from the Crypt and The Simpsons
can be found on this album.
The Family Dog
The Flash can be found on this album.
Every popular film composer out there has worked in television.
John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Elliot Goldenthal, Bruce Broughton,
etc, etc. Well, add Mr. Elfman's name to that list. From Television themes like
The Simpsons, Tales from the Crypt, and Perversions of Science
to commericals for Nike and Nissan, Danny Elfman has done it alland with
much success. Here we'll be keeping you informed about his work for television
programmes and series, leaving the adverts to another section. The music clips
are a mixture of RealAudio and MP3, and many of them are from the two CD compilations
of Elfman's music, titled 'Music for a Darkened Theater'. Text is provided by
Tim Perrine (Groovy Yak), Texas Ranger, and Bluntinstrument.
The Family Dog - (From Amazing
Stories - 1985, 1993)
I actually saw this episode of Amazing Stories one day
while watching the Sci-fi Channel. I was surprised to find the episode had such
a massive influence from Burton (the Dog itself is an animated Frankenweenie).
Obviously, where Burton goes, Elfman follows.
I enjoyed this score on Music
for a Darkened Theater II, and within the context of the show as well. The
theme and music clearly demonstrate the dog’s life: frenetic, wild, happy,
goofy, and even dangerous. When the burglars break in, the score takes a more
desperate, darker turn, as the dog panics and attempts to stop them before
they get away with everything. The wide use of piano adds a nice, clumsy motif
to the already romping sound of the mutt. There are a couple instances that
seem a little too wild and goofy even for a Burton cartoon, yet these clips
are short enough to let pass. It’s obvious that Elfman drew from his earlier
works for this one. In the case of the opening theme, I could almost argue
that it’s self plagiarism as Elfman “borrows” from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
and Beetlejuice. Yet this doesn’t matter as long as the score fits the show
- which it does.
VERDICT: Elfman created a mini score that truly
captures the motion of a dog galloping to save the day.
The Texas Ranger
Note: The "Family Dog" idea was revived in 1993 as
a short-lived primetime animated show. The main titles theme is basically the
same as the Amazing Stories version with a few modifications. - G.Y.
Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1986)
If anybody out there has read my review of
MFADT2, than they might guess that I did not like this score that much. I’ll
forgo the fact that the music is nothing but noise, and skip to the really annoying
part - Elfman doesn’t use the original Pee-Wee theme for the show! Now I’ll
admit that this may sound silly, but if he has a good theme, why not use it?
If this was a decision that the show’s producers made, then Elfman still could
have performed better in the face of adversity.
My philosophy is, no matter what a score sounds
like solo, credit must always be given to how it performs within the context
of the movie/show. Unfortunately, this theme does neither. I’ll admit that the
opening strums from the electric guitar are cute, and the noise works well in
the prelude. Yet the rest of the score is nothing but needless noise that serves
The main theme, after the strums, consists
of wacky percussion and very bizarre sounds from numerous sources (mostly synthesized).
I would give credit if the music matched the lyrics of the song, but it doesn’t
even pull that off well! After watching an episode of the show, I found that
the underlying music (which is far too simplistic, yet annoying) barely fits
the lyrics at all. In addition, the rest of the music seems too bizarre and
out of this world even for a show about Pee-Wee Herman.
VERDICT: I once asked my little cousin what
he thought of the music. He replied, “weird and stupid.” I then asked if he
liked it. He said, “Uh. . .no.” Unfortunately, weird and stupid just doesn’t
cut it for a nine-year old either.
This theme succeeds where the Pee-wee’s Playhouse theme
failed. Both are very similar in nature: each contains wacky percussion, cartoon
sound effects, and other bizarre orchestrations. Unlike the Pee-wee the theme,
Elfman actually bothers to write a cohesive, linear score, despite the fact
the opening title sequence is a non-linear romp through a cartoon world. In
addition, Elfman actually draws from the Beetlejuice theme for the show’s opening,
unlike the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse show.
The opening begins with a dark,
mischievous introduction, that showcases some goofy percussion, and what sounds
like a calliope. This sets the carnival motif in motion, as a wild, animated,
“dark ride” begins. Once again, the rolling arpeggios are present, yet in
the form of a series of wind instruments. Elfman decides to abandon the piano
as the source of the main beat, opting to use the cartoonish percussion and
Tuba. The wordless choir works well, both creating a fast rhythm, and giving
the theme a dark, but not “so dark that the kiddies go crying to their mothers”
feel. At the halfway point, the theme takes a goofier turn, as a series of
sound effects/percussion creates a horse riding sound, mixed with pig noises.
