Soundtrack Review: ‘Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star’

Assault on Precinct 13 Dark Star soundtrack cover

Of all the soundtracks to John Carpenter’s movies, the ones for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” remain the hardest to find. “Dark Star’s” soundtrack has been out of print for years and is basically comprised of dialogue and music from the movie. As for “Assault on Precinct 13,” its soundtrack was available only as a bootleg until 2003 when a French company named Record Makers gave it its first commercial release. But now BSX Records has released “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star,” a soundtrack which contains the music from both movies and has been newly recorded by Alan Howarth, and the results are truly fantastic.

“Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” were Carpenter’s first movies which he directed and did film music for, and they were extremely low budget affairs which forced him to make the best use of whatever he had available. The soundtracks for each ended up inaugurating what is known as “the Carpenter sound” which was expanded on in later films such as “Halloween II” and “Prince of Darkness.” The theme to “Assault on Precinct 13” is one of Carpenter’s most memorable, and it was inspired in part by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” His music for “Dark Star” helped to illustrate the movie’s more thoughtful elements as well as its most comically absurd.

Other artists have re-recorded Carpenter’s music over the years with varying degrees of success, but BSX Records really lucked out here in getting Howarth to recreate these two soundtracks. A highly regarded sound designer and pioneering electronic musician, Howarth worked with Carpenter on the scores to many of his movies all the way up to 1988’s “They Live.” With “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” Howarth doesn’t try to update either soundtrack, but instead aims to remain faithful to Carpenter’s original versions and how they sounded back in the 1970’s. The only real difference is while both soundtracks were originally recorded in mono, Howarth gets the opportunity to record them in stereo which allows for a more powerful presentation.

“Assault on Precinct 13” ends up sounding better than ever here, and the main theme will give your stereo speakers a really strong workout. Track 16 is my favorite on the disc as Howarth takes the movie’s theme and adds orchestral elements on top of the electronic ones. It’s the closest he comes to updating any of Carpenter’s soundtracks, but the theme still stays very close to its original sound.

As for “Dark Star,” Howarth sounds like he’s having a blast recreating all those primitive computerized sounds which dominated the score for the 1974 movie. He even recreates “Doolittle’s Solo” which had the character of the same name performing on a makeshift instrument made up of bottles and tin cans, and he adds in those crazy sounds which emanate from that beach ball of an alien. In addition, composer Dominik Hauser arranges and performs a new version of the song “Benson, Arizona.”

This CD also comes with a highly informative booklet entitled “Assault on a Dark Star: The Musical Pulse of Early John Carpenter” written by Randall D. Larson, a film music columnist and author of the book “Musical Fantastique: 100 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Film Music.” Larson goes into excellent detail over the challenges Carpenter faced in making both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” and of how he went about created the music for each. Larson also talks in depth with Howarth on how he went about re-recording the scores for this release and the types of equipment he had to work with.

When it comes to re-creating a well-known soundtrack, composers and musicians usually find themselves at a loss. Whether they do a good job or not, they end up giving us something which makes us pine for the original version. The great thing about BSX Records’ “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” release is how Alan Howarth makes both film scores sound as they were always meant to sound. Listening to them is like traveling back in time to the 1970’s when these two movies came out, and it makes for one of the best soundtrack re-recordings I have heard in a long time.

Click here to purchase a CD copy of the soundtracks.

Click here to purchase the digital copy of the soundtracks.

 

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Music Review: ‘Houses of the Holy’ by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy album cover

With “Houses of the Holy“, Led Zeppelin gave the world one of its greatest albums. Filled with a variety of unforgettable songs, it takes you on a musical journey which very few albums are able to do these days. It’s also the first album which they did not name after themselves, a curious habit Peter Gabriel picked up on when it came to naming his first three solo albums. It also captures the band at a key turning point where they began experimenting with sound designs which they used to great effect here and on future releases.

This sound experimentation is immediately apparent on the album’s first track “The Song Remains the Same”. Listening to it, you might think Jimmy Page was playing three guitars at once and using his toes to play at least one of them. Either that or he’s riffing off on his double-necked Gibson guitar. The song’s title is indeed ironic because even if this one does remain the same, nothing the band has done previously can easily compare. You can feel Page’s excitement as he layers one of his guitar licks on top of another as he creates rapturous dimensions which surround Robert Plant’s passionate vocals.

