Whether you saw "Chariots Of Fire" once as a kid or "Blade Runner" three hundred times as an adult, chances are you're familiar with the work of composer Vangelis.
The Greek-born composer rose from the prog-rock scene as a member of Aphrodite's Child to compose the original score for Henry Chapier's film "Sex Power". Two years later, he would release his first proper solo album, Earth, before being recruited to replace Rick Wakeman in Yes. He no doubt realized the impossible shoes he was attempting to fill and thought better of it before playing a single date with the band. Still, the press coverage his brief flirtation with the kings of prog served only to heighten his stature in the rock community. It would also lead to a continuing friendship with Yes singer Jon Anderson that would yield four collaborative albums between 1980 and 1991.
Keep in mind that Aphrodite's Child had been no mere footnote, selling over 20 million copies of their first two albums and hit singles such as "Rain and Tears", "End Of The World", and "I Want To Live". Leaving the money and fame of the rock & roll world for endless hours alone in a recording studio composing the score for films most might never see seemed an odd career choice, we imagine, but that's what makes Vangelis an artist's artist: no compromise.
For example, his 1980 "rock-oriented" album See You Later. which broke from the "easy listening" category quite emphatically and then had the audacity to feature vocals throughout the album. Those ready to accuse Vangelis of selling out need only listen to the album to quickly discover that this is not pop music, but, rather, what pop music might sound like in a parallel "reverse" universe. Quite fittingly, it is his only solo album to completely miss every chart in every country.
The album followed what had been his most popular work to date, China, a conceptual album that saw Vangelis dabbling in Chinese instrumentation and culture despite never having once stepped foot in the world's most populace state. That's a bit like telling someone the plot of a movie you've never seen, but Vangelis' genius has always been knowing just enough to understand the meat of the subject and to convincingly fill in the blanks himself. That's precisely what makes him so desirable to film directors and whatever you call someone who has sold their creative soul to make...commercials.
Ah, but if there was anyone who could make commercials classy, it was Vangelis, who saw "The Little Fete" (from China) used in Ridley Scott's Chanel No. 5 spot "Share The Fantasy". The same year that See You Later failed to chart, Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" mini-series uses numerous instrumental works by Vangelis, sending folks you don't normally see venturing into record stores doing just that to get their hands on his music.
By skirting the mainstream and following his own artistic inspiration, he was not only selling large quantities of his albums but immune to the slings and arrows directed at any mainstream artist who might have allowed their music to be used in commercials at the time,
(Note to millennials: only recently has it become "normal" for respectable artists to allow their music to be used in commercials. In the 1980's, such a thing killed careers, just ask Chicago's own Insiders, whose appearance in TV spots for, and sponsorship deal with, a well-known beer company only succeeded in bringing negative scrutiny to an otherwise burgeoning band releasing their first - and ultimately only - major-label album.)
For any other composer, this would have been the peak of the mass-market mountain, but Vangelis was just getting started. For 1981's "Chariots Of Fire", he once again defied convention by composing decidedly modern music for a period film set in 1924. Oh, it was still decidedly orchestral, but the synthesizers that had always existed in the background were now front and center.
"Titles" (aka "Chariots Of Fire Theme") would go on to take the world by storm and become a hallmark of both culture and pop culture, at least in the U.S., where the single would hit #1 for a single week, but the album would stay at #1 for four weeks and win an Oscar for Best Original Score.
Tune in NEXT WEEK For The REST of the story!