This clomping seems to fit the scene, as Beetlejuice and Lydia ride past various,
animalistic nether-world monsters. At the closing screen, the theme slows,
and ends on the same note that the movie score’s introduction did.
VERDICT: Beetlejuice (the movie score) later inspired
Elfman’s work on The Simpsons. Logically, the two animated themes should
sound alike, and then they do. Yet the Simpsons theme seems to be better orchestrated,
more adult, performed by a larger orchestra, and feels frightfully satirical.
In the end, I have to rank Beetlejuice a little lower on the scale, due to its
cartoony feel and small, synthesized performance.
Danny Elfman's contribution of the opening titles for this cartoon
(in fact ANY cartoon) is entirely within the expectations of his stylistic capabilities.
The music for most of his films up tobut not includingBatman (1989)
show us a composer instantly at home with quirky comedy, outrageous plot-lines,
silly people and social satire (the latter portrayed most memorably in Beetlejeuce
and Scrooged). From this aspect of his repertoire the movement to the
bitingly funny satirical Simpsons is less a leap, more of a dolly-step (pardon
the twee playground slang).
What makes The Simpsons the most enduring of modern "cartoonism"
is its combination of intelligent plotting, instantly recognizable characterization,
and attention to detail. These observations are ironically the values which
not just recent cartoons (with the exception of Disneythough at the cost
of today's cinema seats you've got to expect a bit of effort) lack, but also
many of the goofy films (did anyone say Flubber?) which might consider themselves
appropriate to Elfman's magic touch. In short, this is one "classic"
that deserves as much critical praise as it has ratings all over the world.
Elfman's role was to provide
striking opening/closing title music which would be both suitable curtain-opener
to the show, and provide the series composer (Alf Clausen) with meaty material
to work on. In effect what was required was a typical operatic overture. In
some sleeve notes for "The Simpsons. Songs in the Key of Springfield"
Matt Groening (series creator) claims to have requested "a big, fully
orchestrated, obnoxious, arrogant theme that promised you the time of your
life". Perhaps not opera as we see it today, but still fitting.
The result is success on a par
with the opening of Beetlejeuce--without the headache of a whole film to fill
A mere 1'29 in length it crams
in references to various visual cues, from the raucous brass writing in the
town-driving scene...to the pizzicato delicacy (accompanied by rushing strings)
of little Maggie's faux-driving scene...to Lisa's saxophonic disruption of
the school band scene (in succeeding episodes this moment provides ample opportunity
for improvisation)...This is all stuff that Elfman in this style is immediately
suited to and associated with. In fact films such as Beetlejeuce and Pee Wee
are often accused of being live action cartoons. This is not without reason,
but shouldn't be taken as criticism because: a) they make entertaining films,
b) if cartoons were judged on the Simpsons' standard they really would be
a "standard" and c) we can enjoy Elfman's style from this period,
knowing that what he has written since has proved him to be both imaginative
and innovative in other film genres.
Without a doubt the music is concentrated perfect, complimenting
the cartoon in a way that few other composers would dare, without disregarding
thematic tunefulness. The mood is fun fun fun to an exaggerated extent, and
it is perhaps this which lends it that illusive sense of weight and the wickedly
dark under-current The Simpsons hides beneath its own flamboyant exterior.
Certainly the orchestration is top-notch, and bears an almost infinite number
of listenings without giving up all its secretsa good strength to have
when you really are going to hear it that many times.
VERDICT: A miniature catchy-but-classic masterpiece.
A must for all fans of this aspect of Elfman's style, and especially for those
(like myself) who can usually only take it in small doses!!!
Matt Groening wanted a, “big, fully orchestrated, obnoxious,
arrogant theme that promised you the best time of your life.” Boy did he get
it! The Simpsons theme has become a cultural icon, much like the I
Love Lucy, Saturday Night Live, Star Trek, and Happy Days
themes. The mere sound of the opening drums, mixed with a harp, signals the
listener to sing out, “ahh-The Simp-sons!”
According to Groening, he gave Elfman “flavor tapes including
The Jetsons' theme, selections from Nino Rota’s Juliet of the Spirits,
a Remington Electric shaver jingle by Frank Zappa, some easy listening music
by Esquivel, and a teach your parrot to talk record.” Apparently, “Elfman gave
a listen and said, ‘I know exactly what you’re looking for.’ A studio boss later
told me that it was Lemmings marching-to-their-death music!” Once again Elfman
combined all of these sources to form something familiar, yet totally unique
and truly Elfmanesque. While sounding vaguely familiar, the bongo drums, rolling
string arpeggios, bizarre orchestrations, and wacky percussion signals it is
definitely an original Elfman tune.
