This week marks the UK premiere of Jaws performed with a live orchestra at The Royal Albert Hall. Naturally, The Daily Jaws will be there to soak up the spray and smell that chum (our Old Spice and hankies are already packed).
Chief The Daily Jaws writer, Dean Newman, may not have any spit but he dives into the symphonic world of the Jaws soundtrack ahead of this weekend’s four eagerly anticipated performances. Dean also wrote about the anticipation of the event when the tickets first went on sale here: Jaws with live Orca-chestra
Der dum, der dum, der dum…famous in swimming pools and cinemas worldwide the Jaws theme did for seas and sharks what the Psycho theme did for showers and kitchen knives.
That's just how scary and iconic two repeated notes can be, even though when it was first played on a piano by Williams for Spielberg he roared with laughter as he thought it was a joke.
Arguably, not since has there been a piece of music that has so transcended its original material and is known worldwide, passed down by generations, known even to those who have not seen it or have been too young to view it.
John Williams conducts the Jaws theme with Boston Pops Orchestra:
The Jaws theme IS the shark, it had to be as it was busy gurning and being cross-eyed after having a somewhat allergic reaction to being submerged in seawater. No wonder Bruce looks pissed off all the time!
That relentless, unstoppable music was just like the shark moving side to side and it continually hunting prey. It captured the primal fear it evokes perfectly and has been a shortcut to signifying impending danger ever since. See how it has been used elsewhere in my Jaws spoofed post here: You're Gonna Need A Bigger Joke!
Jaws was Williams' second collaboration with Spielberg, he'd worked with him on the previous year's The Sugarland Express. Since Jaws they've collaborated an astounding further 26 times to date.
Jaws also marked Williams' second Oscar win but was his first for original score. He just so happened to be conducting the house orchestra at the 1976 Academy Awards so had to hop out of the pit when he was announced as the winner, before hopping back in and conducting the rest of the show.
Quint and crew may have needed a bigger boat but Williams no doubt had to get a bigger shelf after the awards season as the Jaws score also picked up music accolades from the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Grammys. I'm sure he'd have won an MTV one had it been around.
And in 2005 the American Film Institute announced Jaws as the sixth greatest American film score of all time. Seems a little low if you ask me! Star Wars took the top spot.
Jaws could be categorised as part of the 70s disaster genre - this one being of natural disaster - and that was an arena of film making that John Williams had already more than made his mark as he was on scoring duties for both The Towering Inferno and Earthquake, which filled screens with smoke and shakes the previous year.
That main theme could be considered to have echoes of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring about it, as seen here in Disney’s Fantasia. Williams would have his own stab at dinosaurs almost 20 years later with Jurassic Park, again with Spielberg at the helm.
As great and resonating the main Jaws theme is – and there really is nothing like seeing it performed with a live orchestra to see all the elements and nuances come together to create the vision of this 25 feet leviathan, all three tonnes of him – the Jaws theme is not my favourite element of the score.
I’d been to a John Williams greatest hits show earlier this year and they pretty much stuck to the main themes of films, which for me isn’t where the best or most interesting element of the Jaws score lies.
My favourite pieces of Jaws music is the sea-shanty feel of ‘Out To Sea’ and its swashbuckling variants featuring the Orca theme of the ‘Great Chase’, ‘Man Against Beast’, ‘The Shark Cage Fugue’ and ‘Blown To Bits’. In the latter it’s hard to not resist mumbling like Brody and shouting blow up, blow up in perfect timing.
‘Man Against Beast’ in particular is my favourite as it is as if all the various themes in Jaws collide, vying for position Wacky Races style, fighting for supremacy. It is quite literally breath-taking and for more is what really makes the score and film so memorable.
Check out this sublime video of ‘Man Against Beast’ that illustrates my point exactly, if I’m sounding a little Matt Hooper it’s intentional. This amazing clip hosted by Richard Dreyfuss shows him talking about the score and how it was so amazing he got dragged in and forgot he was in it, even after working on it for four months. We see a clip featuring sound but no music and then Williams steps up, baton in hand, to weave his musical magic. I dare you to not smile like a son-of-a-bitch whilst watching it.
Man Against Beast:
The Jaws theme, as important and well-remembered as it is, is but the aperitif. This section of the score is the main course; it is both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time and has echoes of Korngold from 40 years earlier. It is sublime swashbuckling at its very best…or should that be beast?
These cues are a real showcase for the thrill of the chase, it’s resounding, it can’t fail to make you smile and it really captures the hope of Brody, Quint and Hooper. Real boys own adventure stuff. I’ve even listened to those tracks when typing essays or walking to job interviews, it’s that powerfully uplifting.
And that’s what I’ll be looking forward to at The Royal Albert Hall; I just know that my hairs will be standing on end as that section starts and that I’ll be grinning ear to ear. That section of the score deserves more love, I’m sure it shall be received with open arms, arms that have their hairs standing all on end.
Spielberg once said that 50% of the success of Jaws was down to its music, he was 100% correct about that. And its testament to its power that it still resonates so loudly over 40 years later. Like Bruce it just won’t stop swimming and grinds away at you.
I’ve bought it three times on CD, the 2016 Intrada double CD being the ultimate edition, complete with alternate and never before heard cues and the original 1975 album. Whether you own previous editions or not it is an essential purchase, not just for the Jaws fan, but also for any fan of film music.
The same label also released expanded editions of Jaws 2, for which Williams returned, Jaws 3D with music by Alan Parker (the latter both double CDs) and a single disc Jaws The Revenge by Michael Small. All are worthy of purchase.
And if collecting LPs are your thing, then you are in look as Mondo are releasing a rather sumptuous double gatefold album – featuring the same tracklisting as the Intrada double CD - with some stunning artwork on the cover and on the inside. As Quint might say, not a bad record for this vicinity.
Three years after Jaws, Spielberg may no longer have been on board, Quint was scattered across the ocean and Hooper was on the Aurora. Brody and his spindly legs were there (contractual reasons - not the legs) and so was Bruce, which meant his voice was as well, once again in the form of a killer John Williams score. And it was more powerful than ever before…
So, what’s your favourite piece of music from Jaws?
By Dean Newman
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