Film Score Friday Top 5: Songs from “Cowboy Bebop”

Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop has been mentioned many times in this blogic space, most recently in my post on it and Samurai Champloo.  For today’s edition of FSF Top 5, I would like to consider, though, not the instrumental backing tracks that make up the show’s score, but rather the many songs that are used in the show.  What is remarkable is that these are not stock pop songs, but rather original compositions written by composer Yoko Kanno and performed specifically for the show by a variety of talented performers, and used in many different ways in the series (from special end credit music to montage to something akin to the Opera Scene from Godfather, Part III).  If you want to know more about the music and show I recommend this site.

For our purposes, then, are the actual “songs,” meaning texted music with vocalist (sometime in English, sometime Japanese…what a weird wacky world!).  For your consideration (in no order):

“Blue” – from Episode 26, “The Real Folk Blues, Part II”:  This is the song that ends the entire series.  After our hero Spike’s climatic showdown with his nemesis Vicious, the camera has a long zoom out as the song beings, then pans up as this first verse begins and the credits roll.  What makes this ending so amazing is that the camera pan continues until it reaches space and the shot that had ended every episode of the series (the field of stars then the message…which is different for this episode and quotes a Beatles lyric).  Watch the whole sequence for yourself (and no, if you haven’t watched the series, this really won’t ruin anything):

“Gotta Knock a Little Harder” – from the Cowboy Bebop movie, “Knockin on Heaven’s Door”: Like “Blue,” this song is the end credits of the full-length animated film (not to be confused with the supposed forth-coming live-action English film that is rumored to be starring…ugh…Keanu Reeves…*shudder*).  The end credits show scenes of the people on Mars reacting to the rain falling on them.  I really hate using all these credits songs, becuase part of the power of the songs is how they tie up the what has come before, which many readers haven’t seen. The video here isn’t the actual ending sequence, just a video someone put together with clips from the movie:

“The Real Folk Blues” – the End Credits for Cowboy Bebop series (with a few exceptions): This song was the normal song for the credits of the series with the exception of Episodes 13 and 26 (the midway point and final episode…talk about structure), which were both the second part of two part episodes.  The song was also used, with different lyrics and different arrangement, towards the end of the final episode as our hero Spike goes to do final battle with his nemesis.

Ending Credits Version (sans credits):

Episode 26 version (from episode, with Spike remembering the woman he loved and then blowing up much in sight):

“Rain” – from Episode 5, “Ballad of Fallen Angels”:  Functioning in the same capacity as the second version of “The Real Folk Blues,” this song plays as Spike goes to confront Vicious for the first time.  Adding the element of the human voice prior to a major confrontation makes the entire scene, for the lack of a better word, epic.  It mythologizes the scene for the viewer…clever use of camera angels and framing don’t hurt either (sorry for the bad audio on this clip:

“Adieu” – from Episode 1, “Asteroid Blues,” and Episodes 25 & 26, “The Real Folk Blues, Parts I & II”:  I have specifically saved this one for last because, even though we don’t really hear this song that much, in many ways, it is what the show is all about.  Episode 1 of the series, unlike every other episode, actually opens not with the credits sequence, but a 45 second montage, in black and white (except for the color red), that has no dialogue.  The only sound is a bell at the beginning, and a music box like tune.  The images and music go unexplained in what follows.  The meanings of the images (and the song) will slowly be revealed through the 26 episodes of the series, with the music finally being played as a song in Episode 25.  As I said in my earlier post, the song “Adieu,” is a memory echo that reverberates throughout the series (the music box track is actually called “Memory” on the first soundtrack release).  “Memory” plays again, also, at the beginning of Episode 26.  (I might be missing a few times it was played, but it’s been awhile since I watched the entire series)  This song also sums up so much of the series as it is, in many ways, an amazing jazz ballad.

Episode 1 opening:

Episode 25 – Note: this clip is the first 7 minutes of the episode, including credits with opening theme “Tank!,” and is used right after the credits, but the section used is the very end of the full song.

Full Version of Song:

There are other songs I could have mentioned (“Ave Maria” from the opera scene in “Ballad of Fallen Angels” is a major one not on the list), and if I did just instrumental tracks (which I might do later), it would be hard to pick only five.  What I hope to have conveyed, if only in five choices, is the high quality of musical work that went into this series, and maybe entice some of you to add it to your Netflix queue.

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