Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2018 July 02 • Monday

Do isolated music tracks for Columbo episodes exist? Could they be released in a box set, all of them, complete and chronological, say, tomorrow? Apparently not. So we must scrounge, and if you look at ye olde YouTube you will find that a few enterprising hunters and gatherers have things to share with you. And thus the 524th Soundtrack of the Week is Billy Goldenberg's gorgeous music for the Columbo episode "Ransom for a Dead Man".

We'll start with the main theme, which recurs several times throughout. It's this tantalizing and haunting minor key melody which keeps climbing and climbing, modulating the key up a half step when it seems like it can't go higher. The blend of electric and acoustic instruments also gives it an eerie feeling. While this is a solid episode of Columbo, the music is more powerful than anything else in it other than the performances of the two leads.

The first time you hear it is in a pretty straightforward and mid-tempo 4/4 arrangement but it comes back as a sprightly waltz and, at the end, as kind of an old timey jazz swing tune.

Then there's this fantastic 6/4 piece that I think is used for the ransom drop scene, in which the triangle, that ubiquitous element of television scores of the time, plays a key role. It has a driving and soaring quality to it, reminiscent of John Barry's "007" and some of Joe Harnell's music for The Bionic Woman.

There's also another jazz waltz that's a close cousin to the main theme, similar harmonic structure, different melody, but very much companions to each other.

Somewhere in there also is a nightmarish piece with a maddeningly repetitive part providing the foundation for some strange figures. It eventually stops and then there are some equally strange sounds, what sounds like an overblown flute underwater and then some creative use of tape delays, again blending electronic and acoustic sounds to dramatic and atmospheric effect.