CD Review: Jason King: Original Soundtrack
At only two discs, Jason King is among the shortest in Network’s parade of ITC soundtracks. Whether that’s because it had a relatively small amount of original music commissioned for it to begin with or because only a small portion of what was recorded survives, I don’t know. I’m sure Andrew Pixley does and probably says so in his liner notes (if his other, absolutely excellent booklets are anything to judge by), but my review copy sadly didn’t include liner notes. Not being as intimately familiar with Jason King as with certain other ITC shows (I actually adore the quirky but flawed series, but as brilliant as the flamboyant Peter Wyngarde is, I find he’s best enjoyed in small doses), that inhibits my ability to pinpoint exactly where any given cue comes from in the series, so instead I’ll provide my overall impressions of the album.
For a series as irrevocably (hopelessly?) mired in the 1970s as Jason King, its soundtrack is surprsingly not. For composer Laurie Johnson, it would be The New Avengers (and later The Professionals) where he explored his fondness for wah-wah guitars and 70s funk sounds. Jason King sounds more like the louche lounge life embodied by Serge Gainsbourg, which is entirely appropriate for the character, but which I associate more with the late Sixties. After all, this was still only the very beginning of the Seventies, and the loungy score is somewhat akin to John Barry’s loungier tracks in Diamonds Are Forever the same year. Of course, invoking Barry is a bit misleading, because the Jason King music isn’t, for the most part, all that typically “spy” sounding. It’s appropriate to the show. When you think of Jason King, you don’t necessarily immediately conjure up double- and triple-crosses, betrayals and chases, although the series does have all of that. No, the first thing you think of (or I do, anyway) is purple cravats and a general abundance of hair, signet rings and silk shirts unbuttoned far too far for comfort, champagne and beautiful girls in bell bottoms and overstuffed furniture in gaudy colors. And the music does its job; it evokes all of that when listened to. Track 6 on Disc 1 in particular exemplifies the Swinging (early) Seventies lounge life, but pretty much all the tracks get across the appropriate mood.
That said, there are some terrific action cues buried amidst the cool, easy listening material. Tracks 17-20 on the first CD are all action-packed, and could just as easily accompany the suavest secret agent as well as a slick buffoon in a bouffant. And Track 25 is as propulsive an action cue as any spy fan could hope for. In the context of the album, however, these cues become swallowed up by the overall loungy vibe. In general, this isn’t the kind of spy music you put on when you want to speed through traffic; this is the kind of spy music you put on when you want to pour yourself a martini or three, lie back in your most decadent love seat and exchange flirtatious banter with your favorite long-haired, bikini-topped babe or hairy-chested, mustached man. I love both the action and lounge schools of spy sounds, and enjoy being able to select between Jason King and, say, Danger Man as the mood strikes me. Jason King is anything but typical, but it’s a worthwhile addition to a robust spy music library.
Jason King: Original Soundtrack is available in the UK exclusively from Network's website; in America it's available from Screen Archives Entertainment, where you can also listen to samples.