Soundtrack fans, there’s one major release this week, and a couple of real retro gems, but let’s face it, the big news is a big box set that’s been eagerly awaited for years. We’ll talk about that release and then give it some context in a moment.
From Dragon’s Domain Records comes a pair of releases that’ll tickle your retro gene: the Harry Manfredini (Friday The 13th, Swamp Thing) score from 1995’s Timemaster (possibly the only film in history to feature Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita, Michael “Worf” Dorn, and Zelda Rubenstein of Poltergeist fame in the same movie). Not retro enough for you? Then rewind to 1979 for the soundtrack from the David Cronenberg racing movie Fast Company, a film that was so ’70s that John Saxon was required by federal law to be in the cast. (Okay, just kidding about that, but John Saxon was in it.) The music, ironically, is by Fred and Larry Mollin; you’ll remember Fred Mollin from his music for Friday The 13th: The Series. Dragon’s Domain is a very small label renowned for its deep dives into cinematic obscurity, so both releases are capped at 1,000 copies each. The first 100 copies of each title, both of which ship on March 13th but are being pre-ordered now, will be autographed by their respective composers.
Now let’s roll back to 1995 – the same year Timemaster hit theaters – and simultaneously fast-forward to the 24th century.
La-La Land is launching (from spacedock, no doubt) a 4-CD set of music from all seven season of Star Trek: Voyager, a release that was first announced a couple of years back. That being said, the Voyager box set isn’t really “late”, per se. This $59.98, 4-CD set includes highlights from the episodes Rise, Night, Equinox Parts I & II, Pathfinder, Spirit Folk, The Haunting Of Deck Twelve, Shattered, The Void, The 37s, Basics Parts I & II, The Q and the Gray, Concerning Flight, Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, Workforce Parts I & II, and the complete scores from the episodes Dark Frontier Parts I & II, Lifesigns, Scorpion Parts I & II, and The Year Of Hell Parts I & II. Wondering where the action-and-Borg-packed series finale, Endgame, is? La-La Land is holding it for the second volume of Voyager music to be released next year. La-La Land rolls out its Star Trek box sets at a slow rate, both so that one property doesn’t take up their entire release schedule, and as a mercy to Star Trek music fans on a budget.
Of course, that Star Trek music fans even need a reprieve between releases is a mind-boggling thought to those of us who are old enough to remember when Trek soundtracks were exceedingly scarce.
The first Star Trek music that was available to the public was 1979’s Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture soundtrack, released alongside the movie itself as a single LP clocking in at around the traditional 40-minute mark for vinyl soundtracks. Prior to that release, the only Star Trek listening material was the 1976 spoken-word LP Inside Star Trek, and Power Records’ library of Star Trek audio stories for children, sometimes accompanied by a read-along book. It was exceedingly rare for anything on TV to get its own soundtrack album at the time; a compilation of TV theme tunes wasn’t unheard of, but an entire soundtrack? Television shows and TV movies couldn’t afford the large orchestras of feature films…who would want to listen to that?
In 1986, GNP Crescendo and a few other labels decided to find out. That year happened to be the 20th anniversary of the original Star Trek, which had been revived in movie form more successfully than anyone could have expected. A fourth movie was due in late 1986, the series began to be available commercially on VHS tapes containing two episodes each, and Trek was once again very visible. If there was a time to test the waters of the soundtrack scene to see if TV music would be welcomed, this was as safe a time as any.
Three labels released a quintet of releases tied to the music of the original series. Label X and Varese Sarabande each published two albums of re-recorded music assembling highlights of the original series’ most familiar music, now played by a far larger orchestra than the original Trek could ever afford. But small label GNP Crescendo – founded in the 1940s by Gene Norman for his own easy-listening output – took the bold step of releasing the original recordings as heard on TV in the 1960s. With tape recovery and restoration methods being in their infancy in 1986, the result was an album that presented, with somewhat tinny sound, nearly the complete scores from the two Star Trek pilot episodes, The Cage and Where No One Has Gone Before. Norman’s son, sci-fi/Star Trek fan Neil Norman, spearheaded that effort, and managed to wrest from Paramount the release rights for those episode scores in perpetuity, an almost unimaginable situation now – and a demonstration of how far low a priority TV soundtrack music was at the time. In 1988, GNP Crescendo followed this up with a CD containing roughly 2/3 of the score from the Star Trek: The Next Generation premiere, Encounter At Farpoint, which was also a brisk seller among Trek fans. Obviously, the Star Trek music library had merit.
Over the next few years, GNP Crescendo continued releasing music from classic Trek and Star Trek: TNG, along with soundtracks for the premiere episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and took over as the de facto Star Trek label for the movies as well, beginning with Star Trek: Generations. The turn of the century saw a downturn in interest in Star Trek, however: the movies featuring the TNG cast had become a poster child for diminishing box office returns, and ratings after the premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise seemed to indicate that the audience was tiring of the saga. The Enterprise soundtrack was released by Decca Records (the label of singer Russell Watson, the voice of Enterprise’s love-it-or-hate-it theme song), while Varese Sarabande released the soundtrack from 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, the first Trek series in 18 years not to go to seven seasons, and the Trek franchise disappeared into a cocoon at the studio, re-emerging as a movie reboot in 2009. Varese once again released the soundtrack for the new movies.
