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50 Years of Star Trek: Josh’s Favorite Star Trek Music!

OK fellow nerds, buckle up for a deep dive into geekiness here.

Two weeks ago, I reviewed the wonderful Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage CD, a recording of the concert series celebrating 50 years of amazing Star Trek music.  That two-disc CD contained 30 tracks (15 on each CD) of Trek music from across 50 years of Star Trek history — all the various movies and TV shows (and even one track of music from a Trek video-game!).  I loved the CD set, and I’ve listened to it several times.  I had a lot of fun analyzing the track choices in my review, discussing which ones I loved and which ones’ inclusion surprised me.

Doing so got me to thinking: if I had been the one putting together this concert and CD set, what would my choices have been?  I gave myself several challenges.  First and foremost, not just to list my favorite tracks from all the Trek soundtracks over the years, but to assemble them together into a concert playlist whose ebb and flow would work.  I also tried to limit myself to the same number of tracks, 30 in total (15 in each half), as the Ultimate Voyage used.  (I failed, but only by a little bit.  I found that I just had to include 16 tracks in each half of my concert.)  I also debated whether to try to incorporate music from all the different Trek series, as the Ultimate Voyage concert did so effectively.  While that is one of my favorite aspects of the Ultimate Voyage concert CD set, I decided in the end not to attempt that myself, and instead to focus on the Trek music that was my very favorite, even if that wound up with a more limited selection from Trek history.

I had a lot of nerdy fun thinking about this over the past week.  And so, it is my pleasure to present to you:

Josh’s “Ultimate Voyage” Playlist: The Very Best of 50 Years of Star Trek Music:

Disc One:

1. “Overture” (Ilia’s Theme) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture I’ll begin my Trek concert with this overture music that also began Star Trek: The Motion Picture (playing before the opening credits).  I love this Star Trek love theme and I think it’s a beautiful, melodic way to open.

2. “Main Title” from Star Trek: Generations That love theme would be a lovely segue into this opening music from Star Trek: Generations, which begins quietly and then builds to a triumphant declaration of the classic Alexander Courage Star Trek theme.  The Ultimate Voyage concert also had this track as their number two track, and I am shamelessly taking their idea.  In the liner notes to the Star Trek: Generations soundtrack CD, composer Dennis McCarthy notes: “‘I insisted on that,’ [he] says of the Courage theme… ‘I wanted it to be the payoff, both of the champagne bottle hitting and then the end where Picard is standing on the top of the mountain [at the end of the film]… When it’s the big ships taking off, boy, I want to hear that Courage fanfare.  To me that is Star Trek and very important.’”  I wholeheartedly agree!!

3. “The Mountain (Main Title)” from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (stop at 3:24) — Star Trek V is a terrible movie, and nothing from its score was included in the Ultimate Voyage concert.  But I really like Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Trek V, and I think it’s an often-overlooked gem in the Star Trek musical canon.  The crescendo of the previous track #2 will lead nicely into this track, which is a wonderful presentation of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic Star Trek theme (originally presented as the “Main Titles” for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and then used as the main theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation).  After that Trek theme serves as the official “opening titles” for this concert, we’ll slow it back down again with the rest of this track, the haunting theme that follows Trek V’s opening credits and scores Kirk’s perilous ascent up El Capitain.  (I noted to stop at 3:24 because the final 1:30 of this track on the Star Trek V soundtrack CD is far less interesting after that point.)  Ever since I first saw Star Trek V in theatres, I have always loved this soaring, gentle music that plays as we see Captain Kirk attempt to climb the mountain.  The Star Trek V soundtrack track listings describe this as an “Americana” theme for Captain Kirk, which is never quite how I saw it but which does seem like an apt description.  The melody is beautiful and rich.

4. “Main Titles” from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home I absolutely love the soaring, ringing main theme for Star Trek IV.  It’s so unusual for a Star Trek film, but it sets the perfect tone of fun-filled adventure.  This main theme is totally different from the nautical heroic themes of James Horner (which we’ll be hearing a lot of later in this concert), but it is nevertheless perfectly successful.  (As an aside, here’s another way in which the Star Trek IV score is unique amongst the Trek films: rather than recurring at heroic moments throughout the film, we never hear this main theme again until the end of the film!  It’s such iconic music that is so indelibly associated, in my mind, with Star Trek IV, but it only appears at the very beginning and the very end.  Wild.)

5. Klingon Theme from “Life is a Dream” (End Credits) from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (use only 1:19-2:38) — This piece of music, from the middle of the Star Trek V end credits, is my very favorite presentation of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic Klingon theme.  Mr. Goldsmith first wrote this theme for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and that music was presented in its entirety on Disc 1, track 4 of The Ultimate Voyage CD.  But I vastly prefer this version from Star Trek V to the more synthesized, dated-sounding version from TMP. 

