Various Artists

Hammer Comedy Film Music Collection

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Seventy-five minutes and then some of lighthearted movie music, all of it generated from Hammer Films, might be inherently surprising to anyone not from England -- Hammer is best known internationally for their horror and science fiction movies, but it has produced more than its share of comedies, mostly for domestic distribution. Little of the music from them is very distinguished as "film music," but all of it is fun and some of it is very (and even extremely) enjoyable pop music. Once one gets past the older oddities such as Tony Lowry's main title music from Up the Creek (a 1958 comedy co-starring Peter Sellers) and Banjamin Frankel's theme from I Only Arsked (1958), and Bernard Bresslaw's gormless rendition of "Alone Together" from the same movie, the real fun starts with the '70s-era scores. Albert Elms's "The Quiz" from the movie Love Thy Neighbor being a charmingly wacky foxtrot, while "The Cruise," utilizing some of the same melodic material, gives you a faux Caribbean version of a related tune. Annie Farrow's rendition of Christopher Gunning's title song from Man About the House (the British series that became Three's Company in America) could and should have been a chart hit. It is so beguilingly phrased and sung, Farrow wrapping her pleasing voice around an achingly beautiful (if terribly slight melody); the other instrumental portions of the score are less memorable but inoffensive. Les Reed's music for George & Mildred (a movie version of a series that was a spin-off of Man About the House) is the most surprising part of this collection, an array of '70s pop and rock-styled instrumentals that sound like James Bond meets Thin Lizzy (with an edge to the Bond influence). And then there's Brian Wade's disco-style theme for the feature film version of Rising Damp, which may be worth the price of the CD -- and if it isn't, then the bonus track of the title-theme with series star Leonard Rossiter talking in character over the song is. Strangely enough, David Lindup's scoring for the rest of Rising Damp is totally restrained, lyrical orchestral writing in the best manner of Eric Coates and other serious light-classical composers ("Rigsby and Miss Jones" being a string orchestra arrangement of "Beautiful Dreamer"). Other tracks, such as Derek Hilton's material from Nearest and Dearest (featuringHylda Baker) or Brian Wade's, are less distinctive, but very pleasant and enjoyable as pop music -- and Geoff Unwin's and Roger Ferris's title song from On the Buses is such a relentlessly hummable tune (appearing in two distinctly different versions) and song, that it does make one want to see the long-ago series and movie. The sound is excellent and the annotation is very thorough, offering a full history of Hammer Films as well as background on the films and the music, most of which is conducted by studio music director Philip Martell. Fans of British comedy in general or Leonard Rossiter in particular should add another star to the above rating.

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