Choosing the best and worst movie scores is a relative endeavor that is entirely dependent upon the definition of best and worst. An article about the best movie score of all time might be concerned with how well integrated into the movie the score is. For instance, one might well argue that the score for Rocky is the greatest of all time because without that inspiring music there is no way in hell that Rocky wins an Oscar for Best Picture. Equally so, one could suggest that any score by John Williams for a Steven Spielberg movie is the greatest because nobody knows how to use music to manipulate emotions better than Spielberg. But this article is only concerned with the movie score that is the most entertaining to listen to by itself, apart from the movie, and the movie score that would make you want to kill yourself if you had to listen to it for five minutes without courtesy of the film to make it bearable.
The single greatest movie score to listen to on the stereo far, far away from a movie theater screen or big screen television screen is Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach’s almost too swinging for words soundtrack for the original epic comedic version of Casino Royale. Alpert’s massively cool theme song is not just the single greatest theme song ever for a James Bond movie (and, almost ironically but not quite, the theme song for the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale is the single worst Bond theme song), it is a song that once it worms its way into your brain matter it is almost impossible to get it out. Of course, the good thing is that you won’t want to get Casino Royale out of your head. The amazing thing about the rest of the score for this James Bond parody is that none of it needs the images flickering at 24 frames per second. Ever try to listening to the admittedly impressive Star Wars soundtrack without the movie? Torture. But listening to the score of Casino Royale almost is enough to make you forget the movie. In fact, even if you are one of those strange people who inexplicably don’t think Casino Royale is funny you will enjoy the swinging sound of Alpert’s trumpet and Bacharach’s gorgeous arrangements.
At the other end of the spectrum is the one movie score that you could not get me to listen to even if you were to buy me one of those Simpson-themed iPods as an enticement. (Hint, hint!). Jerry Goldsmith is one of the legends of movie score writing and his son Joel’s score for The Man with Two Brains is proof alongside Charlie Sheen’s bizarrely successful career that nepotism is Hollywood’s greatest failing. I’m not even sure you can call what Joel Goldsmith did with the score for The Man with Two Brains technically writing music. I’ve got nothing against synthesizers; I mean my favorite band is New Order for heaven’s sake, but if you’re going to use a synthesizer to write a movie score, shouldn’t you know how to play one? The score for The Man with Two Brains doesn’t even work when it’s got Steve Martin’s brilliantly surreal imagery and jokes to help it. It just lays there like something off ER. One thing is for sure: I know Herb Alpert’s score for Casino Royal, Herb Alpert’s score for Casino Royale is a friend mine. Joel Goldsmith, you are no Herb Alpert.