6. “Klingons/Spacedock” from Star Trek III: The Search for SpockJerry Goldsmith’s Klingon theme is hugely iconic, and has been a theme utilized by many other Trek composers in the years since.  James Horner’s Klingon theme from Star Trek III, on the other hand, has been mostly forgotten, but I love it just as much as I do Mr. Goldsmith’s.  So, after hearing Mr. Goldsmith’s Klingon theme in track 5, I thought it fitting to follow it up here in track 6 with Mr. Horner’s version.  The second half of this track shifts gears into one of my all-time favorite pieces of Trek music, the first glimpse in Trek history of the magnificent Spacedock.  In particular, one of my absolute favorite Trek musical moments comes mid-way through this piece of music.  There’s a powerful moment in the sequence, in which we see Janice Rand (in a cameo appearance) shake her head sadly as she looks out from the Spacedock windows to see the terribly damaged Enterprise.  Mr. Horner’s melancholy music for that moment is so perfect, as the propulsive Excelsior music shifts into a muted presentation of the Enterprise theme – it’s one of my favorite moments in all of the Trek films, and I must say that I have re-listened to that spot on this track many times!

7. “Enterprise Clears Moorings” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan —  Sticking with the great James Horner for a moment longer, here is Mr. Horner’s triumphant score for the moment, early in Star Trek II, in which the Enterprise departs from the scaffolding in orbit of Earth and sets off on its next adventure.  This is bold, classic, gorgeous Star Trek music.

8. “Spacedock/Clear All Moorings” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Following James Horner’s triumphant piece of moorings-clearing music from Star Trek II, I just had to include this more somber Cliff Eidelman version from Trek VI which scores a similar scene albeit with an entirely different tone.

9. “Program Sisko/Gotta Job to Do/Messages in Horsehide” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine This phenomenal five minutes of music scores the end of the season five DS9 finale, “A Call to Arms”, in which the Cardassian and Dominion forces launch an all-out attack on DS9, eventually driving off the Federation and seizing control of the station.  Watching that episode (which I have seen MANY times), I have always been taken by Jay Chattaway’s dramatic, ominous theme for the Domion forces.  It’s rare to hear such a clear “bad guy” theme on a Star Trek episode.  I’m not quite sure how Mr. Chattaway got away with that, but it works perfectly.  The best moment in this track is also the best moment in the episode: those final seconds in which the music swells and we see, for the first time in Star Trek history, Starfleet assembled and ready to kick some ass.

10. “Teaser Recap” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine This music from the opening moments of the DS9 episode “The Sacrifice of Angels” is wonderful, as composer David Bell gives us a propulsive “previously on DS9” sequence following by the first piece of starship combat in the epic, episode-length confrontation between Starfleet and the Dominion forces holding Deep Space Nine.

11. “Demolished” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (start to 4:40) Deep Space Nine is my favorite of the Trek series, so forgive me for lingering in DS9 for another moment as I present this magnificent action music by Dennis McCarthy from the third season episode “The Die is Cast”.  This music scores one of my favorite sequences from DS9′s early years: the Dominion ambush of the joint Cardassian/Romulan fleet in the Gamma Quadrant.  Mr. McCarthy’s music from that battle is spectacular.  (This track on the Deep Space Nine soundtrack CD is eight minutes long, and while it’s all great, I felt that only the first half was necessary here.)

12. “The Inner Light suite” from Star Trek: The Next Generation I praised this piece of music when I wrote about The Ultimate Voyage CD last week, and the same remains true here.  This gorgeous piece of music by Jay Chattaway, from the classic TNG episode “The Inner Light,” is one of the very finest pieces of Trek music ever written, haunting and heartbreaking.  Of course I had to include it.

13. “Jumping the Ravine” from Star Trek: Generations — In this climactic moment from Star Trek: Generations, Captain Kirk at first refuses Picard’s pleas to leave the Nexus, and rides off on his horse.  What follows is the most full-throated presentation of the main Generations heroic theme (what is described in the Star Trek: Generations liner notes as the “riding theme.”)  It’s a wonderful piece of music, a terrific hero’s theme.  Dennis McCarthy has stated that this was one of the first cues he wrote for the film: “I jumped up there because I saw that [scene in the film] and thought, ‘Okay, this is a heroic moment that becomes not so heroic,’ so I wrote that and then backed [the theme] into some of the earlier cues and the ending.”

14. “Battle in the Mutara Nebula” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan We begin to wrap up the first part of my Trek concert with this first of two lengthy pieces of James Horner’s score from the climax of Star Trek II.  This is some of my absolute all-time favorite Star Trek music, scoring one of my absolute all-time favorite Star Trek sequences.  Kirk and Khan’s final showdown is a cat-and-mouse game of wits and starship tactics within the Mutara Nebula.  The music alternates from thrilling suspense music to climactic action as Kirk finally gets the best of Khan.  Or, at least, that’s how it seems at first.

