Jaws: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

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Jaws: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The three releases of the soundtrack conducted by John Williams feature Roger Kastel's iconic painting[1][2]
Film score by
ReleasedApril 21, 1992
RecordedMarch 1975
Studio20th Century Fox Studios Scoring Stage (Los Angeles, CA)
GenreSoundtrack, Classical
LabelMCA Records
John Williams chronology
''Jaws: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack''
Family Plot
Jaws chronology
Jaws 2

The Jaws soundtrack (officially Jaws: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is the music composed and conducted by John Williams for Steven Spielberg's 1975 film Jaws. The soundtrack is particularly notable for the 2-note ostinato which represents the shark, a theme so simple that Spielberg initially thought it was a joke by the composer.[3]

The film score was recorded in March 1975 at 20th Century Fox Studios and Universal, with expanded tracks recorded in April 1975 for the commercial release of the soundtrack album.[4] The soundtrack album was released on LP by MCA in 1975, and as a CD in 1992. In 2000, two new versions of the score were released to coincide with the film's 25th anniversary: one in a re-recording of the entire Jaws score by Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely, and another by Decca/Universal featuring the entire 51 minutes of the original score. The score was reissued again in 2015 through Intrada Records containing the full film score along with alternate takes, source music and a remaster of the 1975 album.

The soundtrack was critically well received, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Score,[5] the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score[6] and Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media,[7] In addition was ranked the sixth greatest score by the American Film Institute.[8][9] The score has been the subject of scholarly discussion in relation to its tradition in classical Hollywood scoring,[10] and its role in creating space in the film.[11][12]


John Williams had previously scored Steven Spielberg's debut feature, The Sugarland Express, and he would go on to collaborate with the director on almost all of his subsequent films.[13] Spielberg had used Williams' title theme from Robert Altman's 1972 psychological horror film Images as a temp track during the editing of Jaws.[3] When Williams first demonstrated his idea to Spielberg, playing just the two notes on a piano, Spielberg was said to have laughed, thinking that it was a joke as he was expecting a more "melodic" tune.[14] Williams responded, explaining "the sophisticated approach you would like me to take isn't the approach you took with the film I just experienced."[15] After hearing the notes played again and at different speeds, Spielberg agreed, saying that "sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones" and that the composer "had found a signature for the entire score."[3]

The main "shark" theme, a simple alternating pattern of two notes—variously identified as "E and F"[16] or "F and F sharp"[17]—became a classic piece of suspense music, synonymous with approaching danger (see leading-tone). Williams described the theme as "grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable."[13] Elaborating on the simplicity, Williams said that he felt that the motif should be "brainless... like the shark."[15]

As Williams saw similarities between Jaws and pirate movies, at other points in the score he evoked "pirate music", which he called "primal, but fun and entertaining". The primal opening notes are developed from the opening foreboding tone of Ravel's La valse.[14] Calling for rapid, percussive string playing, the score also contains echoes of Debussy's La mer, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, and the opening of the 4th movement of Dvořák's New World Symphony.[17][18][19]


Recording the soundtrack for Jaws started on March 3, 1975.[4] A large stage was required to accommodate a full orchestra; as Universal's stages were unavailable,[20] the first two days were recorded at the Fox Scoring Stage at Culver City, California. The film's producer, Richard D. Zanuck secretly watched the recording from the sidelines.[20] Grammy-award winning Theodore Keep was the sound engineer, and musicians included guitarist Tommy Tedesco, trumpet player Malcolm McNab and percussionists Shelly Manne and Emil Richards.[4] The piece was performed by tuba player Tommy Johnson. When asked by Johnson why the melody was written in such a high register and not played by the more appropriate French horn, Williams responded that he wanted it to sound "a little more threatening".[21]

On March 5, recording moved to Stage 10 at Universal Studios because it was more appropriate for "stringless" (percussion, tuba, and brass, etc.) recording for the diegetic music played by the Amity marching band early in the film; this included tunes by Scott Joplin, Johann Strauss II and original compositions by Williams. Because the town band was meant to sound like amateur musicians, Spielberg himself played clarinet, slightly out of tune.[4][22] These diegetic tracks were included on the Intrada release.

When audiences commended the music on comment cards at the previews of the film in Dallas, Texas and Long Beach, California (on March 26 and 28 respectively), it was decided to produce a soundtrack album. Williams usually arranges and records versions of his soundtracks which are more appropriate the commercial album release.[23] The liner notes for the Intrada release explains that Williams wanted to develop some of the cues to "make a more cohesive listening experience, so... he expanded and rearranged the highlights of the Jaws score for album presentation."[4] Those tracks were recorded on April 17–18, 1975 at The Burbank Studios in California.[4] Scholar Audissino highlights the music in the beach montage sequence, in which the tourists arrive for the 4th July weekend, as an example of an expanded piece; lasts for 1:30 in the film, whereas on the original album it is expanded to 2:46.[24]



