ken thorne chose the chase in the tyrol to the bitter end

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

IN THE EARLY ’70s, I dis­cov­ered that when a British fan bought a copy of the Bea­tles’ 1965 album HELP! on Par­lophone in the UK, he got a Bea­tles album with four­teen new Bea­tles record­ings. When an Amer­ican fan bought the same title on Capitol in the US, he got an “orig­inal sound­track album” with only seven new Bea­tles record­ings! 1

The rest of the record was padded out with five pieces of “in­ci­dental music” com­posed and arranged by someone named Ken Thorne. Somehow, it seemed that the Amer­ican record-buyer was get­ting the short end of the stick—that is, screwed, cheated.

And nei­ther I nor any other fan that I knew blamed John, Paul, George, or Ringo for this short­fall. We blamed Capitol Records and com­pany guys like “pro­ducer” Dave Dexter!

And pos­sibly, maybe just a little anger was (mis)directed in Mr. Thorne’s direction.

No “Elvis movies”

The Bea­tles’ ca­reer in cinema is rather schiz­o­phrenic: fifty years later, their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), re­mains a marvel of documentary-meets-farce-meets-music-video. Playing them­selves, somehow our four he­roes ap­pear un­aware of the fact that they are being filmed and there­fore ap­pear to­tally nat­ural and, well, real—despite mo­ments where they are ob­vi­ously mug­ging for the camera!

On the other hand, their second fea­ture film Help! looks like the pro­ducer and di­rector turned to the ever-uninspired team of Colonel Parker, Hal Wallis, and Norman Taurog for guid­ance. Con­se­quently, the Bea­tles’ second fea­ture film comes across like one of the better Elvis movies of the ‘60s (and that is rarely said as a com­pli­ment). While en­joy­able, it does not hold up well under re­peated view­ings. (John re­ferred to his phys­ical ap­pear­ance in the movie and the year 1965 as his “fat Elvis period.”)

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Presley was shooting Harum Scarum (re­leased in Eu­rope as Harem Hol­iday, ap­par­ently be­cause the word-play would be even lamer there than here) at around the same time that Help! was being made. Both films share a Middle Eastern flavor and an at­trac­tive fe­male co-star (Eleanor Bron and Mary Ann Mobley). This film was done under the cre­ative watch of Sam Katzman and Gene Nelson, not that such things mat­tered in Presley Product by this time.

The Bea­tles’ third film was the an­i­mated gem Yellow Sub­ma­rine (1968), to which the con­tributed nothing but a brief, after-the-fact  coda. The fourth and final cel­lu­loid project was Let It Be (1970), a gen­uine doc­u­men­tary It was painful to sit through the first couple of times back then when we needed to see it but I have been afraid to see it for the past few decades.

Still, years and years and years later (ac­tu­ally, in 2012), I watched Help! (yet again!) and had a very dif­ferent ex­pe­ri­ence, feeling glad all over. As I said, Help! is mod­estly en­joy­able and I gen­uinely en­joyed the in­ci­dental music of Ken Thorne. It fit the film and the com­bi­na­tion of such then-hip but now some­what kitschy el­e­ments as James Bond and sitar music both cap­tured the time and spoofed it simultaneously. 

In fact—and here I risk heresy—in many ways Thorne’s bits and pieces are both more en­er­getic and more lively than sev­eral of the less than in­spired songs and record­ings by the Fab Four.

That said, last week Mr. Thorne died of nat­ural causes (July 9, 2014) in Los An­geles, where he had lived since the late ‘70s. He was 90.

James Bond and sitar!

 Thorne is a conductor/composer/arranger who is known prin­ci­pally for his film-related work. He took up the piano at an early age and en­tered music as a pi­anist in var­ious dance bands during the ’40s. At the start of the ’50s, Thorne be­came in­ter­ested in com­po­si­tion on a more se­rious level, and began studying on a formal level.

He began turning up in movie credits again at the start of the ’60s, and first crossed paths with di­rector Richard Lester on the lat­ter’s debut fea­ture film, It’s Trad, Dad (1961).

His break­through came about four years later as a re­sult of the ill feeling that had arisen be­tween Lester and George Martin during the making of A Hard Day’s Night.

Rather than use Martin for the in­ci­dental music for the follow-up film, Help!, Lester chose Thorne to com­pose that por­tion of the score. His re­sulting music for the movie . . . con­sisted of re-arrangements and adap­ta­tions of tunes by the Bea­tles and Wagner.

He said that he was given very clear in­struc­tions for the job: “My or­ders were to only use Bea­tles music and use their themes and snip­pets of themes, and I did that.” Thorne, along with the Bea­tles, was nom­i­nated for a Grammy for Best Orig­inal Score Written for a Mo­tion Pic­ture or Tele­vi­sion Show.

Thorne next turned up on the sound­track to A Funny Thing Hap­pened On The Way To The Forum (1966), Lester’s adap­ta­tion of Stephen Sond­heims hit stage farce. Thorne won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adap­ta­tion or Treatment.

Since then, he has worked on major fea­ture films on both sides of the At­lantic. In ad­di­tion to com­posing nu­merous film and tele­vi­sion sound­tracks, Thorne is also a highly re­garded arranger and or­ches­trator. His credits in­clude (but are cer­tainly not lim­ited to):

1967  How I Won The War with John Lennon in a bit part.
1967  In­spector Clouseau with Alan Arkin as the inept inspector.
1968  Head, the Mon­kees sole fea­ture film.
1970  The Magic Chris­tian with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.
  They Might Be Gi­ants star­ring George C. Scott and Joanna Woodward.

He is best known to mil­lions for the Lester-directed fea­tures Su­perman II (1980) and Su­perman III (1983), for which his job was to re-orchestrate and re-shape John Williams’ theme ma­te­rial from the first Su­perman movie (1978).

Fol­lowing his work on the Su­perman movies, he fo­cused pri­marily on TV movies. His credits in­clude the TV movies The Re­turn Of Sher­lock Holmes, Diana – Her True Story, and Liz – The Eliz­a­beth Taylor Story.

Ken­neth Thorne, Rest in Peace. 2




1   The UK ver­sion of HELP! was orig­i­nally is­sued as Par­lophone PMC-1255 (mono) / PCS-3071 (stereo); the Amer­ican ver­sion as Capitol MAS (mono) / SMAS-2386 (stereo).

2   Sec­tions of this bi­og­raphy were lib­er­ally adapted from Bruce Eder’s piece for All­Music.




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