Music Album Review: ‘By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra’

Illustration by Peter Nomura and John Hamagami. (C) 1987 Philips Records/Universal Music Group

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In 1987, the Dutch record label Philips Records[1] (Philips Phonographische in Dutch) released By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra, a compilation album featuring 12 themes or overtures, two “special events” fanfares, and one television theme[2] composed by Oscar and Grammy Award-winning composer conductor John Williams.

At the time of By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra, Williams was in his seventh year as principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra (the nineteenth conductor in the Pops’ history and successor to the legendary Arthur Fiedler, who led the ensemble from 1930 to his death in 1979) and had already recorded several compilation albums for Philips, including Aisle Seat (1982) and Out of This World (1983).

Unlike those albums, By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra was an all-John Williams affair, featuring (mostly) themes from his 1970s and early ‘80s film scores – the most recent of which was Luke and Leia Theme from Return of the Jedi (1983). (Why producers John McClure or George Korngold[3] didn’t include cues from1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or 1986’s The River is beyond me; I guess they were going for a “Greatest Hits” vibe.)

Same piece, same orchestra, same composer/conductor, different album.

By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra also showcases two fanfares commissioned by organizers of two special events of the era: the album begins with Olympic Fanfare and Theme, which Maestro Williams composed for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; halfway through the album you’ll find Liberty Fanfare, a brassy, festive, and patriotic piece written to commemorate the 1986 Centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

My Take

Over the past 34 years, I’ve owned two versions of By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra – the audiocassette (which omits The Cowboys Overture and March from Raiders of the Lost Ark due to the constraints of the medium) and the compact disc.

The reverse cover, with track list and credits.

I received the tape edition of By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra as a Christmas present in 1987 from my late and much-missed friend Richard de la Pena). It became one of my favorite cassettes, and when I had to choose five tapes to pack in my luggage for my Semester in Spain stint less than a year later, By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra was a close second to Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Volumes I & II.

I used to listen to this theme when I walked from my apartment in Sevilla to the CCIS Center during my Semester in Spain adventure.

I purchased the compact disc edition in the summer of 1990, a few months after my late mother gave me a portable CD/AM-FM radio/cassette player stereo system for my 27th birthday. My good friend Alan Goode, who was also one of my colleagues on the college student newspaper at Miami-Dade Community College’s South Campus, recommended it, saying, with an air of mystery, “It has two bonus tracks!”

In addition to such well-known themes as Luke and Leia from Return of the Jedi (Track 5) and the heart-poundingly scary Theme from Jaws (Track 12)By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra features less-familiar works, such as 1986’s “special occasion” Liberty Fanfare (Track 8), which Williams composed for the Centennial of the Statue of Liberty that year, and the March from Midway (Track 4), possibly the only decent relic from that awful 1976 movie about the pivotal World War II naval battle.

Also new at the time but later reissued in other Williams/Boston Pops albums was the March from “1941” (Track 11), another fine example of musical material that outlived its film source; in this case, the cue is from one of Steven Spielberg’s rare misfires, the ambitious and overly baroque “comedy” about American reaction to the Pearl Harbor attack. Reminiscent of Henry Mancini’s march for What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, the march is a wicked blend of militaristic material and comical whimsy.

Television viewers who watched NBC News programs in the late 1980s get a special treat in By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra when they listen to Track 14, which contains the complete orchestral version of The Mission Theme (Theme for NBC News), which is still heard in brief excerpts at the beginning and end of the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw newscasts. It’s a dramatic composition that conveys the fast pace, the adrenaline rushes, and even the sense of purpose felt by journalists and anchormen as they gather the news all over the world. I especially like this piece, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d play it while writing my “foreign correspondent” columns for Catalyst, the college newspaper where I had been a staff writer and editor during my years at Miami Dade Community College.

Star Wars fans will be happy to know that in addition to Luke and Leia there are three cues from the Classic Trilogy: Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back (Track 10), The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back (Track 13), and concluding the By Request…: The Best of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra experience on a triumphant note, the Main Theme from Star Wars (Track 15).

This is a very entertaining album, perfectly suited for fans of film and special occasion fanfares or lovers of light classical music. Sure, many of these tracks are available in other Boston Pops and/or John Williams compilations, but it’s never dull nor sleep-inducing.

Another album, yes. But the march, ensemble, and conductor are the same.

Track List (1987 CD Release Version)

1Olympic Fanfare and Theme4:18
2The Cowboys Overture8:51
3Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind10:03
4March from Midway4:08
5Flying Theme  from “E.T.”3:40
6Luke and Leia Theme from Return of the Jedi4:22
7March from Superman4:23
8Liberty Fanfare4:12
9March From Raiders of the Lost Ark5:23
10Yoda’s Theme from The Empire Strikes Back3:19
11March from “1941”4:23
12Theme from Jaws2:51
13Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back3:03
14Mission Theme (Theme for NBC News)3:20
15Main Theme from Star Wars      5:35

[1] Now a division of Universal Music Group.

[2] Depending on the format, anyway. The vinyl edition and audio cassette editions omitted two tracks, The Cowboys Overture and March from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

[3] Korngold (1928-1987) was the son of film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, one of the greats from the Golden Age of Hollywood whose music fromThe Adventures of Robin Hood and King’s Row were influences on the style and form of many later film composers, including, of course, Maestro Williams.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: