Keith Emerson: At The Movies (Esoteric Recordings)


Considering the classical music nature of his band Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it’s not surprising, then, that keyboardist Keith Emerson would seek out soundtrack work as a creative outlet. Keith Emerson At The Movies is a three-disc set dedicated to exploring Emerson’s soundtrack work from the last thirty years. The collection contains seven scores, and said scores are categorized by the film’s nationality.

Disc one contains two soundtracks from American films. The first soundtrack is to 1981 film, Nighthawks. From listening to the songs, with their synthetic orchestrations and jazz/funk rhythms, one might think this to be some sort of action/adventure film, especially with evocatively-titled numbers such as “The Bust” and “The Chase,” both gritty, suspense-building melodies. Looking up the film on IMDB…it is exactly that, a film featuring Sylvester Stalone.
Nighthawks also features a few vocal numbers, most notably Emerson’s take on The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man.” This soundtrack isn’t bad, but it’s somewhat generic. Somewhat better is 1986’s Best Revenge; its self-titled opening suite is a fifteen minute roller coaster of what Emerson does best: synthesized music that takes from classical, rock, and world music. The rest of the soundtrack doesn’t fare as great; Garth Hudson provides accordion, and Levon Helm provides the vocals on “Playing For Keeps” and “For Those Who Win,” but the production is painfully 1980s.

Disc two contains scores made for Italian films, and the three presented here are much more satisfying, as well as much more in line with Emerson’s compositional style. The majority of this volume is dedicated to his soundtrack for the 1980 horror film Inferno. The bulk of these songs are short, brief vignettes that are atypical for soundtrack work. His style is piano-based with some orchestration, and all deftly capture the tension required for a film of this nature. The next soundtrack, 1989’s horror film La Chiesa (The Church), finds Emerson playing some rather haunting, disturbing church organs. 1984’s Murder Rock is the final offering on volume two, and it’s somewhat a mixed bag; a contemporary crime film, the music once again is very eighties in sound, and is merely okay—not as bad as the material on the first volume, but not as enjoyable as the rest of the material as well.

Disc three contains two scores for Japanese films, and of the three, this is the most adventurous. The first score is for an anime film from 1983, Harmagedon, and the futuristic synth-funk is fun, playful, and still sounds futuristic, thirty years after its first release. The final song, “Children of the Light,” is a futuristic hippie number. The second soundtrack is for a Godzilla movie. Recorded and released in 2004, it’s the most recent in the set, and though his style isn’t radically different from the previous works. The one drawback is that many of the songs here are very brief, often ending abruptly.

Emerson is an artist with a wide, varied, and interesting catalog of back work and Keith Emerson At The Movies is an interesting look at the man’s soundtrack work over the past three decades. Sure, not all of it has aged well, but it does show the man’s versatility and compositional style in a way that’s more than satisfying.

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