Professional ratings
Review scores

Writing for Empire, Ian Freer called the short length of the original 1975 soundtrack album ("a paltry 35 minutes") as "one of the most heinous crimes in the history of motion picture soundtrack albums."[25] In a five-star review of the 2000 Decca Records release, Freer highlights the inclusion of previously unreleased material, the liner notes from Spielberg and Williams, commending this collector's edition as "the last word in Jaws musicology."[25]

Although Filmtracks acknowledges the role of the music within the context of the film, and its place in "the history of film music", it is less positive about it in album form. They write, "Jaws is not something you can sit and listen to for any great length of time. Study and admire its constructs and intelligent application, but don't expect it to freely entertain without forcing you into a more contemplative analysis of its purpose."[26]

Awards and accolades[edit]

John Williams won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Jaws at the 1976 Awards, having previously won an Oscar in 1972 for Fiddler on the Roof.[27] The score won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score at the 33rd Golden Globe Awards.[6] In 1976, this soundtrack also won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 18th Annual Grammy Awards

In 2005, the American Film Institute ranked Jaws sixth in its 100 Years of Film Scores, a list of the top 25 film scores in American cinema.[9]

Scholarly analysis[edit]

There are various interpretations of the meaning and effectiveness of the primary music theme, which is widely described as one of the most recognizable cinematic themes of all time.[28] Music scholar Joseph Cancellaro proposes that the two-note expression mimics the shark's heartbeat.[29] According to Alexandre Tylski, like themes Bernard Herrmann wrote for Taxi Driver, North by Northwest, and particularly Mysterious Island, it suggests human respiration. He further argues that the score's strongest motif is actually "the split, the rupture"—when it dramatically cuts off, as after Chrissie's death.[17] The relationship between sound and silence is also taken advantage of in the way the audience is conditioned to associate the shark with its theme,[13] which is exploited toward the film's climax when the shark suddenly appears with no musical introduction.[28]

Music scholar Emilio Audissino writes, "Williams came up with the primitive rhythmic simplicity of an ostinato... those three repeated bass notes recall the heartbeat, the primordial rhythm of life. Their seemingly unstoppable constant and mechanical repetition effectively represents the shark."[15]

In the film, ostinato represents the shark. Audissino points out that Williams "plays fair" by only using the leitmotif when the shark is genuinely present; for instance, it is not used in the panic sequence on the beach transpires to have been caused by boys with a fake fin.[30] The leitmotif's adaptable tempo is an example of Mickey Mousing, whereby the music replicates the action on, and in this case off, screen.[30]

Audissino also highlights that the score reflects the contrasting worlds of humans and the shark. The humans, "lit by the sun", are represented by melodies with "bright tibres of violins, flutes and trumpets", whereas as the shark's music is "low pitched, mechanical, with dark timbre".[30]


Spielberg later said that without Williams's score the film would have been only half as successful, and according to Williams it jumpstarted his career.[14]

Williams went on the work on the film's sequel, Jaws 2. Although the bulk of the score for Jaws 2 was original, Williams retained the shark's motif , which he says is in "the great tradition" for repeating musical themes in Hollywood serials such as Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger.[31] Although the soundtracks for the subsequent sequels were written by different composers, Alan Parker and Michael Small incorporated the main shark theme into both of their scores, with credit to Williams.[32][33] I.Q. Hunter highlights Small's score for Jaws The Revenge as "effective variations on John Williams’ classic theme".[34]

The shark theme has become highly recognisable. As scholar Amanda Howell says, "the widely reproduced and widely recognised leitmotif ... ultimately achieved a life of its own beyond the haunted waters of the film -- and well past the classical score's aesthetic of audibility."[10] It has been used in several other films for comic effect. Spielberg himself used it in a sequence in his comedy 1941, which spoofed the opening scene of Jaws, with actor Susan Backlinie being attacked by a nuclear submarine.[35] It is also used in the opening of the comedy Airplane!, when it transpires that what appears to be a shark's fin is the tail fin of an airplane. The Spielberg-produced Back to the Future Part II uses the theme in a sequence set in the then-future 2015, when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) comes across a cinema showing Jaws 19.[36] The animated films Finding Nemo and Shark Tale both use the music, often as part of a comment, Matthew Lerberg argues, about restoring the negative representation of Great Whites created by Spielberg's film.[37] Characters in Finding Nemo hum the theme for Bruce the shark, while Shark Tale opens with Williams' theme.[37]


The original soundtrack for Jaws was released by MCA Records on LP in 1975, and as a CD in 1992, including roughly a half hour of music that Williams redid for the album.[25][38] In 2000, two versions of the score were released: Decca/Universal reissued the soundtrack album to coincide with the release of the 25th-anniversary DVD, featuring the entire 51 minutes of the original score,[25][38] and Varèse Sarabande released a rerecording of the score performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely.[39]

In 2015, Intrada Records released a special edition of the soundtrack, featuring recordings of the film versions of the cues, the remastered original 1975 soundtrack album, and also the diegetic music played by the Amity town band. Intrada transferred the original three-track split mono to 24-bit resolution. However, it became apparent that this element was never intended to be mixed into true stereo. Because the film music was recorded at Fox Studios rather than Universal, the recording format was closer to what would later become standard.[4]

The cover of the three releases recorded by Williams (1975, 2000, 2015) features the painting from the original film poster, often described as "iconic",[2] by artist Roger Kastel,[1] whereas the McNeely release features a photograph of a shark.

