Reviewing La-La Land's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Soundtrack CD

.....It's not very often that I get to sit down and actually enjoy being a fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The DVDs are garbage and the present (and apparently ending) toyline has been mismanaged, among many other complaints I have used my little personal corner of the internet to air. However, when La-La Land Records, a small label specializing in film and television soundtracks, announced the impending release of an official soundtrack for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, I actually got to shut up and enjoy being a fan for once. The original soundtrack masters for the series, which were among the many thing presumed destroyed when it was announced that Filmation's original masters for the series (and many others) had been destroyed, were suddenly found! In the UK! Ignoring my personal skepticism that the master tapes had been destroyed by either L'Oreal or Hallmark in the '90s (in no small part because one of my regular correspondents had spoken with Lou Scheimer some years ago and received confirmation that there were proper masters still in existence), this was stupendous news. Suddenly, the state of Filmation's archive status looked less like that of Doctor Who in 1978 and more like something befitting Filmation's famed reputation for caring for their archival materials. So much so that when I came across the news that a "prominent" fan had posted an image of a NTSC D-1 master tape for He-Man's best episode, "The Problem With Power" (comically identifying it as a 1/4" master tape, which is the format traditionally used for music) online, I could shrug, since it was an absolutely anticlimatic "revelation" and something that DreamWorks (current owners of the core Filmation library) have probably been aware of for quite some time.
.....The result of La-La Land's efforts in tracking down the master tapes for He-Man's music, which I now possess, are happily up to La-La Land's usual high standards. This release, spread across two CDs, is formatted in four basic sections. The first is a recreation of an international (and quite rare) LP released by CBS Records in South America, featuring (mostly) a number of key pieces (and one, "Magic Planet", which was never used on the show) in stereo. Second (and comprising the balance of the first disc) is a selection of most of the show's more familiar cues. (Most humorously, the track popularly attributed as the Snake Mountain theme was actually titled by Shuki Levy as "Evil-Lyn". The second disc features mostly lesser used (and in a number of cases, unused) cues, and finishes off with alternate versions of cues from the first disc (some of which being mono versions of music from the CBS LP and a Spanish-language version of the series theme.
.....As is standard for La-La Land, the tracks have been remastered to great effect, with no distortion or tape hiss audible to speak of. ("Greatest Show On Eternia", the title credit cue for the awful, awful, awful episode of the same name, sounds suspiciously like it may have been pulled from the PAL-based episode master, but there are two caveats: one, the only copies of the episode I have encountered in adulthood are from PAL copies, and two, I hate the episode and am no hurry to create a sound file and correct for the time-compression to confirm either way because the episode and the music is pretty damn painful.) Also consistent with La-La Land's releases, the packaging is extremely high quality, using a combination of stills from the series, actual cels and background art, and the stock art created for the BCI DVDs. The liner notes by John Takis, while containing no real revelatory information for fans (unlike, say, La-La Land's soundtrack for Star Trek, which had such crazy details as full lists of the musicians involved), is a great summation of the series and the story of how its music was composed.
.....Nothing, of course, is perfect, and the same can be said for this release. Firstly, it appears that a number of copies shipped are not pressed, but burned. (I have received one such copy.) It's the weekend, and La-La Land is still in a bit of disarray from their appearance at WonderCon last weekend, so it's too early to say just what will be done about this. (UPDATE: A replacement plan is in place. Contact with your order number and address to receive the replacement discs.) Secondly, two tracks, "Trouble in Grayskull" and "Snake Mountain", are the remixed She-Ra/Secret of the Sword versions (which added in a horn instrumentation in order to sound better for a theatrical presentation) and not the originals (click here and here to hear an in-series representation of the He-Man versions). Also, two suspense stingers by Ray Ellis (borrowed from Flash Gordon and used through the second season before eventually being discarded) are not present for obvious reasons. Beyond that, however, there is a ton of music not represented on this release. (Click here for a rather lengthy file of some of the music you won't find on this release.) The best guess is that some of it is mislabeled in the archives as being for She-Ra (a distinct possibility as the third season used a lot of cues, including those for title cards, that was intended for She-Ra) or just plain absent. Some music for the series was originally created for other productions: one for The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and two for a film called Goldwing (one of those tracks, "Video Battle", is on this set). Another track used in the second season sounds like Levy's score for The Get-Along Gang. So, really, outside of rebuilding cues from the music and effects tracks of the episodes themselves (something that Harmony Gold has had to do for its Robotech soundtrack), a truly complete release might not even be possible.
.....Even with these caveats, this set is strongly recommended. While the cues missing are a bit large in number, the reality is that the lion's (or, more accurately, Battle Cat's) share of the score is present. With the exception of the music used in the famous "let the power....return!" scene in "The Problem With Power", there won't be any massive sighs of disappointment, or declarations of the omissions being deal breakers. I for one was delighted to see that not only is the music from He-Man and Skeletor's battle in "The Arena" present (as "Bad Attack"), but there are multiple variants of the piece, one of my personal favorites. And more pragmatically, the success of this release (which is limited to an extremely modest print run of 3,000) means more animated scores from La-La Land, and more importantly, more Filmation scores from La-La Land. And at a price of just under $30 shipped in the US, there's really not any reason not to purchase this great release.

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