VERDICT: Disturbing, schizophrenic, yet happy
and wacky, this theme is definitely one of Elfman’s longest enduring tunes.
Note: In 1997, TV Guide released a viewer’s poll taken a month
earlier. When asked what TV theme was the most annoying, the people responded
with, The Simpsons among others. Elfman should be proud.
HBO's version of "The Twilight
Zone" owes a portion of its success to Mr. Elfman. There a few internationally
famous television or movie themes that can instantly conjur up a "fun"
vision of death and decay as well as Elfman's theme for the series.
Of course this is not new territory
for the composer and his obsession with death. With songs like Dead Man's
Party and Clowns of Death, I'm positive the Oingo Boingo songwriter had no
trouble composing this 1.5 minute masterpiece. It probably wrote itself!
In terms of melody, the theme
is quite simple. It consists of two phrases, both of them 13 notes long. (Was
that intentional??) The two phrases fit nicely in a style from the Baroque
period. The first phrase ends in a half-cadence and the second phrase responds
to the first and ends with a nice authentic cadence. It's almost like a warped
Bach melody. Perhaps that's what Elfman invisioned when he started experimenting
with harpsichord for the theme.
The structure of the theme is
ABA with the B section only functioning as an extremely short bridge into
the recapitulation of the main "A" theme in a new key. (It's almost
like an introduction to the key change.)
However, I'd have to say that
most of the theme's catchiness and pizazz comes from the interesting accompaniment
and orchestration. As mentioned above, the harpsichord is the stand-out instrument
in this theme. It almost distracts you from the melody. I'm not sure how the
harpsichord became stereotyped as a morbid instrument. For some reason it's
now attached with visions of ghosts and haunted houses. (Elfman uses it again
in The Frighteners and Elliot Goldenthal uses it in his macabre Interview
with the Vampire score.) There's also the inclusion of the pipe organ
in the opening. The instrumentation of the melody is quite interesting. Elfman
uses a combination of low brass and a celeste-like instrument. For the accompaniment,
Elfman uses the harpsichord to outline the harmony, then there's some busy
strings, snarling brass sounds, and pounding timpani.
VERDICT: While I enjoy and respect Elfman's Simpsons theme,
I'd have to say that Tales from the Crypt is my pick for Elfman's best television
theme. It has a simple catchiness, but the textures that support the melody
are quite complex and busy. This theme is indeed the pinnacle of macabre.
Okay, only Danny Elfman would take on this
project for such a wonderfully macabre reason: once he learned that a dead guy
hosted the show, he knew he had to go for the assignment! Sigh. . .and people
say I'M strange!
Anyway, with all due respect toward The Groovy Yak, I think his
use of the words "busy" and "complex" are a gross understatement. This theme
is pure, orchestrated chaos on a level that can only be topped by Elfman's other
wild theme for The Simpsons. And after seeing the opening credit sequence
for the Crypt at least a hundred times now (I was an avid fan of the show!),
I can now safely say that was entirely Elfman's intent! Only a theme as stable
as a particularly pissed off psychotic at an Annual Crazy Convention could complement
the roaming cinematography, bizarre haunted landscape, and endless barrage of
creepy sound effects. Of course, the irony is, as Groovy pointed out, the theme
isn't really that complex.
To enhance the mood of the theme, and give it the surreal "out
of control" feeling, Elfman masks his melody behind very peculiar orchestrations.
Like the Simpsons and recent selections of his Sleepy Hollow score, the sheer
complexity of this piece ensures that the listener very rarely hears the same
theme twice. Each new listen provides the listener (or victim!) with a new sound
hidden underneath the simple melodywhether it be the racing strings, the
brooding brass, the pipe organ, the bursts of choir (sort of an Unsolved Mysteries/Beetlejuice
hybrid), or the ever present harpsichord. All of these ridiculous extremes for
such a little theme prove that Elfman's objective was to disorient as well as
fashion a macabre wit. There is never a slow moment, save for the brief pause
near the ending. The theme just moves, pushes, and shoves its way through the
dusty mansionnever relenting, never giving the listener a break. Every
conceivable accompaniment instrument is used in driving forceascending
and descending in arpeggios, pounding incessantly, and musically swaying with
the cinematic point of view. All together, this piece causes the musical equivalent
of sea sicknesscommonly referred to by Dr. Ranger as: Melodious Motion
Malady. The cure? Take two Dramamine, plug your ears, go to sleep, and pay me
a hundred dollars in the morning!
