Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2013 November 25 • Monday

The late 1960s found movie studios the world over trying to cash in on the success of the James Bond franchise. They were also desperate to make movies that appealed to teenagers. Sometimes they tried to kill two birds with one stone by producing an international secret agent thriller crossed with phony, Hollywood-style "psychedelic" happenings.

Hammerhead is one such example of this hybrid movie. It's score by David Whitaker is our 294th Soundtrack of the Week.

The music is quite good. It drove me to seek out and watch the movie, which is quite bad.

It starts promising, with a visually arresting "Chelsea Happening", also the name of the first track. Some eerie and dissonant writing for horns and strings moves into a strange mixture of grooves, part Morricone, part Vegas. It suggest the awkward mixture of tones in the movie. Tense and exciting or goofy and silly? Both? Bad call. But as music it works.

"Hammerhead's Apartment" is a lounge sort of tune, a relatively upbeat one, that shows some Mancini influence. This leads into the hard-driving "Garage Fight", with pounding percussion and very aggressive horn writing alternating with some soothing string passages and a jaunty theme for piccolo.

It's Vegas-style easy listening time again for "Hood Arrives in Portugal. Once again the arrangement and lyricism recalls Mancini. Mancini again as well as Lalo Schifrin and John Barry come to mind for the next track, "Hood Explodes the Yacht 'Triton'". It's an urgently swinging piece for the first three minutes or so before it settles down into what sounds like a space age bachelor pad spaghetti western type thing, as if Dean Martin played the part of Cheyenne in Once Upon a Time in the West.

"Cliff Climb and Approach to Villa" is a great action jazz cue, with notable use of piano, bongos and timpani. "Villa Fight" takes the same kind of concept up a notch, with some Elmer Bernstein-like blaring horns and subtle use of walking electric guitar.

No James Bond knock-off is complete without a title song and that's what comes next. The lyrics are by John Worsley and the Shirley Bassey-like vocals come from Madeline Bell. "The coolest calm is Hammerhead / Sweet words of charm is Hammerhead / Smooth and gentle his smile / And she who lingers a while / Will taste the touch of his lips at night / He will bite you!" The arrangement has some John Barryish touches and some nice organ comping.

"Sir Richard Departs" opens with some acoustic guitar playing, to which flutes, percussion and various other instruments are added, creating several different moods. The pattern repeats itself. It's a nice piece.

A bizarre Vegas-style samba (or something) is the best description I can come up with for "The Hearse Chase". Again the organ comping adds great texture.

"Arrival of Delegates" is the best dramatic underscore on the record, reminiscent of both Barry's Bond music and Laurie Johnson's Avengers scores, particularly in the use of flutes.

It's more or less that Vegas sound again for "Belem and Motor Cycle Sequence", but it also has an urgency and a triumphant sound to it, as well as some pleasantly Mancini-like passages.

Lastly there's the "Hammerhead Concerto" featuring pianist Martin Goldstein. It does a nice job of bringing some of the themes into a piano concerto context as well as coming up with some new ideas.

All in all a late-'60s spy movie soundtrack that's better than most, even though the movie isn't!