Star Trek source music soared to new heights in First Contact.
Without question, the orchestral score for Star Trek: First Contact is one of the finest to accompany any Star Trek movie. In collaboration with his son, Joel, Jerry Goldsmith created a soundscape every bit as epic and exciting as the film’s story. But the soaring Goldsmith score isn’t the only music helping bring First Contact to life.
More than any Star Trek film before it, First Contact included source music in its soundtrack. Source music is usually diegetic music, meaning it exists in the world of the film and the characters on screen can hear it just as well as the filmgoing audience can.
Before First Contact, Star Trek source music in the frachise’s films wasn’t common. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock did feature futuristic performances of several old standards—”That Old Black Magic,” “Tangerine,” and, most appropriately for that film, “I Remember You”—as background music in the bar where Dr. McCoy tries to hire passage to the Genesis Planet. And Star Trek V: The Final Frontier included the song “The Moon’s a Window to Heaven,” written for the movie, performed by the band Hiroshima, and presumably a 23rd-century chart topper.
(As Star Trek source music, the song itself is not all that bad. The scene in which it occurs? Well, it isn’t one of my favorite Uhura moments. Your mileage may vary.)
By including source music Star Trek audiences would have heard before, First Contact paved the way for the Kelvin timeline Trek films to include Beastie Boys hits.
The source cues of Star Trek: First Contact run the gamut. Here’s some quick commentary to enhance your enjoyment of these musical moments on your next rewatch!
“Vallon sonore” from Les Troyens
As Picard grimly contemplates Starfleet’s orders to stay away from the fight with the Borg, he’s listening in his ready room to “Vallon sonore,” an aria from the opera Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz (The Trojans). Les Troyens retells the Aeneid, Virgil’s epic poem about the warrior Aeneas, who founded Rome in the aftermath of the Trojan War.
Writing for StarTrek.com, journalist Julia Peterson suggests the choice of “Vallon sonore” fits the plot of First Contact because it is an aria “about a sailor’s longing for a home he may never see again.” The suggestion’s a good one, as is this one from TrekBBS “Sheliak”: The aria’s references to the “powerful sea” reinforce the film’s later allusions to and quotations of Melville’s Moby Dick.
Riker mistakes Berlioz’s music for a piece by Berlioz’s contemporary Georges Bizet when he enters Picard’s ready room. The brief exchange can remind us that paying attention to humanity’s cultural expressions is just as much a part of working “to better ourselves,” as Picard will later tell Lily Sloane, as pursuing the sciences and exploring the stars.
We hear Roy Orbison singing “Ooby Dooby” twice in First Contact. The first time, it plays on the jukebox as Zefram Cochrane and Deanna Troi do tequila shots. The second, it plays again as Cochrane drinks with the newly arrived Vulcans and tries to get them to dance.
Per the Vancouver Pop Music blog, Dick Penner and Wade Moore wrote “Ooby Dooby” in 1955 atop a frat house roof in mere minutes while drinking a six pack of beer. The song became a hit for Orbison the next year, ultimately peaking at #59 on Billboard’s Hot 100,
This rockabilly classic’s lyrics may not seem, at first blush, to bear much thematic resemblance to First Contact. But when you think about it, in making first contact with humans after Zefram Cochrane’s pioneering warp flight, aren’t the Vulcans kind of saying they “just gotta be near” us?
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Let’s rock ‘n’ roll!” They may not have the ring of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Engage!” or Michael Burnham’s “Let’s fly.” But with these words, Zefram Cochrane blasts the Phoenix, and humanity, into a whole new future, blasting the strains of Steppenwolf’s 1968 hit, “Magic Carpet Ride.”
This song is, in my judgment, the very best Star Trek source music cue of them all.
Written by frontman John Kay and bass guitarist Rushton Moreve, “Magic Carpet Ride” would become Steppenwolf’s longest-charting single. Per UDiscoverMusic, the song was on the US Hot 100 chart for 16 weeks, soaring as high as the #3 spot.
“Magic Carpet Ride” is an inspired choice for Zefram Cochrane. The song was a pioneer, too, for its envelope-pushing 20-second intro of distorted guitar. And its lyrics—inspired by part by Kay’s new hi-fi stereo and, arguably, in part by marijuana—are on their face a celebration of having and sharing dreams about flying to the stars.
Here’s hoping Paramount’s next Star Trek movie, whenever it arrives, will include some source cues to help audiences make contact again with our favorite vision of the future.