Sunday, September 11, 2011

Queen - Flash Gordon (soundtrack)

Welcome to another edition of Soundtrack Sunday.

In researching yesterday’s blog post, I realized I had nearly forgotten about the soundtrack to the 1980 science fiction film Flash Gordon, which starred Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton and Max von Sydow. With its campy style and bizarre costumes, this film adaptation of the classic comic-strip failed to win over large audiences.

The soundtrack, with music performed entirely by the rock band Queen, fared only slightly better. This, their ninth studio album, went to number 10 on the UK charts (where it was also certified Gold), number 2 in Germany and number 23 in the US.

Side one opens with “Flash’s Theme”. The single version of the song (which charted at number 42 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 32 in New Zealand, number 16 in Australia, number 13 in the Netherlands, number 10 in Ireland and the UK, number 5 in France, number 3 in Germany, and number 1 in Austria) includes film dialogue interspersed with a thumping, repeating bass line. The album version features a very different opening with extended dialogue from Ming (von Sydow). In truth, the version from the album is not nearly as cheesy as the single was.

“In the Space Capsule (The Love Theme)”, like many of the pieces on this record, uses synthesizers to achieve that cosmic, sprawling sci-fi sound. This one moves the sounds very nicely from one speaker to the other, adding to that sense of vastness.

“Ming’s Theme (In the Court of Ming the Merciless)” has just the right amount of menacing overtones. Again, there is a good bit of film dialogue in this one as well to go with the scene.

“The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction of Dale)” is a short piece, under a minute. It has an eerie sense to it which is fitting for a hypnotic trance induction.

“Football Fight”, another short track, has a bit of a rocking beat to it. I sort of wish it were actually longer; it ends just as abruptly as Flash’s attempts at escaping.

“In the Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise)” has an airy quality to it, a glimmer of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

“Execution of Flash” is another short track, mostly filled by the tolling of a bell.

“The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash)” has an odd, off-putting mix to it - both melodramatic and sharp.

Side two begins with “Arboria (Planet of the Tree Men)”, another short and moody track. I don’t like that the music stops when sections of dialogue kick in.

“Escape from the Swamp” features a timpani drum as well as some futuristic synthesized waves of sound. This is another track I found interesting and would love to have been longer to explore things further.

“Flash to the Rescue” resurrects “Flash’s Theme” from earlier. The single actually includes parts of this track in it as well, particularly some of the dialogue and laser effects.

This leads directly into “Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men)”, a rapid-paced anthem. It has a modified cavalry sound to it.

“Battle Theme” closes out the combat suite with a nice, hard-rocking number. This one has traces of classic Queen in with the mix thanks to May’s signature guitar sound.

“The Wedding March” takes the classic here-comes-the-bride and runs it through the hard-rocking filter of Queen. It is exactly as you would expect.

Many of the musical themes from earlier come together as part of “Marriage of Dale and Ming (And Flash Approaching)”. The second section of the track is more dialogue lifted directly from the film.

“Crash Dive on Mingo City” brings the battle to the wedding in a final, building crescendo.

“Flash’s Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations)” ends the album the way it started, with that thumping, bass line.

The album closes with “The Hero”, the only other track that is a non-instrumental.

Being the sci-fi/comic geek that I am, of course I saw Flash Gordon in the theatres during the winter of 1980. Even after enduring that viewing, I most likely caught the film a time or two again on cable in the coming years (when I had absolutely nothing else to watch).

I only owned the single; this was really the first time I’ve ever heard this whole album. While it didn’t do much for me, I guess I can mark that off my “bucket list”.

I have to hand it to Queen in one respect. You do get an amazing sense of the scope and themes of Flash Gordon by listening to this album. It is, however, one of those records where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are hardly any of these tracks I would consider listening to on their own, apart from the others. They all really are intrinsically tied together into this single listening experience. That can be both a blessing and a curse.

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