But the re-emergence of Star Trek as a viable media entity also coincided with the appointment of a new head of Paramount Pictures’ music department, Randy Spendlove. A veteran producer who had worked in the studio with U2, Beyonce, and Linkin Park, Spendlove was in charge of licensing music from the various TV and film properties at Paramount. By this point, soundtrack boutique labels such as Film Score Monthly, Intrada and La-La Land Records had sprung up, and with them, a collectors’ market that now wanted to own the complete scores of their favorite movies and shows, not just the 40-or-so minutes that had become the industry standard (and was, in part, dictated by musicians’ union rules on re-use). Unlike his predecessors, Spendlove was more than happy to hold discussions with these labels regarding the musical gems in the Paramount vaults. The first result of this was Film Score Monthly’s releases of the complete Star Trek II and Star Trek III scores.
As of 2009, there were 12 CDs in total featuring original music from the various Trek TV series – three from classic Trek, four from TNG, one each from Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, and two “multi-series” Best Of Star Trek releases from GNP Crescendo. The next two releases of Star Trek TV music more than tripled the number of CDs available from the franchise’s television entries. 2010 saw Film Score Monthly’s release of a gargantuan 14-disc box set collecting almost all of composer Ron Jones’ music from Star Trek: TNG. With the sole exception of the two-part The Best Of Both Worlds, which GNP Crescendo had released on CD in 1991, the box set gave fans of TNG’s standout composer every note that he had recorded during his four-year stint on the show. Two years later, not to be outdone, La-La Land issued a 15-CD box set that put every note ever recorded for the 1960s Star Trek series in the hands of fans, all freshly remastered from the original session tapes. (Since GNP Crescendo had rights in perpetuity to the handful of episodes whose music they had released on CD, La-La Land had to sublicense some of the music on the set from them, at no small expense.)
In three years, we’d gone from 12 CDs of Star Trek TV music to 41 CDs. Since then, La-La Land, in addition to pleasing fans by delivering a long-overdue 3-CD complete version of the 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture score that started it all, has released two box sets each of scores from Enterprise and non-Ron-Jones music from Star Trek: TNG, as well as one box set each from Deep Space Nine and, now, Voyager (both of those spinoffs will receive a further box set release). GNP Crescendo, picking up on the hunger for Trek TV music, has reissued two of its TNG soundtracks in complete and remastered form (Encounter At Far Point and The Best Of Both Worlds), as well as complete versions of the three Trek movie soundtracks they issued in the ’90s (Generations, First Contact, Insurrection). Intrada pitched in to re-release Star Trek IV, V and VI in complete and remastered form.
Just in time for Christmas 2016, La-La Land released a 4-CD box set of highlights from classic Trek, as well as oft-requested fan favorites from TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, and – for the first time – the complete reconstructed music library from Filmation’s early 1970s animated Star Trek.
Later this year, La-La Land will release another box set, rounding out the music of Deep Space Nine, with a second Voyager set due this time in 2018. 2018 will end with a final Star Trek box set featuring odds and ends from all of the series that didn’t make it into the other box sets – and at that point, according to La-La Land’s head honcho, M.V. Gerhard, the label is calling its trek through Star Trek’s music vaults done…unless, of course, their current negotiations to land the rights to release music from Star Trek: Discovery are successful.
Not counting the various movie soundtracks and their own expanded reissues, by the end of next year, there will be as many CDs’ worth of Star Trek television music as there were episodes of the original series – 79 total. Rewinding to 1986, when it was a huge roll of the dice to put out a television soundtrack at all, the thought of 79 CDs’ worth of music from any franchise, either film or television, is mind-boggling. (Add all the movie soundtracks’ multi-disc reissues to that 79, and you arrive at an even 100. 100 CDs’ worth of Star Trek music. If you can get your head around that idea.)
Furthermore, the success of the Star Trek soundtracks has emboldened the soundtrack labels who have access to the music of other television shows: The X-Files, Batman: The Animated Series, the original Mission: Impossible, 1970s Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Jonny Quest, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Rat Patrol, 1980s Twilight Zone, Lost In Space, and even relative obscurities such as the 1960s series Then Came Bronson have all gotten box set treatment (in some cases, multiple box sets) now that the soundtrack labels know there’s a market for such a thing. You have Star Trek’s enduring appeal and ardent fan base, and risk takers like Neil Norman, Film Score Monthly’s Lukas Kendall, and even Randy Spendlove at Paramount, to thank for the current healthy ecosystem for classic TV soundtracks.
Next week: more music, and the first entries in a basic glossary for soundtrack collectors.
When he’s not keeping score at the Retroist, Earl Green is the founder, head writer and podcaster-in-chief at the LogBook.com, a site devoted in roughly equal parts to classic sci-fi, classic video games, classic soundtracks, and space history. You can catch him lining up carefully curated excerpts from TV, movie and game scores most months on the Log Book’s soundtrack mixtape podcast, In The Grand Theme Of Things.