AUTUMN THUNDER: 40 YEARS OF NFL FILM MUSIC
Not far from the heart of Times Square, at Park & 48th Street, is the site of the National Football League headquarters. Whether or not you’re a fan of the professional game, the arrival of autumn always brings occasion to reflect on an unambiguously great cultural resource that institution has yielded: the music of Sam Spence.
As the house composer for NFL Films from 1966 to 1990, he single-handedly created the genre of football soundtrack music, an exhaustive collection of which is now available on the 10-CD box set Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music, sold by Valley Entertainment (visit www.valley-entertainment.com, www.CherryLane.com or www.NFLFilms.com for retail information). While the compilation also includes work done by his worthy successors Tom Hedden and Dave Robidoux, it’s the dramatic themes of Spence that will be instantly recognizable to most Americans (and nearly all males of the Baby Boom generation and older).
The tense film noir strings underpinning chromatic blasts of brass as in “The Clue,” “Shoulder Holster” and “Bongo Run”; the triumphal bluster of “Knight In Cracked Leather” and “March To The Trenches”; the breezy swing of “Milktrain To Paydirt,” “Meeting In Rio,” “To Catch The Wind,” and the jazz waltz “Ramblin’ Man From Gramblin'”; the urgent sturm und drang of “West Side Rumble” and the propulsive majesty of “Game Plan For Sudden Death”; and the judicious use of tympani throughout his oeuvre – all established Spence as the foremost American contemporary peer of Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry films, etc.) and John Barry (most James Bond scores) for atmospheric orchestrations steeped in action and suspense. Turn on your TV today and you’re likely to hear excerpts from a number of Spence tunes re-purposed for advertising and promo spots – “Round Up,” “A Golden Boy Again” and “Forearm Shiver” I’ve heard within the last week – but it’s best to hear them from beginning to end on their own; the box set includes a fine biographical booklet as well, within the pigskin-textured package.