Life on Mars (Original Soundtrack) - Various Artists

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Life on Mars (Original Soundtrack) - Various Artists

1 CD(s) - TV - Label: Sony BMG - Distributor: Plastic Head, Sony Music/Arvato Services - Released: 09/06/2007 - 886971138528

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Review of "Life on Mars (Original Soundtrack) - Various Artists"

published 09/04/2008 | MizzMolko
Member since : 01/08/2005
Reviews : 171
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About me :
It has been over a year since I posted a review. I can't say I have any new ones in production at the moment either! I will return a rate but please leave a comment so I can see which review you've rated and when. xx
Good
Pro Some great, memorable songs from the 1970's
Cons A lot of rubbish along the way
very helpful
Originality
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money
Lyrics

"The Soundtrack to Sam Tyler's Life?"

After two triumphant series of a modern day British television classic, Life on Mars will hopefully be remembered for its dramatic take on both modern and olden day policing methods, not to mention its obvious comedy and sci-fi elements that made it a successful cross genre twist on the beloved cop show.

Yet, as it was set in the 1970's, away from the sepia effect of the camera, the clothing and language and treatment of many minority groups, one feature had to stand out so that the series left no illusion in the minds of the viewers as to which decade the protagonist Sam Tyler was time travelling back to.

And that was the music.

As the music was such an integral part of the series, it was only a matter of time before the BBC bit the bullet and released a CD to commemorate the high profiled, critically acclaimed drama that had lead to more speculation than ever after its so-called conclusion back in April 2007.

That being said, I was one of the fans that didn't immediately grab my purse and pop on down to my nearest HMV to get a copy of the official soundtrack. Why? Because I just didn't think it was worth it; I'd already seen the track listing, filled with some decent, well known ditties and some forgettable pieces that I think even the own artists would have forgotten making!

But in February, after a rather obsessive Life on Mars viewing spree, I did find myself in HMV, reaching for the money in my bag and buying a copy. Thankfully, I didn't find myself paying the original price for this but instead opted for the stores two CD's for £10 offer, which I felt was an acceptable price for the CD in every way possible.

TRACKLISTING
As I've mentioned, the track listing I find is very hit and miss and offers the series little to no additional credit. There are some suburb songs amongst the terrible, but they are a bit few and far between:

1) Introduction: King of the Jungle (Series 1, Episode 1)
2) David Bowie: Life on Mars? (Series 1, Episodes 1 & 8, Series 2, Episode 8)
3) Roxy Music: Street Life (Series 2, Episode 1)
4) Paul McCartney and Wings: Live and Let Die (Series 1, Episode 2)
5) Electric Light Orchestra: 10538 Overture (Series 2, Episode 5)
6) John Kongos: Tokoloshi Man (Series 1, Episode 8)
7) Atomic Rooster: Devil's Answer (Series 1, Episode 8)
8) T.Rex: Rock On (Series 2, Episode 4)
9) Free: Little Bit of Love (Series 1, Episode 8)
10) Lee 'Scratch' Perry and the Upsetters: Jungle Lion (Series 2, Episode 3)
11) Dialogue: Armed Bastards (multiple episodes; Series 1, Episode 3 was it's debut)
12) Sweet: Blockbuster (Series 1, Episode 4)
13) Faces: Cindy Incidentally (Series 2, Episode 7)
14) Ananda Shankar: Snow Flower (Series 2, Episode 6)
15) Slade: Coz I Luv You (Series 2, Episode 4)
16) Mott The Hopple: One of the Boys (Series 2, Episode 6)
17) Lindisfarne: Meet Me on the Corner (Series 2, Episode 4)
18) Frankie Miller: I Can't Change It (Series 1, Episode 4)
19) Thin Lizzy: Whisky in the Jar (Series 2, Episode 6)
20) Audience: I Had a Dream (Series 2, Episode 6)
21) Uriah Heep: Traveller in Time (Series 2, Episode 6)
22) Nina Simone: I Wish I Knew How it Felt to be Free (Series 1, Episode 5)
23) Dialogue: I Want to Go Home and The Life on Mars theme tune.

