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Music Review: Various Artists – Pan Am: Music from and Inspired by the Original Series

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TV soundtrack albums have changed considerably over the years. Once upon a time, they were collections of extended versions of theme songs supplemented by arrangements of instrumental incidental music. Then came the 1990s and various collections of music remotely associated with The X-Files. Songs having nothing to do with the series were packaged with material heard briefly in one episode or another. After those releases, studios began using songs from popular artists as a means to establish mood in their programs, to evoke a time and place, or be a part of tie-in promotions. Soundtracks containing these tunes could legitimately be labeled “music from” even though the material wasn’t crafted specifically for any particular show. The targeted audience might well be fans of a given series, but lovers of a particular music genre might also pick up the collections simply to hear the anthologies of their favorite performers.

In the case of ABC television’s Pan Am, music plays an important multi-layered role. As the program seeks to capture the feel of the early 1960s Kennedy era, popular songs by entertainers of that time help create the ambiance of most episodes. As the settings are global in scope, melodies by international performers also help create the flavor of stories set in various countries. Naturally, many of the song titles and lyrics have something to do with flying and travel. And, as the overall tone of the show is of youthful optimistic adventurism in exotic locations, the song choices are typically upbeat with lush big band arrangements.

All of these ingredients make for a very satisfactory listening experience, no matter if you’ve seen one minute of the TV drama. You don’t have to remember the time to enjoy some of the finest singers and players ever recorded. We take off with “Around the World” with Buddy Greco and hit the “Blue Skies” with Ella Fitzgerald. We travel south of the border with Connie Francis (“Quando Quando Quando [Tell Me When]”), Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 (“Mais Que Nada”), and Stan Getz and João Gilberto with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim (“The Girl From Ipanema”). Peggy Lee has the “New York City Blues” and Dinah Washington goes all out in “Destination Moon.”

Songs representing the free-wheeling jet-set lifestyle include Bobby Darin’s “Call Me Irresponsible” and Shirley Horn’s lively “The Best Is Yet To Come.” Softer, slower moments include Billie Holiday’s “Just One More Chance” and Brenda Lee singing “Break It To Me Gently.” Some of the melodies aren’t performed by the artists that made them famous, as with Count Basie’s instrumental version of Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Two of the 14 selections are by new artists re-working old standards, such as Grace Potter’s version of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon” and Nikki Jean’s interpretation of The Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret” (not sure about that last one, an offering that stretches the scope a bit). But performances by the original musicians aren’t really the point. If the alternate recordings evoke their creators, that’s what this collection was intended to do.

Apparently, no one involved with the series has much of a taste for rock ‘n roll. But no one claimed this anthology or the series are meant to be a complete cross-section of the period’s popular culture. Outside of Brenda Lee’s country classic, this is a hit parade of jazzier standards that collectively stand alone without any overt connections to any TV series. Let your seat slide back and unbuckle your seatbelt. The stewardess will be by shortly with a complimentary cocktail.

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About Wesley Britton

  • http://www.kitotoole.com Kit O’Toole

    Sounds like an interesting collection. I will slightly disagree on one point–the 80s actually marked some of the first “Music from and Inspired by” collections, particularly those from Miami Vice and Moonlighting. Miami Vice in particular pioneered the use of popular music to set a scene or mood, and their soundtrack albums were enormously successful. Moonlighting soon followed suit.

  • Wesley Britton

    Kit, you got me on both those releases. Miami Vice, of course, had a great theme song and you’re right–popular songs spiced up the action. I rather missed Moonlighting in terms of music, so I defer to you on that one.