On Friday, May 20, Varese Vintage has two rare soundtracks arriving in stores from composer and jazz great Dave Grusin: the CD premiere of his score to The Champ (with a pivotal song contribution from Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager) and the return to CD of The Electric Horseman, featuring score by Grusin and songs from the one and only Willie Nelson.
1979’s The Champ marked the American film debut of Italian director Franco Zeffirelli. A remake of the 1931 film of the same name, it starred Jon Voight as Billy Flynn (no relation to the grandstanding attorney of Chicago!), a former boxing champion, who hopes to give his son T.J. (Ricky Schroeder, later of Silver Spoons) a better life when his ex-wife Annie (Faye Dunaway) enters the picture and hopes to re-enter the boy’s life. Zeffirelli turned to versatile composer Dave Grusin to compose the score to the famously tear-jerking drama.
A master of many styles, Grusin called upon many of them for his score which was released by Richard Perry’s Planet Records. The sweeping, melodic main title theme would gain lyrics (not heard on the album) by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and eventually provide the title for Barbra Streisand’s album of Bergman lyrics, What Matters Most. Grusin’s score also took in a fizzy pop/bossa confection (“A Cha-Cha-Do Brazil”), a lush Mozart insertion (“Serenade in G.K. 525 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”), haunting and tension-filled drama (“Find Our Way,” “T.J.’s Theme,” “Visiting Hours”), European-flavored lounge pastiche (“Salon du Miami”), understated heartbreak (“Gone”) and funky fusion from the GRP Records founder (“Nothing But a Groove,” “Gym Montage”).
Oddly, the album opens not with a Grusin composition but with Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager’s touching “If You Remember Me,” which was written for the film but ultimately not used in it. (It was, however, heard in its trailer.) Chris Thompson, of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, performed the ballad which was produced by Richard Perry. A quintessential Hamlisch melody with a lyric reflecting the movie’s themes, it was later recorded by Barry Manilow and interpolated into a Los Angeles production of Hamlisch and Sager’s musical They’re Playing Our Song. (Though Grusin had nothing to do with “If You Remember Me,” he was well-acquainted with Hamlisch, and even played piano on his sessions for The Way We Were.)
The Electric Horseman also arrived from the prolific Grusin in 1979. It was one of nine films scored by the composer for director Sydney Pollack, and starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, reuniting twelve years after their triumph in Neil Simon’s comedy Barefoot in the Park. Redford starred as Sonny Steele, a former rodeo champion and current cereal pitchman who embarks on a quest to save a race horse. Fonda was Hallie Martin, the television newswoman who pursues him. Also appearing in the film were Valerie Perrine and Willie Nelson, with the latter playing the role of Sonny’s buddy Wendell Hickson.
Nelson contributed five tunes to the soundtrack in his inimitably laconic style including a solo rendition of the Grammy-winning “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” which he first recorded with Waylon Jennings in 1978. Nelson also is heard on the soundtrack with four more tracks referencing the western life and the movie’s story: The Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” Sharon Vaughn’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” William Callery’s “Hands on the Wheel,” and Nelson and Hank Cochran’s “So You Think You’re a Cowboy.”
Lochner’s liner notes reveal that Grusin played piano on a couple of Willie’s tracks and contributed the string arrangements to make them feel a bit more cinematic; in fact, the harmonica on Grusin’s own wistful cue “Rising Star (Love Theme)” was played by Willie’s longtime harmonica man, Mickey Raphael. In addition to Willie’s five songs, the original Columbia Records LP boasted six Grusin cues. “Electro-Phantasm” is effortlessly melodic, string-laden pop-disco, and “Disco Magic” (co-written with Patti Austin) takes the score even further onto the dancefloor. The title track is a rousing piece of widescreen rock with pulsating synthesizer ostinato notes. “Freedom Epilogue” retains the blend of contemporary pop and traditional film music as it reprises the love theme.
Both The Champ and The Electric Horseman, showcasing Dave Grusin at his finest, are available from Varese Vintage on Friday, May 20! These titles boast new and plentiful liner notes by Jim Lochner and remastering by Chas Ferry and Daren Chadwick. You can pre-order both titles below!
- If You Remember Me – Chris Thompson (Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager)
- Main Title
- A-Cha-Cha-Do Brazil
- Serenade in G.K. 525 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart)
- Nothing But a Groove
- Find Our Way
- Gym Montage
- J.’s Theme
- Theme from The Champ
- Salon Du Miami
- Visiting Hours
Dave Grusin and Willie Nelson, The Electric Horseman: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Columbia CK 36327, 1979 – reissued Varese Vintage 302 067 395 8, 2016) (Amazon U.S. /Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Midnight Rider – Willie Nelson
- My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – Willie Nelson
- Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys – Willie Nelson
- So You Think You’re a Cowboy – Willie Nelson
- Hands on the Wheel – Willie Nelson
- Rising Star (Love Theme)
- The Electric Horseman
- Interlude – Tumbleweed Morning
- Disco Magic
- Freedom Epilogue