The dialogue snippets, taken solely from the first series, were designed as a way to make the set more Life on Mars-esque, rather than just a bunch of tracks from the 70's. The 'King of the Jungle' and 'Armed Bastards' skits are some of the most repeated yet well loved Gene Hunt catch phrases of both series and were a nice touch. I did think that the 'I Want to Go Home' part was a little bit pointless for somebody who knew both series well. None the less, it may be necessary for those fans that may have missed series one initially but having said that, I think there were some more memorable scenes that they could have included instead of this one.

The title track by David Bowie was absolutely vital to the set; it created a great, tense atmosphere in all three episodes it was included in. Released in the year the series took place, 1973, it makes the 'nostalgia trip' part of the show seem very authentic because of the vibrant, glam music scene of the time. Bowie was one of the forerunners in this and the series wouldn't have been the same without his music, with other tracks by the man himself featuring heavily throughout.

As well as the song 'Life on Mars', there are some very well placed and important songs in the collection that have been included because of their significance with a particular episode or theme. 'Live and Let Die' by the incomparable Paul McCartney and his Beatles follow up band Wings held an important place within episode two of the first series because it is all about making positive life choices and battling on, a central affirmation for the character of DI Sam Tyler in that episode. As he struggled to fit in and be one of the gang after his rough ride back to the 1970's, it was a song that tied in very well with the notion that he had to keep fighting for not only what he believed in as a copper and a person but also for his life, back in 2006.

Sweet were also a part of the glam musical revolution of the time, with the rather quirky sound effects in many of their numbers and vocals alike. The lyrics to 'Blockbuster' alone were very poignant to the episode they were included in, with them being about the copper's having to stay close to the law and catch the criminals before their evil nature seeps through to innocent people. This is one of the more memorable songs from the series because of the visual aide included at the time of playing. However, 'Ballroom Blitz' in some ways may have been a better choice of Sweet song to include on the compilation because it was used in an episode that many fans may consider to be more memorable (Series 1, Episode 3).

The Frankie Miller track, used in the same episode as 'Blockbuster', provides a much gentler, slower paced tone to the album, perhaps even as a reminder that just because some of the music used in the series was a celebration of the 'wonderful' life of the 70's, that some of it was unfortunately doom and gloom with power cuts, institutionalised racism and sexism and other unfortunate events. 'Snow Flower' however, was a very unexpected but good addition to the album as it included Indian instruments and sounds that were a major priority in the episode it was linked to. Series 2, Episode 6 concentrated on racism and the implication of these misconceptions so the track by Ananda Shankar added a very authentic vibe away from the glam rock that tied in well with the episode.

There were some very good songs from the era included but ones that I think were added to sell the CD, purely for the fact that they were commercial hits by well known artists of the time. Yet, many of these songs I think don't hold that deep a connection with the show and in a way were just album fillers. 'Coz I Luv You' by Slade is an undeniable reference to the affection that Sam has for fellow copper, WDC Annie Cartwright. To me though, its appearance in the series seemed a bit corny, a feeling that for me translated over to the soundtrack CD.

'Whisky in the Jar' by Thin Lizzy is a song that I consider to be a classic rock track with great, edgy guitar riffs and powerful, engulfing vocals provided by Phil Lynott. However, in the context of Life on Mars, it makes very little sense as it was originally an Irish folk tale about a highwayman being betrayed by his lover! However, if you did want to find a link with the show, then I guess you could link it back to super alpha male, DCI Gene Hunt, who enjoyed the tipple a little bit too much throughout the programme, with Episode 6 in Series 2 being of no exception.

T.Rex and 'Rock On' just really makes no sense to me at all, either lyrically or musically. With no offence to the late Marc Bolan and the gang but to me, when I did first hear the song away from the show, it made me think of rats in a sewer; it had that kind of overpowering, gritty riff and snide vocals that just didn't fit in the scene of two coppers walking about Manchester on an investigation. If the producers were so eager to cash in on the group, they probably should have included a song that not only fitted with the values and themes of an episode but also one that is much more memorable. Me thinks that '20th Century Boy' in Series 1, Episode 4 whilst the gang are dancing in the night club would have been a much better choice because it is perhaps the song that my generation, who weren't alive in the 70's, remember best other than 'Ride a White Swan'.

