GREECE: Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
By turns haunting and evocative, the Greek composer’s inspirational soundtrack is more iconic than the film in which it features, and rightly so
The soundtrack for Chariots of Fire was seen as such a masterpiece that it won Vangelis, Greece's Electronica maestro, an Academy Award for Best Original Score. This is no mean feat for an electronic film score, and it places the soundtrack alongside great company such as the film scores used for Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977, which also won the award. Yet, whilst the first track is somewhat synonymous with the film, even when heard out of context Vangelis’ film score still works tremendously well as a piece of music to be enjoyed on its own merits.
“He combines prog-rock, symphonic classical music and new age seamlessly into one piece of music that can be devoured many times on a passive listen.”
It is not typical for many soundtracks that accompany Hollywood blockbusters to be as interesting and engaging as Vangelis’ is, especially considering that only one track includes lyrics; unlike the best soundtrack of all time, Rocky IV. Nevertheless, the composer achieves this by being innovative and ambitious in his music. He combines prog-rock, symphonic classical music and new age seamlessly into one piece of music that can be devoured many times on a passive listen. This is because, despite the fact that there are quite jarring sounds at times, the album as a whole is neither too overbearing nor intrusive. Whilst typically on Around the World in 200 Albums we like to give geopolitical analysis and context, for a piece of music that is this diverse and technically accomplished it would be remiss to discuss this album without giving a whistle-stop tour of each of the seven tracks.
We must therefore begin by quickly referencing the most famous track. This is, of course, Titles, better known as the theme to Chariots of Fire, a song that has become not just associated to the film, but rather has taken on its own new meaning. It is played to represent the notion of victory. Vangelis depicts this battle to the finish line so perfectly as he starts slowly with his symphonic keyboards but gradually guides his listeners to the metaphorical podium by allowing the tempo and the power of the music to increase until a majestic climax.
This symphonic tone, however, continues into his less-well known tracks. The second track Five Circles is effectively a symphonic neoclassical piece that sets a formal, albeit light tone, perhaps what one might imagine as the music at a garden party at Buckingham Palace to sound like. This is quite a contrast to the subsequent tune Abraham’s Theme which is an eerie piece of ambient music which commences with a high pitched tone to start with before soft, beautiful piano music is layered on top of it. However, once this track is over, the album takes a sharp turn and enters a prog-rock phase, a genre that is incredibly difficult to get right. The song Eric’s Theme leans more towards Pink Floyd than it does Genesis in terms of its quality, which is a huge compliment for Vangelis. The energy of this track is, however, sucked out of the album as 100 Metres plays out. Although it is a short track, Vangelis successfully manages to completely temper the mood of the album with other-worldly, ominous music that would perhaps be heard at a futuristic art installation.
This however, feeds into his slight reworking of the famous hymn Jerusalem, in which his incorporation of choral music over a space-age tone makes for interesting listening. However, if you are to just listen to one track to get a real sense of the music, then I must direct you to the title track Chariots of Fire. More than a song, this track is a journey. It is a whopping 20 minutes long, yet Vangelis’ mish-mash, which starts as a chaotic and palpitating piece before it becomes quite hopeful and inspired, eventually adopting a more pensive and reflective tone. This is true musical mastery. To me, I feel like Vangelis seemed to have broken free from the common expectations of film-scores that made them only interesting and relevant in conjunction with the film, and instead, whilst I cannot pretend that it is the most enjoyable album of all time, it is an impressive piece that is worth listening to on its own.