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My Top 5 Film Composers

I have a “scratch file” of ideas for blog columns that I’ve been relying upon to put up these daily thoughts. I had one on there, “My Top 5 Film Composers”...and kept putting it off.

It’s a huge topic and I never feel like I have the brain space to do it justice. So this is just the short version.

These are, in my opinion, both my favorite top 5 composers, and what I think is a reasonable choice of them historically.

It’s only sort of in an order...

1. John Williams. The GOAT (Greatest of All Time). He’s done the most famous films, written the most memorable scores that are both legitimately great and made a huge impact in pop culture. Never had a score thrown out, and even the weird career oddities (from his earlier years) are always terrific.

2. John Barry. Maybe the composer I find myself listening to the most. Nobody was better at distilling a film into a melody: the master of simplicity.

3. Ennio Morricone. My dad once asked me if I thought any of the film composers I liked could be considered a “genius.” He used Bob Dylan as an example of somebody he thought was a genius. I said yes—Ennio Morricone. Not just great scores and brilliant musicianship, but that indescribable touch of madness to create things that seem to come from another dimension.

4. Jerry Goldsmith. The composer’s composer. So many B-movies and incredible scores to undeserving films (and, to be fair, many great ones, too). I was listening to action music from The Challenge the other day and thinking—I just love this!

5. Bernard Herrmann. The only composer on my list from the Golden (not Silver) Age, and the one of the five I find myself listening to the least. And yet is probably the most influential of all. Max Steiner may have invented the film score with King Kong, but Herrmann invented the idea of the psychological film score: the unresolved repetitions and innovative use of orchestral color. He was also, I think it’s fair to say, a genius.

So there you go. I refuse to continue the list—because it’s too hard. If I try to pick six through ten, I’ve suddenly got a list of fifty—and who comes first? And then we get into comparing different eras and world regions.

But you guys are welcome to argue it out! That’s what our message board is for...I’ll start a thread there.

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