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Section Header
The Towering Inferno
Composed and Conducted by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Herbert Spencer
Al Woodbury

Song and Lyrics by:
Al Kasha
Joel Hirschhorn

Song Performed by:
Maureen McGovern

Album Produced by:
Lukas Kendall
Nick Redman

Film Score Monthly

Release Date:
April, 2001

Also See:
The Poseidon Adventure

Audio Clips:
1. Main Title (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

7. Let There Be Light (0:28):
WMA (188K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

21. Finale (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

22. An Architect's Dream (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Limited release of 3,000 copies, available originally through only soundtrack specialty outlets. It sold out almost immediately and has been a top collectible since.

  The Williams score and Kasha/Hirschhorn song "We May Never Love Like This Again" were both nominated for Academy Awards, the latter winning. That song was also nominated for a Golden Globe.

The Towering Inferno
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Sales Rank: 335071

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Buy it... if you want only the best of John Williams' Silver Age endeavors for blockbuster disaster flicks.

Avoid it... if 22 minutes of classic Williams action and melodrama can't compensate for both the rarity of the album and the dated sound of the contemporary 1970's elements of the score.

The Towering Inferno: (John Williams) In the early to mid-1970's, disaster films were at their peak of success. With Hollywood long suffering from a preference for smaller character films and B-rate action flicks, the mega-blockbusters were ready for a return. Irwin Allen, the "Master of Disaster," had just exploded onto the scene by providing the world with The Poseidon Adventure two years earlier, a film which stunned Hollywood with its smash box office success. In The Towering Inferno in 1974, the genre of realistic disaster films would reach a climax not to be touched again until the late 1990's. With two studios, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers, preparing two films based on very similar stories, the pair of studios made the unprecedented move of combining their resources for The Towering Inferno. The resulting production of epic proportions led to a monumental cast (led by Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden), incredible special effects, and stunning cinematography and editing (both of which garnered Academy Award wins for the film). The movie will also be remembered for producing one of the most awkward screen moments of all time, with Fred Astaire and O.J. Simpson sharing the same frame at its conclusion. Even many decades later, The Towering Inferno is an awesome film, a guilty pleasure at the least and a classic at its best. It is therefore appropriate that quickly rising composer John Williams scored the film. The budding maestro had worked with Allen several times in the past, reaching all the way back to the "Lost in Space," "The Time Tunnel," and "Land of the Giants" television scores, and including, of course, The Poseidon Adventure. Aside from Allen's projects, Williams would become the "Master of Disaster Scores" by also composing for the subsequent Earthquake and Black Sunday. Even when he had all of these disaster scores under his belt, though, it is The Towering Inferno that stands tall as Williams' greatest score for the genre.

Williams was already in a position to pull some weight with the studio and director as of 1974, and it was his idea to showcase the score so prominently during the opening helicopter sequence. A highlight of the film, the first five minutes of the score, consisting of one of Williams' best adventure themes of all time, marches across the soundscape almost unimpeded, leading to the magnificent initial view of the massive tower standing at the heart of San Francisco. While the entire film would pass before the theme would receive another lengthy performance of heightened bravado, the inclusion of this landmark title theme is alone usually worth the cost of the score for many Williams collectors. The final two cues, dealing with the aftermath of the fire in "Finale" and "An Architect's Dream," showcase some great shots of the charred and mangled tower, and Williams' score once again swells to magnificence. A brilliant subtheme of triumph highlights the "Let There Be Light" fanfare and introduces the opening of the building with one of the better statements of brass by Williams. The lengthy film launches quickly into the action, not dabbling around in an excess of character development before the fire ignites. In fact, most of the significant character scenes are interspersed throughout the stressful trials of the ordeal, which is one of the greater points of the film (also of positive note is the fact that Allen isn't afraid of killing off major, sympathetic characters). Williams handles the mass of suspense and dramatic material in the middle of the film with creative percussive rhythms, highlighted by the very first ignition of the fire. A tapping effect is used to mimic the sound effect of a short circuit ignition, and in an age before synthesizers could accurately produce a "zapping" effect, this technique by Williams is as accomplished as it could be for the time. Manipulation of fragments of the title theme, and especially the opening, rising figure, is well integrated into dissonant sequences that extend the drama into not only the tragic realm, but one of terror as well.

