Top Ten Best Songs By Outlander Composer Bear McCreary

Written By: Blake Larsen



I've recently had the pleasure of binging Battlestar Galactica on the advice of my good podcasting friend Brian Davids of Film Schlubs.  BSG aired at a time when LOST and 24 were airing so it got lost in the mix of great television.  But, I decided to binge it because not only was Ron Moore the showrunner for BSG, but also because Bear McCreary was the composer.  So as I watched, I could hear the similarities between his work on Outlander, BSG, The Walking Dead, Black Sails etc.  Which, got me thinking - what are his top ten best songs he's created?  (BTW - if you want to hear me fanboy all over Bear, you can hear our interview with him here).  So, not only for your illumination about all of his work, but also mainly for mine, here are what I believe to be his top ten best songs he's ever created:




Before I give you the list - I want you to understand my metric for how I measured the song.  In essence, my one component that matter most was: how did it make me feel?  What did it inspire in me as I listened? Did I notice it during the show? Or did it enhance the scene so naturally that it seemed to be another character?


1. The Skye Boat Song feat. Raya Yarbrough (Extended) - OUTLANDER


Of course, the first song I choose (and it IS my top choice) ALREADY breaks my own rules.  This song does not appear on Outlander.  BUT - between Raya's breathy and gorgeous vocals, the mysterious lyrics, the incessant/relentless snare drums, and the soothing sound of the bag pipes, this song is what makes me think of Outlander.  True, there is the version they use on the show - but it's just not as engrossing, encompassing, and invigorating. The extended version of this song is literally the culmination of all the traits of great Bear McCreary music. 





From my favorite two seasons of The Walking Dead  (3 and 4) - this song just works.  It works the same way that the theme for Halloween worked. Simple. Persistent. Completely unique. Perfect for the complex and terrifying character of The Governor.  When I hear it, chills go up my spine.  And here is the cool thing - it's completely synthesized.  Bear McCreary put it best on his blog when he writes that while the technical aspects of how he achieved the pulse don't really matter, the essence of the song is "what it implies for the future...As we stare into [The Governor's] eyes, terrified at the thoughts lurking behind them, the synthesizer pulse pounds into our brains, forever connecting this musical idea to him.... It represents the inner-most regions of his psyche, that he tries to keep hidden from the rest of the world." I needn't say anymore than the master. He says it all for me.



3. All Along The Watchtower - BATTLESTAR GALACTICA


Oh, Battlestar Galactica.  How I love thee.  I will not spoil what happens while this song plays, but let me just say that it is freakin' amazing.  Of course, this is not an original Bear composition - as it was written by Bob Dylan and made famous by Jimi Hendrix.  But Bear's arrangement of this song is so unique, so weird, so intricate that I couldn't even tell what it was until I heard the familiar lyrics. It perfectly encompasses the feel and tone of this amazing and oft under appreciated show. So - what the hell is this song doing in BSG?  Well, watch the season 3 finale and you'll find out why.  It will not disappoint.  "IT'S IN THE FRAKKING SHIP!"



4. The Walking Dead Theme - THE WALKING DEAD


My feelings on The Walking Dead Soundtrack are complicated.  First off, you can't buy any of the soundtracks with Bear's score.  It's not for sale.  Which really sucks. Most of it is just tone music and can't really be appreciated in the way Bear needs to be appreciated.  BUT - this song, while a little repetitive and not as inspired as his other work, does set the tone for this creepy, gory, and (at times) claustrophobic show. Here's the other thing - it's IMMEDIATELY recognizable. As soon as you hear the first few notes, you instantly know that The Walking Dead is about to follow.  You can't beat that undeniable association.  Call it what you will, but that branding is superb.




I probably could have switched The Walking Dead theme and BSG theme very easily.  I think they are probably just as equally as good as each other in that, they evoke a LOT of emotion as they begin. It's all about how easily one recognizes this theme and associates it with the experience of the show.  To be honest, when I first heard it, I thought it was kind of cheesy.  But, as time went along, and I started to understand what themes BSG was trying to explore, I finally got it. Again, between Raya's breathy vocals in SANSKRIT, and the the pounding drums at the end, it's a perfect representation of how the show creates the hard drama amalgam of military life and deep faith that's so prevalent in the show.  I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the jump from soothing vocals to the hard and grating drums.  A near perfect theme.





