Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top 5 Musical Themes from Battlestar Galactica

In my lifetime, there has never been a television show so enthralling, so consistently mind-blowing as Ronald D. Moore's Re-Imagined Battlestar Galactica. I'm ashamed to say that I almost missed the boat on the already-legendary sci-fi series; I missed the 2003 miniseries and was initially turned off by the Season 1 premiere in 2005, having no idea what the frak was going on. But with patience and a little help from my friends, I caught up with the story and the characters and found them to be like nothing else I'd ever seen before. For four years now, I've been watching this show religiously. It has consumed by Friday nights since high school, opening up new friendships and creating new traditions. Though a lifelong Trekkie and a firm believer in the philosophy that fuels Star Trek, I can say without any doubt that no series has reached into my soul like Battlestar Galactica.

With the series finale only days away, I've decided to dedicate a short series of Top 5s in tribute to its majesty. Not wanting to jump the gun and name my favorite episodes, moments or characters, knowing that a great many things may change on Friday, I've decided to begin here, with the music of Bear McCreary. The music of Battlestar Galactica is totally unique, blending a dozen different styles together, from Celtic to Eastern to Rock, into a distinctive and fascinating sound. Much in the way that John Williams's score to Star Wars defined, matched and amplified that series, McCreary's score to Battlestar is a perfect fit, and I for one can't imagine the show without it.

Through the magic of YouTube, I can offer you clips of my personal favorite musical moments from the groundbreaking score. Here's my Top 5, complete with commentary. (For best results, hit play on the video and read the commentary as the music plays

5. "Roslin and Adama"

Every time I watch the show from the beginning (which I do often) I try to spot the exact moment when then-Commander William Adama realizes he's in love with President Laura Roslin. I haven't been able to find it. perhaps there is no such moment, but I can tell you the moment I first fell in love with them as a couple: the first time I heard this theme. Like the characters, this theme carries a haunting weight, with the strings played in such a way that the instruments sound old, past their prime, but still capable of conveying remarkable emotion.

4. "Colonial Anthem" (Stu Phillips, arr. Bear McCreary)

The theme to the original Battlestar Galactica is considered a classic, and I won't disagree, but like the rest of the show, it feels just a little bit too much like Star Wars to me. For the episode "Final Cut," Bear McCreary was to re-arrange the original show's theme to play behind a documentary-within-a-show, to serve as a sort of national anthem for the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. This is the only time in the show you'll hear the stereotypical sci-fi brass section on this show, or any horns at all, and this makes this piece a loving throwback, but also a testament to what makes this show different and special. Listen to the more meditative, somber coda at the end of the track, more indicative of the new show's sound and flavor. Hearing these two drastically different motifs juxtaposed against each other is a real treat, both aesthetically and symbolically.

3. "The Shape of Things to Come"

Played for the first (and only) time in the closing minutes of the first season, this was the first "oh, wow" moment in the series for me, in terms of score. Like many of the other themes in BSG, the first word that comes to mind is "haunting" and the second is "beautiful." McCreary doesn't often delve into traditional orchestral arrangements, and this is the first time in the series we hear him do this. Set against a semi-hallucinatory symbolic look at the future, this piece of music embodies the dichotomy of the show: it is mysterious, and yet lets us, the viewers, in so close to its world and its characters that we feel intimately familiar with it.

2. "All Along the Watchtower" (Bob Dylan, arr. Bear McCreary)

The exact arrangement and intro used in the show isn't yet available on CD (though it's coming) but this is close enough, I suppose. Bear McCreary reinvented the classic Bob Dylan tune from the ground up to serve as an intense but eerie portent of doom for our rag-tag fleet. On vocals here is Bear's brother, who goes only by "B3" (what is it, 1997?) and I have to say that his rock voice works here perfectly. The guitar solo, the intense bass and electric guitars, a vocal part in English, these are all extreme rarities on the show, making it clear to we viewers that this song was important - it meant something. References to the song continue to spring up every three or four episodes, making this a frequent recurring musical theme in the show. Personally, I'd have loved to hear it as the opening credits theme to Season 4.

1. "Admiral and Commander" ("Wander My Friends"/"A Good Lighter""Reuniting the Fleet")

Sometimes I think I want this song played at my wedding, other times I want it played at my funeral. I think it works for both. This theme, which has come to be associated with the father-son relationship between Bill and Lee Adama, first appeared in the Season 1 episode "Hand of God" and has recurred ever since. I have not been able to escape it - it has been consistently stuck in my head for four years. I whistle a lot, when I walk between buildings on campus, when I'm bored in my room, and this tune probably crosses my lips three or four times a week. This particular arrangement comes from one of my all-time favorite episodes, "Exodus," in a scene where father and son part ways, never expecting to see each other again. It's a beautiful moment on screen, and in music.
"Admiral and Commander" is everything Battlestar Galactica is: it's remarkably beautiful, it's intense, and it's completely unforgettable.


Dan said...

Aw, man, what a great list. I don't know how you managed to only pick 5. I think I'd have had to work "Prelude to War" in there somewhere, but I can't imagine omitting any of these 5. I completely agree with your pick for numero uno. I get chills every time I hear that piece or "Roslin and Adama."

rrrrrreooow! said...

Get this music away from me! I'm just going to get emotional...

Admiral and Commander is the most tear jerking. Because, it plays a lot during the true heart of the show. And we all know the the heart produces tears, which then travel up to your eyes and come out.

So say we all.

David L said...

I've got a joke for you.

Knock knock.
Whose there?
I've forgotten the rest of this joke, but make a freaking new blog entry.

rrrrrreooow! said...

Knock knock...
Who's there?
Kara who?
Kara little more about your blog and it's readers!

I just made that up.