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The most notorious lost soundtracks in cinema

From The Shining to Drive, we take a look at the iconic film scores that, at one point, could have sounded very different

Spare a thought for Jóhann Jóhannsson. Not 12 months after his ambitious score for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival fell foul of the Oscars’ red tape, the Icelandic composer has been bumped from the soundtrack to Villeneuve’s next project, Blade Runner 2049, to make way for Hollywood’s ‘Safe Pair of’ Hans Zimmer – he of the dreaded Christopher Nolan ‘BWAAAMS’. Some observers have detected the meddling of producer Ridley Scott in all of this – the British director has past form giving soundtrack composers short shrift – but Jóhannson should take comfort from the fact he’s in good company here. In the spirit of score-settling, we decided to salute some of the best film soundtracks to get lost like tears in the rain.


In a story that mirrors the fate of several of the film’s characters, William Friedkin reportedly threw Lalo Schifrin’s score for The Exorcist out of a window in one of the director’s fabled fits of temper. Friedkin had asked Schifrin, composer of iconic soundtracks for Bullitt and Mission Impossible, for an “atonal and moody” score in keeping with the film’s diabolical tone, but seemingly got cold feet on the idea after a trailer for the film featuring his music had people fainting in the aisles. That seems like an odd move if you’re looking to scare audiences shitless, but Schifrin himself conceded that his score may have been too “heavy” for audiences to bear. In stepped Mike Oldfield with the tinkling Tubular Bells soundtrack that went on to become a multimillion-seller: Schifrin, having gone through “one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life”, had to console himself with a re-release of his terrifying score last year.


In Clive Barker’s gruesome 1987 horror flick, a man opens a portal to hell while trying to satisfy his increasingly deranged sexual appetites – a standard night in on the internet for some, then. Barker wanted industrial-music pioneers Coil – AKA John Balance and late Throbbing Gristle alumnus Pete ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson – to bring their eldritch charms to the soundtrack, but the producers balked at the group’s experimental score, and horror vet composer Christopher Young was brought in as a replacement. Still, Coil can at least lay claim to inspiring the film’s S&M-themed demons, who look like Slimelight clubgoers after a series of unfortunate DIY accidents. “(Barker) came to our house and took away a load of piercing magazines and things,” said Balance in 1992. “Which is where they got all the Pinhead stuff from.”


Though he appears only in cameo, Johnny Jewel’s fingerprints are all over the score for Nic Winding Refn’s dreamy arthouse hit of 2011. Refn, who had used the Italians Do It Better stalwart’s music for his breakout, Bronson, tapped Jewel to score his latest project, but the film’s studio, fearing he lacked the chops for the task, replaced him with Cliff Martinez, ex-of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Martinez, of course, did a stand-up job using the gauzy synth-pop palette Jewel had established with Refn, and a pop-cultural phenomenon was born. “Drive introduced the mainstream to what we were doing in the underground for years,” Jewel has said of his work on the film, snippets of which were reworked for Symmetry’s Themes for an Imaginary Film LP in 2012. Meanwhile in 2017, Drive’s hi-spec retro influence can be felt everywhere from Stranger Things to Black Mirror’s Emmy-winning “San Junipero” episode.


Wendy Carlos is the Moog-synth pioneer who helped bring electronic music into the mainstream in the late 60s. She’s perhaps best known for her electrified takes on Beethoven that soundtracked Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, but also worked with the director on his horror masterpiece The Shining, only to have much of her music omitted from the film’s final cut. The unreleased music appeared on a rare lost scores compilation in 2005, including Carlos’s “upbeat” original vision for the film’s opening credits – ironic, given the almost comically bleak score that ended up accompanying the film’s sinister opening crawl. Also noteworthy is “Clockworks (Bloody Elevators)”, a Penderecki-esque piece absent from the film but used for the famously unsettling trailer – dial down the dread a little and amp up the weirdness, and it might almost slot in on Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin some 30-odd years later.


Perhaps the most famous example of a composer getting stiffed over a score is Alex North, another victim of Kubrick’s impulsive way with a soundtrack. North was given a cut of the film featuring the now-iconic pieces by Richard Strauss and György Ligeti as temp tracks – music inserted as a guideline for mood during the editing of a film – and composed his score in two weeks. Kubrick, finding his work “completely inadequate for the film”, stuck with the temp tracks but neglected to inform North, who learned of his fate at a screening of the film. According to North’s daughter Abby, the composer “believed, up until his dying day, that his score was the ideal accompaniment to Kubrick’s images”. The full soundtrack was released in 2007 by Intrada Records – among its fans is none other than Jóhann Jóhannsson, who told the Hollywood Reporter it was a “great lost score” in 2015.