CD: Commando (1985)

October 25, 2011 | By

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Rating: Very Good

Label: La-La Land Records / Released: September 6, 2011

Tracks & Album Length: 24 tracks / (61:48)


Special Notes: 24-page colour booklet with liner notes by Jeff Bond / Limited to 3000 copies..


Composer: James Horner




Although he’s responsible for several iconic large-scale orchestral scores of the eighties and nineties – Wolfen (1981), Aliens (1986), Brainstorm (1983) – James Horner was easily able to write hard action scores for some of the eighties’ most popular and violent films.

Unlike the cheap synth scores that permeated slasher and action films, Horner’s classical background often had him use electronics and rock instruments as separate colours of a score’s design, which explains the often meticulous integration of each idiomatic instrument.

During the eighties, the fusion was both novel and not always welcome by critics – Roy Budd tried a bit of jazz, rock, synth, and orchestral in The Final Option with middling results – and veteran composers such as Jerry Goldsmith tended to use electronics to mimic orchestras (Runaway) if not fixate on specific sounds that rendered a score cheesy (witness Link, or even Exreme Prejudice).

Horner’s guilty of overusing the Japanese shakuhachi flute, maniacal clusters of thudding synth drums, and echoplexed metallic stabs (not to mention wailing saxophone), but perhaps like the urban jazz scores of the seventies, his approach will become equally memorable and retro among newer directors wanting a distinct eighties sound which perfectly matched the decade’s brutal screen violence.

The score to Commando isn’t wholly original – the echoey bow hits and bell chimes stem from the suspense actioner Gorky Park (1983), and the Jamaican metal drums (duplicated almost note-for-note) dominate 48 Hrs. (1982) – but as music designed to support lengthy action scenes involving running, driving, and combat, it works. Horner would later refine his action sound for Red Heat (1988), porting over everything except the metal drums, but adding a harder rock style with a jazzier sax component.

Unlike the prior Varese Sarabande CD from 2003, La-La Land’s disc features the complete score with alternate bonus cues, and fans will be delighted they also get the goofy “Someday, Somehow, Someone’s Gotta Pay” song by The Power Station; as the End Credit music, it formed the cherry on the icing to one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most brainless, violent, yet amusing action films.

In terms of the score proper, there’s little variation between extended drum cues, except in instrumentation or emphasis on keyboards, but this CD is clearly designed for the film’s fans who’ve wanted every note of music, and they seem to have been rewarded for their enduring patience.

Important as the music are the superb liner notes, which feature plenty of background info on the film and score, plus lengthy comments from former Power Station member / occasional B-movie actor Michael Des Barres, who describes the genesis of the kitschy, catchy song with minimal lyrics. La-La Land tends to treat their CDs as Criterion editions of soundtracks, and their well-researched, in-depth booklets demonstrate the label’s devotion to getting as much ephemera and history in print before it all disappears into the ether of history.

It’s still Commando, but why not treat every score with that level of professionalism?



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

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