Composed by Michael Giacchino
Lost, conceived by J.J. Abrams, became an instant television phenomenon. The show sees a plane crash on an island. The survivors realize that there is something odd about the island, such as how no rescue seems to be coming even after weeks of waiting. A mystery show, Lost kept audiences engrossed with its seemingly endless string of mysteries and surprises. But the true appeal comes from the interesting cast of characters (ranging from the mysterious John Locke to the loveable Hurley) whose stories are equally interesting and absorbing. Each episode would focus on a character, providing flashbacks to their pre-crash lives. One aspect that greatly helped the story along was the fantastic music by Michael Giacchino. Giacchino had previously worked on J.J. Abrams’ Alias. Giacchino’s music for that series was heavily electronic and Bond-inspired. But for a show as big and ambitious as Lost, Giacchino and the brains behind the project knew that an orchestral score was needed. And so the composer embarked on an incredible musical journey. His work on the six-season show produced an incredible array of themes and motifs which by the later seasons worked with each other in a complex web. While Giacchino had some fairly high profile work with the Medal of Honor franchise and the Incredibles, this show really launched him into the major leagues. It further helped usher in what I consider the golden years of TV scores, alongside Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica and Murray Gold’s Doctor Who. Whereas they were previously cheap, often synthetic filler, they were now rich orchestral scores that often outshone film scores with easier production schedules.
My reviews for the Lost soundtracks will of course be guided by the album production. I can say right off the bat that Giacchino’s music for the series as a whole hits a 10/10 rating. Album releases for television scores, moreso in those days, would contain about an hour to a full disc of highlights, sometimes from more than one season. Therefore I rate each season’s score by how it was put on album, not in the show itself. I will also try to give brief spoiler-free summaries before launching deeper into the music, for the benefit of anyone who plans on seeing the show for the first time and wants to be surprised. The album for the first season is about 65 minutes and spans material from 25 episodes (roughly 1,050 minutes of running time though much of season one is unscored). The first season only scratched the surface of the island’s mysteries and was often more about survival and learning to get along. The music is thus less complex than what would be heard in later seasons. Many of the earlier cues featured ethereal synthesized-backed moments or low-key suspense. The album is full of short but frenetic action cues that, given the isolated jungle island setting, sound primal. The various percussive effects give even softer cues a distinctly tropical feel. The music in later seasons would get showier. Giacchino’s music actually has a bit of a throwback feel, sometimes evoking Bernard Hermann’s suspense scores (“Kate’s Motel”) or The Twilight Zone (“Proper Motivation”).
Giacchino also took up the novel idea of incorporating airplane parts into his percussion. This ingenious nod to the event that starts off the show makes for interesting action and suspense cues. “World’s Worst Beach Party” is the first prime example, an eerie action piece that aside from a couple Timpani booms never gets loud. Thanks to the numerous cliffhangers, Giacchino often ended his episodic scores with a loud, blaring trombone that sounds like a plane passing overhead. After these cheesy yet effective enders the word LOST appeared with a percussive echoing bang. The trombone is also a fixture of many action and suspense cues. J.J. Abrams actually contributed to the ambience by composing ‘Main Title” a simple, ominous electronic ditty. It’s an effective opening tune, but has no purpose other than to back up the word LOST. Abrams himself actually took his hands off the show after the third episode, existing only as a producer.
Giacchino created three major themes for the first season that would play a large role throughout the series. The first is the Main Mystery theme. It appears at 1:19 in “The Eyeland” after an ambient series of synthesizers, echoing percussion, tense strings, and a throbbing electronic bit that would recur throughout the show. The Mystery theme is a repeating five-note motif that builds and builds during revelations or in moments of (often creepy) mystery. It was prominent in the earlier seasons and kept fresh with several variations, but would take a smaller role towards the end as the atmosphere of the unknown was peeled back. The most interesting alteration on the first album comes in “Charlie Hangs Around” when Giacchino speeds it up on piercing strings for a horrifying sight.
The actual main theme for Lost is introduced in “Credit Where Credit is Due.” It’s an overall dramatic theme for all of the survivors based around three-note segments. There are two parts to the theme, the first part more likely to function independently as in “Just Die Already” and “Booneral.” It took some time for Giacchino to develop his assembly of character themes. As a result he relied on the main Lost theme for various dramatic character moments and so it was a frequent fixture of season one. In “Departing Sun,” from an episode that focuses on Korean couple Sun & Jin, he gives it a slightly Asian flavor (this is my favorite iteration thanks to the higher level of drama involved). “Navel Gazing” puts it through playful paces along with some tropical percussion.
The third theme is the Life and Death theme, the name coming from the renowned titular track. It first appears in the fifth episode when designated main character Jack Sheppard delivers his “Live Together, Die Alone” speech (“Win One for the Reaper”). The theme is heavily linked to an experience with death, but not always. “Life and Death” is of course the cue that made it famous, from one of the most important emotional moments of the show. In this track the Lost theme makes a short appearance afterwards, followed by the airplane sound effect. These three themes really help tie the album together and make it an effective stand-alone listen.
