Paul Giovanni singing “Gently Johnny” in a The Wicker Man scene.

Somehow, we’ve come full circle. At a time when most of English neo-folk bands were in some weird half-baked musical purgatory, an American came along to light a fire in their bellies again. This time it was New Yorker Paul Giovanni, sometime playwright, actor, director and musician. In 1973, when Robin Hardy a director from Surrey, England set out to capture a specific feeling to go along with the sights of his the Wicker Man horror mystery, he tapped this composer to do so. If, you’ve ever seen 1973’s The Wicker Man or the knowingly camp Nic Cage 2006 version, you’ll notice the dark undercurrent of English pagan history running through it. Its something that must have struck audiences outside of England, who hadn’t been exposed to such type of music mightily.

The task he asked of Paul was to create a sound which hinted at England’s pre-Christian roots. By hinting at pagan folk songs, Robin could use those sounds to tie into his attempt to film the abstract concept of sacrifice. For a horror movie that was mostly filmed in the light of day, his music would depict all that darkness hidden underneath.

The Wicker Man album cover.

The Wicker Man image, one derived from Julius Caesar’s accounts of seeing French tribes burn criminals in man-shaped twig contraptions or ancient druids and their practices, brought to life an idea of how pagan rites clashing with Christian beliefs in the greater good, sexuality, and justice. Works by the author James Frazer, a Scot, such as The Golden Bough which tried to analyze in a modern way Christianity was shaped by pagan practices, were also rolled into the movie’s grander theme of presenting a modern visual take on how exactly a cult or some other more modern group would appear to us if they practiced rituals not entirely alien to our standard practices. All interesting ideas, that would serve to elevate the movie beyond mere horror, and one that soundtrack itself tried to foment as well.

Paul decided the best way to do this is round up a makeshift folk-rock band he’d dub Magnet, and try to relight the dark sounds of folk-rock that were slowly being lost to the prog and art rock giants of the world. By tapping into these darker original songs, he could also segue into older traditionals (sometimes sung in the movie by the actors themselves) as a kind of dark musical that could drift in and out of the movie.

My track of the day, “Corn Rigs” which opens the album and I believe the movie as well, combines both ideals. The song itself derived from a 1783 poem “The Rigs o’ Barley” by Robert Burns describes the conflagration of sex and Animist imagery. The song’s gorgeous guitar interplay and vocals sung by Paul intertwine to depict the lure of human affection to comprehend such sensations in lieu of plenty imposed social morales saying not to. Corn rigs and barley rigs, in person, spirit and symbolically can let two lovers hide something so sincerely.

The other highlights from the album like “Willow’s Song”, which is introduced in some versions of the soundtrack by the weirdly sinister “Fire Leap,” goes further in the realm of temptation and chastity. This deeply erotic song, which is led by some trance inducing violin (similar to Comus’s work), is played in the movie at a point when the clash of pagan and Christian beliefs is the most clear. On one side of the screen is this young nubile naked woman singing this entrancing song and the other is the chaste Christian “hero” detective attempting to refuse her seduction. The “hero” not knowing full well what would happen if he capitulates.

The rest of the soundtrack has eerie originals like “Gently Johnny”, as shown in this Youtube clip sung by Paul himself, singing of a boy becoming a man through unspoken but known traditions that he must discover himself, interspersed with centuries old songs like “Procession” itself a medieval English rota Sumer is Cumen In sung in choral unison about life being born from new seeds. The soundtrack as a whole so uniquely English, in darkness, lightness, commentary, and sonics presented a seductive sound that must have sounded so different to foreign ears who had completely missed hearing all of England’s recent neo-folk reawakening and takes on such forgotten traditions. For now, rediscover something that flew over most viewers in 1973 and tomorrow how about something else…

Listen to The Wicker Man soundtrack at Grooveshark.