The other great thing about “Houses of the Holy” is it has the band exploring a variety of musical styles. Most of their albums up to this point were inspired by blues music, and with this one they almost leave that genre completely in the dust.

The second track, “The Rain Song,” has them playing one of their many great love ballads. Then there’s “The Crunge” which has them grooving obsessively to the funkiest beat imaginable, and it’s one of their most entertaining tracks as well as the kind you never want to end even if Plant never finds “that confounded bridge”. Along with the band exploring reggae music with “D’yer Mak’er” and even experimenting with doo-wop on the last track, “The Ocean”, you can tell every band member had the greatest time recording this album.

Some of the best Led Zeppelin songs have the listener feeling like they are on a journey, and this is definitely the case with “Over the Hills and Far Away” which makes you want to run through the fields. Plant is at his most beautiful here vocally as Page eases us in with his acoustic guitar before throttling into gear with an electric one. This is one of the musical numbers you feel like you are flying high in the sky more than anything else.

But the great thing about “Houses of the Holy” is how each band member make their unique contributions really stand out. When people think of the band, Page and Plant are the first people who come to mind. But then there’s the late great John Bonham who remains unrivaled as the greatest drummer ever, and I still cannot think of another who can match his genius. John Paul Jones never seems to get the same amount of respect as everyone else, and this is a shame as his bass playing here is what really drives the power of these songs, and the riffs he pulls off are truly thrilling.

With “The Crunge” and “The Ocean”, you can feel each band member coming together as one. No single person steals the show from the other on “Houses of the Holy,” and realizing this makes this album all the more enjoyable. Everyone here is on the same page (no pun intended) when it comes to their individual contributions, and you can feel the band’s joy as they perform the music.

Years after its release, “Houses of the Holy” continues to find new generations of listeners who love the music as much as we do, and Led Zeppelin continues to outlast the musical fads Beck sang about in “The New Pollution.” As much as fans want to see the surviving members reunite for another world tour, they don’t need to as their music remains as popular as ever. With this particular classic album, Led Zeppelin expresses an eagerness to stretch beyond their safety zone and explore avenues of creativity they had not previously tapped. It remains one of their best efforts, and there is no doubt future generations will come to love it as much as we do.

If I Had Hosted ‘Your Turn’ on 100.3 The Sound

1003 The Sound Banner

With 100.3 The Sound shutting down operations soon, it looks like I won’t get a chance to host an edition of “Your Turn.” This is a program where “Sound Listeners” like you and me can act as DJ for an hour and play ten of our favorite songs. This is one of the many things I love about this station as it shows just how much they truly respect those who listen in on a daily basis. Since first learning about this particular program, I was very eager to be a part of it as I have some experience in being a radio DJ in the past while I was a student at UC Irvine. But with the station going off the air, its likely they have little time to accommodate those who have sent in their song lists to the station.

Whatever the case, I’m going to do the next best thing and provide you, my fellow readers, with the episode I would have done. So here it goes.

Hello people! My name is Ben Kenber, a Sound Listener from Los Angeles, California and also the writer and CEO of the website The Ultimate Rabbit which focuses on my love for movies as well as the challenges I face in training for the Los Angeles Marathon, a marathon I have participated in for seven years. The songs I am going to play have affected me deeply throughout my childhood and as an adult, and I look at them as a journey through the crazy terrain life gives all of us.

  1. “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar

The first song on my list needs no introduction in my opinion. You have all heard this classic before, and the best way for me to describe it is that it’s the song I just LOVE listening to whenever I am in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam on the 405 freeway. Here it is!

  1. “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel

This song cast a spell on me when I first heard it on the radio back in the 1980’s. Then I saw the music video for it, and it was the scariest video I ever saw. Keep in mind, I was 7 years old at the time, and this was the worst time to watch a music video like this one. All these years later, I have since become a huge Peter Gabriel fan and have no problem watching this song’s music video as it is one of the few from this decade which really holds up. While my favorite song of Gabriel’s is “In Your Eyes,” one which The Sound has played on a regular basis, this one still holds a lot of meaning for me and still sends a chill up my spine whenever I listen to it. Here is Peter Gabriel with “Shock the Monkey.”

