Superman III 4.24: The Moroder Mystery

So we were discussing Clark and Lana’s picnic of peril yesterday, and if you’ve watched that scene, then you may have but almost certainly didn’t notice that it’s scored with forty seconds of the “Love Theme from Superman III”, which is not audible to the human ear.

We’ve got Ken Thorne again, providing music for Superman III. He’s the guy who was called in to do the score for the second movie, when they couldn’t get John Williams to come back. Thorne’s brief for II was to pretend that he was Williams, and recycle music cues from I. He did an adequate job, so now he’s back for III, and he’s not particularly happy about it.

Here’s what Thorne said in an interview for CapedWonder:

Superman II had been a happy experience, which probably had something to do with the decision to give me this assignment. When I first sat through the movie in a Pinewood viewing theatre I was disappointed. The premise of a drunken Superman didn’t appeal to me at all, and the comedic elements seemed forced and unfunny.

However, I very much wanted to work with Richard Lester and his crew again so I took it on. It proved to be a really tough job! It couldn’t decide whether to be serious or comical. I found it very difficult to score and only wish it could have been as stimulating as Superman II!

So we can add another name to the star-studded list of people who didn’t really want to work on this movie, along with Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Richard Lester and me.

And I don’t blame him; John Williams is a hard act to follow. He loved writing memorable themes, and for the first movie, he wrote the Superman March, Clark and Lois’ love theme, Lex Luthor’s March of the Villains, and the Krypton theme, any of which I could hum for you at a moment of your choice with no rehearsal or preparation.

In Superman III, Thorne used a lot of old Williams material, but he also created four themes himself, none of them memorable. The Thorne tunes are:

#1. Computer theme — This theme is introduced when Gus starts using the computer to steal the half-cents; it basically sounds like Sylvester sneaking up on Tweety in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

#2. Gus theme — A playful little tune that’s often played on clarinet, heard most clearly when Gus drags Brad’s body to the WheatKing computer to turn the second key.

#3. Supercomputer theme — A zippy little bit of tension music, with driving timpani and a bed of grumbling synthesizer. This is first heard when the guys start building the computer in the cave, and then throughout the final supercomputer fight.

#4. Love theme — A sweet bouquet of flute and strings for the Lana scenes, which does not appear on the soundtrack album.

So let’s talk about that soundtrack album, one of the great mysteries of the age.

Side A is pretty much what you’d expect: 19 and a half minutes of excerpts from the score. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s comparable with the other Superman soundtracks, which are all about 20 minutes a side. They were called LPs back in the day, but the L was often a generous estimate.

1. Main Title/Streets of Metropolis (5:23)
2. Saving the Factory — The Acid Test (6:09)
3. Gus Finds a Way (0:58)
4. The Two Faces of Superman (2:50)
5. The Struggle Within — Final Victory (4:16)

The amazing thing about Side A is how little of it was written by Ken Thorne.

The first track is Thorne’s music, which plays over the opening scene that nobody likes very much.

Then there’s 58 seconds of the Gus theme in “Gus Finds a Way”, leading to a big crescendo for the computer-hacking montage waltz, which is not included on the album.

The other tracks have a lot of Williams in them. “Saving the Factory” quotes from the helicopter rescue and the Golden Gate bridge rescue from the first film, and “The Two Faces of Superman” is almost entirely spooky Krypton music, with a bit from the “chasing rockets” scene.

There is some original fight music mixed in with more Williams cues in “The Struggle Within,” but another composer named Edward Gregson claims that he was a ghost-writer on that track. Then “Final Victory” is just two minutes of the Superman March, which you have to include on a Superman soundtrack album or people get restless.

And then there’s side B.

The five tracks on side B were written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, a music producer and composer who was making a name for himself in the film soundtrack game. He wrote Donna Summer’s “On the Radio” for Foxes, and Blondie’s “Call Me” for American Gigolo. In 1983, around the time that he was producing songs for Superman III, he also wrote the music for Flashdance, including the hit “What a Feeling”.

The early 80s were a golden era for original songs in soundtracks, with “Fame” and “Footloose” and “Eye of the Tiger” and “9 to 5” and “Let’s Hear it for the Boy” and “The Power of Love”, and lots of other songs that climbed the charts and got nominated for Oscars.

