HOOSIERS – Jerry Goldsmith
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Hoosiers is generally considered one of the best sports films ever made. Directed by David Anspaugh and written by Angelo Pizzo (who would later collaborate again on Rudy in 1993), the film stars Gene Hackman as Norman Dale, a former elite basketball coach who, after suffering a personal humiliation, is forced to take a job as a teacher and basketball coach at a tiny high school in Indiana in 1951. Despite overwhelming odds – including a small student population to select a team from, opposition from parents, opposition from faculty members such as English teacher Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey), and a hopelessly drunk assistant coach (Dennis Hopper) – Dale leads his team to the state championship game. Looking back on the film today, Hoosiers seems to be very clichéd, but the truth of the matter is that this film is the one that invented, or at least popularized, many of the sports movie clichés we take for granted today: the gruff coach with a heart of gold, the group of misfits who come together to form a winning team, the old-fashioned old-timers who don’t understand what the newcomer is doing, the last-second winning shot to clinch the championship. Hoosiers was a massively popular and successful film, and received two Oscar nominations: one for Hopper as Best Supporting Actor, and one for Jerry Goldsmith’s score.
After Vangelis won the Best Score Oscar in 1981 for his synthesizer score for Chariots of Fire – a sports film set in England in 1924 – filmmakers decided that using electronics in scores for period films was no longer an unacceptable anachronism, especially if that film was a film about athletic triumph. As such, Goldsmith’s score for Hoosiers is an orchestral-electronic hybrid, with more emphasis on the electronics. Usually this sort of thing would bother me, but for some reason Hoosiers works tremendously well. Goldsmith’s music is just so infectious, so upbeat, so warm, so celebratory, that the juxtaposition of having 1980s Yamaha synthesizers and electronic drum kits accompanying a film set in the 1950s actually makes the film better, despite the apparent aural disconnect. Goldsmith augments his synths with a large orchestra recorded in Hungary although, amusingly and endearingly, some of the players have difficulty with some of Goldsmith’s more challenging passages of brass heroism.
The original album for Hoosiers was released in 1987 by the European label That’s Entertainment Records (TER) under the title ‘Best Shot’, because nobody in Europe knows who or what a ‘hoosier’ is. It’s a comparatively short album that picks out the highlights, running for just a smidgen under 40 minutes. This was all the music that was available until 2012, when Intrada Records released the complete score with its correct title on CD for the first time. The new release, properly sequenced and featuring more than 20 minutes of new music, reveals all the delights Goldsmith’s score has to offer, including some more serious orchestral writing that the original album omitted, and several lovely variations on the core themes that showcase Goldsmith’s versatility and skill at using varying orchestrations and tempos to convey a multitude of moods and emotions.
The opening cue, “Theme from Hoosiers,” is actually a remix of several of the score’s main themes by the composer’s son Joel Goldsmith, performed solely on synthesizers. It presents, sequentially, the score’s four main themes: the rousing and ebullient Basketball theme (0:00), the determined but warm theme for Norman (0:25), the idyllic and wholesome Hickory theme (2:26), and the brief pseudo-love theme for the relationship between Norman and Myra (2:54). It’s all somewhat over-produced and occasionally a little cheesy, but the enthusiasm Goldsmith Jr. brings to the music of Goldsmith Sr. is hopelessly endearing, and it acts as a useful primer to identify all the recurring thematic material the score has to offer.
Goldsmith brings his orchestra more into play once the score begins in earnest, starting with the wonderful “Main Title – Welcome to Hickory,” which in the film plays unencumbered by dialog or sound effects, and accompanies the opening scene of Norman driving into Hickory for the first time, just as dawn breaks over the cornfields. The electronics, which occasionally remind me of the somewhat abstract ideas he brought to the score for Legend, underpin a series of beautiful, Americana-tinged solo trumpet performances of the theme for Hickory, the small rural town where the film is set. The main title also introduces one of the score’s intellectual main ideas, which sees Goldsmith combining two of the four central themes to illustrate the mindset of the scene in question: here, the Hickory theme represents the warm, nostalgic, salt-of-the-earth people of the town, while the contrapuntal performance of the Basketball theme illustrates the unbreakable connection between town and sport.
This is something that Goldsmith does throughout the score. In “First Workout,” for example, it is Norman’s theme and the Basketball theme that play off each other, illustrating the concept that Norman’s new ideas and new training methods are being introduced to the school. Later, in “The Coach Stays,” the triumphant performance of the Basketball theme combined with Norman’s theme reaffirms the town’s faith in him, and there are many, many other examples of this type of interplay elsewhere. The level of thematic complexity in the score actually surprised me – the depth is not immediately apparent upon a first listen – and it reinforces yet again just what a superb dramatist Goldsmith was, and how deeply he understood the nature of film and its relationship to music in storytelling.
