Review: CHiPs - Season Two (1978-79)

Composer: Alan Silvestri, Bruce Broughton, John Parker

Label: Film Score Monthly

Catalogue Nr.: FSM Vol. 9, No. 10

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A title like CHiPs probably suggests a weight watchers program against salty snacks but the odd title is actually an abbreviation standing for California Highway Patrol. This was one of the many cop-buddy shows from the 70's era besides such well-remembered classics as Starsky & Hutch (1975-79) or Hawaii Five-0 (1968-80) in which every good guy is instantly recognizable by the same cheesy smile. Although the show ran a respectively 6 seasons over 6 years and was therefore quite successful at the time, the adventures of Officer Francis 'Ponch' Poncherello and Officer Jon Baker as motorcycle patrol on the streets of California largely descended into TV obscurity. For a long time, I wasn't aware about its existence until I found out that Alan Silvestri scored entire seasons of the show and my interest increased but I still haven't seen a single episode ever. For this review, I can't elaborate much on the episodes and the events happening on screen, so I will again just treat this release like a compilation (which it is, in a narrow sense).  

The score:

After a mediocre but nowhere near satisfying performance of the show's first season, the producers started to look for ways to connect the everyday-setting with the modern disco-pop lifestyle of the audience. It turned out that music would be the best thing to achieve that effect and one composer in particular became the show's saving grace. Alan Silvestri was mainly (un)known at the time for a handful of pretty inconsistent scores for low-budget projects such as The Doberman Gang (1972) or Las Vegas Lady (1975) when he gave Starsky-actor Paul Michael Glaser some guitar lessons. When Glaser directed an episode of Starsky & Hutch (presumably an episode called "Bloodbath") he wanted Silvestri to score it. At that time, executives from CHiPs where already looking everywhere for a more hip sound and Silvestri got the job because of his work on Starsky & Hutch. The first season of CHiPs was scored in a very conventional way by different composers and John Parker provided the "Main Title" fanfare which Silvestri would adapt and re-arrange for the second season while beefing up the episode music with a constant drive of disco rhythms and beats that where so popular during the Saturday Night Fever (1977) era. Together with traditional orchestral elements such as a prominent big band brass and a couple of odd electronic effects are making this 70's pop-symphonic at it's purest.

And the concept worked out so well that Silvestri stayed with the show until the last season,  providing each episode with a unique melodic approach while maintaining the disco-pop that the producers wanted to hear from him. It's fair to say that CHiPs was his first considerable success in the world of film music and the sound he established became an integral part of the experience for many fans of the cop show. Where Silvestri's music for low budget films has always suffered terribly from a lack of consistency and focus, his music for the motorcycle cops was literally bound together by the strong disco-sound. Maybe a bit too consistent, because the beats and rhythms just never seem to stop even when the music is supposed to be a bit more dramatic. Any rudimentary form of more involving emotional depth is basically cancelled out entirely by the over-emphasised disco elements. It's even more amazing that Silvestri's orchestral voice occasionally shines through the rhythmic layers and electronic sound effects that largely dictate the course of the music. "Peaks and Valleys" is a prime example for a Silvestri trying to break out of the disco-monotony with a nice flute-to-fanfare build up at 2:44 within the track. There is a jazzy solo trumpet at the beginning of "Family Crisis" or militaristic drums layered into the pop-rhythm backed up by low trombone at the end of the same track.

Silvestri was obviously doing his best to provide the disco-mayhem with colour and facette. A rare, tender moment for flute and strings comes near the beginning of "Disaster Squad" but the fancy saturday night fever stuff quickly strikes back with jazz guitar and bongos. The rhythms continue bouncing back and forth until everything receives a rapid speed-up in the middle of "Neighbourhood Watch". I suppose it's meant to be some fast-paced chase music because the pacing really stand out compared to the other pieces. "High Flyer" virtually continues the pace and almost gets over the top near the end. Appears to me like Silvestri was trying to do more and more crazy music as the season went by to impress the executives, who did not expect him to be the dramatic music guy anyways. When the time came for a more dramatic approach to the score for the Halloween episode "Trick Or Trick", Bruce Broughton was briefly brought in and composed music that remained faithful to the overall style of the show's music. The spooky theme of this episode score is unmistakably Broughton though and there are some funny spooky-groovy suspense-breaks throughout. "The Grudge" is another one of those non-stop disco cues while "The Sheik" also offers some brief moments of early Silvestri suspense music and a nice passage for saxophone.

