The German artists known as Tangerine Dream have served as both groundbreakers and ambassadors for the electronic music scene since their inception back in the late sixties. This prolific act has seen a number of members come and go throughout the years-apart from founder Edgar Froese, who sadly passed away in January earlier this year-yet one constant was clear with Tangerine Dream throughout the seventies and eighties, that being the band’s dedication to forward thinking, genre defining electronic art.
Tangerine Dream has gained particular notoriety over the years for their imaginative soundtrack work for film and television, many examples of which have come to define just how important and evocative electronic music can be for creating the perfect, unique cinematic mood. Programmed, pulsing rhythms and sequenced melodic madness are quite commonplace for a Tangerine Dream score, yet at the same time many of the group’s cinematic work can possess a startling amount of melancholy, melody and beauty for those willing to dive into the deep end and uncover some of Froese and Co.’s engrossing body of work.
Tangerine Dream have scored over twenty-five projects over the course of their venerable career, most recently taking to task the immense project of scoring the fourth sequel for video game company Rock Star Games and their popular Grand Theft Auto series. That being said, it’s no mean feat to narrow down such a stellar discography-never mind the band’s even more expansive studio discography and bootleg archive-to just a few examples, but here we are, nonetheless: five (or so) of the best Tangerine Dream soundtracks and scores!
Honorable Mention: Sorcerer (Dir: William Friedkin, 1977)
Some might be surprised to see this popular TD soundtrack so low on the list, but this writer has never quite enjoyed this 1977 score as much some other fans, although it must be said that the band’s work here on Sorcerer was certainly high profile enough to increase The Dream’s visibility back in the late seventies. Additionally, the Sorcerer score was delivered for an equally high profile director, one William Friedkin, who was hot off his success with The Exorcist back in 1977 when he released this taut and tense thriller about a group of men hauling a dangerously explosive cargo in the South American jungle.
Tangerine Dream’s work here could be seen as comparatively minimalistic when it comes to so much of their other, more energetic work. There’s a low-key and subtlety here at work which definitely showcases the slow burn nature of its cinematic source material, while such cues as “Grind” are more in line with a “traditional” Tangerine Dream sound of primal and pulsing menace. Still, this is a classic score for an equally classic American film.
The Park is Mine (HBO Movie, 1985)
The art of the “made for T.V. movie” may be lost, but Tangerine Dream’s epic score for this 1985 HBO original thankfully isn’t, thanks to a proper CD reissue from Silva a few years back. The band is in fine form here, balancing longer and more involved cues with shorter, almost stinger sections which serve as connecting points to the action at hand. The film itself actually starred Tommy Lee Jones as a frustrated Vietnam vet who takes over Central Park in New York City, which may seem to be an odd fit for some Tangerine Dream music at first, but the once listeners fall into the simultaneously dreamlike and dark melodies worked up for The Park is Mine, then every piece really begins to fall into place.
Zoning (Dir: Ulrich Krenkler, 1986)
Tangerine Dream scored this obscure German thriller in 1986, a film which largely takes place within the confines of a huge skyscraper. The group’s score is sufficiently urban and energetic as a result, utilizing a very sequenced and punchy 80s sound that’s almost indicative of the decade’s bright library music aesthetic. The album really works, however, even for those of us-of which there are probably quite a few-who haven’t seen the film!
Dead Solid Perfect (T.V. Movie, 1988)
Who said that a T.V. movie about golf couldn’t have a blistering Tangerine Dream score to go with it, right? Well, that’s exactly what we get for this obscure and excellent soundtrack to the 1988 television film Dead Solid Perfect, starring Randy Quaid as a pro golfer hitting the circuit for fortune and success. The film’s director Bobby Roth himself mentions in the CD liner notes for Dead Solid Perfect how peculiar the combination of Tangerine Dream and golf was, even back in the late eighties, yet the band’s work here is exceptional, balancing weird dreamy passages with bouncing, upbeat numbers which I’m sure had audiences scratching their heads at home, watching this flick on cable.
Thief (Dir: Michael Mann, 1981)
Tangerine Dream scored another influential hit back in 1981 with their score for the excellent Michael Mann film Thief, starring James Caan as a criminal attempting to escape from the hands of organized crime, attempting to drag him back in for one more job. The vibe of a dark and sleazy urban sprawl is all over this soundtrack, as is the chic and stylish world inhabited by many of Michael Mann’s formative projects, such as Heat, Manhunter and Miami Vice. Again, this is more of slow burn score similar to the band’s work on Sorcerer, but for this writer’s money, a bit more successful.
Risky Business (Dir: Paul Brickman, 1983)
A stone cold classic, this one: Tangerine Dream’s 1983 masterpiece to writer/director Paul Brickman’s bizarre, only-in-the-eighties tale of love, sex and prostitution which helped-alongside performances in Top Gun and All the Right Moves-launch star Tom Cruise into super-stardom. Again, one might not immediately think Tangerine Dream as the chaps to score a “coming of age teen sex comedy,” but it must be said that Brickman’s film defies many of the tropes and conventions associated with the genre, with the band’s simultaneously beautiful and seriously DARK score serving up the perfect musical accompaniment.
Pick any cue, whether it’s “Watering Flowers,” “No Future (Get off the Babysitter)” or the legendary “Love on a Real Train,” and you’ll be entranced with what was clearly a career high point for Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream.
Legend (Dir: Ridley Scott, 1985)
“There shall never be another dawn.” These words adorned one of the original theatrical posters for Alien director Ridley Scott’s epic 1985 fantasy, again starring Tom Cruise in one of his pre-megastar acting roles. Opinions are divided on this one, as Scott had originally commissioned a score from legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith before ultimately deciding to go with Tangerine Dream for his final, theatrical cut, alongside a number of vocal numbers from such rock artists as Yes singer Jon Anderson. As a result, Goldsmith’s original score can only be heard on the director’s cut DVD and Blu-Ray.
It’s a shame, really, because although Goldsmith’s work is solid and comparable for any orchestral fantasy score, it was Tangerine Dream’s electronic ideas which truly give Legend an atmosphere all its own. The lush melody choices by the band on such cues as “Unicorn Theme” and “Nell’s Cottage” evoke images of glittering, mist-laden fields of magic, while “Apocalypse” and “Goblins” present bleak, foreboding pits of eternal doom. It’s this writer’s opinion that Ridley Scott’s fantastic tale of good versus evil simply needed a score as unique and bold sounding as the one Tangerine Dream so exquisitely recorded here, and it’s one of the many reasons why Legend continues to be an ever-enduring favorite for yours truly.