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Baby Steps (1977-1978)

After co-founding Starlog Magazine in 1976 with partner Norman Jacobs, Kerry O'Quinn furthered his interest in the science-fiction and fantasy realms through a series of side projects under the Starlog banner, and perhaps the most fondly regarded are the handful of albums which reflect his deep affection for music written for a genre he felt had been marginalized by the mainstream media and critics.

Starlog Record's first release - Ferde Grofé's rare film score for the sci-fi classic Rocketship X-M - was followed by The Fantastic Film Music of Albert Glasser, It's Alive 2, North by Northwest, First Men in the Moon - Music by Laurie Johnson, Music from The Avengers/The New Avengers/The Professionals, and The Star Wars Trilogy anthology album. With the exception of the first two and portions from The Avengers compilation LP, all of the Starlog productions are still in print, and are widely available on CD.

In November of 2005, O'Quinn graciously spoke with us about Starlog Records, and traced the production of several key albums that remain benchmarks in archival soundtrack production.

The record label "came about because I'd been a movie music addict since I was a kid, and a major collector. I knew all the composers, and had a huge collection of virtually, at that point, I would guess almost every soundtrack that had ever been done, including dramatic scores and musicals... There were certain scores that I had always wanted like North by Northwest that had never been released. Some of the science fiction movies [and scores] at that time were not taken seriously either as film art. I mean, Bernard Herrmann [scored] Seventh Voyage of Sinbad ... and everybody just thought of it as a silly little kids movie, [putting] the score in the same category. So there was a little bit of my arched back involved in deciding to do these albums. It was also a dream that I'd had for a long time... and I had always wanted to do that sort of thing myself, and do it right.

"It sounds silly, but one of the strange little quirks that I had on this was that I hated most record labels. In that particular period of time, labels were becoming very picturesque, and they would have these elaborate photos and artwork behind them, and you could hardly read what was on the label; they were kind of [getting] carried away with the graphics and not the information. So I wanted to do labels that were [properly designed] I was a designer, among the many hats that I've worn and so I thought I knew how a label should be, and what was the most important information.

"It was at that point my magazines were beginning to be successful enough that I didn't have to worry about the life and death of the company.... By that time we had things going well enough that I realized I could begin to branch out and do things that [our readers] would also appreciate and enjoy, and I thought that we could create some products that would make our readers happy, and would also be projects that would make me happy. It seemed like a win-win situation.

"Someone introduced me... to Albert Glasser, who had composed over a hundred cheap movie scores out here in Hollywood. I met the man, went to his home, and he said, 'Oh, well, I did the arranging for Ferde Grofé on his score for Rocketship X-M ,' and I said, 'Holy cow, I didn't know Ferde Grofé, who wrote Grand Canyon Suite and all this other classical American music, had written film scores!' "

Though his filmic output was extremely low, Grofé had written music for the 1944 PRC musical Minstrel Man, and a pair of Lippert Pictures, in 1950: Rocketship X-M, and The Return of Jesse James - the latter two with Albert Glasser adapting and orchestrating Grofé's themes.

"The only way that music existed was on some big, old 16-inch acetate discs. Albert Glasser trusted me, and gave me those discs to take to New York to an engineer at CBS... We equalized them, took out scratches and ticks and stuff like that, and made those recordings into the best sound that we could get at the time."

More stigmatized than mono magnetic tape recordings, music derived from acetates or other archaic formats and mediums lack the sex appeal of a stereo production, and in spite of stereo's dominance in the consumer market by the late sixties - with studio labels, such as MGM Records, finally phasing out the wasteful mono and stereo runs of each title - engineers still felt stereo recordings needed more oomph - resulting, particularly in the seventies, in the use of variable treatments of ambient echo to simulate greater spacial depth.

With rare exceptions, most vintage scores were either re-recorded by labels - in suites, singles, or the odd theme-oriented album - or ignored. Sometimes composers like Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Newman, Alex North, or Victor Young recorded collections of their famous themes, but a full-length album devoted to one score was seen as a sales disaster in a market where top single stations reigned supreme.

The leading personality in issuing archival scores during the seventies was film historian, writer, producer, and broadcaster Tony Thomas. Through a non-commercial mail order arrangement, Thomas sold a steady stream of vintage recordings by A-level composers like Miklos Rozsa, Hans J. Salter, and Max Steiner (the latter's work often in cooperation with the Max Steiner Music Society).

Thomas's albums were generally released on less than perfect vinyl, and the technology used to filter extreme pops, ticks, hisses, and surface noise sometimes left the audio dry or muddy. Early 78 rpm platters used steel needles for playback, so one can understand why any surviving recordings are so precious. Unlike today's toys on digital workstations, the tech of the period could reshape a recording into something quite distant from the composer's intentions, whereas today's philosophy (idealistically, at least) is to stay true to a recording's character during the restoration process.

Read about the albums!


More composer compilations HERE!

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