15. “Genesis Countdown” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Khan turns defeat into victory as he activates the Genesis device, with “poor crippled Enterprise” unable to get away.  This brilliant piece of music by James Horner is gloriously emotional as the Enterprise tries to limp away in an attempt that Kirk and his bridge crew know to be futile.  Only Spock sees a way out of the no-win scenario.  The track builds to an explosive climax as the Enterprise is able to warp away at the last second, only to turn mournful as Kirk sees Spock’s empty chair and realizes what has happened.  This might well be the finest track of Star Trek music ever forged.

16. “Red Alert” from Star Trek: First Contact and “Captain Borg” from Star Trek: The Next Generation The combination of these two Borg-centric tracks, at the end of disc one of The Ultimate Voyage, was genius, and so I am gleefully stealing the idea and using it here.  Ron Jone’s iconic cliffhanger music from “The Best of Both Worlds” part I is the perfect way to end the first half of this assemblage of great Star Trek music!

Disc Two:

1. Prologue and Main Title” from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock —  The “previously on Star Trek” sequence that opens Star Trek III is something I adore, such a lovely way to open this sequel film.  James Horner’s music is a huge reason why this works.  After finishing the first act of my Trek concert with the climactic music from Star Trek II, this opening music from Trek III seemed the perfect way to begin the second half.  One of my all-time favorite moments of Star Trek score comes at the end of this track, when the opening credits end and Kirk’s Captain’s Log entry begins.  Mr. Horner’s melancholy cue perfectly establishes the somber, dark place in which we find our characters at the start of this film.

2. “Main Title” from Star Trek: First Contact (start-2:46) — I adore Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme for First Contact, and the opening titles of the film give us a triumphant, full-throated recitation of it.  It seemed to me like a great way to launch this second half of my Trek concert.  The triumphant blasting of the Alexander Courage fanfare at the start of this track feels like a proper introduction to the second act of my concert.  (I suggest ending before the Locutus dream sequence.)

3. “Stealing the Enterprise” from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock This lengthy (8:39) piece of music plays over Kirk & co.’s hijacking of the Enterprise in order to return to the Genesis planet in search of Spock.  This is one one of the best sequences in the movie, and the score is one of the best bits of movie-action music I have ever heard, as many of Mr. Horner’s established themes (and also, in a brief bit, Alexander Courage’s opening theme from the Star Trek original series) come together in a crashing, propulsive arrangement.  I love this.

4. “Spock” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan I enjoyed comparing and contrasting various themes in the first half of my Trek concert (different versions of a Klingon theme, a “clear all moorings” theme, even a Borg theme), and so I thought it would be fun here in the second half to compare and contrast two different Spock themes.  The first, here, is James Horner’s classic version from Star Trek II (and III).

5. “Spock’s Wisdom” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country For the scene in Star Trek VI in which Spock speaks with Valeris in his quarters, we hear Cliff Eidelman’s soft, mysterious version of a theme for Spock.  It’s hard to top James Horner’s Spock theme, but I love Mr. Eidelman’s take on a wistful, alien theme for Spock.  The ominous last 30 seconds of music in this track, as the Enterprise and Kronos I meet, is a nice lead-in to the next somber track.

6.  “War Adagio” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine This melancholy, beautiful piece of music by Paul Baillargeon played over the vicious battle in “The Siege of AR-558″, a DS9 episode that looked unblinkingly at the real horrors of war.  For the brutal ground assault that climaxed the episode, the show dialed out all of the usual sound effects and explosions in favor of this magnificent piece of music that took an already great sequence and turned it into one of the most powerful moments of the show’s run.

7. “Feeding the Soil” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Mr. Baillargeon also scored this unusual and haunting piece of music from “Children of Time”, in which a wrinkle in time allows the Defiant crew to encounter a planet populated by their own descendants.  The episode’s climax features this gorgeous piece of music that plays over the final gathering of the community before the restoration of the timeline that will wipe them all from existence.

8. “Soran kidnaps Geordi” from Star Trek: Generations This is one of my very favorite pieces of Star Trek action music.  When Soran destroys a star, the Enterprise has less than two minutes to rescue their crew-mates from the Amargosa observatory and leave the system, before being destroyed by the approaching shock-wave.  With swelling strings at around the 45 second mark, the music tells us that the clock is set and the countdown has begun.  What follows is a fierce bit of music as Dennis McCarthy scores the firefight on the observatory and the surprise arrival of a Klingon bird-of-prey.

