LP: John and Mary (1969)

March 8, 2017 | By

Score: Very Good

Label: A&M

Released:  1969

Tracks / Album Length:  11 Tracks / (31:10)

Composer: Quincy Jones

Special Notes:  (none)

 


 

Review:

Written during his busiest period (1968-1970), Quincy Jones’ score for John and Mary is quite sparse, leaving obligatory space for the film’s myriad dialogue exchanges and source music, but the score is memorable for being atypical of the material Jones was writing at the time: action comedies (The Italian Job, The Hell with Heroes), comedies (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,Cactus Flower), and the funky style of They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!

Never mind he was also deep into TV (beginning his long association with Bill Cosby, and scoring Ironside); Jones was putting out a huge volume of music typical of the old the studio system, which kept composers busy but drained them unless they had some help from orchestrators and lyricists. That might be one reason why several of Jones’ score made prominent use of pop song, or were based on a single or pair of themes, and little else.

John and Mary was the first of Jones’ two scores for Peter Yates (followed by The Hot Rock , three years later), and the director had already shown an interest in working with jazz-based composers like Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt) and Johnny Keating (Robbery), but he went for a more subdued style after flipping from the procedural action in Bullitt to the story of what happens after a couple wake up in bed following a one night stand.

A&M Records, which had a contract with Jones, released the original soundtrack alum, and like the LPs for the aforementioned comedies, it’s a singular score theme done twice on each side, plus eclectic songs as filler material. “Bump in the Night” is a funk-blues vocal, with wacka guitar, keyboards, and runs just under two minutes – another sign of the cue’s functionality as background ambience timed for a specific scene.

“Silent Movies” is straight mickey-mousing, and borrows from the pratfall/vaudevillian style Jones used for Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing. Unique to the LP is an original song by Jeff Bridges (!), who was trying songwriting instead of acting early in his career. Bridges’ tune, “Lost in Space,” is trippy folk, with decent keyboards and light bass groove supporting processed electric guitar and Bridges’ loopy vocals, singing fodder like “Lost in Space, I’m in invisible land,” and allusions to demons and air. (Hey, at least it isn’t Telly Savalas or William Shatner.)

The A-side is straight vocal cuts, and the above are bookended by the film’s theme, with lyrics from Alan & Marilyn Bergman. Titled “Maybe Tomorrow,” it’s an incredible mood piece that veers from near hopelessness to a shimmer of optimism. This weird mix actually works well for the film, since the characters are constantly unsure of where they stand in their lonely lives, and whether it’s worthwhile for them to hook up again.

A single version (performed by Evie Sands, and not used in the film) starts side A, with a tender array of acoustic instruments, and a soothing pulse of electric bass, light percussion. The chorus is augmented with short swells from strings and light background vocals, and the cue ends with bittersweet harmonics, as Jones places harpsichord and guitar at opposite ends of the stereo image.

A dreamy but bittersweet rendition is provided by the Morgan Ames Singers, who close the A-side. Male & female vocals trade the Bergmans’ lyrics, alternating passages between group performers and short male/female solos, and the vocals are backed by heartbeat percussion, and plenty of sparkling electric piano. The style is very visual, as the opening vocals mimic a kind of foreplay, as singular voices stroke the melody, and converge in intertwined harmonies. Pauses and recapitulations give the exchanges variation, and it’s the longest cue on the LP, peaking beyond the four minute barrier.

The B-side of John and Mary groups together the classical and more dramatic instrumental cues in the film, and like the Bob & Carol LP, there’s four classical cuts: Bach’s “22nd Fugue for Well-Tempered Clavichord, Mozart’s Rondo No. 1,” Mendelssohn’s “Opus 54, Variations Serieuses,” and Handel’s “Allegro from Royal Fireworks Suite.” The orchestrations emphasize the sharp brassy sounds of a small orchestra, and a modest percussion section. Like the interpretations for Bob & Carol, Jones aims for a more leisurely pacing, which suits the tempo of the film’s main theme.

The first version on side B is the actual “Main Titles,” which is the most gentle rendition, using recorder, harpsichord, and vibes to underscore the confusion between the titular lovers as they wake up and realize their hasty actions. The LP’s final cue is oddly formal, with Jones using his brass to evoke a strange sense of sadness; a brief chord change raises the mood a little, though the track’s final bars clearly define the couple’s future as being spotty at best.

Thematically, it’s a mini-masterpiece, but the LP is unsurprisingly lacking in variety and length – a problem endemic to many of Jones’ curt soundtrack albums, making this LP of interest for Jones completists.

Note: portions of this review appeared in the career retrospective “Quincy Jones, the King of Hip: 1968-2001,” in Film Score Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 8.

 

 

© 2006 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

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Editor’s Blog — Composer on IMDB  —  Composer Filmography —  Soundtrack Album  —  Film Review
 

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