Captain Scarlet [Original TV Soundtrack] by Barry Gray on AllMusic

Captain Scarlet [Original TV Soundtrack]

review

by Bruce Eder

Barry Gray's scoring for producer Gerry Anderson's various series was one of the most sophisticated bodies of music ever written for children's television shows. Gray had shown impressive abilities on the early Anderson productions such as The Adventures of Twizzle, Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Stingray, and with each series -- as Anderson's success grew and his budgets expanded, Gray's orchestral writing grew more ambitious and the size of his orchestra also expanded in kind. By the time of Captain Scarlet, he was using 65 musicians (Big Jim Sullivan and Alan Civil among them), including multiple harpists and various electronic instruments including the Hammond organ, the transicord, and Ondes Martenot, and was writing material that might just as well have been authored for feature films in terms of its scope (and when Gray got to write for Anderson's feature films, he scored for 80 instruments); and, indeed, some small sections of his work on Captain Scarlet ended up in the music for the Anderson-produced feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. This 79-minute CD contains the highlights of his music for the series, not only both versions of the closing theme (including the one by the London rock band the Spectrum) but also the opening with narration by actor Ed Bishop. Much of the rest is divided into individual marches and dances (including one catchy pop/rock tune, "White as Snow," which appears in two versions), or carefully assembled into suites utilizing the music from entire episodes, running between four and seven minutes. The sounds are a strange mix of otherworldly "music of the spheres," late-'50s/early-'60s "space-age pop," British invasion beat, Scottish folk-inspired tunes, kids-style "Mickey Mouse" scoring, marital music, light jazz, and light classical -- the mix is sometimes a little strange and jarring, as the moods alter radically, though curiously the later part of the CD is filled with strange misteriosos and rousing action music; and "Cocktail Music" is one of the best pieces of instrumental pop music of its genre and era. The moods range from playful to ominous, but all of it is amazingly bold and assertive as soundtrack music, and it's no surprise, on hearing it exposed this way, that fans of the Anderson shows have been asking for soundtrack releases from them for almost 50 years; the music stays with you. It stayed with Gray as well, who recycled some elements of Stingray's underscore into small sections of Captain Scarlet's music. And not all of it is effect music -- Gray gets some incredibly vivid sounds out of his strings and brass, given that he was writing with the miserably tiny speakers of mid-'60s television sets in mind as the presumed final "playback" medium for the work. The sound quality is excellent, the tapes having held up well, and nowhere more so than on the solo piano track from "The Inquisition" -- it's a rare chance to hear Gray playing one of his own pieces on a solo acoustic grand piano, sonata-style. In any case, beyond fans of the series, and "space-age pop" buffs, lots of '60s British beat enthusiasts will want the CD just for the Spectrum's version of the end-title theme -- between the beeping keyboards, honking saxes, choppy rhythm guitars, and jangly leads, it all sounds like a lost Joe Meek production, and these guys sang with their British accents, which makes it sound even loopier.