Star Wars vs. "Born Free"
The song "Born Free", lyrics by Don Black and music by John Barry, was written for the film Born Free and released by British singer Matt Monro in 1966. Roger Williams (no relation to John) covered the song the same year it was released, for whom it was a huge hit, reaching number seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
On Roger Williams' 2006 (2000?) album Pop Goes The Ivories, he states that John Williams' main theme from Star Wars is just Born Free inverted (upside down). (You can download the clip on Amazon.com, or listen for free on myspace.) Here's a transcript from the (live) recording:
ROGER: You know that Star Wars is just a hit I had years ago turned up-side down? That's right. Anybody remember "Born Free"? We had a big hit on that. Well, Star Wars is just "Born Free" up-side down. I don't think you believe me. Mike, did you dig up that music? I wanna show you. Now this is the music to Star Wars. I'm gonna play it for you, then I'm gonna turn it up-side down and play it for you, and you'll see it's "Born Free". Okay? Here is Star Wars. [He plays the excerpts transcribed below.]
[The audience, hearing the similarity, laughs and applauds. End transcript.]
There are undeniable similarities, but, is Roger Williams actually correct in his assertion? If we take his rendition of the Star Wars main theme and turn it upside down (i.e. rotate it 180 degrees), here's what you get: click here to listen.
The first two notes are similar (the interval of a descending perfect fourth), but that is the only similarity - the rest sounds nothing like "Born Free" whatsoever.
An intervallic inversion is no more similar. Click here to listen.
This is even further from "Born Free" than the up-side down version, due in large part to the change in tonality (it's now in F minor, where the original was in C major).
But, of course, there are similarities. After all, Roger Williams' track wouldn't be funny if a listener could discern no such correlation. Those similarities, though, are not the product of inversion, but rather identical rhythms. However, he had to alter the rhythms of the Star Wars theme in order for that to be the case. Here's the theme as Roger Williams played it, with the original rhythm below:
Notice that the notes are the same, but many of the rhythmic values are elongated. If those rhythms weren't altered as such, a listener would perceive no similarity between Star Wars and "Born Free", and Roger's joke would lose its humor.
Thus, Roger Williams' comment that Star Wars is "Born Free" up-side down is not accurate in the least. He makes this point in jest only.
The Music of Star Wars
These posts will help focus and develop my analyses of John Williams' film scores.