My next blog post about John Williams, as part of #Johnuary, finds us moving on to Jaws. A film that would send John Williams’ career on to the next level.

Allegedly when John Williams first showed Steven Spielberg the two note leitmotif, on the piano, Spielberg laughed, thinking it was a joke. It did of course become one of the most recognised score motifs ever. How many billions of people have done that ‘dun-dun…..dun-dun’ noise whilst swimming up to somebody in a pool or in the sea on holiday? Absolutely iconic.

The full original soundtrack won Williams his second Oscar (the first being for best adapted soundtrack for Fiddler on the Roof) and set him up for huge things to come.

Here is the main theme…

And here’s the full soundtrack playlist…

‘Man Against Beast’ is one of the best tracks on the soundtrack. It has a bit of everything and builds to a thrilling climax.

‘The Great Shark Chase’ and ‘Blown to bits’ are also great tracks that have a bit of everything and a lot of action.

‘Out to Sea’ is a nice break from the shark cues as it has a fun little sea shanty tune in it.

This is one hell of a soundtrack. And it’s polar opposites from Star Wars in some ways. This isn’t about fanfares, character themes and catchy riffs. This isn’t a soundtrack that you will likely sit down to and listen to for relaxation. This is just about accompanying what is going on on the screen. In many ways it’s like advanced foley because the two-note leitmotif represents the shark’s heartbeat and a lot of the strings and cymbals represent the thrashing about of the shark (or the victim) in the sea. The two note motif is present in pretty much most of the soundtrack. It’s an ever present, foreboding, ominous presence, just like the shark itself.

This soundtrack was even more important than it was originally meant to be. If you know about the making of Jaws you’ll know that it was a bit of a production disaster, mostly due to problems with the shark (you should watch Jamie Benning’s fantastic Filmumentary ‘Inside Jaws’ if you want to learn more about the film) and they weren’t able to use the shark as much as they wanted. This obviously ended up working in their favour as the shark became the invisible threat that is always more scary than seeing the monster. But in order for that to work Spielberg really had to rely on getting an ominous score that could fill the screen and substitute the shark’s presence, or lack of.

This is an intellectual soundtrack rather than a rousing one. It is a masterclass in how to score a dramatic/suspenseful movie. It evokes fear and paranoia and does its job perfectly, and it’s very worthy of its Oscar win.