  1. “Find Your Way Back” by Jefferson Starship

I remember when my dad bought the album “Modern Times” by Jefferson Starship back when we were living in Marietta, Georgia, and the first song off of it remains one of my all-time favorites. I even got my dad to let me take this album to my kindergarten class at Wesleyan Day School, and my classmates were eager to rock out to this track every time I put the needle to this vinyl record. It’s a good thing we never got around to playing “Modern Times” in its entirety as the last song, “Stairway to Cleveland,” had a four-letter word parents were eager for their children not to learn about until they turned ten years old. I also have to say that the woman on the album’s cover became a significant part of many nightmares I experience at such a young age. Anyway, here is Jefferson Starship with “Find Your Way Back.”

  1. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

I have been a fan of Joan Jett & the Blackhearts ever since I first heard their cover of “Crimson and Clover” on the radio back when I lived in Marietta, Georgia. But I am choosing to play this song because I love its defiant attitude, and it’s the kind of attitude I wish I had during my high school years because I was way too concerned about what others thought of me. Plus, it was also the theme song to one of my favorite television shows, “Freaks & Geeks,” and like many brilliant TV shows, it only lasted one season. Anyway, here’s “Bad Reputation.”

  1. “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” by AC/DC

I have been a die-hard fan of AC/DC ever since I bought their album “Who Made Who,” and 100.3 The Sound has played their music non-stop. This makes selecting a song by them especially challenging as “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” “Back in Black,” “Big Balls,” and “Thunderstruck” are always being played on this station. This song from their album “High Voltage” has always been one of my favorites, and I would like to give it a spin here. With the late Bon Scott on vocals, here is “Can I Sit Next to You Girl.”

  1. “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin

I have to include a song by Led Zeppelin here. I became a devoted fan of their music after my dad bought their untitled album, commonly known as “Led Zeppelin IV,” on compact disc. This particular song by them kept playing in my head while I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii. While looking at the tall cliffs, I couldn’t help but think of this song, and I still can’t get sick of listening to it. Here’s Led Zeppelin with “Black Dog,” because this station has played “Kashmir” way too often.

  1. “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen

If you had asked me what my favorite Bruce Springsteen album was years ago, I would have said “Born in the U.S.A.” These days, I would pick “Nebraska” which seems simplistic in its production to his other albums, but is still a very powerful listen as its lyrics are intensely personal. As much as I wanted to select “Atlantic City,” I had to pick this song as it has haunted me ever since I first listened to it while on vacation with my parents in Maine. Here is “State Trooper.”

  1. “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar

Up next is something by Pat Benatar, one of the great rock and roll singers from the 1980’s. She had great hits like “Invincible,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Love is a Battlefield” and “Promises in the Dark,” all of which showed she was not someone to mess with. I am selecting this song by her because I love the melody of the chorus and how it soars over the lyrics with grace. Here is “Shadows of the Night.”

  1. “Undercover of the Night” by The Rolling Stones

My parents introduced me to the music of The Rolling Stones when they kept playing their album “Tattoo You” on a regular basis. This one included their classic hit “Start Me Up,” but this song from their 1983 album “Undercover” remains a favorite of mine from childhood. Here is “Undercover of the Night.”

  1. “King Tut” by Steve Martin

Choosing my last song was a tough one as I would love to include one from The Beatles or the late Tom Petty, but again, I wanted to go back to my time in kindergarten as this was a song me and my fellow classmates boogied out to without ever understanding the lyrics. Years later, I came to see it as comedy classic from one of the most brilliant of comedic minds. Here is Steve Martin with “King Tut.”

I again want to thank 100.3 The Sound for all the great music they have played for the last ten years. They have given me a deeper appreciation for bands like Deep Purple, and they made me realize there is more to Lynyrd Skynyrd than just “Sweet Home Alabama” (I foolishly thought this band was a one-hit wonder for years). Happy trails.