CD Review: Back To The Future – Original Soundtrack

By • December 14, 2009

Composer: Alan Silvestri
Label: Intrada
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Grade: A+

You could say that Alan Silvestri was the percussion guy before Doc Brown’s DeLorean came calling to truly whisk his career into a whole new dimension. A rock and jazz session player who got his Hollywood footing spinning disco beats for CHiPS, Silvestri’s energetic music would get the attention of director Robert Zemeckis, who took a chance on him with ROMANCING THE STONE. Challenged to give the film RAIDERS-esque excitement and romance without John Williams’ music budget, Silvestri poured on a catchy tropical bounce with his electronics, and just a bit of orchestra to help make the STONE shine. It was a melodic synth-percussion route that Silvestri continued on with CAT’S EYE and SUMMER RENTAL, even though he’d shown he could truly score for the orchestra with the Americana of FANDANGO, even if that film used very little of Silvestri’s work on its 60’s era road trip.

Thankfully, Doc Brown didn’t need roads when he and Zemeckis landed on Silvestri’s doorstep with BACK TO THE FUTURE, allowing the composer to unleash a thrilling symphonic score that would make him an eminent orchestral composer from that time on with the likes of THE ABYSS, THE BODYGUARD, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and G.I. JOE. And that isn’t mentioning Silvestri’s thirteen-picture (and counting) partnership with Zemeckis that has encompassed FORREST GUMP, CONTACT and this season’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, not to mention two more BTTF’s.

Yet for the last 24 years, only a few snippets of the original FUTURE’s score have been available on CD. And as much as I still dug hearing “The Power of Love” and “Back in Time,” favoring Huey Lewis over Silvestri has struck score fans as an injustice for such a seminal soundtrack. Now Intrada rectifies that, and then some, with a terrific two-CD release of BACK TO THE FUTURE. While you won’t get the likes of “Roll With Me Henry” here, what this greatly expanded FUTURE does offer is not only all of the original music, but the “first” score that Silvestri laid down for the picture.

But before this FUTURE album goes back in session time, the first CD offers up Silvestri’s first real masterwork right from the trumpeting theme of its opening graphic. And that’s just the first of several motifs grilled into a generation of jigowatt-loving fans, as classic cue after classic cue unravels itself. FUTURE’s story was full of the kind of playful, sometimes dark magic that was catnip for producer Steven Spielberg, a suburban fairy tale spirit that Silvestri captures wonderfully throughout with a trademarked love of brassy orchestrations, as well as seemingly infinite ways of varying his main theme. His FUTURE would also serve as a glimpse to the styles Silvestri would employ from this point for his distinguished career. “Einstein Disintegrated” bounces off the wall with Doc Brown, whose hellzapoppin energy would accompany the equally manic orchestrations of the Spielberg-Zemeckis opus WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? FUTURE is a dark precursor as well with the lurching military-mission theme of “’85 Twin Pines Mall,” whose dire drum percussion would fill the likes of PREDATOR, JUDGE DREDD and ERASER.

Silvestri’s music remains somewhat menacing for a while as Marty gets his bearings once propelled back to 1955 (cues far darker in fact than anything in the “first” FUTURE score), with eerie sustains and a downbeat flourish playing the revelation of “’55 Town Square.” McFly’s quizzical reaction to meeting his mom gets a comically poignant theme in “Lorraine’s Bedroom,” while pizzicato pokiness reigns in “The Picture.” Silvestri brilliantly uses the main theme as the heroic flourish of “Skateboard Chase,” with piano suspense playing the danger as Biff’s auto gets too close for comfort. There’s solid drama as well in the poignant “Marty’s Letter” as the Doc’s fate is revealed before the piano suspense finally gives Marty’s dad a backbone with “George to the Rescue.” The Dance Under the Sea also allows Silvestri to go to his jazz chops with the spot-on “Marvin Be-Bop.” While “Earth Angel” swelled for the smooch that completely restored Marty to the timeframe, “Tension; The Kiss” goes for a gloriously lush rush of romantic magic that would be right at home in PEYTON PLACE.

But if there’s a musical highpoint to BTTF, then it’s the ten-minute climax of “It’s Been Educational; Clocktower.” Silvestri brings all of his themes to the fore here, expertly cutting between them to conjure equal parts pounding suspense, pratfall humor and near-patriotic nobility as Zemeckis cuts between Marty’s speeding DeLorean and the Doc’s desperate attempts to lightning him up. But you could almost turn the picture off and know what’s going on due to Silvestri’s brilliant musical storytelling here. It’s a marvelously exciting, and emotional stuff that arguably ranks as one of the best extended cues in film scoring history, a bravura demonstration in varying a memorable theme for maximum impact. In this case it electrifyingly propels Marty back home, where the poundingly dire “’85 Lone Pine Mall” makes Marty a witness to his own exit back in time, an Americana spin on the main theme thankfully reviving Brown- who offers one of film history’s best closing bon mots to the screwball “Doc Returns.”

Of the many cool alternate futures the BTTF series has offered us story-wise, album producer Douglas Fake has insured that fans will have a listen to the saga’s most unique twist in the “alternate” score that Silvestri first created for FUTURE. But those expecting something completely different will quickly realize that Silvestri pretty much had this score in the bag from the start, despite a slightly darker sound for the opens of “’55 Town Square” or slightly more perilous “Skateboard Chase” and “George To the Rescue.” Thankfully, Silvestri wouldn’t have to do any severe re-tailoring once Michael J. Fox had firmly fitted his orange parka- a musical production history nostalgically described by ace liner note writer Michael Matessino.

Looking back in the soundtrack time machine of 2009, it’s been a glorious year for Holy Grail releases, especially for Intrada with the likes of HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL and the unused CHINA SYNDROME. But for those fans given their first real geek oomph by Doc Brown and Marty McFly, there’s no doubt that BACK TO THE FUTURE rides to the top of a long-treasured, and now available pack.

Score your 1.21 Jigowatts here


By Chris on December 14th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

This IS a great score. Silvestri really does have a way with thematic material. Although i can’t decide if it’s good or bad that my wife (not a musician-but good ears anyway) recently heard some music from Predator on TV and instantly said-hey isn’t this the same music as back to the future…??? I told her (politely) to keep it down as some of us were digging it.

By Ron Hess (the Chart Doctor) on December 18th, 2009 at 10:43 am

This is great! As a student, I was once given an Academy “For Your Consideration” CASSETTE of the complete Silvestri BTTF score (no pop music) by Gerry Fried. Analog being what it was at the time, I puristically made no backup. Unfortunately, it was burgled out of my car and I’ve regretted it ever since. Though it’s been thoroughly ensconced in my memory by so many hours of scrutiny (without the dialog and other audio getting in the way), here’s my chance to get back at the bastard who stole it!

By Amy Jones on September 30th, 2010 at 6:19 am

Only just found this thread, but in answer to Chris, I said the same.
The piece of music in Predator near the end of the film where Arnie is creating the traps, is near enough exactly the same as the piece of music in Back to the Future where Doc Brown is shot by Terrorists. I am musically trained. So well done to your wife. 😉

By Frederic Bernard on October 1st, 2017 at 11:23 am

LOVED this article. Generally some really great writing here, also as you go very deep into detail!

“But if there’s a musical highpoint to BTTF, then it’s the ten-minute climax of “It’s Been Educational; Clocktower.””

Absolutely agree on that one! Besides that also the main theme and end credits were really standing out. Really fantastic and dedicated scoring (for a equally fantastic film trilogy).


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