Naturally, the Salkinds wanted a piece of that action, and they hired Giorgio Moroder to write songs for Superman III, which they mostly didn’t use.

Here’s Side B:

1. Rock On — Marshall Crenshaw (5:23)
2. No See, No Cry — Chaka Khan (3:18)
3. They Won’t Get Me — Roger Miller (3:20)
4. Love Theme — Helen St. John (3:14)
5. Main Title March — Giorgio Moroder (4:20)

There’s really only one song on the album that you could easily identify in the film: Roger Miller’s “They Won’t Get Me”, which is very prominent in the scene where Gus gets off the bus in Smallville, and when Gus gets Brad drunk. It is not a pleasant song and I do not appreciate the effort that they put into commissioning it. The version on the soundtrack album has extra backup synthesizer-voices, which don’t make things any better.

“Main Title March” is the Superman March song, played on synthesizers. I think it’s possible that this was meant to be the end credits song, but the filmmakers lost their nerve and used the regular version.

And then two of these tracks made it into the movie subliminally. Way in the background of the unemployment-line scene, you can hear Chaka Khan’s “No See, No Cry,” playing on a distant radio. Later, when guys are fighting while on line for the gas pump, there’s thirty seconds of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Rock On” playing on a car radio, which is mostly obscured by the fighting and screaming.

Either one of them would have been perfect for the high school reunion scene, but instead Richard Lester used the Beatles cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, twice. Lester had a connection to the Beatles — he directed A Hard Day’s Night and Help! in the mid-sixties — so maybe they got a discount for it.

And then there’s the “Love Theme“, which is entirely mysterious to me.

The very well-informed booklet in the Superman: The Music soundtrack set says that Giorgio Moroder wrote this “Love Theme,” and then Ken Thorne was asked to use it as the basis of the Lana theme, as heard in the Clark/Lana picnic sequence. And as far as I can tell, the two songs have nothing to do with each other. I have listened to them many times, and I have not spotted the resemblance.

So they paid Moroder to produce five pop songs, and they really only used one of them in the movie. I have to imagine that the people who bought the soundtrack in 1983 were completely mystified by side B. Still, as long as they took the record off before it played the synthesizer “Main Title March”, it probably didn’t cause any lasting damage.

4.25: Revenge of the Cowboys


— Danny Horn

10 thoughts on “Superman III 4.24: The Moroder Mystery

  1. Not to sound like a contrarian, but I actually love “They Won’t Get Me”; it’s 50% of the humor in the scene with Gus and Brad (the other 50% is of course the novelty giant cowboy hat). In the case of Lana’s Theme (which I found on YouTube by searching “superman III lana theme”), it’s definitely *loosely* based on the Love Theme, but only loosely. I’m a fan of both of those scores too, but I will agree 100% that the synthesizer version of the Title Theme is a musical travesty, so I guess even Moroder didn’t bat 1.000.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Synthesizers wreaked so much havoc in eighties pop–because they were deceptively simple to figure out how to use, the idea became that anybody with a functioning brain stem could be a musician (much like vocal tuning today.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with all of Thorne’s criticism of Superman 3. I’m glad Superman 2 was a happy experience for someone.
    Roll Over Beethoven was from 1963 so its connection to the reunion is another item to add to the list of mystifying choices in this movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Extremely tangential trivia, but Roger Miller and Giorgio Moroder each became the basis of an Internet meme, though Miller didn’t live to see his. Roger Miller sang “Whistle-Stop”, the song that opened Disney’s 1973 film Robin Hood; this song was later sampled and sped up for use on the “Hampster [sic] Dance” page that was the biggest sensation in the early days of the Web. Moroder was featured in a 2013 Daft Punk song, and a clip from the intro became the basis for the “My Name is Giovanni Giorgio” meme in 2020, which he *did* live to see. To date, Ken Thorne does not have his own meme.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Keeping things timely: at the Oscars, when Moroder received the Award for Original Score for Midnight Express, his victory was announced by… sigh… Raquel Welch.

    Liked by 1 person

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