When Roy Budd entered the film scoring world, he’d already been an accomplished jazz musician and composer, and the perfect snapshot of his skill and knack for scoring was Get Carter, Mike Hodges’ nasty 1971 crime film about a hitman who just wants to know who killed his brother so he can exert necessary payback.
Carter’s theme is one of the top tracks of all time because in its simplicity – a repetitive bass groove, skittering Indian tabla, and eerie harpsichord – cover the tragedy of a brother’s loss, his loneliness as one of society’s fringe dwellers, and his disconnect from humane behaviour. (You feel sorry for Carter, and sense his eventual demise because by the end of the story, he’s managed to kill so many men and women that his own offences have to be punished, either by the police, or a faceless, nameless hired gun like himself.)
Get Carter is about an ignominious life, and Carter’s bafflement at not getting his way – really, he has a simple request: revenge – and inability to relate to people, and Budd’s score is comprised of two striking yet harmonious components: score and source music.
There’s the powerful title theme, largely withheld throughout the score except in the opening prelude, the “Main Theme,” and the haunting “Manhunt,” with shimmering vibes and soft wind effects that snap fast to a chase motif with hard piano and tabla. “Goodbye Eric!” is a classical version of the theme that’s brief, elegant, and bubbling with bitter irony.
The source cues vary from instrumental keyboards with a small jazz combo (“Something on My Mind”) and songs that border on pop-lounge rather than rock. (The bass line in “Livin’ Should Be This Way” is taken directly from the main theme.)
Budd’s ability to craft brilliant solos are briefly glimpsed in “Something on My Mind,” and the track also evokes the KPM music library, where fellow musicians like Johnny Hawksworth (The Penthouse) wrote similar (albeit shorter) source-styled cues meant to add a funky lounge texture to a film or TV scene. “The Girl in the Car” is a funky piece with hard ostinato on piano that weirdly supports Carter’s shocking disposal of a woman in a car trunk, and seems to ignore Carter’s inherent cruelty, characterizing his actions as gloriously efficient.
Of the vocal source tracks, the best is the dreamy “Hallucinations,” with its consistently psychedelic combinations of echoey keyboards, soft vocals, and a chorus that’s made up of word statements (“Earth. Sea. Sun.Sky.”), bass, tambourine. “Getting Nowhere in a Hurry” is also memorable with its tragic opening and perky, soft Bossa Nova chorus section, and a wonderful midsection with harpsichord, duel acoustic guitar, piano, and vocal accents. The lyrics may be trite – an ode to a nihilistic existence – but they’re nicely orchestrated to flow between the brief instrument solos.
The lyrics of “Love is a Four Letter Word” are also clichéd, but the piece is dominated by a fat electric bass miked cup close, and Budd contributes some nice organ improv in the middle. “Plaything” is another fat bass track, and although an instrumental, it’s melodically similar to “Love is a Four Letter Word,” with a slight rock/lounge/country blend that works within the score’s funky design.
Budd’s score could’ve handled any idiomatic blend as long as it retained a few of the core instruments in the title theme, and has improv bits performed by Budd – keeping the jazz-funk style consistent.
Get Carter was first released on LP by Pye, and it took more than two decades before it emerged on CD with alternate cues (namely instrumental versions of “Hallucinations” and “Getting Nowhere in a Hurry” – absolute standouts), and the title music minus the train sound effects. The original Cinephile CD from 1998 came with a foldout poster of the painted poster art. The album was subsequently reissued by Castle Records, as part of a compilation CD, and Silva Screen’s 2010.
Silva’s reissue includes new detailed liner notes on the film, the score, the composer, and the musicians who contributed to the instrumental and vocal cues. The only drawback: like the first CD release, every second track is a dialogue snippet, which doesn’t really add anything to the score. There are no catch-phrases or memorable quotes, and one doubts Budd himself would’ve been content with having his music broken up by chatter.
Get Carter is apparently Silva’s first in a series of necessary reissues of the previously released Budd scores, and coming back into circulation will be Soldier Blue, Fear is the Key, and the funky The Stone Killer. Hopefully the success of these releases will include not just reissues, but full restorations and complete releases of his superb orchestral scores, since gems like Paper Tiger (1975).
Budd’s iconic theme was also used for the 2000 remake, with Tyler Bates handling the scoring chores. Warner Bros.’ Region 1 and 2 DVDs of the 1971 film feature an isolated mono track of Budd’s score, but there are some significant differences between the soundtrack CD (which is in stereo) and the DVD (which is in mono, with the standard fades, volume dips, and abrupt edits inherent to mixed film score tracks.
The CD mixes of the film’s “Intro” contains wind sound effects, presumably meant to match the “Main Theme” mix which adds the train sounds as heard in the film over which the main credits unfold. Whereas the CD does offer a ‘clean’ mix of the title theme (“Goodbye Carter!”) without effects, that cue is also preceded by the “Intro” with wind effects. There’s also a pitch difference, in which album “Intro” version is faster than the clean film version.
The CD also lacks two other versions of the “Intro” – essentially the phrase played on harpsichord – that are present on the DVD: an echoplexed version which plays after the bar sources “Looking for Someone” and “Getting Nowhere,” and a slow version that makes up the end credit music, which terminates with an 8-note coda. Those cues excepted (plus two non-Budd source vocals, and another bar instrumental), the CD includes the rest of the score.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan