Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Hang ‘em High: The unreleased soundtrack

The story of Hang ‘em High's unreleased Soundtrack:
The CD Acetate of Dominic Frontiere’s soundtrack with dialogue

During the process of releasing a CD, the music is mastered and sequenced (sometimes many times) before it’s sent to the factory to be manufactured and released.  During these processes all parties involved contribute their feedback after the first “test CD” is reviewed.  Then the recording may be changed and / or adjusted, so you never know what differences may be on these test pressings. 
This item is what collectors call a CD Acetate or Test Pressing, which is essentially a glorified term for what is ultimately a CD-R - although as explained above, this is well in advance of a wide release and may be different from the final version.
In the case of the Rykodisc Hang ‘em High Soundtrack CD, it was planned to be part of the first wave of MGM Soundtrack releases until legal concerns with Clint Eastwood caused its delay and finally, cancellation. One of the central issues with the proposed Hang ‘em High soundtrack was the inclusion of dialogue, (which this version does include). Before it was cancelled, a lot of work went into the mastering, so there were many iterations, with this one being from 8/1/97.
As the story goes, there were a lot of people unhappy about dialogue being included on the original Rykodisc release.  I spoke to the person who was responsible for making the deal with MGM (the Senior VP of A&R and Special Projects at Rykodisc) and was responsible for producing the first wave of releases with Andrea Troolin. These acetates appeared from Northeastern Digital, the mastering house that did most of the Rykodisc work from Bowie to the sale to Chris Blackwell in the late 90's. When these acetates were produced there were 2 copies for internal label approval and somewhere between 3 to 5 copies for MGM approval. These acetate discs were struck from the original two-track album masters. Initially, they were not in good shape and one of the reasons why it was remastered many times. There was an eventual breakthrough later ‘when Gato Barbiere asked MGM to allow us to add more stuff to Last Tango in Paris, and MGM realized there was an upside to doing them right.’  

However, MGM still had concerns and were not exactly clear regarding their rights beyond the soundtrack albums that had been initially issued. They were also concerned about certain repercussions, which I won’t elaborate on.  In any case, ‘MGM cancelled the release at the last minute’ because they feared (of those repercussions). ‘We had cut all the dialogue off, the master and artwork was mocked up and approved’ but the CD release never got to see the light of day.

On purchasing this test disc, I of course did a little research which in turn did substantiate a great deal of this story. By coincidence, I’m fortunate enough to have in my collection an official MGM / Rycodisc 2 CD promo called ‘Sneak Preview’. This was issued to promote the first wave of CD soundtracks back in 1997 and ties in with the date on the test disc (a couple of tracks from Hang ‘em high was also featured on the promo). Furthermore, the fold out insert inside the MGM promo features Hang ‘em High (among many others) as forthcoming releases along with their assigned catalogue numbers. Hang ‘em High is listed there as Rykodisc RCD10703 - the number which corresponds with the hand written inscription to the front of the acetate and printed on the spine.  
It’s an interesting little story which does suggest a certain amount of provenance. The Hang ‘em High soundtrack has of course seen many releases, the best of which I would recommend La La Land’s studio-endorsed CD (LLLCD 1053) which was a limited edition of just 3000 copies. The CD was paired up with Dominic Frontiere’s soaring score for The Aviator starring Christopher Reeve and Rosanna Arquette. Whilst it has been out of print for some considerable time now, it can no doubt still be found through the usual channels and auction sites - although be prepared to pay a handsome price for it. 

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