Film Music on the Web (UK)

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


by Ian Lace
© Ian Lace  23-3-1998


On April 28th USA Today reported that Sony Classical had sold about 22 million copies worldwide over the last 22 weeks - an unprecedented figure for a record of mainly instrumental music.

The US record industry is delighted, Titanic is pulling buyers who would not normally visit record stores. After mid-90s stagnation and two years of minimal gains, album sales jumped 5.7% in 1997, and the success of Titanic in the first quarter of this year is helping to boost that trend.


Sources in the US seem to indicate that although the TITANIC soundtrack CD has stayed in top album position (US) for sixteen consecutive weeks, its sales are at last beginning to dip. Will it ever achieve the record sales of the album of The Bodyguard (31 million worldwide 1992) which had six hits by Whitney Houston? Well, on April 28th USA Today reported that Sony Classical had sold about 22 million copies worldwide over the last 22 weeks - an unprecedented figure for a record of mainly instrumental music.

The US record industry is delighted, Titanic is pulling buyers who would not normally visit record stores. After mid-90s stagnation and two years of minimal gains, album sales jumped 5.7% in 1997, and the success of Titanic in the first quarter of this year is helping to boost that trend.

Meanwhile it was reported last week that while the film itself had grossed 1.6 billion dollars and in the UK Titanic it's still tops at the box office. On the other hand, The Orlando Sentinel on April 29th asked: "Has James Cameron's marriage capsized? Has the Titanic director thrown wife Linda Hamilton overboard? Is Cameron's new cabin mate Suzy Amis, the blonde who played Rose's granddaughter?" Soapier than the soaps?

Anthony Ian


TITANIC CD - 21MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE In its 21st week of sales (week ending April 12th) the TITANIC album has sold 21 million copies worldwide. In its 14th successive week in the top spot, it has broken the SoundScan-era record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 (in US) for an original score or soundtrack album, surpassing "The Bodyguard", which spent 13 weeks at the top through March 1993. There seems to be no sign of it slowing down either because US sales of 410,000 in the week of 12th April were up 5% over the previous week's 390,000 copies.

Best Selling Sound-Tracks
(US domestic sales)
1) The Bodyguard. (Whitney Houston); 16 million; 1992
2) Purple Rain. (Prince); 13 million; 1984
3) Saturday Night Fever. 11 million; 1977
4) Dirty Dancing. 11 million; 1987
5) The Lion King. (Elton John); 10 million; 1994
6) Grease. (John Travolta and Olivia Newton John); 8 million; 1978
7) Footloose. (Kevin Bacon); 8 million; 1984
8) Titanic. (Celine Dion); 8 million; 1998
9) Top Gun. 7 million; 1986
10) Waiting to Exhale. 7 million; 1996

The Titanic bandwagon goes on and on... After only 15 weeks in release (as at mid-March), it’s already in the top 10 best ever selling sound-tracks (American domestic sales), see the above chart. And the Oscars are tomorrow...

James Horner’s Titanic CD has hit the top of the Pop charts in both America and the UK. This is a distinct rarity for a mostly orchestral score (the last one to achieve such success was the score for the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.)

Quoting from the March 13th edition of the American magazine, Entertainment Weekly -

“...the Titanic album has surpassed any vaguely realistic expectations. “My Heart Will Go On” entered Billboard’s singles chart at No 1 when it was released last month. Even more dramatic, “Titanic: Music from the motion picture” has held down the No 1 slot on the pop album chart for eight straight weeks, warding off everyone from Dion herself to Pearl jam, while surpassingChariots of Fire as the best selling instrumental score of all time. Among its other accomplishments: The album has hit No. 1 in 14 countries (from France to Malaysia), has set a Billboard record of selling more than 500,000 units for six consecutive weeks in the US, and is already certified eight times platinum domestically. Worldwide shipments have topped 15 million. Sony Classical, which secured the rights to the soundtrack before Dion’s involvement and is accustomed to selling fewer than 500 copies a week of standard-repertoire works found itself in happy, if frenetic overdrive...the Titanic score will certainly gross more than the label’s entire catalogue did in 1997

“...In-house Sony research indicates a large chunk of its buyers are women either under 24 or over 40, with ‘a slight skew toward singles’ (interestingly, the album’s biggest sales leap - to an epic 847,660 copies - occurred in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.)

“...The full steam ahead smash that is the Titanic album may be a fluke, but it’s only the most obvious recent example of the way in which soundtrack albums are looming mightily on the pop landscape. Between 1987 and 1996 annual sales of soundtrack albums quadrupled; last year an unprecedented five cinema-connected discs (Space Jam, Men in Black, Gang Related, The Preacher’s Wife and Evita) accounted for a combined 18 million sales.”