'I Had A Dream' by Audience was another rather bizarre choice in my opinion. I can understand from one standpoint why it may fit in with the story of the programme, in the notion as to whether time travelling cop Sam is either mad, in a coma or back in time. Yet, to be fair, it isn't a very good song and I think took up space on an album which shouldn't have been about bad fillers but acting rather as a celebration of some of the greatest influences of music in that era. In theory also, the Mott The Hoople song of 'One of the Boys' should have fitted the bill but again it was merely the title that held some significance to the story of the show and not the rest of the words.

There were however some appalling choices made for this collection that are quite unbearable to listen to. For me personally, I can't stand track number ten which was by Lee 'Scratch' Perry and the Upsetters. 'Jungle Lion' is just a tragic waste of space on this CD and is both pointless to listen to and even include in this review! Then again, I should probably say that the only reason it was included was because of Gene Hunt's little speech right back in Episode one where he berates Sam for trying to act like the 'King of the Jungle' in his Kingdom. 'Tokoloshi Man' by John Kongos is another strange choice that I think the collection could easily have done without.

For every bad song on this album, however, I could think of at least one track from the early 1970's to replace it. As well as the title track, there were many classic Bowie songs featured in the show and I think they should have honored more than just 'Life on Mars' by including them on here. 'The Jean Genie' track was played in the club scene in the fourth episode and I thought it just fitted the Hunt character perfectly, especially when you consider his catchphrase of 'trust the Gene Genie'! 'Changes' appeared in the final episode, after Sam makes his decision to return to 1973 and was a poignant reminder that, throughout both series one and two, that the time travelling character had evolved significantly and had indeed gone through many changes due to the sometimes challenging plotlines relating back to that decade.

There were a couple of songs that aren't by the Thin White Duke but that did stay trapped in my head long after the episode they were featured in had been aired. 'The White Room' by Cream would have perhaps been a bad choice for the CD as it was from 1968 and again, had very little to do with the values of the episode. Having said that, Cream and Eric Clapton are more likely to feature on greatest artists lists as opposed to Audience or the Upsetters, at least in my opinion, and when 'White Room' was played, it did make for a very impressive scene within the first episode. 'Alone again (Naturally)' by Gilbert O'Sullivan was memorable because of the context of the episode in which Sam felt he had made more of a connection with Annie, only for it to amount to nothing.

There were two songs however that really weren't from the 1970's but that I do think should have found a place on this soundtrack album. 'What A Wonderful World' by Louis Armstrong was the key song in Series 1 Episode 6 in which Sam and the rest of CID find themselves in a rather precarious situation, at the hands of an intelligent but marginally insane hostage taker. It was an episode which saw the protagonist battling to save his life back in the 21st Century and I think that, because it was played at memorable stages during the instalment, it should have been a valued addition to the collection.

Yet, one song that I really think should have been added onto the set was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's version of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow'. It played a special role within the last ever episode, and made for rather sad listening at a time where Sam was contemplating his options between 2006 and 1973. Within that context, it is a very depressing cover but I do think it holds a great amount of importance to the episode and programme in general and it's a shame that it wasn't included - I still get tears thinking back to that scene, mainly because of how sad the music was!

PACKAGING AND PRESENTATION
Perhaps even more disappointing than some of the song choices used was the imagery the designers have chosen to use for this set. The cover designs aren't too bad with the front basically being a well known image of the two central characters, Sam Tyler (John Simm) and Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) with the classic Cortina being thrown in for good measure. Yet, it still looks rather tacky and unoriginal to me and not in keeping with the show in the slightest.

On the inside of the six page sleeve though, there is worse still to come; there is the most horrible photo editing I've ever seen in my life with another well recognised Sam and Gene picture plonked right over a grotty looking street! It looks ridiculous and not in the slightest authentic, which is a great shame after a lot of effort was put in on the actually telly show's set design to try and make it look as bona fide as possible.

There are couple of pages that are dedicated to the songs and their writers, complete with dates and copyright laws. The song lyrics are not included but, because this is a compilation disk of many varying artists, I wasn't expecting there to be. Having said that, the case is still in good nick after I've dropped it at least half a dozen times, which is just about the best part of the CD's presentation!

