Right, folks, we're going to keep this relatively short and sweet.
Once again, score-fans may have been caught napping by the swift, severely limited and horribly unsung release of Billy Goldenberg's awesome score for 1974's gritty buddy-cop thriller, Busting, from Kritzerland. With a run of only 1000 copies worldwide, this certainly won't last long ... so you have my apologies for not getting this review out to you a little bit sooner, but my copy turned up whilst I was away on holiday and now I'm playing catch-up.
Starring Elliot Gould and the very troubled Robert Blake as two vice detectives going off the scale in their efforts to take down New York narcotics and prostitution king Rizzo (Allen Garfield), Busting came along in the wake of Dirty Harry and The French Connection and carried on the seventies vogue of anti-establishment nihilism and the bleak outlook and attitude of a world gone to hell and now rancid with corruption. With co-stars such as Antonio (Starsky and Hutch) Fargas, Michael Lerner, William Sylvester and the exploitation-lovin' Sid Haig (who looks positively terrifying in this as Rizzo's intimidating lead henchman, the film was also the directorial debut of Peter Hyams, the man who would go on to make Capricorn One (also starring Elliot Gould), Outland, 2010, The Relic and End Of Days. It would plumb of the depths of drugs and prostitution and show cops so totally devoted to their cause that they wouldn't hesitate to break every rule in the book in that now time-honoured and clichéd maverick fashion. It would also boast some psychological darkness, terrific down-at-heel characterisations and realistic dialogue between Gould's Michael Keneely and Blake's Patrick Farrel. And beyond its incredibly haunting epitaph, it would also bash and crash two incredibly barnstorming chase sequences into its pulverising narrative, to boot.
As far as the score goes, this is also a classic in the genre. Very neatly cashing-in on the urban funk and highly stylised moral complexities that Lalo Schifrin so indelibly created for that other iconic 70's anti-hero, Dirty Harry Callahan, Goldenberg fashioned a searingly intense, ultra-groovy, offbeat and seriously pulse-pounding masterpiece of period adrenaline. The film used to play regularly on TV when I was a kid and I can't tell you how many VHS and Beta copies I had to make of it because I kept on wearing out the tapes at the two stand-out action set-pieces that elevated it so much from the norm, due, in no small part, to the fantastic music from Goldenberg. Basically, this score became a Holy Grail for me, and one that I firmly believed would ever, never surface. But thanks to album producer Bruce Kimmel and Kritzerland, who have unearthed the entire score from the MGM vaults, this long-awaited CD presents every cue that Goldenberg composed, even down to tracks that are never properly heard in the movie and a couple of bonus cues that add some of that sexy, hip-shuggin' seventies bump 'n' grind.
Now, I'm not going to go into any detail over the numerous funk cues and era-tastic muzak that he peppers the score with. Instead, we're going to concentrate mainly upon the action and the high tension cues that Goldenberg proved so adept at writing, and yet, despite such obvious gifts, has become so forgotten and sidelined.
Having worked very extensively in TV, with the now classic scores for the Columbo investigations (it is funny how much Robert Blake actually resembles Peter Falk in the film), McCloud, Kojack, Ironside, Banacek and Night Gallery, Goldenberg found his biggest break came with the high-octane pursuit and slow-seeping dread of Steven Spielberg's automotive nightmare, Duel. These two thematic ingredients - action and psychological undermining - would go on to form the backbone of Busting.
With the first few tracks essaying the booze and drug filled world of the seedy underbelly of the Big Apple, grinding club sounds and whacked-out intimate croonings, abrupt and frightening jangles from the piano and an ethic shaker, the score becomes a diverse and totally unpredictable melange of the hip and exciting and the stark, the atonal and the dissonant. The more SF leanings, courtesy of synth, sampled brass and glissandi, are evocative of certain elements of Rollerball, Phase IV and Frankenstein: The True Story, all of which appeared at around the same time. Track 4, The Search, is quite foreboding and suggestive of an all-pervasive evil. Eloquent shakers and sudden lurching motifs from drums and metallic percussion keep the nerves frayed. This highly diverse combination of sounds - the glacial with the funky - is the seed-bed from which Goldenberg continually draws, delivering a textural environment that is clinical at times, orgasmically charged and dirty at others, but often sliced through with an African flavour and, indeed, fervour.
