One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Jack Nitzsche OMPSThere are many memorable soundtracks, often by the same composer. Names pop up easily. Names like Morricone, Williams, Mancini, Jarre, Horner, Bernstein, even, these days, Danny Elfman, ex of Oingo Boingo, who has easily enjoyed more success for his soundtracks and scores than he did with that Rock band. But one name goes missing, Jack Nitzsche. Jack Nitzsche has an interesting catalog of music including a series of soundtracks and scores that include Hardcore, some Exorcist inclusions, The Razor’s Edge, Starman, and a host of others, even if he wasn’t the film’s entire score composer.

Jack Nitzsche scored One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and was nominated for both an Emmy Award, and an Academy Award. The music fits the film like a glove. The music within are as key to the film scenes, as the film images are. And that is often not the case. Scores are memorable, but often as a standalone piece, such as the introduction to a film, some interlude, or the ending. On Nitzsche’s score for One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next, where the scene is, so is the music, and both are richer for it.

The beginning of the soundtrack features the iconic opening song, which ends the film as well. With a shamanic Native American sound, and an eerie whistle-like sound (I don’t know the instrument used to create the sound), Jack Nitzsche begins an unforgettable journey into the heart of the film like few scores and soundtracks can. And yet, there are no loving remembrances of the soundtrack today.

After the opening piece (and before the extended closing track), the music sandwiched between is a beautiful celebration not only of the scenes they were created for, but of the music and instruments that went into their creations. With “Medication Valse” (heard in the film while the boys played cards just prior to receiving their medication), the excellent “Bus Ride To Paradise” (on their way to the boat), “Charmaine” (a previously written track used by Nitzsche to express the underlying sadness of the institution to great effect), and the two beautiful songs, “Play the Game”, and the intensely multi-faceted emotional track, “The Last Dance” (the quiet moments after the party, just prior to the attempted leaving of RP McMurphy, and The Chief, where Billy Bibbitt is dancing with the girl).

To this day, I often have many of those tunes track through my head, often without a trigger. They just…start.  This is some  39 years after the release of the original soundtrack. If there is a crime for ignoring great soundtracks, this is as clear an example as there will ever be.

It should not be ignored. If you’re one who appreciates soundtracks, and have not heard this one, I suggest you give it a listen. If it hasn’t run through your head for some time, give it another listen. It will warm your heart.

By MARowe

3 thoughts on “Ignored Albums: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Soundtrack) – Jack Nitzsche”
  1. Nice observation. I “discovered” soundtracks decades ago. And I could use your praise of Nitzsche’s OFOtCN soundtrack almost word-for-word to heap love on Wang Chung’s To Live and Die in L.A., music that’s every bit as dark and heavy as the movie, the director (Friedkin) and the lead actors (Peterson and Dafoe). The music illustrated the film as it unfolded, and it’s a great album.

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