9. “Escape From Rura Penthe” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country This track contains one of my favorite moments of Trek music.  As the camera pulls back and we see Kirk, McCoy, and Marta walking across the gorgeous but haunting ice sheets of Rura Penthe, we hear a lonely, mournful playing of Spock’s theme followed by soaring and majestic music that captures the majesty and the danger of the environment in which our heroes are stranded.

10. “The Battle for Peace/The Final Chance for Peace/The Final Count” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country This lengthy assemblage of music plays over the extended action climax of the film, as the Enterprise and General Chang’s Bird of Prey battle in Khitomer orbit, while down at the peace conference an assassin makes ready to strike.  What Cliff Eidelman describes as his “nail biter” theme alternates with his other major musical motifs for the film (the Klingon music from “Overture,” as well as Kirk and Spock’s themes) to provide a pulsing accompaniment to the action on screen.  It works perfectly with the fast-edited sequence in the film and is also great fun to listen to on its own.

11. “Finality/The Way You Look Tonight” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine I will begin to close out my Trek concert with the first of three glorious tracks by Dennis McCarthy from the final minutes of the DS9 finale, “What You Leave Behind.”  This lengthy piece of music is a show-stopper, as we follow the emotional series of goodbyes as many of the characters from the show leave the station, and the series, for the final time.  Mr. McCarthy scores Sisko’s goodbye to Kassidy Yates with a quotation of music from “The Vistor,” the fourth-season episode in which Jake is forced to learn to live his life without his father.  What a genius choice.  Then, as the goodbyes to the other DS9 characters begin, Mr. McCarthy makes another clever reference to Trek music past: “The Minstrel Boy,” such an iconic musical element of the Next Gen third-season episode “The Wounded,” one of the first episodes to spotlight Miles O’Brien, plays briefly when the Chief appears on-screen.  Then, of course, Mr. McCarthy brilliantly weaves the song “The Way You Look Tonight” (sung earlier in the episode by Vic Fontaine) into a bittersweet presentation of his main DS9 theme as one character after another bids farewell.

12. “Goodbyes/Lookin’ Good” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine The farewells continue in this shorter but still brilliant track.  When the music swells over the moment when Odo says goodbye to Kira, it is an emotional moment that gives me chills, even when just listening to the music.

13. “Farewell” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine This is the final piece of music from the series.  I always get chills listening to the mournful cue at 0:23-0:33 from the moment when we see Jake, alone, looking out into space for his missing father.  That’s not only a powerful emotional moment, but it’s also the musical moment that, for me, signals that the end of this series that I so loved is only seconds away.  That cue segues into a mournful sounding of the DS9 theme, as the vast space station slowly recedes from view into a tiny speck in a field of stars.  Every time I have re-watched “What You Leave Behind,” during those final moments I am filled with a painful longing that I don’t want the series to end.  I feel the same thing listening to the score!  I have re-listened to this track many times.

14. “The Captain of the Enterprise (Kirk’s Death)” from Star Trek: Generations My Trek concert moves closer to the end with this piece of music that depicts another important Trek ending: the death of James T. Kirk.  That moment doesn’t work so well on-screen in Generations — it’s somewhat underwhelming.  But Dennis McCarthy’s music is gorgeous, and listening to this track I found myself getting a bit emotional in a way I never did watching the actual movie.  We get a slow, sad version of the Generations theme, then we hear shimmering strings intermingled with a somber sounding of the classic Star Trek fanfare as the two Captains of the Enterprise share a final moment, and then another poignant playing of the classic fanfare over the shot of Picard standing alone on the mountaintop.  It’s great, powerful stuff.

15. “Sign Off” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — Star Trek VI blessed Trek fans with a magnificent final scene that brings 25 years of adventure to a close, and Cliff Eidelman’s music is perfection.  We hear a pensive version of his Enterprise theme as the crew’s happiness at their victory is tinged with melancholy (one shared by the audience) as the end to their journey grows near.  But Spock’s final declaration is accompanied by a triumphant, joyous blast of Alexander Courage’s fanfare, and then Mr. Eidelman’s Enterprise theme returns, subdued but happy, which builds joyously into a thrilling finish as, one by one, the signatures of all the main actors appear on screen.  It’s a note-perfect finish to the movie, to the adventures of the original Enterprise crew, and to my assembly of great Star Trek music.

16. Encore: “End Credits” from Star Trek (start to 2:10) — For an encore, here is Michael Giacchino’s re-working of Alexander Courage’s classic Star Trek theme music, from the end credits of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot.  I love this rollicking version of the classic Trek theme (and the way Mr. Giacchino is able to weave in some of his new themes from the film).  This nod to Trek’s past and future is a great way to bring this to an end.

OK, whew, this was fun!  See you all back here soon!

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