Though, besides the wild orchestrations accompanying the low
brass and Celeste driven 13 note main melody, Elfman also employs a harpsichord.
The reasons for this may vary, though it cannot be denied that the harpsichord
has made a rather prominent return into the film scoring world as a horror instrument.
I believe I may have an explanation as to why this is so. As Groovy mentioned,
Goldenthal and Elfman both have employed them in Interview with the Vampire
and The Frighteners, respectively. Goldenthal's use is quite self explanatorythe
film's setting requires a Baroque arrangement. In addition, the harpsichord
is one of the relatively few "dead" instruments of this day and age. By that
I mean that it is, and most likely always will be, associated with the Baroque
period. Think about ithow many times is a harpsichord used in mainstream
orchestras nowadays? I theorize that these two reasons contributed to Elfman's
use of the instrument in his theme.
First, Elfman realizes that the harpsichord has a Baroque quality
to it. This fits perfectly within the scheme of the theme - after all, part
of the definition of Baroque is outlandish and grotesque. As well as being associated
with that time period, it is also ingrained in the public psyche as a tool of
Old Europeparticularly the rich (after all, isn’t the Crypt Keeper a witty
master of his macabre domain?). As a result, this stuffy Old World feel complements
the Gothic decay that is so often associated with old, historical, crumbling
mansions. In addition, the Harpsichord is a dead instrumentsomewhat unique
in this time frame (it certainly sets this theme apart from others). This association
with the Harpsichord as a dead instrument is perfect in both the literal and
cultural senseit represents death, decay, and historical notes haunting
the plebeian present. Thus, the reason it so often is used to score haunted
houses becomes painfully clear: it is an old, elite, dead instrument. In that
respect, Elfman nailed the coffin shut perfectly! For how better to score an
old, dead, rich mansion then to use an old, dead, rich instrument? Simply: Baroque
was the only style that allowed him to accomplish a dark romp through a decaying
mansionand boy did he accomplish it!
VERDICT: Fun, dark, relentless, wild, BaroqueMACABRE! I'm
not going to state that this theme is better than the Simpsons. They both equally
are stunning examples of accompaniment gone totally bonkers. Both have been
ingrained in the public psyche, and both deserve to be! Together, they are Elfman's
perfect Television Themes. Why should I have to like one more than the other?
If it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!I know, that was terrible. I
apologize for thatit won't happen again.
Note: If or when another Tales from the Crypt film is
released, sneak into the theater and catch a glimpse of the opening sequence
in big, screaming, ear drum shattering, Dolby Surround Sound! Trust me, it's
Ah yes, self-plagiarismthe act of stealing from one’s own
workalways amazes me. Of course, this amazement stems more from the debate
that self plagiarism sparks, rather than the act itself. Personally, I don’t
have a major problem with self plagiarism. In fact, one of my favorite modern
film composers is James Horner, who has practically based his entire career
on self plagiarism. Still, The Flash theme offers little in the realm
of originality, but is a cute use of all those little Elfman-isms. From the
first five notes, anybody who knows anything about Elfman’s film score career
will likely shout, “Wait just a damn minute - that’s Batman!” For the
most part, that’s all this theme is - a reworking of the Batman formula.
Every aspect of the theme has a militaristic/comic book feel, in addition to
a soaring motif provided by the strings and winds. The second portion of theme,
which sounds suspiciously like the last thirty seconds of the Dick Tracy
theme, strays away from the Batman feel just slightly. I’m certain that Elfman
was going for a film noir, comical, flowing score to match the speed of the
justice seeking character. Although, I have never seen the show, so it’s just
VERDICT: A cute, rather unoriginal reworking of the Batman
motif. Comic, soaring, and militaristic, the two and a half minute theme is
fun, but little else.
Note: While Elfman wrote the main theme, Shirley Walker was hired
to score this show’s few seasons. She also scored Batman: The Animated Series
whilst Elfman wrote the main theme (later to be replaced by her own theme).
In addition she also was the one of the main orchestrators who worked with Elfman
on the original Batman film score.
The Texas Ranger
Batman - The Animated Series Theme
How does a composer write a TV theme
based on one of the greatest movie themes of all time? The answer is simple:
don’t change anything. Elfman performed this task well; and while I must say
that the theme to this show is quite good, I can’t imagine Elfman really had
to toil hard over this one.
Elfman borrows from the pseudo Baroque/Expressionistic style
of his first movie score, instead of the Seasonal Gothic style of Batman
Returns. The choice is a good onefor while I enjoyed the more Gothic
score of “Returns,” the “style over substance” approach works better in the
context of a two dimensional cartoon.
