A year previous to his ground-breaking Jaws theme, John Williams had released his bold soundtrack for the 1974 disaster-movie "The Towering Inferno". Many music experts will argue the fact that The Towering Inferno is far superior to William's following effort, but they would have to wait 6 years, until the release of William's mind-blowing Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack, to fully appreciate the fact that Jaws was no more no less than the "ultimate" example of William's musical vision, and thus a spring-board to his further works. If you listen carefully, you can hear traces of Jaws in his three Raiders soundtracks (1981-84-89), in Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T (1982), and most notably Jurassic Park (1993).
"Main Title" is a 2-and-a-quarter-minute orchestral suite that most people immediately recognise; you could say that it’s one of the most popular movie themes ever conducted, alongside the legendary Indiana Jones theme, and even Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock). Simply put, a two-note progressive humming, speckled with large clashes and a shuddering French horn; simple, yet tremendously clever, reminiscent of many aspects from Brad Fiedel’s Terminator 2 soundtrack in a way (1991). Tracks “Chrissie‘s Death“, “Sea Attack Number One” and “One Barrel Chase” are further explorations of this theme, adding investigational rattles and patches of strange percussion to the equation, as well as passionate string sections that conjure that trademark E.T-esque ambience. “Night Search” sounds almost like a dusky John Barry theme from the early James Bond movies, erotic and enchanting, but with a sense of danger and mystery - the first of many wonderful additions to this mind-bending soundtrack.
Every Williams score has a powerful secondary theme, for instance The Last Crusade had its majestic “Holy Grail” string sections (1989), and Jurassic Park had its soft orchestral suites for the numerous emotional sequences (1993). Jaws is no exception. “Sea Attack Number One”, “One Barrel Chase” and especially “Preparing the Cage” introduce this theme throughout the main theme and other elaborate segments, consisting in several layers of instruments building up in a progressive manner, backed with beautiful but premonitious violin sections, before expanding into different directions. This adventurous layer-upon-layer approach is very similar to his latter “Belly of the Steel Beast” from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade score. “Promenade” and “Out to Sea” are very different, as they establish the humorous and emotive aspects of the movie by use of fluttering wind symphonies and playful orchestration, giving more dimension and body to Spielberg’s film.
All in all, Jaws is a powerful and hugely underrated soundtrack, ingeniously prancing from experimental percussion and eerie melodies to upbeat orchestration and light-hearted themes. This review has covered the original album with 12 tracks, though you should also check out the 25th Anniversary Edition which has been extended and re-mastered with additional material edited into 20 tracks with different track titles. These albums are available as follows with full track listings below: