SCIENCE FICTION MUSIC: You’re just never gonna’ get a real Blade Runner Soundtrack

Kevin Long
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Back in 1982, Blade Runner came out, and of course I bought the soundtrack because I compulsively did that sort of thing. Also, hey, it was the peak of the Synth Music fad, and it was Vangelis at the top of his game. Why wouldn’t I buy it?

I liked it. It was gee-gosh-wow cool, and yet it felt strangely off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It didn’t jump out at me, and most of the time I didn’t consciously notice it, but if I happened to be watching Blade Runner, then got all excited and ran into my room and listened to the closing credits music, it seemed just…thin. I looked at the LP, it said “Vangelis” on it, so, obviously the problem must have been with me, not the album.

I attributed it to my generally sub-par stereo. The fact is, however, that I had a tin ear in those days, and there’s no getting around it. First of all listen to this, from the movie. You don’t need to listen to the whole thing, just give it a minute or two:

And now listen to the same track from the Official Soundtrack Album:

Holy crap! They’re CLEARLY not the same thing! And it was like half a decade before I actually objectively noticed the difference! What the heck was wrong with me?

Anyway, here’s the deal: Back in ’82, the record company had pre-sold the soundtrack to stores. They had a falling out with Vangelis. I’m not sure what about, but I think it involved them wanting to put some background tracks he didn’t write on the album. He got mad and refused to let them have his tapes. Well, the label was screwed. They had to release something, so they quickly hired an orchestra and did orchestral versions of synth themes. Ridley Scott later called this a “Muzak” version of the soundtrack. And that was what we got.

In 1990, Vangelis released a kind of “Greatest Hits” CD called “Themes” which involved cuts from his various soundtracks, and this was the first official release of the Blade Runner theme from the top link above, and also included the Love Theme, and “Memories of Green,” which kinda’ really doesn’t count as it was originally off his 1980 album, and re-used in Blade Runner, that was all you could get.

I’m told, but do not know, that he refused to release the soundtrack. I’ve never heard a compelling reason as to why. I am given to understand (But do not know for a fact) that at some point after this, Vangelis discovered there was a brisk trade in bootlegs of his unreleased soundtrack, and he could make some money off of it, so he released the “Official Soundtrack.”

This was as frustrating as it was interesting, in that it contained music from the film, frequently overlayed with dialog soundbytes obscuring some of the music, then there was some music written for the film that didn’t get used, some really popular bits that weren’t included, and several pieces that were heavily redone.

Still: A little of something is better than all of nothing. Vangelis is, above all, an artist, and he’s gonna’ do stuff that interests him, rather than what people want. On the 25th anniversary of the film, they released the “Trilogy,” a 3-CD set. This included the entire “Official Soundtrack” from a decade before, a second disk of heretofore completely unreleased music from the film, and a third disk of music that was in no way connected to the movie, but was “Inspired” by it. Think of the last disk as the soundtrack for the imaginary Blade Runner sequel we’ve all daydreamed about on and off for the last thirty years.

Despite waiting for this for more than half my life, I totally missed it when it was released because, well, I’m kind of an idiot, and I wasn’t AGGRESSIVELY waiting. Just waiting for someone to tell me about it, and no one did. Alas. So six years late I just found out about it, and that’s why I’m reviewing it now.

Now I have to reiterate that these are good, and the Trilogy is awesome, but it’s not exactly a soundtrack per se. It’s rather an odd admixture of a soundtrack and a standard Vangelis album. His albums are pretty good, generally (Except for Albedo, which I hate), so no complaints. But honestly, as the Trilogy is the last word on the subject, and it takes a lot of liberties with some of the pieces, basically, if you want the *real* soundtrack, you’re gonna’ have to go to the bootleggers.

Which is more-or-less the same situation we were in 31 years ago.

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Kevin Long is a well-reviewed Science Fiction author, who has written three full-length anthologies, and is at work on several other projects. He used to blog under the name “Republibot 3.0,” but now that his stalker is dead, and he can afford to be less paranoid, he uses his real name. His personal website is here and his Smashwords page here. Or, if you prefer Amazon, his books are here, here, and here. Check out his site, and buy one of his books. He’s got a wife and kids to support!

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