Home > Reviews > A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN – Hans Zimmer



Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most popular comedy-drama films of 1992 was A League of Their Own, a film about baseball and how there is no crying in said sport. Set in 1943, the film tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), which was established when the outbreak of World War II shut down Major League Baseball and the men all went off to fight the Nazis in Europe. With sexism and misogyny rampant in American society at the time, the women who sign up to play are faced with obstacles at every turn – one of whom is Jimmy Dugan, the old ball player who is reluctantly hired to coach them – but though tenacity and friendship, the women of the Rockford Peaches get to live out their sporting dreams. The film was directed by Penny Marshall from a screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and had a fantastic cast including Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, and Bill Pullman; it was also a great hit, grossing more than $130 million at the box office, and spawning a popular soundtrack album that included two successful singles.

That album was comprised mostly of period song covers by the likes of Billy Joel, Art Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Manhattan Transfer – the songs are all terrific, the work of fabulous songwriters ranging from Duke Ellington to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser and Hoagy Carmichael, and Benny Goodman. The one original on the album is Carole King’s “Now and Forever,” a nostalgic piece of soft rock, while the other original is Madonna’s song “This Used to Be My Playground,” which is featured over the movie’s closing credits, but was not included on the soundtrack album for contractual reasons. Madonna’s song is dreamy, contemplative, and surprisingly restrained considering what she was doing elsewhere in her career at that period, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.

The score for A League of Their Own was by Hans Zimmer, and was at the time the biggest musical departure of his career. Zimmer had worked in more lighthearted genres before, with scores like Driving Miss Daisy and Green Card, and had worked jazz elements into scores like Pacific Heights, but A League of Their Own was something completely new, a vibrant explosion of big band vintage jazz that excels on all fronts. Two tracks from Zimmer’s score appeared on the commercial soundtrack – “Life Goes On” and “The Final Game” – offering around 15 minutes of his music.

“Life Goes On” is an exploration of the film’s more intimate and personal side, and is a set of beautiful melodies that move sweetly between tender writing for oboes, pianos, and strings, to more sprightly and peppy material that makes excellent use of lively string figures and dancing flutes, to the sweep of the full orchestra, often underpinned with effervescent percussion rhythms. This part of the score is pure, wholesome Americana – you can imagine Randy Newman or Marc Shaiman writing something like this – combined with the lighter and more whimsical sound that Zimmer would later go on to explore more in scores such as Cool Runnings and Nine Months, as well as his subsequent work with Penny Marshall on scores like Renaissance Man and The Preacher’s Wife. The climax of the piece, which sees Zimmer’s orchestra rising to more impressive heights of thematic tonality, is warm and endearing, emotionally powerful without being melodramatic, and perfectly captures the memories and relationships of these old baseball gals as they look back on the prime of their lives.

“The Final Game,” on the other hand, is all about power and vivacious energy, and is an absolute knockout that combines Zimmer’s nascent power anthem style from scores like Black Rain, Days of Thunder, and Backdraft, with a rip-roaring big band jazz arrangement focusing on a bank of throbbing brass, bluesy piano riffs, and wild and frenetic tapped cymbals. There’s a languid quality to some of the woodwind performances at the beginning of the cue, which is wonderfully authentic, but when it kicks into high gear after the two minute mark it just never slows down for the rest of its running time. The vibrancy of the whole thing is overwhelming; the brass sometimes has the throaty insistence of Elliot Goldenthal at his best, while the percussion licks are pure Gene Krupa. There is a rolling 13-note flourish for brass that re-occurs throughout the piece, often in juxtaposition against a solo trumpet idea that feels like something from an Ennio Morricone western – a conceptual parallel between a woman at bat and a lone gunman in a high noon duel. Pop-culture references to Beethoven and other period melodies are built into the fiber of the piece too – it’s wild, it’s zany, it’s energetic, and it’s absolutely fantastic, one of the best things Zimmer has written in his entire career. It’s also worth mentioning a couple of the featured soloists – Rick Baptist on trumpet, Mike Lang on piano, Jim Kanter on clarinet – who are just tremendous.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is on the commercial album, but there is also an additional album out there on the secondary market which contains a more comprehensive overview of Zimmer’s score. I’ve read conflicting reports about what this album is – some sources say it’s a promo album that Zimmer and his then co-producer Jay Rifkin put out through the Media Ventures organization to try to snag an Oscar nomination, while other sources say it’s a plain old bootleg – but in the absence of an unambiguously legitimate expanded album (at least at the time of writing), I’m going to use its existence as an excuse to wax lyrical about how great the rest of the score is too, and make a plea for an expanded album somewhere down the line.

Broadly, it’s more of the same, but which uses individual cues to focus more on specific details and textures. The “Main Title” is something of a mirror image of the finale in “Life Goes On,” presenting more nostalgic Americana from the point of view of the living Rockford Peaches team as they look back on their careers in baseball; it has more lovely pianos, softly sentimental strings, and warm and tender oboes. Subsequent cues like “The Station and The Field” and the gorgeous finale “Sisters Say Goodbye” continue this wholesome evocation of baseball as America’s pastime, and are especially notable for their gorgeous brass harmonies, which give a sense of homespun wistfulness to the romantic string textures. Meanwhile, “The Telegram” is one of the few concessions to straight drama, and it features some lovely, sincere trumpet playing, a nervously undulating piano motif to add a touch of suspense, an evocative sequence focusing on a baritone saxophone, and a melodic line that has echoes of the serious moments of Backdraft.

