“Coming Back Around” (John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon: Music from the Motion Picture)
I could have easily filled up half this list with tracks from film scores. The first albums I ever owned were movie soundtracks (Star Wars and Superman, to be precise), and for a good while they were all I listened to. At first it was just a way to keep going back to movies I liked before VHS, but after a while, I started crafting my own movies in my head as the music played through the headphones. I had to figure out how to match the images to the beats of the music, and to wrap the whole thing up before the track ended. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was teaching myself pacing and tone, and I’d like to think those musical flights of fancy played a role in how I write today. Soundtracks eventually led to classical music — it was like soundtracks before they had movies — and the same thing would happen. I put Tchaikovsky and Rossini through some pretty ridiculous scenarios. So it was about time a soundtrack made the list. I almost did it with Star Wars for 1977, and The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. But with 2010 being sort of a meh year for me as far as mainstream music went, it was a no-brainer to welcome John Powell into the fold.
Powell first came to my attention through his partnership with Harry Gregson-Williams on the score for Chicken Run, as dead-on a nod to classic war film scores like The Great Escape and The Guns of Navarone as you’re likely to hear. The duo collaborated again on the score for Shrek. While most people remember the music from that film as that damn Smash Mouth song, the real MVP for me was the relatively straightforward orchestral soundtrack, that ignored most of the silliness and modern pop culture references and acted like we were watching a straight-up fairy tale. They were working firmly in the John Williams/James Horner vein, which was like catnip to me. And while Powell kind of fell off my radar with some of his career choices after Chicken Run and Shrek, I still played the ever-loving crap out of those CDs.
And then I saw How to Train Your Dragon and got smacked in the face with one of the best scores of the last ten years. There are two or three other tracks that could have easily ended up here instead of “Coming Back Around” — the propulsive “Test Drive,” the soaring “Romantic Flight,” the sprightly “Forbidden Friendship” — but this, which plays over the final scenes of the film, blends all those themes together into an absolutely breathtaking conclusion. It’s a grand curtain call, both for the film (which for my money is still better than that year’s major animated competition, Toy Story 3) and the score. It’s filled with such a sense of hope and promise, of victory and elation. It’s the kind of track that, when it comes on while I’m listening to it on one of my walks, makes me pick up my pace and forget how tired I may be.
And yes, there’s a story I’ve crafted to go along with it.