10 Favorite John Williams Tracks from Steven Spielberg Films

It’s John Williams’ 80th birthday today, and while the musical legend has a career the stretches far beyond his collaborations with Steven Spielberg, and beyond film in general, I thought it’d be fun to collect some of my favorite of his tracks from Spielberg movies.

I’ll be the first to admit that these are fairly mainstream picks, but that is kind of the thrust of the majority of Williams’ contributions to Spielberg’s filmography. You’ll notice this list might be missing a few of the more somber and low key sounds he brought to films like Schindler’s List, Minority Report, or Munich. Surely I left out someone’s favorite. Be sure to comment below or yell at us on Twitter at @FilmNerds or @WonderMillFilms.

All songs are linked to YouTube, and all score reviews are linked to Filmtracks.com, unless otherwise noted.

10.) The Map Room: Dawn (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Song / Score Review
A wonderful example of John Williams’ ability to command tension in a classical way, in the vein of Ernest Gold and Miklós Rózsa.

9.) Cadillac of the Skies (Empire of the Sun)
Song / Score Review
An overlooked gem in the library of both Spielberg and John Williams. I credit fellow Film Nerd Graham Flanagan for emphasizing this film’s power and importance.

8.) Plowing (War Horse)
Song / Score Review (from FilmMusicMedia.com)
Already a new classic, one can hum the main melody of War Horse and immediately remind audiences of the film. Despite accusations of hollow melodrama, Williams has turned in a piece that perfectly marries itself to the innocent figure of Joey the horse, immediately commanding a perspective unavailable to any of the film’s human characters.

7.) Blown to Bits (Jaws)
Song / Score Review
I’ll be the first to admit that my pre-Spielberg knowledge of John Williams music is severely limited, but here we find what seems to be the genesis of so many elements that have become common in Williams adventure scores.

6.) Prologue (Hook)
Song / Score Review
The palpable sense of adventure that Williams conveys in this track is almost metaphysically impossible. You certainly recognize this piece from a wide variety of previews for any given b-grade 90’s adventure film. I’ve always felt that Hook might have made a better musical than a straight action film, and with a score like this, I’m sure WIlliams and Spielberg could have constructed some incredible numbers. Regardless, this is one of Williams’ most amazing scores, despite the film’s mixed critical reception.

5.) Rescuing Sarah (The Lost World: Jurassic Park)
Song / Score Review
Although the quality of this Jurassic Park sequel is something I find myself consistently defending, I hope there is unanimous appreciation for what is one of the most overlooked adventure scores of all time. This track in particular is a wonderfully intense collection of traditional Williams horns and tribal drums. Listen for the track’s wonderful crescendo which, in the film, closes out an absolutely nail-biting action sequence involving two tethered trailers. Add to this the film’s opening track, in which John Williams evokes Max Steiner’s King Kong score, and you’ve got an under-listened classic. I played to this CD hundreds of times in my room back in 1997, and this was a frequently repeated track.

4.) The Visitors / Bye/ End Titles (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
Song / Score Review
Williams’ third collaboration with Spielberg brought him into the fold more closely than ever, as elements of the score here are diagetic storytelling elements. This might be Williams’ most important work on a Spielberg film.

3.) Journey to the Island (Jurassic Park)
Song / Score Review
This is a very personal pick for me. The moment this track hit the speakers upon my first viewing of Jurassic Park was probably the moment I became a filmmaker. As true nerds, my wife and I walked back up the aisle to this at our wedding.

2.) Escape, Chase, & Saying Goodbye (E.T. The Extra Terrestrial)
Song / Score Review
Upon a recent re-watch of this film, I came to the realization that the rest of the world has long since assumed: This film is the thesis of Spielberg’s career and therefore, the thesis of his collaboration with John Williams. Here’s a big giant sampling, all in one track, of everything great about Spielberg’s cinema: Adventure, nostalgia, and a longing for home.

1.) Scherzo for Motorcycle & Orchestra (Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade)
Song / Score Review
The sense of joy that is communicated in what I feel to be the encompassing track of this score is infectious. One of the most marvelous coupes of Spielberg’s career is the chemistry he orchestrated between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, and in this track, Williams puts it to music. This track is my list’s representative for the “Raiders March”, which makes an appearance early on. It also features flourishes from the rest of the score’s major themes, but always sticks to that main, playful melody.

On another personal note, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to my buddy Lee Fanning, co-producer of The Nocturnal Third and the sharpest, biggest Star Wars fan I know. I’m sure he owes many hours of satisfying listening to John Williams, as well.