The composer introduces the theme with the same notes used in
the two films. This seems to work well, considering the animation department
mimicked the opening shot of both films (dissolving the Warner Brother’s sign
into a dark sky). Elfman even inserts the obligatory choir chord that has become
associated with the opening sequences of the two movies. The music then turns
atmospheric, as two criminals stealthily exit a bank. Following an explosion,
the score takes an action oriented turn. Elfman uses the same piano movements
and brass stings that were use during most of the first film’s action sequences,
but keeps the percussion down to a minimum. When Batman appears, Elfman uses
a slightly more triumphant version of his classic theme. Over the course of
the ensuing fight, he allows the music to match the action of the characterswriting
a very fluid, sweeping section, without using too many stings to interrupt the
flow of both the action and theme. Of course, he ends with his now classic,
foreboding end notes, which signals that Batman will be summoned again to fight
The end credits theme brings even more
triumph to the score. The dark, rolling string arpeggios are replaced with more
light hearted, fluid wind instruments. In addition, the heavy, militaristic
percussion has been all but silenced. While I can pick up some timpani, I believe
Elfman rewrote the beat using mostly heavy strings.
VERDICT: This theme lacks the depth of
both movies, but suffices in the context of the cartoon show.
The Texas Ranger
Perversions of Science Theme
My brother and I saw only one episode of this show while on vacation
at Cedar Point. The plot involved a man trying to “get it on” with a cyborg.
The robot shuts off while being “intimate” with him. So the man runs around
with a mutilated cyborg attached to his uh...“Herman”, trying to hide it from
the future father-in-law, played by William Shatner. I wasn’t quite sure which
was funnier, the cyborg incident, or Shatner attempting to act.
During the opening, we both listened to the
theme, turned to each other at the same time, and screamed, “That sounds like
Elfman!” It turns out we were right. There was nothing truly special about this
theme, and I felt it only fit the show adequately. The main theme seemed a little
too bombastic for the lackluster opening sequence.
VERDICT: As far as I can remember, I felt that the score was
merely an attempt to bring a sci-fi element to the Tales from the Crypt
motif (composed earlier for HBO). Those in search of a great Elfman Sci-fi theme
should check out the opening sequence to Mars Attacks!. Apart from that,
I can’t remember anything else about the score - although I’ll never forget
the cyborg incident. . .OUCH!
The Texas Ranger
Hear the theme in MP3
(with fx), and the end titles in MP3.
For his translation from three-window cartoon to animation series
the office bod with the upwardly mobile tie gained himself a main titles theme
from Danny Elfman designed simply to be a big mad. Rubbing noises, a stunted
calypso and then Boingo electric guitars. Thematic material is at a strict minimum,
sketching a three note motif and hammering it into the mind in various transpositions
until you cannot rid yourself of it: 'C' up an octave (to a 'C') and then down
a tritone to F#. Simple, effective, but why does it sound familiar? The answer:
it has been adapted from music for The Forbidden Zone, hence its title,
'The Dilbert Zone'. As 'Fabrice D' points out, the end titles "revamp"
the theme, compressing it, and often omitting the octave leap. Eagle-eared viewers
will also note that the theme is occasionally used for link music. It does make
you wonder what of value is left for composers Adam Cohen and Ian Dye to get
their teeth into.
Bluntinstrument, with polite nudging from
A theme destined perhaps not for the greatness that The Simpsons
instantly attained, but for a gradual insinuation on the audience of this (for
now) intreguing and deft comedy. As with a large number of Elfman's works for
television, there is much here that would strike the average savvy Elfman fan
as reminiscent of a particular film score. In this case the bright-eyed goofy
style takes a quick peek back to Pee-wee's big adventure, both in its
instrumentation (kooky synths, saxophone, bright over-all scoring) and in its
deceptively simplistic melodic outline. Beneath this disguise is a gratifyingly
bizarre succession of harmonic and instrumentational shifts which compliment
the Pythonesque televisual images.
Blink your ears and you'll miss this genuinely creepy main title
theme to the American spooky soap. Fortunately, this mutated child of The
Frighteners (the theme is most reminiscent, dude) and Men in Black
(electric guitars) adds very little of value to this corner of Elfman's oeuvre.
What it shows, though, is a continuation of his return to more varied projects,
from television to video game to animated film to concert work. When viewed
in light of this contrast, Point Pleasant doesn't seem so much a tired
loop as a carefully directed personal cliché to please the fans and satisfy
the money men.