When it comes to setting up a movie’s atmosphere and accenting scenes, there is no better way to enhance the experience than through music. Film scores are defining parts of the cinema experience, and many films are instantly recognizable just through the music. As noted by famous filmmaker Steven Spielberg on Jaws, “The score was clearly responsible for half of the success of that movie,” highlighting the importance of having tailor-fit arrangements for films.
In most cases, movies rely on orchestral instruments as storytelling devices. However, there are some arrangements that go beyond the norm and make use of less conventional instruments: the guitar. In this article, we give tribute and present some iconic film scores that featured guitar sounds:
Since its release in 1962, James Bond films have become a staple within the spy genre. John Barry and David Arnold worked on eleven and five Bond soundtracks, respectively. Both composers used wildly different sounds, such as big band, jazz, Latin beats, lush string flourishes, and guitar riffs. Yet all of their scores were defined by one iconic theme.
One of the most iconic themes featuring a guitar is the “James Bond Theme” and its other popular variation, “007.” The original theme was composed by Monty Norman in 1962 but has since been rearranged by Barry and used in every James Bond film since. Victor Flick was the one responsible for the original, distinctive guitar rhythm, where he used a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe. Despite the brand being predominantly known for building banjos, this English guitar model was successfully designed to be a rhythm instrument that complemented the track’s drums and bass. Later on, Flick was also recruited for subsequent James Bond albums, including “Bond Back in Action” and “James Bond Now.”
Another action classic is Lethal Weapon, which had its music composed by Michael Kamen. Having previously worked with Eric Clapton, the guitar player was recruited to co-write and perform the part of the main character’s theme, “Meet the Martin Riggs.” To achieve the echoing and shredding guitar sounds, Clapton relied on multiple pedals, particularly those from Vox. This brand is a classic staple in rock music which has produced some of the most popular tube-powered analog single-effect pedals, including the Vox V847A. He used this model on stage and in the studio, adding more throw range to the guitar output.
Clapton also performed in the film’s sequels, Lethal Weapon 2 and Lethal Weapon 3. In the third film, Clapton co-performed the title songs, “It’s Probably Me” and “Runaway Train”, alongside Sting and Elton John, respectively.
In the year of its original release, the Top Gun soundtrack was one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. Much like the James Bond movies, the original film’s theme song was present in both movies, featuring an iconic electric guitar riff. The “Top Gun Anthem” was written and played by Harold Faltermeyer on the piano and Steve Stevens on the guitar. It won a Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
To achieve his chilling tunes, Stevens used his Charvel San Dimas Glow, a ‘68 Marshall plexi amplifier, and a Boss GE7 compressor pedal for added sustain and gain. Interestingly, he used a different guitar— a Hamer SS signature— in the official music video.
Although the guitar isn’t often the choice for film scores, the twang and rhythm of an electric guitar make it an effective instrument choice. If you’re interested to learn more about film soundtracks, make sure to check out our post on multi-platform Music Choice, a digital audio broadcast service company.