Soundtracks on Vinyl - Alien

Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror classic Alien, it goes without saying, is universally regarded in cinema history as one of the most influential and still terrifying thrillers of all time.  With its claustrophobic futuristic set pieces designed by Syd Mead and Ron Cobb, unforgettable creature design by H.R. Giger, Academy Award winning visual effects work by creature effects technician Carlo Rambaldi and a solid cast lead by Sigourney Weaver, Alien bears all the hallmarks of a stellar piece of cinematic imagination with an unparalleled ability to frighten viewers even today.  However, there’s one area which has proven to be both vital to the film’s overall mood and tone yet will likely remain a source of contention for as long as the film exists: the film’s original soundtrack composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

It’s well known among cinephiles and Alien fans that the film’s landing from the pre-production stages to the finished film ultimately released in theaters proved to be a shaky one in the musical department.  While Jerry Goldsmith did indeed complete an original score written specifically for the 1979 Ridley Scott film, not all of it was used with many rejected cues being rewritten or dropped entirely alongside the use of preexisting cues either from Goldsmith’s own catalog or other composers entirely.  As with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, early rough cuts of the film made frequent use of temp cues intended to provide a benchmark for the film’s composer to draft an original piece for the sequence and the end result ended up with far more of those temp cues left in place than is common practice for the industry standard. 

Many Alien fans by now know Goldsmith’s original opening cue intended for the film was entirely different from the one Scott requested be rewritten, shifting drastically tonally from a romantic science fiction adventure theme to that of eerie, distant and dissonant industrial rumblings.  Further still, during the infamous airduct sequence with Tom Skerritt and the creature, Scott used a temp cue from Goldsmith’s own original score for the 1962 film Freud in the finished theatrical film despite Goldsmith penning new original music for the sequence.  Lastly, Goldsmith penned an entire closing credits cue only to have Scott replace it at the last minute with the first movement of Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”), Op. 30, a move which drove Goldsmith to fury when he saw the finished film without his music in place.  Furthermore, despite the film’s critical and commercial success, he opined over the years Scott ruined his score for Alien.

Considering the film soundtrack’s checkered past, there has been much debate over which soundtrack album released for Alien is the most definitive one.  While there was a 1979 soundtrack album released by 20th Century Fox records of the film’s score performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lionel Newman, the album was a nonlinear smattering of tracks largely adhering to Goldsmith’s originally intended score with many unused cues rather than what went to theaters.  Though several various soundtrack albums would be released over the years on different compact disc recordings or re-recordings, there never really was for the longest time an official soundtrack album that would bring together everything and anything Goldsmith wrote for Alien available for purchase on vinyl record…until now.

Thanks once again to the good folks at Mondotees, Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Alien has been re-released on a collectible vinyl edition in two forms: the complete score remastered in a standard 2LP package housed on green 180gram vinyl and a limited edition 4LP boxed set house on multicolored 180gram vinyls including a repressing of the 1979 edition of the soundtrack album and a fourth disc containing numerous alternate cues including the opening cues used in the film itself!  Included with the limited vinyl box are original liner notes and a randomly selected lithograph specific to each box of original artwork by Tyler Stout.  Unlike the 2LP album which is still readily available, the 4LP box has all but sold out with a note stating this will be a one-time-only pressing for die-hard collectors.

Although this remastered soundtrack album still didn’t include the aforementioned temp cues from Freud or the Howard Hanson cue closing the film, it does however include the brief snippet from Mozart heard in the shuttle as Dallas relaxes.  As for the rest, simply put, it’s all here with arguably the most comprehensive soundtrack album to Alien that will probably ever be released on vinyl, making this the definitive release of Jerry Goldsmith’s work on Ridley Scott’s film.  Sounding better than ever with restored sonic depth and clarity, this new Mondo release easily bests the still existing copies of the 1979 album with far more music available to the listener than previously.  It’s also nice to have all of Goldsmith’s cues in one place, including the ones he didn’t like.

In recent years, though the two would ultimately clash once again over the score to Legend with the US release version rescored by Tangerine Dream, Goldsmith and Scott would soften their daggers often drawn for one another in interviews with kinder things to say about one another in retrospective interviews.  Whether or not the two would ever form a truce or come to a satisfactory agreement over which music did and didn’t end up in Alien, what we do know is that Mondotees have put together a magnificent boxed set culls it all together, providing Alien fans and Goldsmith aficionados a complete score in addition to a gaze into what might have been the musical accompaniment to one of the greatest sci-fi horror monster movies of all time!

- Andrew Kotwicki