John Williams Turns 85 Today, So Here Are Five Of The Maestro's Finest "Underappreciated" Cuts

Last year, Empire Magazine posted a "John Williams: 12 Underrated Tracks" piece in honor of the Maestro's 84th birthday. "What a fantastic idea," I thought, and spent the next few days putting together a short list of Williams' scores that I think deserve to be better known...or at least that I love more than most, and want to see loved by others, as well. (I limited myself to film scores, which meant excluding the 1984 Olympic Fanfare and Theme, a great favorite. Got to make some painful cuts somewhere, though. His musical output has been extraordinary, and includes a level of excellence rarely matched by someone not named Morricone.)

Unfortunately (and, sadly, all too commonly), I didn't finish the post in anywhere near enough time for it to be timely, so I shelved it. Fortunately, birthdays happen every year, so I'm bringing it back out of mothballs today, in honor of the Maestro's 85th birthday. Enjoy!

5. The Cowboys: There's so much Elmer Bernstein in this score, how could I help but love it? It's wonderfully paired with loads of  Williams' trademark lyricism, though, so the end result is even more lovable. (A great reminder of the man's longevity; I always forget how long he's been composing, so seeing his name on a film starring John Wayne always brings me up short.)

4. The Patriot: I really, really hate this move. But I really, really love this score, especially the lyrical stuff, which is just wonderful (as I'm pretty sure I said earlier, but you probably should get used to the broken record, M'K)? It's not just lyric stuff, though, because the martial sections are great, as well. My favorite of his "Old-Timey Military" style, probably. (Well, almost. Second-favorite, to be honest. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.)

3. Midway: OK, fine. Here's my favorite example of Williams' "Old-Timey Military" style.

2. Born on the Fourth of July: This one barely even sounds like Williams to me. "Where's the bright, cheery brass?" one wonders. "And what's up with this super-somber trumpet solo?" Once it gets going, though, it's so melodic, I can't really leave it off. And besides, this particular CD was the soundtrack to a great deal of my "College and Post" years, so Old Times Sake, right? (Also, is that a hint of "Phantom of the Opera" I hear? What insanity is this?)

1. How to Steal a Million: Written so far before Williams' (legendary and ubiquitous) fame that his title card for the film actuall reads "Johnny Williams," this is a truly spectacular score. Portions of it sound more like Robert F. Brunner than Williams (Johnny or otherwise), but if you listen to the latter half of "Fanfare And March To The Museum," you'll hear him, for sure. (There are definite hints of Catch Me If You Can sprinkled in there, as well, but they're sort of hard to pin down to a specific track or section.)

Anyone got any "Underappreciated Favorites" of their own to share? We're all ears!

Attribution(s): "Young Johnny" courtesy of Getty Images, which allows the use of certain images "as long as the photo is not used for commercial purposes (meaning in an advertisement or in any way intended to sell a product, raise money, or promote or endorse something);" "Happy Johnny" is credited to Chris Devers via ( CC BY-SA).