Found in tracks 5 and 18 is the Emmy Award-winning Goldenberg's most exhilarating and inventive music. Admittedly, this is the same cue in both instances but, let me tell you this, even if this one cue made up the entirety of the score, this would still be a bonafide classic of funk 'n' fury. Don't say that fast and out loud, folks! On both occasions, this fantastic fusion of chaotic funk, ethnic percussion, insane syncopation and wild electronica/symphonics chronicles a deadly pursuit. The first, Track 5's The Chase, has Gould and Blake hot-footing it after a couple of dangerous perps in an incredibly well-directed sequence that sees, in one long, elaborate take, our heroes run, hell-for-leather down a street, blasting .38's all the way in the grinning ecstasy of high adrenaline. The chase moves off the bystander-strewn street and into the equally densely populated environ of an all-night supermarket. Highly charged and extremely addictive in nature, Goldenberg's music is as exciting and as thrilling as anythingthat his infinitely more famous and successful contemporary, Schifrin, ever came up with. This, folks, is why you shouldn't delay in ordering this disc, as well as the DVD of the film, itself. The second occasion comes in Track 18's Nailing Rizzo, when, after a nail-biting sequence of hostage-taking in a hospital, our boys, in an ambulance, are forced to go after the slimy crime-lord and his brutish, shaven-headed lieutenant, also in a hijacked ambulance, and hurtle around the streets shooting holes in each others' vehicles.
If anything, this cue is the main theme of Busting. We hear it twice in its full-throttle entirety, here and in Track 18, which is the film's frantic finale, but we also hear it in a cooler and slightly more restrained mode in Track 2, Busting the Club, where it actually plays as a secondary theme beneath the jivin' vibe of electric guitars, searing brass, thumping drums and all the psychedelic clamour of a 70's strip joint. It is great to hear the roots of the cue in this track, sort of announcing itself ahead of its totally visceral rendition later on. But, in full, demented and relentless mode, it is nothing short of spectacular.
The cue is governed by a steady nine-note motif on the guitar that plays constantly throughout the piece. It hits the ground running and then seems to weave in and out of the chaotic, driving structure of the rest of the orchestration, coming to the forefront or dropping down beneath the pulsating percussion and synth combo that straddles the action with a uniquely vibrant sense of unforgiving propulsion. Fierce thumping of the tribal bongos, alongside a completely non-negotiable and ceaseless battering of the drums, illuminates the primal force that sweeps you up within the warp-speed aggression of the piece, angular, sliding plateaus from a shiver-inducing synth (possibly even a sampled organ, layered with horns) cut their way through, adding a truly bizarre SF frisson, and the whole helter-skelter momentum just keeps on going. Occasional taps on the woodblock punctuate, and you can imagine the pianist's head juddering, eyes tightly closed, with each stabbing of a pummelled keyboard. I guarantee that your feet will be drumming along with the beat by now, and its devoutly addictive quality will already have you itching to play it again ... and it hasn't even finished yet. The moment when the action moves into the supermarket is clearly delineated with the sudden confusion and the added danger and chaos of shoppers, and row upon row of items offering cover for the baddies in a veritable rabbit warren, as Goldenberg supplies an off-kilter series of echoing phrases for open, muted and throttled brass shimmies to flare-up and tremble across the aural landscape he has formed with such a tectonic virtuoso display. The cue then climaxes with a discordant and jazzed-up stumbling collapse of all the various motifs and components that went into it as Goldenberg attempts to slow down the runaway train. In a word ... WOW!
All the best action/thriller scores have something that sets them apart - Goldsmith, Williams, Horner, Barry, Beltrami, the list of acclaimed practitioners of the form is, indeed, a long and illustrious one - but, with this one track, Billy Goldenberg explodes onto the scene too, whether you have ever heard of him or not.
Following on immediately from this is Track 6's The Market, in which a heart-stopping game of cat-and-mouse ensues in the supermarket. Goldenberg takes a similar sound to that of Scorpio's deadly motif from Dirty Harry. Spidery fingers pluck at the double-bass, the vague and sinister phrase rising and falling. Harsh and sudden flurries for brass and electronica thrust their way in with an unpredictable edge. Drum-sticks are knocked together under a close-mike. The piano sounds glacial. Robotic. This is a jazz band playing just out of sight, in the shadows, and collectively holding their breath. Gould's woolly-hat wearing vice-copper suddenly makes his move, coming up on one of the criminals and blasting him backwards over a table amid a splashy welter of blood squibs, to the gleefully anarchic cry of “Yidey-yidey-Yiiiiii!” The music announces the slaying with quasi-jubilant chimes.
The whole set-piece has been electric. For Hyams and for Goldenberg, as well as Gould and Blake.
Track 7's The Building adds more wacky suspense. And then The Electra sizzles-in with some serious Blaxpoitation to up the cymbal clashing and the smoke 'n' dope fugue of the setting. A great drum rattling climax accompanies a soaring trumpet glide. The music of seventies porn hoves-in next in the track Outside The Electra, the blissful pounding of the fast strokes, folks. But things turn sinister again with a shimmering harp line and an echoing brass motif, almost like the ghost of a military reveille. We are now in the land of electronica and early sampling - that organ reappears, we get some snarling effects and jangling piano, plus the guttural stance of a primordial fretboard. And then, by quirky and humorous switch of tactics, Goldenberg pure “tinkly” organ lounge muzak in Off Beat, just to catch us off-guard. Think Butlins dance-band, circa 1959, and you're in the right zone.