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
As I mentioned, I managed to grab my copy of the disk in HMV as part of a special offer but if you were purchasing it in store now, it should cost you about £7. The sister CD from the spin off series, 'Ashes to Ashes' is about a tenner so, considering this disk was released the week of the Series two, Episode two airing (Monday 19th February 2007), it just goes to show how quickly CD's lose their original price tags.

However, these are the current internet prices for the one disk compilation CD:

Amazon.co.uk - £4.97 (eligible for free super saver delivery)
Play.com - £4.99 (free delivery)
HMV.co.uk - £7.99 (free delivery)
Cdwow.co.uk - £11.49 (free delivery)
Dvd.co.uk - £11.09 (free delivery)
Zavvi.co.uk - £9.00 (free delivery)

OVERALL; IS IT REALLY WORTH YOUR MONEY?
Overall, I think if you are a big fan of the show then yes, the Life on Mars Soundtrack should be a good purchase in terms of collector's pieces. However, it is really important to remember that there is a mix of some great and some mediocre songs on this collection which might not make it worth your while.

I do think that there were some very weak choices for the set that didn't give a good overall impression of the show; usually the music editors did a fantastic job of selecting good tracks form the decade to reinforce the emotions of the characters within each episode. Frankie Miller's track 'I Can't Change It' made its scene even more heart rendering because, as a viewer, it reinforced Sam's emotions and make it very realistic and tragic.

Things like 'Blockbuster' by Sweet made the selected scenes euphoric when they needed to be and really fitted in with the idea of the 1970's in terms of both music and the script. 'Live and Let Die' was a brilliant choice for Episode two, even though it did take Paul McCartney a bit of persuasion to let the BBC use the track; he was blown away by the good quality of the episode and gave his blessing for the Bond movie title track to be used. Songs like 'Traveller in Time' by Uriah Heep and '10538 Overture' by the Electric Light Orchestra were good choices for the album in terms of how well they fitted in with the action of their episodes but aren't necessarily that memorable.

However, where there are good if not slightly out of place songs like 'Street Life' by Roxy Music and 'Whisky in the Jar' by Thin Lizzy, there is also a lot of rubbish included on his album. 'Jungle Lion', to me, is unlistenable and I can't understand why the BBC thought it would be a good idea to include it on this set. It does make you wonder how much effort was put into its creation at moments like that and why they didn't endeavour to get other tracks in their place which would have been far more credible to the brilliant series. 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' would have been a simply amazing addition to the set.

Even the dialogue skits taken from the show were a bit disappointing. As they all were ripped directly from their episode, it gave them a very valid sound, because of all of the background noises, but in a way made the production come across as a bit cheap and half arsed. There is also the issue as to why there were only scenes from series one included. This was because they were yet to transmit all of the second season, and obviously couldn't give away important details and storylines. Yet, I can't help but feel that if they'd waited until after the last episode had been shown, they would have got a far better ending for the soundtrack in the last ever scene where Gene and Sam with the rest of the coppers driving off with their custom and casual yet amusing banter.

If you've never seen the show but are feeling like a bit of a nostalgia trip then I think this CD would suit you better than a diehard fan like myself; I realise that I'm very picky but I do think that with the show being as exceptional as it was that the soundtrack does drag it down a little bit and makes you realise that some key tracks are missing here.

But, if you were around in the 70's and feel like a trip down memory lane or simply feel like revisiting some old, glam rock classics then I think this CD could be perfect for you if you are prepared to put up with some rubbish along the way!

QUICK STATS
Number of disks: one
Year released: 2007
Number of tracks: 23 (24 if you count the theme tune separately)
Length: 73.38 minutes.

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Comments on this review

  • arnoldhenryrufus published 01/08/2010
    I enjoyed your analysis with the music and where it went in the shows. Some of those tracks took me back to my youth - lyn x
  • eljimbob published 13/05/2008
    Splendid, what can I say, very thorugh review :¬) James
  • silverstreak published 03/05/2008
    Not only have you revived more memories from my deep and distant past, but you've also made me wonder how on earth I managed not to see any of Life on Mars. I think I'm the one on another planet! Another superb review.
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Product Information : Life on Mars (Original Soundtrack) - Various Artists

Manufacturer's product description

1 CD(s) - TV - Label: Sony BMG - Distributor: Plastic Head, Sony Music/Arvato Services - Released: 09/06/2007 - 886971138528

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EAN: 886971138528

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