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Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Mondo Music

the nightmare before christmas danny elfman poster large

Composed by Danny Elfman
1993
Released on November 13th, 2020

Review:

Through the 1990s, The Walt Disney Company released a string of critically and commercially successful animated films. Snuggled between 1992’s Aladdin and 1994’s The Lion King, was a strange little outlier; The Nightmare Before Christmas. Disney didn’t know what to do with this weird claymation monster movie. They didn’t know how to market it. They worried that the fantasy-horror would be too dark for kids and too juvenile for adults. Their concerns were unwarranted. The movie had a slow start, but as the years went on, The Nightmare Before Christmas grew from sleeper hit to cult flick to bonafide Disney Classic.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fish-out-of-water story blended with a morality tale about the dangers of greed. Jack Skeleton, The Pumpkin King, is the ruler of Halloween Town. By his own admission, he is the best as what he does. Because of his skill and charm, he has the love and adoration of all the townspeople. It isn’t enough. Jack wants more. One day, while wandering the forest, he stumbles upon Christmas Town. He doesn’t understand Christmas Town, but that doesn’t matter. He decides to take it.

Tim Burton’s story laid the groundwork. Henry Selick’s direction added depth and personality. But because the movie is a musical, it was composer Danny Elfman who gave The Nightmare Before Christmas its voice. Much of the plot is telegraphed through the lyrics Elfman wrote. As the characters sing and dance, their insights and motivations are shared with the audience.

“What’s This?” is a good example. The song follows Jack as he discovers Christmas Town for the first time. The lyrics are about the wonders of discovery; the joy of something fresh and new. Jack, voiced by Elfman, sings a buoyant melody that moves up and down with perfectly timed rests to emphasize points of lyricism. The orchestration backs him up. It bounces with jubilance as Jack explores this new and unknown world. The song is delightful. It’s a fun, catchy tune that easily stands out as one of the soundtrack’s highlights.

Another highlight is “Sally’s Song.” Where “What’s This?” bumps with excitement, “Sally’s Song” plays on a slower tempo. The instrumentation is restrained, leaving the focus on the vocals. Catherine O’Hara plays the living rag-doll, Sally Finklestein. Here, she sings about her longing for Jack. The track is essentially a torch song, reflective and somber. O’Hara does a fantastic job at staying in character, singing with a cartoony voice while still conveying a sense of longing and emotion.

O’Hara’s Sally Finklestein is one of the best characters of the film, but as any fan of Maleficent or Ursula will tell you, it’s the Disney villains who make or break these movies. The Nightmare Before Christmas almost falls flat here. The film’s antagonist, Oogie Boogie, simply isn’t given enough screen-time. But Elfman steps-up and establishes the character through music. “Oogie Boogie’s Song” is flashy and perverse. The vocals are performed by cabaret singer, Ken Page. He performs with a Cab Calloway inflection and a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins level of melodrama. As the monster dances around onscreen, gleefully tormenting his victim, the music roars like a New Orleans jazz club. It only takes a few measures and it is done: Boogie is delivered as an evil to be reckoned with.

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The lyrical storytelling goes beyond the curious, the sad, and the menacing. More often than not, The Nightmare Before Christmas is funny. The best gags deal with Halloween Town citizens misunderstanding the traditions of Christmas Town. When Jack first visits Christmas Town, he sings with amazement, “There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads / They’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead!” Later, as Jack later shows a Christmas stocking to his neighbors, the residents respond, “Does it still have a foot? / Let me see! Let me Look! / Is it rotted and covered with gook?” It’s all so disgusting and hilarious.

As entertaining as the lyrics are, the tone of the soundtrack is set by the instrumentals. Elfman’s music is whimsical. Bells and chimes play merry while strings roller-coaster up and down. Reprisals weave in and out, but never excessively. The repeated themes reinforce the melodies without overstaying their welcome.

Danny Elfman was well into the third decade of his career when he did the music for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Before this film, he did musical theatre, he found radio success with his new wave / rock band, Oingo Boingo, and he built a catalogue of movie-score work. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a cumulation of this. It reflects the mood of the film and enhances the drama with cues while also giving it a commercial sensibility with traditional pop song structures. From gross and morose, from to giddy and witty, the words these characters sing create a fully-formed world.

The soundtrack works better for those who are already familiar with the movie. That said, there are a few differences between this soundtrack and the soundtrack featured in the film. The aforementioned “Oogie Boogie’s Song”, for example, contains an extra verse that never made it to theaters. In addition, the spoken-word introduction is narrated by Patrick Stewart on the soundtrack and Ed Ivory in the movie. But overall, anyone who has seen the film will know what to expect here.

The real treat with this release is the art, design, and packaging. The art is taken directly from Tim Burton himself. The album cover is quintessential The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack is seated atop the film’s iconic spiraled clifftop. Against a black-night sky, Jack is silhouetted in front of a shining yellow moon. Below him are fields of smiling orange Jack O’ Lanterns. The image is hand-drawn with shaky lines, making it gestural and human.

The back cover, the gatefold, and the inner sheet mimic that same sense of style. On the back, Santa Clause (comically known as Sandy Claws to the residents of Halloween Town) is opening his door to three little terrors; Oogie Boogie’s child henchmen, Lock, Shock, and Barrel. Burton illustrates a look of confusion on Santa’s face as the three small monsters stand shadowed at his feet. These details make the art a lot of fun.

The physical product is solid. It’s 2xLP 180 Gram vinyl with one LP inspired by Jack’s black-and-white striped outfit and the other inspired by the blue, red, and yellow that Sally wears. The music was remastered specifically for vinyl by James Plotkin. Both discs are flat and play clean.

This is not the first time The Nightmare Before Christmas has been pressed onto vinyl. The souvenir shops in Disney’s amusement parks have steadily carried different picture discs through the years. But the sound quality on those albums have gotten poor reviews. There have been a few black wax releases as well. Those were said to sound better. But they were housed in basic, no-frills packaging. This release by Mondo is the one fans have been waiting nearly three decades for.

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Grades:

Music: Fourandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Cover
Buy Amazon Uk
Art: Fourandahalfstars
Packaging: Fourandahalfstars
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

About The Author
Richie Corelli
Staff Writer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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