One of the film's most disturbing scenes, and one that was frequently cut for its TV airings, comes next with Track 12's Shazam. Trapped and beaten with knuckle-dusters by one of Rizzo's savage enforcers, Keneely makes the alarming discovery that they have also gotten to his partner. Goldenberg establishes an environment of dissonance and tonality, spiked with little jabs of off-the-cuff weirdness. It might not be as nasty as what actually happens to the duo, but it is distinctly unsettling, just the same. In a typical compositional joke, the score then flops merrily into elevator muzak for The Restaurant, Goldenberg enjoying the ability to chop and change so wildly.
After some tense and edgy meanderings in Track 15, featuring woodblocks, low menacing tones from the piano and some wispy dervish-tails from the strings, Goldenberg brings back the gleaming electronica for The Hospital. The composer's use of the synthesizer actually sounds very like the sort of early experimentation that Jerry Goldsmith did with it, and there's a definite rogue hint of Logan's Run, from a couple of years later, here and there. But Goldenberg also brings in the ethereal qualities of the harp and some gentle metallic percussion to further accentuate the eerie menace of the situation. The score, in this track as well as in the next, Flowers and Drugs, in which Keneely and Farrel close in on Rizzo, who has suffered a heart attack and is languishing smugly in the hospital, though still continuing to ply his filthy trade, carries on with this completely unusual and darkly suspenseful manner. Stretches of silence are broken by rattles and shakers or other diverse percussive effects, gradually unhinging the equilibrium.
And then ...
Oh boy, here it comes again! Track 18, Nailing Rizzo, now puts the pedal to the metal as Rizzo, after being caught trafficking red-handed, makes his getaway in an ambulance, and Keneely and Farrel bomb-blast after him in their own speeding meat-wagon - and that action cue spikes the score once more for a skin-prickling, toe-tapping, bone-shaking return.
The score then bows out with the film's infamously downbeat End Title, which plays as a grim, tonal suicide note underscoring the sound of a typewriter and of a beaten Keneely being interviewed for a new career, Rizzo's high-powered friends having obviously seen to it that he remains untouchable by our maverick heroes. If you listen, there are even the vague strains of what will go into passages of John Carpenter's excellent Escape From New York score, for scenes of Snake Plissken wandering around the nightmarish nocturnal Manhattan, meaning that Goldernberg may well have been a lot more influential than many would have given him credit for.
Kritzerland's wonderful release features terrific cover-art, including an ace variation of the poster on the inside, and a six-page booklet with typically brief, but fun notes from Bruce Kimmel. The addition of two bonus tracks, both source cues, is another tasty morsel to make the release of this complete score so alluring.
The film may not be all that well known, and its score even less so, but Billy Goldenberg's contribution is truly one of those lightning-in-a-bottle experiences that is both “of” its time as well as way ahead of it - sort of making it immortal in many ways. There are a great many reasons to savour this score, but that double-hit of the chase theme is the most profound and emphatic. Dark, exciting and sleazy. You just gotta love it, don'tcha?
Full Track Listing
1. Main Title 3.40
2. Busting the Club 2.39
3. Home Alone 1.35
4. The Search 1.15
5. The Chase 2.25
6. The Market 1.30
7. The Building 2.46
8. The Electra 3.22
9. Outside the Electra 1.04
10. Tailing Rizzo 2.54
11. Off Beat 2.38
12. Shazam 1.32
13. The Restaurant 1.25
14. Happy Birthday 1.26
15. Rizzo's House/Rizzo's Heart Attack 1.16
16. The Hospital 1.54
17. Flowers and Drugs 2.47
18. Nailing Rizzo 2.25
19. End Title 1.20
20. Street Funk 2.31
21. Muzak Source 1.25
God, this is cool!
Folks, I've waited a long, long time for this score to see an official release and now that it is finally here, it doesn't disappoint. Kritzerland play a blinder with their presentation of Billy Goldenberg's Busting. My own peculiar fascination, indeed obsession, with this film and especially its score may provide some bias, but there is no mistaking the amazing talent that the composer showed so vividly in his musical depiction of the sleazy nature of the job that Keneely and Farrel have to do, or the wild, no-holds-barred era in which they operate. That sinewy 70's vibe is heavily intoxicating throughout, but, hands-down, it is the action and suspense cues that make this score so damn classic.
Taking on Lalo Schifrin at his own game was not something that many composers of the period would attempt to do, but Billy Goldenberg proved that he had the necessary balls and the totally unmistakable connection with the scene to "get down" with the best of them and, when called for, to explode the format like a rolling napalm strike.
That chase cue is utterly amazing. It made a huge impact on me when I was a kid, and it is still an unstoppable missile even now. As I said earlier, this score would be worth the money even if it only contained that one track, but there is so much else to commend Goldenberg's Busting - from its grinding sass to its haunting electronica - that I just have to recommend that soundtrack fans get a-hold of this as soon as possible and by any means necessary. If you loved the score to Dirty Harry, then you will love this just as much. At the time of writing, the usual suppliers of Intrada and Screen Archives (at FSM) still have copies left. Bust a gut to get one!
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.