All over America, magazines and newspapers have been carrying articles on James Horner and his score for Titanic. A few have been flattering. Some have not. Here’s a selection:-

In his THE NEW YORKER article, “Scoring for an Oscar”, Alex Ross comments:-
“...No original orchestral piece has reached the top of the charts since Dr Zhivago, in 1966 [wrong see Chariots of Fire as stated above]. One may have to go back to the days of Richard Strauss to find a more or less classical composition that has made so much money so fast. Strauss built his mountain villa with the proceeds from Salome. Horner may be ready to make a down payment on a very big house...He is a composer who is generous enough to assimilate into his own music the work of less fortunate predecessors. In his score for Aliens he sampled the opening of Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony. In his score for Willow he helpfully simplified the first theme of Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony. In the title theme of Glory, he took the Humming Chorus from Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible and grafted on Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. Up to a point such borrowings are not surprising: Hollywood composers work under cruel deadlines and sometimes take creative short cuts. But Horner goes beyond the pale; he is a kleptomaniac who recycles not only others’ work but also his own. Lately he has switched from classical bric-a-brac to a New Age Celtic sound, with cooing pipes and electronic choirs...” [Ouch!]

Richard Harrington writing in the Washington Post is kinder -

“Like the movie, the soundtrack for Titanic is No.1...Clearly, it’s James Horner’s evocative score that’s caught the public ear, and deservedly so: It beautifully juxtaposes the film’s romantic fable with its sense of inevitable tragedy. Like Horner’s award-winning score for Braveheart, Titanic is full of Celtic melancholy...The Titanic’s inexorable journey toward doom is presaged by the swelling strings and brass majesty of “Leaving Port.” Grand adventure is anticipated in “Take Her to Sea, Mr Murdock” and, soon after, impending doom is palpable on “Hard to Starboard”. The large-scale consequences of a big boat meeting an iceberg are dramatically suggested in “The Sinking” and the expansive “Death of Titanic”, while the ineffably sad “An Ocean of Memories” and “Hymn to the Sea” offer impressionistic eulogies...Like director, James Cameron, Horner knows how to scale down the Titanic’s larger tragedy to very personal loss via the romance of Rose and Jack..”

The Chicago Tribune carried a mixed viewpoint:-

“ Titanic Horner gave us almost nothing new. And many in the soundtrack world are wondering whether the score qualifies as an original work, or might be better viewed as an adaptation..By now, it has been well established that people hear derivations of many other works in Titanic: Enya’s Book of Days, Hans Zimmer’s Radio Flyer and Horner’s own Rocketeer, Star Trek:Wrath of Khan and Braveheart.

“Certainly Horner has created an immensely satisfying and emotional listen, hummable to abstraction, and brilliantly scored, orchestrated, and produced. Unlike many soundtracks, all of the music on the CD is heard virtually in its entirety in the film itself...Of the many explosive tracks, perhaps the best are “The Sinking” and “Death of the Titanic”. Here Horner pits emotional motifs of the love theme against a constant syncopated brass, violin and percussive piano struggle to stay alive as the ship begins to die

Scott Duncan of the Orange County Register, in writing about both Titanic and Kundun, Philip Glass’s Oscar-nominated score, makes the point that:-

“...Each soundtrack indicates how film music and concert music are nudging closer together. Horner a veteran Hollywood film composer has been picked by the Sony Classical label, one of the world’s largest. Sony will commission Horner to write other non-film pieces for the label. They’ll also ask him to adapt a concert work for chorus and symphony orchestra from Titanic including music cut from the film, for a recording and for performance in symphony concert halls.

“Horner has crafted a film score of some complexity, one that closely follows Cameron’s sense of pacing, at times acting like a pop soundtrack in its appeal to the mainstream, at others like orchestral music able to be considered on its own...Horner infuses his score with the metallic outbursts of a great machine gone awry. The heart of his score is an eight-minute cue called “The Death of Titanic” in which major-minor chords scream like twisted steel, huge explosions from percussion disrupt the rhythmic flow, and principal themes reappear in wrong-note transformations.

“Horner has said he searched for a timeless quality to his music, which had to tie the period of the Titanic to modern audiences. His solution, in the heavily Irish music influences, is likely one reason for the score’s popularity...Horner’s Titanic... The soundtrack opens with a mournful Irish tune sung in the dreamy style of Enya. Horner later writes a tune in counterpoint that becomes another principal theme and forms the basis for a pop song sung by Celine Dion of the closing credits. This is a miscalculation, because Dion’s adult-contemporary style shatters the illusion Horner had worked so hard to achieve.

“Horner’s Titanic has its share of harp glissandos and Hollywood cliches, but it is a score deserved in its popularity, one that’s shrewd in moving from synthesised textures to full orchestra in ways that add atmosphere and dimension to Cameron’s film.”

Kristin Tillotson writing in Minneapolis Star Tribune:-

“...It doesn’t do much for me but it could just be my contrary nature, which surfaces every time anything sweeps the country...the phenomenal Titanic CD sales supports the theory that people buy soundtracks to prolong the emotional thrill of the film. Another factor is the lack of other mass-market mementoes: The sombre reality-based story about mass-drowning hardly inspires merchandising tie-ins (unless you have a hundred grand for a wireless message from the real ship, like those auctioned last week). How would you promote a Titanic? “Happy Meal: with a little plastic Leonardo DiCaprios clinging to an ice cube in a super-sized soft drink?

“But it also signals a return to the classical romantic score, which is once again capturing the public’s fancy.”

This article has been compiled from information kindly supplied by Anthony E. Anderson, Librarian, Government Documents Department, Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.

© Ian Lace 1998

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