“Race to the House” contains a great deal of lyrical comedy music that recalls some of the more upbeat and charming moments of Driving Miss Daisy, before shifting into a fruity jazz sequence for plucked basses, bright horns, and lilting piano riffs that is a ton of fun. “Training Playoffs” grooves on the big band jazz, and contains some especially outstanding woodwind performances and screaming, sensational brass. “The Sud’s Bucket” has a comic edge, and contains more fantastic jazz textures, but here they are played more for laughs than for the intense energy of the actual in-game scenes. “Win The Crowd” incorporates with some unusual quotations of other styles and pieces (including, for some reason, the Wagner’s Bridal Chorus), but is mostly a fantastic explosion of pure energy, whirling and swooping, magnificently upbeat and engaging. “The Playoffs – The Prayer” is a precursor to the final game music, and is just as entertaining,

Outside of the main score, there are a few one-off pieces of source music and intentional imitation that places the film in its proper period context. “War Commercial” is Zimmer’s approximation of a John Philip Sousa march, pompous and patriotic. “Welcome to Jimmy’s Ballgame” is an almost straight reprise of the classic song ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ performed on a calliope organ. “Diamond Gals” has a carnival vibe, perfectly pitched pastiche, while “Heaven’s Just a Ballpark Win Away” is an interesting mash-up between Bach’s hymn ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,’ and jazz ideas that alternate between Louisiana zydeco, Kentucky bluegrass, and something from a New York strip club.

I can’t stress enough just how much fun the score for A League of Their Own is. This is Hans Zimmer at his most outrageously joyful, his most buoyantly upbeat, celebrating big band jazz and tender Americana with equal sincerity and equal skill and excellence. The two halves of the score fit together like a (baseball) glove, creating a sense of time and place, while commenting on the ups and downs, and the triumphs and heartbreaks, of the women at the center of the story. “The Final Game” is the showstopper but, really, the whole score is superb, and the commercial soundtrack is worth getting for the two score pieces alone – at least until (hopefully) one of the specialist labels is able to produce a proper score album at some point in the future.

Buy the A League of Their Own soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Now and Forever (written and performed by Carole King) (3:17)
  • Choo Choo Ch’Boogie (written by Vaughn Horton, Denver Darling, and Milton Gabler, performed by The Manhattan Transfer) (2:58)
  • It’s Only A Paper Moon (written by Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, and Billy Rose, performed by James Taylor) (2:51)
  • In A Sentimental Mood (written by Duke Ellington, Emanuel Kurtz, and Irving Mills, performed by Billy Joel) (4:03)
  • Two Sleepy People (written by Frank Loesser and Hoagy Carmichael, performed by Art Garfunkel) (3:39)
  • I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, performed by James Taylor) (3:39)
  • On The Sunny Side Of The Street (written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, performed by The Manhattan Transfer) (3:18)
  • Flying Home (written by Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, and Edgar De Lange, performed by Doc’s Rhythm Cats) (2:57)
  • Life Goes On (6:11)
  • The Final Game (9:32)
  • The All American Girls Professional Baseball League Song (written by Lavone Pepper Paire Davis, performed by The Rockford Peaches) (1:24)
  • Main Titles (2:14)
  • War Commercial (1:09)
  • Race to the House (3:01)
  • The Station and The Field (3:07)
  • Training Playoffs (2:31)
  • Welcome to Jimmy’s Ballgame (1:43)
  • Diamond Gals (1:42)
  • The Sud’s Bucket (2:29)
  • Heaven’s Just a Ballpark Win Away (2:45)
  • Win The Crowd (5:36)
  • The Telegram (7:41)
  • The Playoffs – The Prayer (2:35)
  • The Final Game (13:01)
  • Sisters Say Goodbye (2:49)
  • Life Goes On (8:48)
  • This Used to Be My Playground (written by Madonna Ciccone and Shep Pettibone, performed by Madonna) (5:08) BONUS

Running Time: 43 minutes 47 seconds — Commercial Album
Running Time: 66 minutes 14 seconds — Score Promo

Columbia Records CK-52919 (1992) — Original
Media Ventures (1992) — Score Promo

Music composed by Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Shirley Walker. Orchestrations by Shirley Walker, Ladd McIntosh and Bruce Fowler. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner and Jay Rifkin. Edited by Laura Perlman. Score produced by Hans Zimmer and Jay Rifkin. Commercial album produced by Penny Marshall, Elliott Abbott and Jay Landers.

  1. Kevin
    July 17, 2022 at 11:04 am

    “Madonna’s song is dreamy, contemplative, and surprisingly restrained considering what she was doing elsewhere in her career at that period…”

    That’s a hilarious understatement given that she put out her “Erotica” album/”Sex” book months after doing this movie.

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