Track listings[edit]

1975 MCA Records album
1."Main Title (Theme From 'Jaws')"2:18
2."Chrissie's Death"1:39
3."Promenade (Tourists on the Menu)"2:46
4."Out to Sea"2:26
5."The Indianapolis Story"2:23
6."Sea Attack Number One"5:23
7."One Barrel Chase"3:04
8."Preparing the Cage"3:23
9."Night Search"3:29
10."The Underwater Siege"2:31
11."Hand to Hand Combat"2:32
12."End Title (Theme From 'Jaws')"2:18
2000 Varèse Sarabande re-recording (conducted by Joel McNeely)
1."Main Title"1:06
2."The First Victim"1:43
3."The Empty Raft"1:15
4."The Pier Incident"2:19
5."Father And Son"2:19
6."The Alimentary Canal"2:02
7."Ben Gardner's Boat"3:21
9."A Tug On The Line"2:12
10."Into the Estuary"2:49
11."Out to Sea"0:56
12."Man Against Beast"5:15
13."Quint's Tale"2:30
14."Brody Panics"1:16
15."Barrel Off Starboard"1:38
16."The Great Chase"3:02
17."Three Barrels Under"2:05
18."From Bad to Worse"0:53
19."Quint Thinks it Over"1:08
20."The Shark Cage Fugue"2:00
21."The Shark Approaches"0:42
22."The Shark Hits the Cage"1:45
23."Quint Meets his End"1:08
24."Blown to Bits"3:11
25."End Title"1:56
2000 Decca Records album
1."Main Title and First Victim**"3:27
2."The Empty Raft*"1:23
3."The Pier Incident*"2:23
4."The Shark Cage Fugue"1:59
5."Shark Attack*†"1:17
6."Ben Gardner's Boat"3:31
8."Father and Son*†"3:42
9."Into the Estuary*"2:50
10."Out to Sea"2:58
11."Man Against Beast"5:33
12."Quint's Tale"2:40
13."Brody Panics*"1:10
14."Barrel Off Starboard*"1:30
15."The Great Shark Chase**†"3:28
16."Three Barrels Under*†"2:05
17."Between Attacks*†"2:06
18."The Shark Approaches**"2:40
19."Blown to Bits"3:03
20."End Titles"1:52

* = Previously unreleased
** = Includes unreleased music
† = Includes music not used in the film

2015 Intrada Records 2CD release[edit]

Disc 1[edit]

The Film Score (Remastered)
1."Jaws – Main Title"0:59
2."The First Victim"1:45
3."Remains On The Beach"0:59
4."The Empty Raft (Extended Version)"1:45
5."The Pier Incident"2:30
6."Father And Son (Film Version)"1:59
7."The Alimentary Canal"1:58
8."Ben Gardner's Boat"3:33
10."Into The Estuary"2:53
11."Out To Sea (Film Version)"1:01
12."Tug On The Line"2:39
13."Man Against Beast (Film Version)"5:34
14."Quint's Tale"2:48
15."Brody Panics"1:16
16."Barrel Off Starboard"1:41
17."Great Chase"3:02
18."Shark Tows Orca"0:41
19."Three Barrels Under"2:17
20."From Bad To Worse"1:07
21."Quint Thinks It Over"1:14
22."The Shark Cage Fugue"2:02
23."The Shark Approaches (Film Version)"0:53
24."The Shark Hits The Cage"2:03
25."Quint Meets His End"1:27
26."Blown To Bits"3:17
27."Jaws – End Title"1:57
The Extras
28."Jaws – Main Title (Alternate)"1:12
29."The Typewriter (Unused)"0:21
30."Man Against Beast (Alternate)"5:38
31."Barrel Off Starboard (Alternate Segment)"0:54
32."Great Chase (Alternate)"3:03
33."Shark Tows Orca (Alternate)"0:42
34."The Shark Approaches (Alternate)"0:55
35."Quint Meets His End (Alternate)"1:32
36."Wild Shark Theme"1:10

Disc 2[edit]

1975 MCA Records album (Remastered)
1."Main Title (Theme From 'Jaws')"2:18
2."Chrissie's Death"1:39
3."Promenade (Tourists on the Menu)"2:46
4."Out to Sea"2:26
5."The Indianapolis Story"2:23
6."Sea Attack Number One"5:23
7."One Barrel Chase"3:04
8."Preparing the Cage"3:23
9."Night Search"3:29
10."The Underwater Siege"3:31
11."Hand to Hand Combat"2:32
12."End Title (Theme From 'Jaws')"2:18
The Extras Music From Amity Town Beach
13."Joplin Rag (Original Rag)" (composed by Scott Joplin)2:07
14."Winter Stories Waltz" (composed by Alphons Czibulka)1:46
15."In The Good Old Summertime" (composed by George Evans & Ren Shields)1:29
16."Thousand And One Nights Waltz" (composed by Johann Strauss Jr.)1:49
17."Marching Band No. 1"1:09
18."Marching Band No. 2"2:05


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