star Trek II confounded me! The vinyl had gone out of print—I had seen it advertised for sale in Starlog, and I was kicking myself for not ordering it when I had a chance. There was no CD or cassette, and the vinyl had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. We didn’t have second-hand music stores on Martha’s Vineyard, and nobody at the regular music store knew how to order it.
This is funny: I remember us being at a dinner party at our friends’ house in Oak Bluffs. This was the local OB–GYN, a colleague of my father’s, and a really good guy—my parents didn’t socialize much, but we really liked his family. He had a classical music collection on vinyl and I started to peer at the spines—maybe he had Star Trek II?
I asked him about it, and he just flatly said no—“I would never have such a thing.” Hah!
See, this is what it used to be like to collect soundtracks. Nowadays Hans Zimmer plays Coachella and everybody’s like, of course that’s cool.
Eventually I found some scumbag at a Star Trek convention, or via mail order, who sold me a bootleg cassette of Star Trek II (made from the vinyl).
I was instantly disappointed that the piece I wanted most (I did not yet know that selections of film music are called “cues”) was not there: “Enterprise Attacks Reliant.” It just skipped from the end of “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” to “Genesis Countdown”—aaaah!!!!
A few years after that, I remember asking a guy at work—the local grocery store—if there was a way to possibly extract music from a film soundtrack, to erase the sound FX and dialogue. I was fantasizing about getting that cue! He gave me a long technical hypothesis. (He had no idea.)
When we eventually produced the FSM CD of Star Trek II, it so happened that the very first piece on the first tape we listened to (if memory serves) was that cue, which I got to hear at Johnny Davis’ studio (down the hall from my office) right off the master tape. Wow!
And then we found a mixing error at the end of that track—the violins inexplicably “walk” from the left channel to the center (I think)—that we had to fix by transferring the 24-track and remixing just that passage. (You can’t hear the defect on the CD, which is the point.)
Here’s another random memory from that era: right after Star Trek V came out—and I got that CD—I started going to Star Trek conventions. I met a guy who was a dealer and had soundtracks. He said he had a cassette of Star Trek II with extra music. Holy crap! And he sold it to me!
I remember getting the tape in the mail, rushing to fast-forward it to the “bonus track,” and being shocked because, whatever it was, it was definitely not Star Trek II. I thought it sounded like sailing ships, from the 19th century or something.
Turns out it was “Helicopter Rescue” from The Cassandra Crossing, by Goldsmith, which to my 15-year-old ears sounded like sailing ships. I complained and I imagine he gave me a credit or refund.
The guy’s name, I remember, was Ed Rasen. He might have been in Rhode Island? One time I called him, maybe to order, maybe just to chat—because I loved talking about Star Trek music and it was not, let’s stipulate, a popular topic in high school.
I probably kept him on the phone for ten minutes yakking. I specifically remember asking him if he liked Star Trek V, with Goldsmith back, and that I especially liked “the Klingon score.” I said “score,” not “theme,” because I was getting nervous that he sounded like he was bored—how do I remember that 33 years later? I guess loneliness is a strong emotion!
At this point he excused himself, because he was “doing work,” and I apologized for bothering him.
And that’s why I started the newsletter that became Film Score Monthly! To connect with others who share this passion.
And, years later, when people would occasionally call our office and get longwinded about their favorite scores or composers—as annoying as it might be, I always remembered it was coming from a place of love, and tried to be kind about it.
Finally—the story of my $95 Star Trek III CD. For years there was a “phantom listing” of a Star Trek III CD that didn’t exist. Record stores used to rely on something called the “Schwann Guide” to place their special orders—because, of course, this was pre-Internet. It was this big phone book of record catalog listings.
The Schwann Guide had a “ghost” listing for a Star Trek III CD from EMI that was evidently announced/planned, but never produced. But that didn’t stop me from asking the local record store to try to order it. Then I spent six weeks calling them, “Did it come in yet?”
And finally I accepted the truth: it didn’t exist.
But suddenly, in June 1990, a Star Trek III CD appeared—in a catalog from a U.K. mail order outfit called Movie Boulevard. Here’s a FSM board thread about them upon their eventual closing, in 2009.
I guess some people have fond memories of Movie Boulevard, but to me they were kind of hucksters. They had a penchant for listing things as “new releases” that were merely rumors—or guesses on their part. And their prices were quite high.
Nonetheless I had acquired their catalog, and contemplated ordering some out-of-print goodies from them...the listings were so enticing, but their prices were ultra-high.
But they had Star Trek III—a CD issue from Silva Screen, it turned out, available only as an import—and I had to have it.
So I placed a call early in the morning (because of the time difference) and my mom let me use her credit card to order.
I got the CD a few weeks later—and I think I calculated that between the exchange rate, shipping and cost of the transatlantic phone call, it was a $95 CD.
And then, not six months later, GNP/Crescendo released their own U.S. CD of the score—and I had to get that one, too, because it also had the terrible Group 87 pop cover (whereas the Silva, issued from the worldwide single-disc vinyl, did not).
But Crescendo also released at that time the first Star Trek II—hooray! I loved them for that.
I think I ordered a few further times from Movie Boulevard. I was trying to be a James Horner completist, which was within the realm of possibility circa 1990 because he was still so young. I think I got the Pursuit of D.B. Cooper soundtrack (with two cuts of Horner bluegrass that sounded nothing like his dramatic music) although not from Movie Boulevard.
This disabused me of the notion of being a completist of anything, or anyone:
However, I have to say, listening to this now, for what it is—it’s good! Horner was so gifted.
I seem to recall I paid a small bounty to get a Name of the Rose CD from Movie Boulevard. And this was, as far as I was concerned, the most boring CD I had ever heard in my life!
Even Where the River Runs Black, another mid-1980s Horner synth score that I sought out and acquired, was better. Where the River Runs Black was based on a book by David Kendall—and I have a cousin by that name, who has had a long career in TV comedy. I eventually asked him—but no, it was not the same David Kendall!
All right, folks, I’m out of gas. Hey, you get what you pay for!
Thanks for reading my silly old memories—and by all means, share yours here in the comments, or at the FSM board or Facebook/Twitter, wherever you find this link.
And if you like these old stories, please spread the word? I’m not selling anything or starting a business—I just enjoy writing my ad-hoc memoirs, and it pleases me if anybody gets a kick out of them.