One of the achievements of Lost is the abundance of character themes. Giacchino not only gives each character his or her own theme, but sometimes multiple themes. The first season saw many of these themes debut, but the album only presents a handful. The most important are Locke’s two themes. John Locke is the first character to realize that there’s something incredible going on with the island and even develops a spiritual attachment to it. “Crocodile Locke” introduces the Spiritual Locke theme. This represents him as he is on the island, a highly knowledgeable, mysterious figure who helps the other survivors learn how to adapt to their new jungle environment. In this track the theme is accompanied by a light percussive beat and ethereal synthesizers. Giacchino later added an extension which appears separately in “Monsters Sure are Interesting People.” (1:07) Then there is the Emotional Locke theme, showcased wonderfully in “Locke’d Out Again.” In the earlier seasons this theme was stated infrequently, usually once in a Locke-centric episode. It first appears for a miraculous moment in episode 4. Despite its triumphal debut, it usually plays when an event in a flashback breaks Locke emotionally. “Locke’d Out Again” is listed as coming from episode 19, but sounds like a medley of the theme from that episode and its earlier debut.
The album includes two themes for Claire, the pregnant Australian chick. “We’re Friends” presents her main theme, a simple peaceful melody. “Thinking Clairely” has a simple piano theme related to her upcoming child. Kate Austen, the designated female lead, gets a dark Hermannesque melody in the appropriately named “Kate’s Motel.” Kate is actually a criminal so the dark music is fitting for her. The smoke monster, the most unusual element of the first season, appears now and then to bedevil our characters and gets two motifs to itself. The first is a simple rhythm introduced in “Run, Like, Um…Hell?” (0:13) The second is a rising, repeating four note motif in the brisk “Proper Motivation.” Both motifs come together for “Monsters are Such Interesting People.” The final theme to note is the main Trek theme (“Hollywood and Vines”). This melody accompanies many scenes of the characters walking across the island and distinguishes itself by being neither mysterious nor emotional, but adventurous. By season three Giacchino made a habit of utilizing this theme for all the season finales. Regrettably the other recurring Trek theme, a repeating five-note motif that popped up frequently in the first season, is absent from this album and would only get two appearances across ten discs of releases.
The album is well put together. The only inclusion that I question is “Shannonigans,” a reprise of “Locke’d Out Again” without the rising drama section. I would have much preferred at least one iteration of the second Trek theme. Of course a full album that takes advantage of all disc space would also have been nice. The music for this show is so good that each album release misses at least an hour of worthy music. The last four tracks come from the three part finale “Exodus.” “I’ve Got a Plane to Catch” is a humorous breather cue from when the overweight, loveable Hurley struggles to make his flight in time. It doesn’t have Hurley’s theme, but is in the style of some of his music. “Monsters are Such Interesting People” provides a final, if short action cue.
The last two tracks are real bangers. “Parting Words” introduces the Raft theme, a pair of two interconnecting emotional melodies. In the finale some of the characters set out on a raft in hope of making contact and securing rescue for the other survivors. The Raft theme, though rarely referenced after the first season, made it to the series finale, coming to represent in general escape from the island. In “Parting Words” the theme starts on violin and piano. After the second melody of the theme plays on strings, it repeats on piano (1:07) and then on strings again. At 2:51 the theme starts to build in power with another layer of strings and a slightly faster tempo. By the last minute and a half the theme reaches sweeping levels, full of optimism. Of course since this is a Lost cue it ends with sinister throbbing synthesizer. “Oceanic 815” is a lengthy six minutes. The Lost theme plays on reflective strings for a while before Giacchino reprises “Life and Death.” After some lengthy emotional strings, it transitions to a sinister iteration of the Lost theme (4:55). Haunting strings, sounding somewhat like a choir, leads to a dark variation of Spiritual Locke’s theme before the Mystery theme and the overhead plane trombone close the album out.
This is a great album that, while not reaching the height of the later seasons’ music, was a big step in the quality of television scoring. It has three major recurring themes that tie everything together, but also presents many specific themes and motifs. Future albums would have much more exciting music, but this is a great opener that sets the emotional stakes.
- Main Title (composed by J.J. Abrams) (0:16)
- The Eyeland (1:58)
- Worlds’ Worst Beach Party (2:44)
- Credit Where Credit is Due (2:23)
- Run Like, Um…Hell? (2:21)
- Hollywood and Vines (1:52)
- Just Die Already (1:51)
- Me and My Big Mouth (1:06)
- Crocodile Locke (1:49)
- Win One for the Reaper (2:38)
- Departing Sun (2:42)
- Charlie Hangs Around (3:17)
- Navel Gazing (3:24)
- Proper Motivation (2:00)
- Run Away! Run Away! (0:30)
- We’re Friends (1:32)
- Getting Ethan (1:35)
- Thinking Clairely (1:04)
- Locke’d Out Again (3:30)
- Life and Death (3:39)
- Booneral (1:38)
- Shannonigans (2:25)
- Kate’s Motel (2:07)
- I’ve Got a Plane to Catch (2:37)
- Monsters are Such Interesting People (1:29)
- Parting Words (5:30)
- Oceanic 815 (6:11)