Is Vangelis the Greek Jean-Michel Jarre? Is Jean-Michel the French Klaus Schulze? Is all European synthesiser music the same?
If you answered ‘No’ to all three questions, go to the top of the class.
Vangelis O. Papathanassiou was born in the town of Agria some 120 km north of Athens as the seagull flies, or three times that by road. He was the compositional force in Aphrodite’s Child, a Greek cult band featuring the vocals of Demis Roussos who produced the memorable psych/prog album 666 in 1972 and split soon after.
Mr V.O. Papathanassiou went solo (as did his kaftan wearing mate, Demis) and produced an album entitled Earth, a semi-concept piece with lots of different styles, lots of percussion, and very little resemblance to the easy listening synthesiser music he became famous for. It’s actually pretty good, if you like your prog eclectic.
Lightening his name by a dozen or more letters, Vangelis raced through the seventies on a wave of eleven keyboard driven instrumental albums (yes, 11 LPs between 1973 and 1979) that vary in texture, but follow similar patterns of strong melodies, layered synthesisers, and frequent grandiose moments that make you think ‘Film Score!’
Fans of 70s electronic music tend to collect them, but don’t necessarily play them too often. Well, that’s true for me, anyway.
My favourites from the 1970s are Spiral (1977) and Albredo (1976). I think that is because they largely avoid the grandiloquent gestures that plague Vangelis’ work, while also managing to steer clear of New Age custard. It’s worth remembering that Jon Anderson was impressed enough with the big Greek’s work to invite him to audition as Rick Wakeman’s replacement in Yes, though permit problems nixed that idea and the Swiss musician Patrick Moraz got the gig. Jon and Vangelis did work together, of course, but that’s another story.
Did someone mention film music?
In 1981, Vangelis provided music for the film Chariots of Fire and his career went stellar. Although electronic music seems an unlikely texture for a film about 1920s Olympians, his synthesiser skills created a memorable theme and an enjoyable soundtrack LP that sold truckloads and netted him an Academy Award. More film scores followed; Mr Papathanassiou is one of the most successful soundtrack creators of all time. A lot of that fame rests on Chariots, but amongst music fans his masterpiece is without doubt the music he wrote for Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982).
In Bladerunner, the synthesiser music—brooding, pulsing, melancholy—perfectly fits the dystopian future where Rick Deckard ‘retires’ replicants in a sleazy future-Gotham. It is one of those soundtracks with snippets of dialogue. These barely distract from the music for those unfamiliar with the film and enhance the experience for those who do. The opening track on the soundtrack album illustrates this nicely. It’s a scene where Deckard is viewing a photo (yes, an actual print… that’s the cyberpunk world of Bladerunner) taken from the possessions of one of the rogue machines, discovering a hidden figure. A replicant with feelings? Romantic machines? The sky is crying in Ridley Scott’s future world.
Many of the pieces segue into each other, making for seamless listening. Yet when attention is paid to the individual compositions, they reveal well-crafted structures and melodies. “Wait for me” is an example; the snippet of Rachel’s voice—mixed well back—functions as a kind of vocal, a half-heard female presence reinforced by the sax solo. Saxophone returns for the “Love Theme”, a sumptuous piece full of longing and inevitable heartache. It is played by Dick Morrisey, a British jazz musician who was part of early 70s jazz-rock outfit If and recorded with many rock acts including Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney. In between these two is “Rachel’s Song” which does use a human voice (Mary Hopkin), but wordlessly. It’s lovely. Which makes the 1930s pastiche of “One More Kiss, Dear” about as subtle as a replicant crashing through a plate glass window.
That, however, is the only misstep on Vangelis’ Bladerunner soundtrack. Even the echoey helium-voiced Demis Roussos appearance on “Tales of the Future” offers an otherworldly incantation that only enhances the atmosphere. Over all, it is a truly wonderful suite of acoustically enhanced electronic music that any fan of the film—or electronic music—will delight in.
Thanks Philip K. Thanks Ridley. Thanks Harrison. Thanks Vangelis. (Greece is the word)
This is the 11th instalment of the ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD series