‘Chariots Of Fire’: Vangelis’ Chart-Topping Film Score
Vangelis’ ‘Chariots Of Fire’ film score is an iconic work of pioneering electronica and emotive music-making.
Film scores rarely work when listened to away from the visuals but this is what sets Vangelis’s work as a writer of soundtrack music apart from most of his peers. Such is the breadth of his vision as a writer that his music paints pictures that work in their own right. He achieved something even more impressive with his score for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire starring Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, and Nigel Havers; he made the music work on an entirely different level. Starting April 17, 1982, it topped the Billboard charts in America for four weeks and the lead track, “Titles” also topped the Billboard Hot 100 on the week of May 8, 1982.
Listen to Chariots Of Fire on Apple Music and Spotify.
The film was conceived and produced by David Puttnam, and tells the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. The film’s title was inspired by the line, “Bring me my chariot of fire,” from the William Blake poem adapted into the popular British hymn “Jerusalem.”
The film’s director, Hugh Hudson, chose Vangelis to compose the film’s music, after hearing his albums Opera Sauvage and China. Vangelis played all the instruments, including synthesizers, acoustic piano, drums, and percussion, and recorded the score in his Nemo studio in London, which he had set up in 1975. The music that he came up with, mostly electronic for a period film, initiated a new style in film scoring.
So much of what we hear in film soundtracks today have been influenced by Vangelis’s work on Chariots of Fire and other film scores like 1492 Conquest of Paradise. In addition to Vangelis’s original music, the album includes an arrangement of “Jerusalem,” sung by the Ambrosian Singers, as performed at the 1978 funeral of Harold Abrahams. This famous work is a 1916 setting by Sir Hubert Parry of Blake’s poem.
According to Vangelis, “I didn’t want to do period music. I tried to compose a score that was contemporary and still compatible with the time of the film. But I also didn’t want to go for a completely electronic sound.”
John Thomas (aka John David Thomas)
April 18, 2015 at 12:43 am
I love the entire “Chariots of Fire” CD album, and it was the very FIRST CD album I ever bought in my lifetime, in 1983 at a famous department store in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana USA. I still perform the famous theme song (instrumental) on piano, when it is requested. Vangelis is a great music genius. I bought 5 of his CD albums in the 1980’s at Tower Records in Phoenix, Arizona (no longer there)…”Antarctica”, “China”, “Soil Festivities”, ‘Opera Sauvage” and in Indy, “Chariots of Fire”…I also performed Chariots of Fire live in Phoenix, Arizona at Valley Cathedral on center stage on their grand piano in front of 3,500 Christians there at night in October, 1987…it was recorded there, and to the best of my knowledge, that tape is still there…I also was asked to perform Chariots of Fire for my audition in Scottsdale, Arizona at the Clarion Inn/McCormick Ranch Resort along with 2 other songs, and I was chosen over 1,000 other pianists in the USA to play there 5 nights a week and Sunday “brunch” for 13 weeks from Oct. – Dec. 1986…playing for Fortune 500 corporate people and international visitors, etc. You can listen to my original music at my website, above…I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana dated February 1976. (my diploma got stolen in Hollywood, California on June 21, 2006 along with my entire briefcase, etc.) Thanks for the fantastic music, Vangelis! I relate to it! – John in Brooklyn, New York City, New York USA 11230 zip code
April 18, 2015 at 3:23 am
Vangelis’ famous theme for Chariots of Fire almost didn’t happen, because Hugh Hudson was planning to use a pre-existing Vangelis track entitled “L’Enfant” (from the soundtrack of Opera Sauvage) over the title sequence, and told the composer not to bother with anything for that scene. Vangelis however decided to compose a title track anyway, and immediately won over the director when he demoed it for him.
Regarding the statement that film scores “rarely work when listened to away from the visuals”, it should be pointed out that more than half of the music on the Chariots of Fire album (specifically the track “Five Circles”, and the lengthly final track) was not written for the film, but composed expressly for the album, because Vangelis felt most of his music did not work away from the visuals. As such Chariots of Fire is really more a “music from and inspired by” album rather than a “soundtrack album” in the conventional sense.
May 8, 2015 at 2:05 pm
It was big shock for me to hear this album at the first time. I purchased this tape because of “Titles” but, the music in side B was strange enough for 14 years old boy : one music in 30 minutes with full of electric sounds. But, it penetrated into my mind like the waves of sea unconsciously by hearing with repeat. Later they called this kind of music as progressive rock, and Vangelis was a famous musician already in that area. This album triggers me to like progressive rock for 70 & 80 years for more than 20 years since 1982. Still I remember that something unknown in my mind waken after this album.
September 15, 2015 at 7:31 pm
at this time,everybody adked about the artist performance tittle,after all we discovered all the tracks,that we wanted to share with our friends!!
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April 17, 2018 at 9:13 pm
Even on the new box set, they did not include the “Training” song from Chariots of Fire. Bummer. I’ve been looking for that, for years…