Many cues stand out as being especially noteworthy. The aforementioned “First Workout” is highly rhythmic, with strong use of the 1980s synths, and provides the first example of Goldsmith gimmick for the score, wherein he uses the sampled sound of a basketball bouncing on a hard court floor as part of the percussion section. “Get It Up” is more aggressive and insistent, with almost dance-like rhythms, while the heavy use of clattering xylophones and wooden percussion to augment the synths is something that Goldsmith did regularly in the 1980s, from the Rambo scores all the way through to scores like Leviathan.
“You Did Good” is one of the score’s longer cues, at almost seven minutes, and is notable for the interplay between all the three main themes. A deconstructed version of the Basketball theme gradually segues into a sentimental performance of the Hickory theme on woodwinds augmented by harp, and warm string harmonies. The music eventually becomes more martial, going through several variations on Norman’s theme, before eventually emerging as a rousing statement of the Basketball theme that offsets an equally rousing performance of Norman’s theme underpinned by heroic brass triplets.
There are darker textures in “Town Meeting,” including a notably lovely statement of the Hickory theme underpinned by a sense of resignation and disappointment. “The Pivot” is one of the score’s standout cues, especially when it introduces a brand new theme, bullish and rambunctious, which is heavily influenced by Aaron Copland through its brass calls, swirling strings, contrapuntal use of glockenspiel and trumpet, and overall Western vibe. “Free Shot” provides a stirring orchestral fanfare based around Normans theme and the Basketball theme as the team arrives at the regional finals; this is counterbalanced by “Someone I Knew,” a much more serious piece for cello over strings that underscores the scene of Norman confessing his tragic past to Myra. This rich piece is by far the darkest moment in the score, and is built mainly around versions of Norman’s theme, although it eventually turns into a longing, nostalgic version of the Hickory theme for oboes and lush strings.
The conclusive piece, “The Finals,” is a 15-minute extravaganza of all the themes for full orchestra and synths, and is actually an edited montage of shorter cues that Goldsmith specifically arranged for the original album. It begins apprehensively, nervously, but gradual hints of the themes begin to emerge, and it slowly builds over the course of the cue, as the rag-tag team from Hickory edges closer to their dreams. Clattering xylophones, bouncing synths, and the basketball percussion rhythms all make their presence felt, before it all erupts into a glorious celebration of sporting triumph. The trumpet performances of the Basketball theme are especially notable, especially the sensational fanfare-like explosion at 8:45, while subsequent statements of the Hickory theme is as bold, heartwarming and emotional as anything Goldsmith ever wrote.
The only – and I do mean the only – thing that mars the score for Hoosiers are the synths. If you, as a listener, have a problem with 1980s keyboards and drum pads, and have never reconciled yourself to hearing them in any context, let alone in a film set in rural Indiana in the 1950s, then the score will drive you crazy, because they are literally in every single cue, and often play a leading role at the expense of the orchestra. That one issue aside, I personally think that Hoosiers is one of Goldsmith’s best scores of the 1980s; the thematic depth and intricate interplay between the themes is unexpectedly accomplished, and the way he manages to squeeze so much rousing, celebratory Americana out of his orchestra is astonishing. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, many people cite Hoosiers as one of the greatest sports films of all time; I would be inclined to agree, and would place Goldsmith’s score in a similar musical pantheon.
Buy the Hoosiers soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- 2012 INTRADA ALBUM
- Theme from Hoosiers (4:02)
- Main Title – Welcome to Hickory (3:47)
- Chester (1:23)
- First Workout (1:55)
- Get It Up (2:17)
- You Did Good (7:01)
- No More Basketball (1:33)
- Town Meeting (4:02)
- The Coach Stays (2:40)
- The Pivot (3:27)
- Get the Ball (1:45)
- Last Foul (0:43)
- Free Shot (1:11)
- Someone I Know (2:18)
- Empty Inside (1:42)
- The Gym (2:41)
- The Finals (15:17)
- 1987 POLYGRAM/TER RECORDS ALBUM (“BEST SHOT”)
- Best Shot: Theme from Hoosiers (4:25)
- You Did Good (7:01)
- The Coach Stays (2:42)
- The Pivot (3:29)
- Get the Ball (1:49)
- Town Meeting (4:47)
- The Finals (15:18)
Running Time: 59 minutes 48 seconds (Intrada Album)
Running Time: 39 minutes 31 seconds (Polydor/TER Album)
Intrada Records ISC-226 (1986/2012)
Polydor/TER CDTER-1141 (1986/1987)
Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton. Recorded and mixed by Mike Ross-Trevor. Edited by Bruce Botnick. Score produced by Jerry Goldsmith and Bruce Botnick. 2012 Intrada album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.