After the release of the Rocketship X-M [M] album, producer and Starlog Records bigwig Kerry O'Quinn felt compelled to release an album showcasing the talents of Albert Glasser, the multi-skilled composer who orchestrated Ferde Grofé 's themes for the X-M score.
The Fantastic Film Music of Albert Glasser - Vol. 1 remains the best intro into Glasser's work, and is one of a rare handful of commercial releases - and a long one, running just under an hour - for an artisan best known for exploitation soundtracks of the 1950s.
Glasser's music for the TV series The Cisco Kid (taken from a 1948 transcription recording) - perhaps his best-known theme material, tied to the popular ZIV TV show - launches the album's fairly broad sampling of his TV and feature film work.
Glasser's Cisco material - written for the Monogram and United Artists films and the TV series - are raucous, and deliciously Spanish-flavoured, but the short suite eventually moves into more gentle material - "Cisco Pensivo" - showing a softer side of Glasser that rarely emerged in his exploitation scores. Perhaps it's the nature of the series' titular subject: adventures and romances that mandated a balance of boundless energy, but retrained passion (due to the more-kid-friendly nature of the show and network standards).
The wild west is also represented on Side B in another short suite from Buckskin Lady (1956), which features a an elegant melody with muted trumpets, string accompaniment, and a melancholic solo violin - a recurring technique employed by Glasser, even in his monster music, for scenes dealing with tormented or strained emotions. Also recognizable is the composer's unrestrained use of brass, which typifies Glasser's style (and perhaps his overheated exploitation of classical film scoring conventions).
Another TV series scored by Glasser, Big Town (1952), dealt with the adventures and relationship between a "demon" editor and his reporter. The suite of themes - part of a large stock music library expressly written for the show - offers a classy mix of suspense, lullaby-styled underscore, and the show's 'big city' theme - a familiar galloping rhythm, with alternating string, brass, and xylophone that express the tireless pace of the city as a ruthlessly energetic organism.
The next surprise on the album is a huge 17 min. suite - in stereo! - from writer/director Bert I. Gordon's The Boy and the Pirates, a 1960 family fantasy involving a boy, a genie, and pirates. The buoyant liner notes include recollections by Glasser on his early years, in which he began as a music copyist for Eric Wolfgang Korngold. Then 19, Glasser's work for Korngold sounds like a dream assignment for any burgeoning composer, and the included suite, as noted by O'Quinn in his own chunky notes, reflects Glasser's ability to write in the adventuresome vein that was largely isolated to the swashbuckler sub-genre.
Glasser would write scores for 8 of Gordon's exploitation films, and while in colour, the production values and scope of Boy and the Pirates was also limited. The lengthy suite, however, contains some wonderfully expressive cues, a number of restrained and somber material, and heroically-charged action material with a few novel ideas. (One particularly robust cut has the second half of the brass section playing the same phrase with a decreasing delay, until both fuse at a point when the full orchestra charges into action.)
The remaining score cuts are decent extracts from Glasser's vintage monster and exploitation films, and feature the brass-heavy music for movies still fondly remembered by theatergoing kids and youngsters glued to a steady stream of monster films on the boob tube.
Top of the World (1955) combines 8 cues with an emphasis on heroism, and there's a definite stylistic resemblance to X-M. Plenty of orchestral surges pepper this short suite, and just like the material in the Beginning of the End suite, the end title signature reassures the audience that the world isn't going to end, and the spirit of man (and woman) will restrain the nasty effects of radioactive stuff foolishly left around; for the kiddies, however, the point subconsciously assuages any irrational fears that, beyond the theatre doors, exists a wasteland bereft of candies and toys. (These things are priceless when you're 10.)
Beginning, like Pirates, was another Bert I. Gordon score, and the album closes with material from the Amazing Colossal Man (1957) - boasting another grandly-written, brassy score - and material from Cyclops (1957). The latter marks the first time Glasser and Gordon worked together (courtesy of serendipity, and the alluring music from Huk! which pulled Gordon down the hall into Glasser's office), and the handful of mercurial cues show Glasser's deftness in writing material that flawlessly veers from gentle to assaultive.
The Colossal suite offers the longest selection from a Gordon monster/exploitation thriller, and like the Cisco Kid extracts, it contains a hugely plaintive violin solo for the grand torment residing in the film's radioactive monster.
The stereophonic material, taken from two-track masters, offers the best sound quality on this album, but the remaining mono selections - including the Cisco material - still retain the nuances of Glasser's orchestrations, and preserve a classical writing style that was already being challenged by rock, jazz noir, and pop sensibilities in 1960. Even one of Glasser's final scores - the ultra-sleazy Albert Zugsmith classic Confessions of an Opium Eater (aka Souls for Sale) from 1962 is a curious fusion of scaled-down classicism, with a light touch of pop/jazz . As Glasser stated in the album's liner notes, by the mid-sixties, he had written music for almost every genre, and he also infers that the tortuous composing and recording schedules had taken their toll.
While bannered as Vol. 1, a follow-up album from Starlog Records never materialized, and this excellent compilation LP remains unavailable on CD, although the complete score to Boy and the Pirates was released on CD in 2010.
Perhaps the tragedy of Glasser's plight - if not of his contemporaries - is the daunting task in selecting material from such a hugely prolific career for a commercial album. Glasser's era was filled with many gifted composers who found work in the B-movie arena, and with Ronald Stein, Herman Stein, Vic Mizzi, and others slowly getting their due on CD, perhaps it's time for a similarly dedicated label to exploit (with affection) the vintage sounds from a genuinely neglected (and supremely fun) composer.
Note: for more information on this album's history, click HERE, and read our WKME-enhanced interview with Kerry O'Quinn!
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan