The Best Classic Film Music Albums of 2021

Soundtrack labels continued to thrive in 2021, discovering old film scores worth preserving and expanding classics to meet the seemingly insatiable thirst for music written for screens large and small.

Limited-edition runs continue to be the primary marketing plan for most – with pressings of anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 copies – and fan favorites like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone top the list of best-selling, and best-packaged, classic film music released during the past 12 months.

In alphabetical order:

Always (on the La-La Land Records label). Steven Spielberg’s 1989 remake of “A Guy Named Joe” (with Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman) is rarely talked about, and John Williams’ score is never showy, always ethereal, dreamlike and quietly supportive. This expanded edition offers several previously unreleased cues.

Bandits in Rome (Quartet). This first-ever release of music for the 1968 Italian crime film starring John Cassavetes closes a significant gap in the discography of the great Ennio Morricone (and his frequent collaborator Bruno Nicolai, here credited not only as conductor but also co-composer).

Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores on Phase 4 (Decca). Maybe the film-music release of the year: seven albums that the legendary composer recorded in London between 1968 and 1975. Many of his classics are here in definitive, composer-arranged suites: music for classics (“Citizen Kane”), sci-fi and fantasy (“Fahrenheit 451”), Hitchcock (“Psycho”), De Palma (“Obsession”), plus music by other composers (Shostakovich’s “Hamlet,” Bliss’ “Things to Come”). They’ve never sounded better and each disc is contained in a sleeve that replicates the original artwork and notes.

CaboBlanco (La-La Land). A Charles Bronson movie that tried to be “Casablanca,” this 1980 action film also boasted Jason Robards and Dominique Sanda – and a rich, Latin-flavored Jerry Goldsmith score, probably better than this obscure J. Lee Thompson movie deserved.

The Diary of Anne Frank (La-La Land). The complete edition of one of Alfred Newman’s finest scores, his Oscar-nominated 1959 music for George Stevens’ moving Holocaust story, released at long last. More than two hours and 20 minutes of music spread over two discs, this late Newman masterwork features exquisite violin solos by Louis Kaufman, perhaps the greatest violinist in Hollywood history.

The Eiger Sanction (Intrada). Clint Eastwood’s 1975 mountain-climbing thriller is practically forgotten today, but it’s special for two reasons: it’s probably the most dangerous role Eastwood (who also directed) ever undertook, and it contains one of John Williams’ best scores of the decade. A mix of classical and jazz influences, it merited only a 36-minute LP at the time, but luckily we now have more than two hours of “Eiger” music to savor. (Full disclosure: liner notes by yours truly.)

Face of a Fugitive / The Public Eye (Intrada). The unearthing of two rare Jerry Goldsmith scores at opposite ends of his career, was noteworthy. The first is a forgotten Fred MacMurray western from 1959; the second, music for a 1992 crime thriller starring Joe Pesci that was recorded, then rejected by its director. It’s an unexpected treat to now have both on CD.

Fiddler on the Roof (La-La Land). John Williams won his first Academy Award for adapting the Broadway musical for Norman Jewison’s 1971 film. Commemorating the film’s 50th anniversary, this three-disc expansion features the original soundtrack album plus dozens of instrumental and alternate versions of cues. Hearing Topol as Tevye again, the violin solos of Isaac Stern, and such timeless songs as “Sunrise, Sunset,” along with an essay detailing the entire history of the production and its music, makes this a must-have.

Images (Quartet). John Williams’ most avant-garde score, for a 1972 Robert Altman film about a schizophrenic author (Susannah York), receives a sonic upgrade and beautifully illustrated booklet with Williams’ own recently discovered liner notes for the proposed 1972 soundtrack album that failed to materialize when the film failed at the box office.

Legend (Music Box Records). Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy inspired one of Jerry Goldsmith’s greatest scores, and this two-disc set features more of it than has ever before been available. This orchestral-and-choral work, complete with songs and dances, was replaced by Tangerine Dream techno-pop for the film’s American release; the original became a cause célèbre when fans discovered it later.

Lionheart (Varèse Sarabande). Jerry Goldsmith’s seventh and final film collaboration with his “Patton” and “Planet of the Apes” director Franklin J. Schaffner was this 1987 adventure set in the 12th century. Goldsmith’s epic, symphonic score was the best thing about it, and this two-disc set (83 minutes of music) must be considered definitive.

Masada (Intrada). When Jerry Goldsmith’s Emmy-winning score for this acclaimed miniseries was first released on LP in 1981, it totaled 37 minutes. We thought it was a miracle when, in 2011, a two-CD set (also containing Morton Stevens’ music, two and a half hours of music) came out. Now we have a four-disc set containing all of the original score, many unreleased cues and alternates, and the MCA album re-recording.

The Matrix (Varèse Sarabande). With “The Matrix Resurrections” in theaters now, the timing is right for a reappraisal of Don Davis’ groundbreaking, complex, post-modernist score for the original 1999 film. This two-disc set is billed as “the complete edition,” with nearly 100 minutes of music, along with a booklet containing an informative interview with the composer.

Pedro Almodóvar & Alberto Iglesias Film Music Collection (Quartet). This lavish box set presents first 12 collaborations between the Oscar-winning Spanish director and his longtime musical collaborator, three-time Oscar nominee Iglesias (now a possible nominee for their 13th film, “Parallel Mothers”). Included: “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her,” “Pain and Glory,” “Bad Education” and more.

The Pink Panther: Final Chapters Collection (Quartet). “Rhapsodies in Pink” is the title of the booklet essay, and it couldn’t be more apt: Henry Mancini’s final three scores in the series, for “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982), “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983) and “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993). All three contain fresh arrangements of the classic theme and plenty of tuneful, lighthearted score moments for the films starring Peter Sellers, Ted Was and Roberto Benigni.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Quartet). Billy Wilder was so enamored of Miklós Rózsa’s 1953 violin concerto that he asked the composer to adapt it into a score for his 1970 Holmes film (with Robert Stephens and Colin Blakeley). This new edition combines the film score with the original Jascha Heifetz performance of the concerto and adds Rozsa’s 1977 “fantasy” on these themes with the film’s soloist Erich Gruenberg.

Shamus (Intrada). Burt Reynolds played a private detective in this lighthearted 1973 thriller, and Jerry Goldsmith’s fun, catchy score had long been thought lost and unavailable for commercial release. Somehow Intrada found it, and while the album is just 25 minutes long, it was worth the wait.

Somewhere in Time (La-La Land). The beloved Jane Seymour-Christopher Reeve romantic fantasy contained one of John Barry’s most popular scores, one that eventually earned him a platinum album. This restoration and expansion of the original LP contains every note recorded for the 1980 film, and the booklet includes Seymour’s reminiscences about Barry and his involvement with the project.

The Tamarind Seed (Silva Screen). John Barry’s evocative music for this 1974 film – his only score for director Blake Edwards – has long been sought by collectors. Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif starred in this combination romantic drama and cold war thriller, which has echoes of some of Barry’s darker James Bond scores of the era.

The Time Tunnel, Vol. 1 and 2 (La-La Land). Admittedly a guilty pleasure, Irwin Allen’s 1966-67 time-travel TV series could be either thrilling or silly, depending on the episode. These two volumes, six hours of music over six discs, include fine work by the likes of Leith Stevens, Lyn Murray and George Duning, all veterans of ’50s and ’60s fantasy and sci-fi, but top billing naturally goes to “Johnny” Williams, the later “Star Wars” genius whose suspenseful score for the pilot still ranks among his best work for television.