On February 8, 2022, John Williams will turn 90. Over the course of an extraordinary career, he's earned 25 Grammy Awards, five Oscars (out of 52 nominations, second only to Walt Disney), four Golden Globes, and three Emmys. Rather than resting on his considerable laurels in recent years, he's remained prolific, most recently scoring 2019's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and serving as Music Consultant for longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg's highly-anticipated remake of West Side Story. (He even penned the liner notes for the soundtrack release, out today in digital formats and next Friday on CD.) On January 21, Decca will celebrate Williams' 90th by turning the clock back to 1980 when he took the baton from the legendary Arthur Fiedler to lead The Boston Pops Orchestra into a new era. John Williams and The Boston Pops: The Complete Philips Recordings boasts 21 CDs and 22 albums originally released on Philips between 1980 and 1990, at which point the Pops switched affiliations to Sony Classical. (The Sony Classical era was addressed in 2018 on the John Williams: Conductor box set.) Williams remained the Principal Conductor through 1993, but continued to work with them as Laureate Conductor. Keith Lockhart took over as Principal Conductor in 1995 and remains in that role today.
When Williams ascended the Pops podium, he was fast becoming a living legend in the film score realm. Today, he's likely the most famous film composer in the world and has probably written more recognizable scores than anyone in cinema history with such classics as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman: The Movie, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones films, the first two Jurassic Park films, the first two Home Alone Films, the first three Harry Potter films, and of course, the Star Wars series of films. Of course, that list is only a small part of his total repertoire and there are probably few people on the planet who have not heard at least one of his compositions.
It's befitting that Williams took over the artistic leadership of the Boston Pops, as the orchestra was (and still is) an institution in its own right. The Pops has their own long legacy of recordings, dating back to their first release on the Victor Red Seal label in 1940 with Fiedler conducting. That began a decades-long association with RCA where the group would release several albums a year. In the 1970s, the orchestra's recordings would begin appearing on labels including Polydor, Deutsche Grammophon, and Decca. When Williams became conductor in 1980, the Pops switched labels to Philips where they would record nearly 20 albums over the next decade with Williams at the helm.
Like Fiedler before him, Williams surveyed a vast range of material with the orchestra. At Philips, too, he was able to take advantage of digital recording for the first time to bring the orchestral sound to life in newly vivid splendor. The first album covered in this set, Pops on the March, continued Fiedler's popular tradition of marches. His final Philips set, Pops by Gershwin, offered four suites from the late George Gershwin's repertoire. In between, Williams celebrated the music of Broadway (That's Entertainment and On Stage, the latter of which premiered Marvin Hamlisch's unused overture to A Chorus Line), Hollywood (Aisle Seat: Great Film Music and Salute to Hollywood, both of which featured some of his own famous music), yuletide tunes (We Wish You a Merry Christmas), science fiction (Out of This World), chart hits (Digital Jukebox, with the likes of "Tijuana Taxi," "The Girl from Ipanema," and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"), and classical romance (Pops in Love). Bernstein by Boston found Williams feting another great maestro, Leonard Bernstein, with selections from his scores to West Side Story, Candide, Mass, On the Town, and Wonderful Town. The box set also includes two recitals with Jessye Norman - one with the Pops, and one with Williams soloing on piano. Both placed the opera singer in a pop music setting, performing everything from Bernstein to Billy Joel. The Complete Philips Recordings concludes with two compilations, By Request and Pops Britannia, for a comprehensive overview of Williams' recordings for the label.
John Williams and The Boston Pops: The Complete Philips Recordings, collecting one era of the maestro's long and distinguished career as a conductor (and including stirring renditions of many of his famous film themes, too!), arrives in stores on January 21 from Decca. You'll find pre-order links and the full album listing below!
CD 1: Pops on the March (Philips 6302 082, 1980)
CD 2: Pops in Space (Philips 9500 921, 1980)
CD 3: That's Entertainment (Pops on Broadway) (Philips 6302 124, 1981)
CD 4: We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Philips 6302 125, 1981)
CD 5: Pops Around the World (Digital Overtures) (Philips 6514 186, 1981)
CD 6: Aisle Seat: Great Film Music (Philips 6514 328, 1982)
CD 7: Out of This World (Philips 411 185-1, 1983)
CD 8: Prokofiev/Peter and the Wolf; Tchaikovsky/Nutcracker Suite (Philips 412 516-1, 1984)
CD 9: Jessye Norman, With a Song in My Heart (Philips 412 625-1, 1984)
CD 10: Swing, Swing, Swing (Philips 412 626-1, 1985)
CD 11: America - The Dream Goes On (Philips 412 627-1, 1985)
CD 12: On Stage (Philips 412 132-1, 1984)
CD 13: Bernstein by Boston (Philips 416 360-1, 1986)
CD 14: Pops in Love (Philips 416 361-1, 1987)
CD 15: Holst: The Planets (Philips 420 177-1, 1987)
CD 16: Digital Jukebox (Philips 422 064-1, 1988)
CD 17: Jessye Norman, Lucky to Be Me (Philips 422 201-2, 1992)
CD 18: Salute to Hollywood (Philips 422 385-2, 1989)
CD 19: Pops a la Russe (Philips 426 247-2, 1990)
CD 20: Pops by Gershwin (Philips 426 404-2, 1990)
CD 21: By Request... (Philips 420 178-1, 1987) / Pops Britannia (Philips 420 946-2, 1988)