Monday, June 8, 2009

Nothing but net: Favorite basketball movie scores

Hoosiers game sequence
Basketball fans are currently swept up in NBA Finals Fever, so it's the perfect time to look back at how film and TV composers have musically interpreted the game in three of the best basketball movie scores.

Hoosier daddy
Hoosiers (Jerry Goldsmith)

I'm waiting for Superbad soundtrack musicians Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Clyde Stubblefield, John "Jab'o" Starks and Phelps "Catfish" Collins to reunite for that great funktastic basketball comedy score that hasn't been written yet. I doubt the funk legends will collaborate again for a movie score, but if this dream team did so for my dream basketball flick score, the result would probably end up going neck-and-neck with Jerry Goldsmith's beloved work from 1986's Hoosiers for the spot of greatest b'ball score.

Goldsmith preferred to approach period pieces like Hoosiers (known as Best Shot outside America), Chinatown and L.A. Confidential as if they were contemporary. On paper, a partially synthesized, anachronistic score for a movie set in the early '50s reads like an epic fail. Somehow, Goldsmith made it work. His musical vision of basketball-as-Americana, which combined a full orchestra with drum machines, doesn't sound dated.

(On the other hand, the completely synthesized "Theme from Hoosiers" concert arrangement that Goldsmith and his son Joel created specially for the soundtrack album is on the dated side. When I first heard that track several years ago, I thought it sounded like theme music for a huffing and puffing T.J. Hooker in an LCPD gym, attempting to block a shot with his beer gut.)

I always dug how Goldsmith's percussion, like in "The Coach Stays" and the Aaron Copland-esque "The Pivot," imitated the sound of a basketball being dribbled.

Goldsmith and Hoosiers director David Anspaugh later reteamed for Rudy, another rousing sports flick that turns grown men into teary-eyed Oprah's Favorite Things audience members. The Goldsmith/Anspaugh partnership produced two powerful and rich scores that even someone who's not a sports fan can appreciate.

Back to that unwritten funkdafied basketball flick score. If I composed it, it would probably sound like "Sportscaster," which Freaks and Geeks and Donnie Darko composer Michael Andrews (a.k.a. Elgin Park) wrote for his band, the Greyboy Allstars.

Little Morpheus
Cornbread, Earl and Me (Donald Byrd)

Below CBSSports.com's Movie Madness list of Top 10 Basketball Movies, a commenter says the early Laurence Fishburne movie Cornbread, Earl and Me belongs on the list simply because of the Blackbyrds theme song ("He's a man with the plan/He's got a basketball in his hand!").

Glory Road dunkageCornbread contains the only film score written by jazz-funk legend Donald Byrd. The Blaxploitation.com review of the Cornbread soundtrack says "it's not up to the standard of their early studio LPs," but I'll take the Byrd & the Blackbyrds sound any day over a James Horner interpretation of the drama both on and off the court.

Glory Road (Trevor Rabin featuring Alicia Keys)

The only Bruckheimer movie scores I've liked are from Beverly Hills Cop (Harold Faltermeyer), Bad Boys (Mark Mancina), Crimson Tide (Hans Zimmer), The Rock (the Media Ventures Mafia) and Remember the Titans (Trevor Rabin). The score from Bruckheimer's basketball flick about the first integrated NCAA team, the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners, which unites Titans' Rabin with Alicia Keys, isn't too shabby either.

The former Yes-man was no stranger to the sport. He wrote both the NBA on TNT theme and the Coach Carter score.



Other noteworthy basketball movie scores: Hoop Dreams (Ben Sidran), White Men Can't Jump (Bennie Wallace), Love & Basketball (Terence Blanchard), Coach Carter (Rabin), Inside Moves (John Barry), The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (Thom Bell) and Fast Break (David Shire and James Di Pasquale).

He Got Game doesn't count because other than a theme tune performed by Public Enemy, there's no original music during the movie. Spike Lee used Copland pieces for the score to reflect his Goldsmith-like vision of hoops-as-Americana.

(Is Theodore Shapiro's Semi-Pro score any good? I haven't watched Semi-Pro yet.)

On the small screen, inner-city high school basketball served as the backdrop for The White Shadow, which featured a theme from Rockford Files and A-Team composers Mike Post and Pete Carpenter at the height of their partnership.

No discussion of basketball-related original score music would be complete without the most famous tune of them all, "Roundball Rock," the now-retired NBA on NBC theme. Forget the Gatorade "Be Like Mike" jingle that's synonymous with Michael Jordan. "Roundball Rock" is the theme for His Airness. It was composed by New Age musician and frequent Late Night with Conan O'Brien punching bag John Tesh, who didn't have access to a piano at the time he wrote it, so he had to sing it into his own answering machine.

Related links:
Hoosiers score CD review and release history [Filmtracks]
"THE 'REEL' DREAM TEAM" [High Socks Legend]
"That Guy Salute: The Coach in Teen Wolf" [Intensities in Ten Suburbs]

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