Love Theme From Spartacus

Not a CTI artist, not produced by Creed Taylor but something that has evolved from an instrumental movie track, to a jazz classic, to an amazing soulful song and a chillout classic. Today’s post looks at “Love Theme” from the film Spartacus by Alex North, how it lasted for 38-years before Terry Callier added a lyric to it. Today marks the anniversary of Callier’s passing.

The mix starts with the original track, from the soundtrack album. Alex North was nominated for an Academy Award. North’s soundtrack album was a winner of a Golden Globe for original score, also nominated for an American Film Institute greatest film scores. Segued in next is Yusef Lateef, the first jazz artist to cover and re-interpret the track. Lateef’s 1961 version would stand alone until 1963, when Bill Evans would include it on his extraordinary “Conversations with Myself” album. Evans interpretation is so much more delicate, a pianist alone with himself who moves into an almost ragtime freeform style; that leads to the guitar intro from Terry Callier’s version and into the Zero 7 remix. It is in the remix we first hear Callier’s both beautiful and haunting lyrics, finally Callier’s stripped back vocal track comes in at the end, alone.

Other versions, not included here, are The Ramsey Lewis Trio on their 1965 “In Crowd” album; Santana included a version on his 1980 “The Swing Of Delight“; Gabor Szabo on his 1982 album “Memorabilia” and The Earl Klugh Trio on their surprisingly good, 1991 covers album, “Volume One“.

Terry Callier’s version though, with his lyrics, stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Alex NorthSpartacus Love ThemeSpartacus (The Sound Track Album)19600:000:27
Yusef LateefLove Theme From SpartacusEastern Sounds19610:251:01
Bill EvansTheme From “Spartacus”Conversations With Myself19631:253:59
Terry CallierLove Theme From SpartacusTimePeace (guitar intro)19985:221:14
Terry CallierLove Theme From Spartacus (Zero 7 Remix)Love Theme From Spartacus – 12-inch single remixes19986:295:07
Terry CallierLove Theme From SpartacusTimePeace (vocal)199811:313:15

Remembering Terry Callier

While few people in America will have heard of Terry, and even fewer will remember him, he’d reached iconic status in the UK. I wrote about Terry back in 2018, link below.

I was lucky enough to see Terry once in London, sometime after Terry’s “Love Theme From Spartacus” had reached #57 in the UK Singles chart. Terry was also a regular guest on Jools Holland’s music UK TV shows. Terry’s backstory is just amazing, he went from being a solo artist, to working with Charles Stepney (of Earth, Wind and Fire fame), he joined Jerry Butler’s Chicago Songwriters Workshop with his childhood friend Larry Wade, together they wrote many hits of the Dells. Callier also toured with the likes of George Benson, Gil Scott-Heron and others.

In the US, Terry’s fairly unique musical style lead to releases, but they were commercial failures, he was eventually dropped by labels, the last one being Elektra in 1979. Callier’s only US chart success as an artist was “Sign Of The Times“, was used as the theme tune of WBLS radio DJ Frankie Crocker and became Callier’s only US chart success, reaching # 78 on the R&B chart in 1979 and prompting his appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. After a few more years of touring, Callier quit music and took on raising his daughter, as a single parent.

By 1991, Callier’s music had caught on ion the UK through a little-known, self-funded single “I Don’t Want to See Myself (Without You),” Callier was contacted by Eddie Spiller of UK label Acid Jazz to release the song. Later that year Callier was flown to the UK for a few gigs, and this continued regularly for the next decade, each year a few gigs, and some festivals in the UK and Europe.

In the UK, as well as the chart success in 1998 with “Love Theme‘”, Callier also worked with Beth Orton to record two tracks for her EP Best Bit; had made #36 on the UK Singles chart and he would go on to record with the “modfather” Paul Weller and their single, “Brother To Brother” would chart in 2002. In May of 2009, the album “Hidden Conversations“, co-written and produced by Massive Attack, was released on Mr. Bongo in the UK and USA.

1998’s Timepeace album, was Calliers first major album release in 20-years.

I can to this day remember where I was when I first heard Callier’s vocal rendition of “Love Theme’” – I didn’t recognize the track straight away, I was mesmerized by the vocals, and then the tune hit me. I was instantly take back to my childhood. My Dad wasn’t a big music fan, what he liked though was big band and soundtrack albums. He had many, as well as some compilations, one of them had featured the Dick Jacobs Orchestra version of “Love Theme'”.

Terry Callier died from cancer in Chicago on this day, October 27, 2012. Terry was 67 years old. In Terry’s heaven, he’ll be sat on a bar stool, just inside the gates, playing and singing, to welcome everyone home.

Please explore more of Terry’s music. I can highly recommend the Nujabe’s remix of Callier’s “Ordinary Joe“, as well of course the original along with “Sign of the Times” and “Occasional Rain” from the “Turn You To Love” 1979 Elektra album, and anything from the Mr Bongo releases.

More Information/References

Terry Callier [via wikipedia]
Terry Callier Discography [via discogs]
Terry Callier Obituray [via]
Terry Callier Obituary [via the Guardian]
Interview(text) by JAZZUSA [via Internet Archive]
Chicago Soul [via WBEZ Sound Opions]
My 2018 Remembering Terry Callier [via]
Terry Callier music [free via]

Updated 10/29/20: Corrected Yousef to Yusef in table.

8 Replies to “Evolution of a track: Love Theme From Spartacus”

  1. What a fantastic piece of music. Thanks so much for posting. It evokes so many memories of watching these epic movies with my mum and dad, and makes me wistful about taking those days for granted.

    1. Thanks for reading and listening. Same for me, I can remember all those weekends watching Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas and similar movies with my parents, the music was more influential than I think the stories.

      I’m hoping to do some more posts like this one and look deeper at the tracks. Stay Safe.

  2. Thanks for the information. My daughter was playing a song by Busta Rhymes called ‘I made a decision’ and it seems clear to me that he has used the hook line from the Love Theme from Spartacus all the way through though there is credit for it. Check it out and see if you agree

    1. Yes, You are right, I’m not sure it’s the Bill Evans piano though, it maybe a cover. It gets very difficult to track samples of “Love Theme” because there have been so many full covers. Also, the tracks have different names, searching on whosampled is a good way to start. After that you’d have to check each cover and it’s samples.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. The stuff TC did with Chas. Stepney is incredible music. I don’t understand why he was so little known. People generally don’t care about instrumental music, but a singer of his talent? As they say, no accounting for taste

  4. Versions of Love Theme From Spartacus are live fallen apart pearls. Now you have stringed them together through timeline and heritage. Thank you!

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