Aside from re-releases, re-recordings and limited editions of rareties (The Towering Inferno, Heartbeeps etc.) it's rare for me to pick up a John Williams score that isn't for a new film having largely acquired his extensive back catalogue. However, a couple of his lesser known works have slipped under the radar and Earthquake is one such album and, as the title suggests, resolutely from his disaster film period of the mid 1970's. Readers of Mr Southall's website may be familiar with the John Williams On Switch theory (formulated during our 'studies' at university) which states that almost overnight, Williams went from respectable disaster flick composer (Jerry Goldsmith was writing far finer music for vastly better films at the time) to being the Oscar winning (Jaws) world's favourite film composer. True, there were a couple of fine scores beforehand; Jane Eyre, The Reivers and The Cowboys, but most of his earlier scores give only a hint at the greatness to come.
His 60's comedies scores are fun, but forgettable, however his disaster scores always strike me very much of their time and the Main Title of Earthquake confirms that. Opening with some impressively rumbling earthquake sound effects, the fairly memorable main theme kicks in, but the drum kit backing deadens the dramatic impact a little. One can't imagine a disaster movie today with such a strident main title - it would all ominous portents of doom. Miles on Wheels is perhaps the most period cue with almost Shaft-esque bass lines, but it is effectively propulsive and exciting. The drum kit backing of the otherwise fairly pleasing Love Theme doesn't do it any favours, although the full bodied orchestral climax is classic Williams. The main theme gets a more subdued airing as the City Theme, the sombre horn variant is quite fetching and moving. There are flashes of Williams magic; Cory in Jeopardy features some rather Goldsmithian low end piano to open, but some of the tense and terse string flourishes recall Jaws.
As the brief, but informative liner notes comment, the score gives Williams an opportunity for a little jazz, notably in the moody, laid back Medley (evidently a medley of scenes rather than music). Something for Remy starts with tense strings, but almost randomly out of nowhere, a kind of jazzy brass march appears, but this is soon interrupted by half a track worth of earthquake sound effects. However, from this din, some effectively dissonant suspense appears before the brief Finale, End Title (which has a sense of disquiet not entirely dissimilar to his very much more recent War of the Worlds) and then, as a bonus, some more sound effects. However, don't let these inclusions put you off, they are quite effectively segued into the music and don't spoil anything crucial. Not exactly an undiscovered Williams gem, but not without its moments. The album is a re-recording, with notably splendid sound, although apparently misses some of the more dramatic moments; the original tracks are in mono, but don't rule out an FSM or Varese Club release one day. The brevity of the score perhaps prevents it truly developing, but still worth a listen to hear Williams' style right before his big symphonic breakthroughs.