Movies Music

Tales From The Score Keeper: Howard The Duck

Check out Intrada’s 3CD release for the score of 1986’s Howard the Duck!

Keeping score is a bad idea in any relationship, unless you’re keeping lots of film scores around.  Feel free to think of me as Pop Culture Retrorama’s own Score Keeper, here to let you know when classic soundtrack releases are being…shall we say…resurrected.  (The photo accompanying this article is for illustrative purposes only; I actually have less hair than what is shown.)

The latest classic film score getting a new (re)lease on life is 1986’s Howard The Duck, produced by George Lucas, and starring Lea Thompson and, of course, Howard the Duck himself.  In the flesh.  Or the feathers.  It’s complicated.

You know what’s almost as complicated?  The musician credits for this much-loved, if somewhat dated, wisecracking-animal-as-superhero flick.  John Barry – composer of many classic James Bond movies, along with Out Of Africa, The Black Hole, Star Crash, and Raise The Titanic, to name just a few – was hired to provide the orchestral underscore for Howard The Duck, which he did, also providing an unusually large number of “alternates” – different versions of key pieces of music to accommodate potential changes in editing or tone for specific scenes.

You’d think that a composer of John Barry’s stature and experience had his bases covered.  And he did.  But in a movie as complicated as this one, with special effects and post-production forcing changes in editing, you would be oh so very, very wrong.

Howard the Duck

Nothing is easy for poor Howard.  Changes to the movie were being made in the editing room until very late in the production timeline, and the editing changes outran even the alternate cues that Barry had written and arranged.  (It’s one thing to churn out a bunch of alternates on synthesizers, but doing so with an orchestra – even a small one – is a really expensive process.)

Worse yet, movie and TV music composers are united by a universal problem.  No, not agents, the whims of producers and directors, or demands from labels to have a soundtrack album ready to drop day-and-date alongside the movie.  The simple fact is that composers have bills to pay, and one hears they like to eat as well.  Barry, as any composer who’s lucky enough to be in demand would, had already moved on to his next assignment when the studio came calling for reworkings of significant portions of Howard The Duck‘s music; he was simply unavailable to redo any of his music for the movie.

Enter the movie’s second composer – Sylvester LeVay of Airwolf fame.  LeVay was brought in to rescore the parts of the movie that Barry’s primary and alternate cues could not longer fit.

Howard rocks

But wait, there’s more!  Since Howard is a rockin’ duck in this movie, and joins forces with a (very human) Lea Thompson as a punk rock musician in her own right, there are songs throughout the movie.  That brings us to the third composer working on Howard The Duck, Mr. Thomas Dolby – he of “She Blinded Me With Science” fame.  Dolby wrote the original songs for both Howard and for the band fronted by Thompson’s character.  Oh, and those songs had to meet up thematically with the score that had been written by a composer of no less caliber than John Barry.  No pressure, guys.

Intrada‘s new Howard The Duck soundtrack release brings the complete soundtrack for the movie to CD for the first time ever (the previous release, taking up a single LP or cassette, was never officially issued on CD, though that created something of a ready-made market for soundtrack bootleggers over the years).  Not only is that original 1986 single-LP compilation album – featuring just a smattering of Barry’s score and Dolby’s songs – remastered for CD, but Barry’s complete score – with alternates! – is finally available for the first time ever, along with every cue Sylvester LeVay provided to cover the gaps that were created by late-stage film editing.

Howard the Duck - Intrada -John Barry
Image is Property of Intrada and used only for informational purposes.

The result is a whopping three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza, and something of a testament to the difficulty of marrying music to picture.  As long as movies are being made – and, indeed, in the age of digital filmmaking, major changes have become more common – the strange voodoo art-and-science of creating music for movies will continue to be complicated.  Really complicated.  If you ever need evidence of how complicated, Intrada has three CDs worth of Howard The Duck ready for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for the next classic score release to be…ahem…dug up by the Score Keeper.

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