Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Axel F": The Unfaltering Glory of Harold Faltermeyer's Timeless And/Or Extremely Dated Theme

I love that the official name of the theme tune from Beverly Hills Cop is "Axel F." It is not called "Beverly Hills Cop Theme," not even with parentheses. Nor is it called "Axel Foley," which is the character's full name. No, it is simply called "Axel F," which suggests a certain intimate familiarity, like what one might find written on a hastily scrawled memo, taped to the police captain's desk. With "Axel F," we're on the "inside."

Out of the slimy ooze that was Giorgio Moroder, there arose a protege. And that protege was Harold Faltermeyer. Not content to merely work alongside the master on various soundtrack albums and Donna Summer releases, Faltermeyer finally carved out his own plaque in the Eurosleaze Hall of Fame with this nimble one-man show. But "one man" hardly means "one synth," as Wikipedia makes abundantly clear:
Faltermeyer recorded the song using five instruments: a Roland Jupiter-8 provided the distinctive "supersaw" lead sound, a Moog modular synthesizer 15 provided the bass, a Roland JX-3P provided chord stabs, a Yamaha DX7 was used for bell and marimba sounds and a LinnDrum was used for drum programming.
Whoa, look out for that supersaw. What's amazing about "Axel F" is the ebb and flow, the sturm und drang of all the different synthesizer parts. My tongue-in-cheek breakdown:
  • 0:00-0:14: The ominous main theme
  • 0:15: A synthesizer imitating that sound a record kinda makes when you turn it on while the needle is resting in the middle of a track (sort of a "whoosh")
  • 0:16-0:24: Freaky imitation bass line, with freaky imitation cymbals
  • 0:24: Imitation handclaps that always make me think of the very last seconds of "The Safety Dance" (it must have been a common button on that particular synth model)
  • 0:24-0:33: Behold the imitation bass drum!
  • 0:33-0:49: Everything all together now, goosed along by the new kid on the block, an imitation snare drum
  • 0:49-1:10: An alternate main riff (perhaps what Wikipedia calls "chord stabs"?), accompanied by the sound of what appears to be termites quietly munching in both stereo channels
  • 1:10-1:28: Funky breakdown, with imitation bass solo and munching termites; at 1:20 they're joined by what sounds like the flick of Tinkerbell's wand
  • 1:28-1:44: Back to the main riff, with imitation bass drum, meaner and leaner this time
  • 1:45-2:20 Sensual bridge with imitation marimbas; they multiply and multiply and they keep growing and growing and it seems like nothing will stop them until they finally meet their doom at the hands of ...
  • 2:19: Monster imitation drum fill
  • 2:21-2:41: Then it's back into the safe, comforting arms of the alternate riff (from 0:49-1:10)
  • 2:42: And the main theme drives us on home, Faltermeyer's fancy fingers taking us back where we began, all the pieces locking together in peerless mathematical symmetry, like an Escher illustration (but an Escher illustration starring Eddie Murphy)
  • 2:58: And, hey, one last dose of imitation handclaps for good measure

Rarely is the public granted the opportunity to see a master at work, but in the video for "Axel F," such is the opportunity we have been granted, for it stars, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Harold Faltermeyer himself. I didn't realize that Faltermeyer also happened to be the neighborhood pedophile, or possibly former Major League pitcher Curt Schilling. It's also odd that he's sequestered himself in a top-secret computer laboratory, as I don't believe Beverly Hills Cops was an international cyber-thriller, but maybe there were complications going on behind the scenes that we didn't hear about. However, once he's spotted by Mystery Woman peeking through the Venetian blinds, things start to get a little weird. Right around 1:44, two things happen: 1) Faltermeyer, sans hat and sunglasses, suddenly busts out his synth equipment in the middle of the lab, which is, suspiciously, no longer in black & white, and 2) the hat-and-sunglasses Faltermeyer finds himself magically, and dangerously, transported smack into the midst of the Beverly Hill Cop action! See him jog alongside Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold (at 2:01 and 2:26), sneak up to Victor Maitland's mansion (1:57), and dodge the nefarious bullets of Maitland's henchmen (at 2:19)! Something about the whole deal doesn't seem right, as if Faltermeyer wasn't really in the footage to begin with. Besides, this ain't no beat for a rookie. He's in over his head. Sure, enough, in the last shot, it appears as though Faltermeyer has pushed his luck just a step too far, because here comes a giant semi-truck, look out!!!!!!!!

And so, Harold Faltermeyer's first hit ... was his last.

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