"Return of the Turks" has a nice suspense passage in the middle and "Supercycle" starts with a variation on the CHiPs theme as one of these early Silvestri flute/horn combos and more non-stop grooves and beats follow in "High Explosive". One of my favourite cues is "Down Time" which starts with a calm triangle rhythm and goes into suspense music for jazz guitar. Another variation of the CHiPs theme follows right at the beginning of "Repo Man" which quickly goes into more relaxed disco funk. "Mait Team" has this chortling jazz guitar and a cool build up from start to finish. "Pressure Point" and "Rally 'Round The Brake" were two of those rare opportunities where Silvestri was allowed to move a bit away from the disco-mesh and more to the dramatic side instead. Romantic strings and a harmonica dominate the first half of the first cue while gentle jazz guitar, strings and a solo trumpet opens the second. As soon as you think the disco stuff is gone for at least a while, it returns more quickly than you want it to return. "Matchmakers" is another one of those non-stop disco cues and actually consists of re-recored thematic material from "Return of the Turks". The only disco-cue on this CD that was actually playing during a scene in a disco is "Ponch's Disco" where Silvestri went a little over the top. A short "End Titles" version of Parker's theme marks the end of this 79 minutes disco marathon.

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: n/a

Score as heard on CD: 68%

TOTAL: 68%

 

The presentation:

A soundtrack album of the music was considered when the show had it's best times but never materialized until Film Score Monthly would rescue the music almost 29 years later. A Film Score Monthly release was rumoured since mid 2005 because CHiPs is pretty much the only Silvestri release they can get their hands on, being a pre-1980's MGM title. Thanks to the label, Silvestri fans can now embrace the earliest score(s) from their idol that is available on CD as a limited edition of 3000 units. Given how well the composer's scores tend to sell as limited records, FSM might have a potential sell-out ahead. The running time is more than generous and the enormous amount of stylistically similar music is probably most enjoyable when consumed in smaller portions. Sound quality-wise, there are absolutely no problems and the music sounds crystal clear (which is not always guaranteed with such releases). Production values of the album are the usual high quality FSM care that became standard already. Detailed descriptions of the music and the show can be found in the booklet spiced with new interview material with Alan Silvestri, Bruce Broughton and many others. There is a cool picture of Alan Silvestri in his 20's in the booklet, a true must-see for Silvestri-fans. Since this CD is labelled as being volume one, we can expect more CHiPs CDs ahead.

Presentation by the Label: 97%

 

Summary:

There is no doubt Alan Silvestri's admirers, CHiPs enthusiasts and fans of 70's disco-rhythms will love this CD release. Everyone who ever wondered what one of the best of recent a-list composers in Hollywood was doing when the faithful meeting with Robert Zemeckis and success-hits like Back To The Future (1985) were still seven years away should give this CD a listen to end up really surprised. Although I am not sure if the surprise will be more on the positive or negative side because the constant disco-style of the music will either make you dance or screaming in pain. Only very few spots on this CD don't contain anything grooving, funking or beeping. Compared to Silvestri's low-budget work up to that time, the music for CHiPs is remarkably consistent even over the course of various episode scores. The constant driving disco elements are the main reason for that. It comes down to the individual taste if you can enjoy over an hour of that stuff. However, as what it is, the music is well executed, energetic, rich of melody and I am sure it served it's purpose excellently. I recommend listening to this CD in smaller portions instead of everything at once to prevent the disco-overkill. No matter how you feel about 70's pop, Silvestri's CHiPs is energetic music, always playing on the edge between dance floor and highway asphalt.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

                   Tracklisting:

01. Main Title (01:18)
02. Peaks And Valleys (03:52)
03. Family Crisis (05:41)
04. Disaster Squad (06:19)
05. Neighborhood Watch (03:33)
06. High Flyer (06:15)
07. Trick Or Trick (05:56)
08. The Grudge (05:12)
09. The Sheik (05:44)
10. Return Of The Turks (05:37)
11. Supercycle (02:45)
12. High Explosive (04:46)
13. Down Time (02:48)
14. Repo Man (02:12)
15. Mait Team (04:03)
16. Pressure Point (02:43)
17. Rally 'Round The Bank (02:24)
18. Matchmakers (02:39)
19. Ponch's Disco (03:59)
20. End Credits (00:26)