I can’t begin to tell you how long I have been waiting for this release of the “Lethal Weapon” soundtrack. Michael Kamen’s and Eric Clapton’s score to the 1987 action classic was given a commercial release when the movie came out, but like many soundtracks of the time we only got about 45 minutes of music from the movie to listen to, and much of what I wanted to hear was not on it. But thanks to La La Land Records, we now have the definitive edition of the “Lethal Weapon” soundtrack that includes every piece of music from Richard Donner’s endlessly entertaining movie. Having listened to it in its entirety, I can honestly say that this edition of the score was well worth the wait.
La La Land Records’ release of the “Lethal Weapon” soundtrack features two disc of music: the first disc contains all of Kamen’s and Clapton’s score, and the second disc features a remastered version of the original album as well as some alternate and orchestra only versions of certain tracks. Once you hear “Jingle Bell Rock” sung by Bobby Helms, the song which plays over the movie’s opening credits, you know that this soundtrack is not going to miss a thing. Kamen has also composed the soundtracks to “Highlander” and the first three “Die Hard” movies, and he was a master at balancing the emotional and visceral moments in an action film. Along with Clapton, Kamen was clearly determined to keep this from sounding like the usual action movie score. Many film scores of the time focused mainly on the action packed elements, but Kamen and Clapton were not about to skimp on the emotional aspects in the process.
Tracks like “Amanda” and “Suicide” help to emphasize the how much character depth there is in this action movie. You feel the humanity of the main characters, Martin Riggs (played by Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (played by Danny Glover), just by listening to what Kamen and Clapton have come up with here. It helped emphasize the point that “Lethal Weapon” was going to more about character than action, and that’s what makes it so much fun to watch again and again.
My favorite track on disc one is “We’re Leaving” which is the one piece of music I have been endlessly yearning to hear on any of the “Lethal Weapon” soundtracks. It’s that piece of music where Riggs and Murtaugh are escaping through that nightclub chasing after Mr. Joshua (Gary Busey) as he flees down Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a thrilling piece of music that has deserved to be heard on a non-bootleg compact disc for more than two decades, and I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved listening to it here.
The second disc contains the commercial release of the original soundtrack which has been remastered, and it’s worth listening to this version as it contains the theme song by Honeymoon Suite, a Canadian rock band best known for the songs “New Girl Now” and “Burning Love.” It turns out that Gibson was a big fan of the band and ended up recommending them to Donner for “Lethal Weapon.” Their song is not one of the most memorable theme songs in cinematic history, but it’s still nice to listen to.
There are also two tracks, “Nightclub” and “The Weapon,” which were on the soundtrack’s original commercial release, but which feature music you don’t really hear in “Lethal Weapon.” Those tracks demonstrate how well Kamen, Clapton and Sanborn worked together and how their separate arrangements all managed to come together to form a cohesive whole. In addition, there are some original and alternate takes on the music at the end of the disc, and you can even listen to an orchestra only track of “S.O.B. Knows Where I Live.” It’s great to listen to this score in its early stages as it makes you realize just how much the music evolved from start to finish.
Jeff Bond, author of “Danse Macabre: 25 Years of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton,” provides a booklet for this “Lethal Weapon” soundtrack that is entitled “Some Movies Don’t Invent Genres: They Just Perfect Them.” Bond ends up giving us a lot of background on the movie’s making as well as on its score, and there’s a lot of interesting trivia to be found here. It turns out that Shane Black’s screenplay was much darker than Donner’s film as it contained crashing helicopters, the Hollywood sign going up in flames and a tanker truck filled with cocaine that explodes and ends up raining snow all over Los Angeles.
What’s especially interesting to read about was how the main participants of “Lethal Weapon” were originally not all that interested in working on the film. Donner was better known at that point for “Ladyhawke” and “The Goonies” (not to mention “Superman”) and was more eager to work on lighter material than something this dark. Even Kamen was revealed to be not that big a fan of action movies which is shocking when you take into account how many great action film scores he composed after this one. Granted, he was coming off of “The Dead Zone” and “Brazil” when he got the job on “Lethal Weapon,” but Kamen even admitted that he was more of a “Wizard of Oz” fan back then.
“Lethal Weapon,” in the wrong hands, could have ended up looking like any other action comedy, but reading what Bond wrote here makes you clearly see what drew people like Donner and Kamen to do it; it was focused more on character than just on gunfights and explosions. As with his later scores, Kamen succeeded in moving you emotionally with his music while simultaneously making your heart race with excitement. Clapton’s unmistakable guitar playing helps to illustrate the edgy and uneasy state that Riggs is in throughout the movie, and saxophonist David Sanborn does excellent work in defining Murtaugh’s world weary view that is getting even worse now that he is celebrating his 40th birthday.
The best action movies suck you in not just with great action set pieces, but also with characters whom you like and want to follow along with. “Lethal Weapon” is definitely one of those movies, and it is aided greatly by Kamen’s and Clapton’s score which remains one of my favorites from the 1980’s. Kudos to La La Land Records for finally giving this soundtrack the release us movie music fans have all been praying for. As Anthony Hopkins said in “The Silence of the Lambs:”
“All good things to those who wait.”
NOTE: A portion of the proceeds from the “Lethal Weapon Soundtrack Collection” will be donated to The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. It was created by Kamen back in 1996 to support music education through the donation of new and refurbished musical instruments to underserved musical students and programs in the United States.