I think this is the second most played song I have from the Outlander soundtrack - in either vol.1 or vol. 2.  The song is paced well, features some fantastic strings, hearty beats, and breathtaking bagpipes.  The Skye Boat theme and Jamie/Claire theme are prominent throughout and ends off on such a fantastic note of hope with Raya's beautiful lyrics of The Skye Boat Song.  But what really kicks it into overdrive for me is the back third of the song when the acoustic guitar starts playing, the strings overtake the tone and the final giant "WOOSHES" play during the final beats of the Skye Boat theme.  It just feels like Outlander, and it puts emphasis on how the show is truly about hope and love.  Especially after that controversial finale of season 1b. 




Bear finally came into his own in season 4 of BSG and this song is the perfect example of his progression.  This song is fearless.  It's haunting.  Yet, it's vulnerable.  And it's perfectly representative of the weird stuff that was happening during this scene.  Again, I'm not going to ruin the story for you by telling you what's going on - but its memorable.  From the slight old school style piano in the beginning (it almost reminds me of a western) to the frenetic jump into the All Along The Watchtower/Cylon theme - its heart wrenching, paranoid, and pulsating.  And my god, that electric guitar.  Best of all - it's wholly unique.




Is anyone else seeing a trend here?  I LOVE RAYA YARBROUGH.  Her vocals in this song also make Outlander what it is. In this song, she represents all that is unique about Outlander - she's breathy, distant, mysterious, ominous, and sexy even.  It sets the tone for the mystic nature of the show, and the fanciful steps Claire undertakes throughout her journey.  It's constant reminder that we aren't just dealing with time travel or sci fi - there's something spiritual at play in Outlander, and we need to respect that.  Bear loves his drums (sometimes a little too much), and he loves his strings - but he REALLY loves Raya, and he knows how to utilize her uncanny talents perfectly.





I think another trend here is that I love Battlestar Galactica too.  But, honestly, Bear was so fraking creative on this show.  This song is traditional fare for BSG - big drums, beautiful strings, violin solos, and so on.  But two aspects of the score make this song over the top - the use of the duduk, the accordion, the bagpipes at the beginning of the song, and then the strings that become prominent at the 6:17 mark.  Like BSG, this song took the time to find small moments in BIG situations.  It's not just about preparation for war, the battle, or the big ships that are fighting in space.  No - we have to remember it's about the characters, the small moments, and the details that make this show/score how great it is.  One of my favorite songs to listen to in general.  SO SAY WE ALL.




Say what you will about the show - I think it's a heaping pile of garbage - but the score is utterly remarkable.  In fact, the score and the opening sequence are probably the only redeemable aspects of the show.  But as much as I like to take stabs at it, the score for this show truly is great and there is no better representation of it than this main theme.  It's rough, hard sensed, visceral, and it really makes me feel like a bad ass pirate when I listen to it.  The guitar, the vocals, and the drums (there they are again!) all come at you with zero reluctance.  They just pound you into submission. And my god, that main melody from the strings - what a song.  I'm not gonna lie - I'm getting pumped up listening to it as I write this.  I just wish the show was half as good as this song....




HONORABLE MENTIONS


The Veil Of Time - OUTLANDER

DaVinci's Demons Theme - DAVINCI'S DEMONS

Passacaglia/The Shape of Things To Come - BATTLESTAR GALACTICA



So that's it!  Did I miss something that you liked? Let us know!



4 comments

  1. It was great listening to all these songs,of course my fav is the OL song,what a voice Raya & Bear is just brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is no doubt Bear is a musical genius.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You completely captured my sentiments about the theme song for The Walking Dead. Is it his best work? No, probably not. BUT at a time when TV show theme songs are either gone entirely or are easily dismissed, this song has become completely synonymous with the show, its saga, its tone and its crazed fandom. How many shows can claim that anymore? That's because of Bear. Great post, Blake!

    ReplyDelete
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