Home > Reviews > TAKING WOODSTOCK – Danny Elfman


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

I missed out on being a part of the Woodstock generation by a good decade or more, having been born six years after it took place, but growing up I was acutely aware on how much the seminal 1969 music festival shaped the musical, social and political mindset of a generation. Calling Woodstock a ‘music festival’ is to underplay its significance: not only did it popularize the music of artists as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, it also became a cultural touchstone for the hippie movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Ang Lee’s new film Taking Woodstock takes a gently comedic look at the events leading up to the festival; it stars Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber, the actual organizer of the festival, Eugene Levy as Max Yager, on whose farmland the festival took place, and features Dan Fogler, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber and Emile Hirsch in supporting roles.

Probably more than any other film composer working today, Danny Elfman has the pedigree to score a film like this. As we all know, Elfman began his career as the lead singer and songwriter for the alternative rock group Oingo Boingo back in the mid 1970s, who were themselves influenced by such counter-culture artists such as Frank Zappa. Elfman’s problem on Taking Woodstock, clearly, was finding a way to work his music in and around all the near-legendary songs that litter the film’s soundtrack. Intelligently, Elfman doesn’t even try to compete, and has instead written an intimate, appropriate score played almost solely by guitars.

The Elfman score Taking Woodstock resembles most closely is probably Midnight Run from 1988, albeit without the anarchic action that score contained. Instead, Elfman’s guitars are gentle, even a little wistful, painting a nostalgic portrait of the innocence of youth in the summer of love with rose-colored plectrums. This isn’t a themes-and-variations score, or even one which has any particularly outstanding cues (most of them are really too short to go anywhere); instead, it’s a score which plays as a series of soft-rock and folk instrumentals that one can imagine hearing emanating from the camps of those happy revelers who gathered in that muddy field in Bethel County all those years ago (along, no doubt, with the scent of marijuana and the ecstatic sounds of free love).

Elfman’s guitar playing is very, very good. Sometimes he uses acoustic guitars in a folksy way, such as in “Hash Brownies”, the sentimental “Perspective Extended”, “I Love Her”, and the lovely “Woodstock Wildtrack #2”. Sometimes he uses down-home, slightly bluesy, noticeably harder-sounding electric guitars to add an edge or a bit of spice to cues such as “Elliot’s Place”, “At Ease Man”, and “In the Mud”. David Krakauer’s solo clarinet adds a moody, sultry touch to several of the more downbeat moments, such as “Get the Money” or “Life Goes On”.

Once in a while another instrument will creep into the mix to flesh out the sound: a cello in the opening “Taking Woodstock Titles”, a modern rhythm section is the wonderfully upbeat “Groovy Thing (Office #1)”, a wonderfully retro Hammond organ in “A Happening (Office #2)” and the slightly psychedelic sounding “The Acid Trip”, and so on. The “Groovy Thing” is so authentic-sounding I kept expecting The Byrds to burst into song at any moment!

Fans of Elfman’s super-hero scores or his modern, dramatic work might wonder what Taking Woodstock is all about, and are very likely to be disappointed in what they hear. After all, when you break it down, it’s nothing more than a 30 minute album of guitar music and light rock instrumentals, and we’ve criticized Gustavo Santaolalla to high heaven for writing stuff that is very similar to this. However, for me, this seems like the most authentic Elfman score I have heard in a while; he almost treats it like a return to his roots, and he wears it like a pair of comfortable old sneakers. This Elfman stripped down, unplugged, unadorned, writing simple melodies for acoustic instruments to evoke a more hopeful time. It’s a very pleasant listen, and well worth exploring for anyone who thinks that Elfman is all about Batman and Spider-Man and nothing else.

Rating: ****

Buy the Taking Woodstock soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Taking Woodstock – Titles (3:25)
  • Elliot’s Place (1:11)
  • At Ease Man (0:43)
  • Welcome Home (0:34)
  • The Magic Tickets (0:35)
  • Get the Money (1:05)
  • Chocolate Milk (0:42)
  • Groovy Thing (Office #1) (3:35)
  • A Happening (Office #2) (1:55)
  • Groovy Thing (Guitar Solo) (1:54)
  • Life Goes On (0:41)
  • The Acid Trip (1:13)
  • Hash Brownies (1:00)
  • In the Mud (0:50)
  • Perspective Extended (1:52)
  • I Love Her (0:49)
  • Woodstock Wildtrack #1 (2:42)
  • Woodstock Wildtrack #2 (1:37)
  • Happy Guitars (1:46)
  • Guitar Improv (1:56)

Running Time: 29 minutes 56 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1104 (2009)

Music composed by Danny Elfman. Performed by Danny Elfman and David Krakauer. Recorded and mixed by Lawrence Manchester. Edited by E. Gedney Webb. Album produced by Danny Elfman, M.V. Gerhard and Matt Verboys.

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