During the early cues that do accompany character development, Williams also extends his talents in providing casual pop rhythms to place the film in its contemporary time frame. What's most interesting about these contemporary cues is that they haven't aged as badly as one might expect for early 70's pop style, allowing the score to hold a more timeless personality. The Maureen McGovern song ("We May Never Love Like This Again") was the highlight of the music for the film in 1974, gaining songwriters Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn an Academy Award win and catapulted the album's success much in the same way "The Morning After" did for The Poseidon Adventure. Williams once again incorporates the song into his own material, translating it into one of the two love themes for the film. The other one (which, like the previous theme, is sadly doomed as the story progresses) is equally strong, evoking some powerfully emotional moments in the middle sequence of the film and score. A lengthy performance of this idea in "An Architect's Dream" is extremely attractive, and Williams collectors will even hear a distinct foreshadowing of the theme for Presumed Innocent in the melodramatic tones of that cue (especially at the 1:05 mark). A mournful horn solo at 1:55 into "Finale" is a glimpse of what fans would hear for the "Force" theme in Star Wars. For the majority of such collectors, the action and suspense material, along with the bold thematic statements, will provide about 22 minutes of outstanding material (spread between five tracks, including the lengthy "Planting the Charges") absent of any of the pop tones of the era. Always high on the list of top ten most requested scores during the 1990's, The Towering Inferno was never properly released on CD until April of 2001. The LP record that existed for The Towering Inferno still stood on many film music collectors' shelves, twenty-seven years after its initial release. The reason for the lengthy delay in the transferring of this score to CD undoubtedly rests in the duality of the studio ownership of everything related to the film.

Learn about

The Film Score Monthly label made this projects a top priority, one that logically also resulted from their superior presentation of The Poseidon Adventure as one of their earliest entries in the "Silver Age Classics" series that would eventually last longer than a decade. The release of The Towering Inferno was a shot in the arm of that series in 2001, selling out quickly and once again proving the label's top status for collectors. Album producers Lukas Kendall and Nick Redman managed to acquire nearly the entire score for presentation on this album, and although a few incidental cues were lost due to damage, their CD contains twice the amount of music heard on the original LP. So complete is the album that a section of bonus tracks is offered at the end, including the original LP's re-recording of the song (the film version is presented as well). With "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure ironically playing as background source music in a conversational scene in The Towering Inferno, the instrumental recording from that moment is provided, too. Finally, a few of the more damaged cues are appended for completists. But the first twenty-two tracks have been meticulously arranged in their film sequence, and the album reaches an astonishing 75 minutes in length when tallied with the bonus material. The sound quality is as to be expected for the early 70's (slightly tinny and muted, especially in the pop sections), but Silver Age fans aren't typically bothered by the results of older recording technologies. The packaging of the album is nothing short of spectacular, explaining the complexities of the film's production and providing a cue by cue analysis (along with intriguing concept art and a fascinating, if not spooky, picture of the entire major cast enthusiastically walking arm in arm down the studio lot). Overall, this is the The Towering Inferno album that Williams fans had been dreaming about for decades, and it remains by far the crowning achievement of Film Score Monthly's growing enterprise of "Silver Age Classics" albums. Since almost immediately selling out, FSM's 3,000 pressed copies of The Towering Inferno have understandably become a top collectible. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 338,227 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.9 Stars
Smart Average: 3.66 Stars*
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   Re: I missed it! It is sold out at FSM
  Thom -- 8/26/06 (4:12 p.m.)
   "Planting the Charges"
  Evan -- 4/4/06 (6:05 p.m.)
   Download it
  JMG -- 3/5/06 (9:48 p.m.)
   Nice surprise
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   The movie
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 75:31

• 1. Main Title (5:01)
• 2. Something for Susan (2:42)
• 3. Lisolette and Harlee (2:35)
• 4. The Flame Ignites (1:01)
• 5. More for Susan (1:55)
• 6. Harlee Dressing (1:37)
• 7. Let There Be Light (0:37)
• 8. Alone at Last (0:51)
• 9. We May Never Love Like This Again (Film Version)*/** (2:04)
• 10. The First Victims (3:24)
• 11. Not a Cigarette (1:18)
• 12. Trapped Lovers (4:44)
• 13. Doug's Fall/Piggy Back Ride (2:18)
• 14. Lisolette's Descent (3:07)
• 15. Down the Pipes/The Door Opens (2:59)
• 16. Couples (3:38)
• 17. Short Goodbyes (2:26)
• 18. Helicopter Rescue (3:07)
• 19. Passing the Word (1:12)
• 20. Planting the Charges (9:04)
• 21. Finale (3:57)
• 22. An Architect's Dream (3:28)

Bonus Material:
• 23. We May Never Love Like This Again (Album Version)*/** (2:13)
• 24. The Morning After (Instrumental)* (2:07)
• 25. Susan and Doug (Album Track) (2:33)
• 26. Departmental Pride and the Cat (Damaged) (1:03)
• 27. Helicopter Explosion (Damaged) (2:34)
• 28. Waking Up (Damaged) (2:39)

* written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
** performed by Maureen McGovern

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert contains lengthy notes about the movie, score, and composer by Jeff Eldridge and Lukas Kendall, as well as concept art and shots from the production. The album track "Helicopter Explosion (Damaged)" is different from the LP track of a similar name; here, the track features the actual music for the helicopter explosion, while the LP track was for other scenes. That LP music is not damaged and has been redistributed into the "Helicopter Rescue" and "The First Victims" tracks on the CD album. The tracks "Trapped Lovers" and "Finale" have more music than previously heard on the LP.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Towering Inferno are Copyright © 2001, Film Score Monthly. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 4/28/01 and last updated 10/19/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2001-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.