Vangelis passed away earlier this week.
He was in his late 70s and the heyday of his widespread musical relevance is long past, so you’d be forgiven for asking, “Who?” If you did already know of him, it might probably be as “The Chariots Of Fire song guy” or maybe as “the Blade Runner soundtrack guy.” PBS viewers of a certain age might think of him as “the Cosmos theme song guy.” (Someone might possibly file him in their mental databank as “that wine commercial song guy” but I figure by the time someone knows that “Hymne” was used for a series of Gallo Wines commercials in the mid-1980s, that someone is probably moderately aware of Vangelis in general anyway.)
I learned of him through my Great-Grandpa George, he of the mountains of open-reel tapes and old 78-speed records and what-not. He firmly believed to his dying day that cassette tapes were audibly superior to compact discs. To be fair… his first exposure to CDs was in the early days of the format when really cheap vinyl-to-compact-disc transfers were the norm. So I’ll forgive him that gaffe. I visited from time to time, growing up, and at one point he started sending me home with various Vangelis cassettes. My memory isn’t great so I can only assume the first one was Spiral, but it might’ve been Albedo 0.39. Pretty sure it wasn’t Opera Sauvage or Heaven and Hell anyway. But all of those plus Mask and China besides ended up in my tape case. Years later when I was buying my own music (on CD, sorry gramps), Direct was one of my first purchases.
What all of this started was a taste for the weird world of electronic music. Not just the synth-driven pop that I also got into during the 1980s, but some of the weirder stuff besides. To this day, while my tastes are still mainstream-adjacent, they’re also decidedly weirder than that of most folks I know. There’s a direct musical thread starting at the music I heard my parents playing and on the radio as a kid and ending up at my current love of bands like VNV Nation, Assemblage 23, mind.in.a.box, and so on… and along the way that thread is coiled lovingly around those old Vangelis recordings.
(As a side note: I’m doing a listen-through of some of the records today and noticed something about “Himalaya” from the China album. Some of the elements in that piece sound a lot like what Joe Hisaishi would be doing with the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind soundtrack a few years later. Dunno if one listened to the other or if it’s just kind of what the state of experimentation was at the time. Still cool though.)
Keeping in mind that my musical tastes don’t line up with nearly anybody else’s very well, I’ll still make a couple of recommendations if you want to start exploring Vangelis’ music. For an album of moderately accessible almost-pop-adjacent instrumental electronica, pick up Direct. For the most classic of his early classic records, absolutely grab Spiral, which contains my all-time fave piece of his, “Dervish D.” I’m not as big on the actual soundtrack records like Opera Sauvage, Chariots of Fire, and Blade Runner but if OSTs are your thing, those are solid options. (Be wary of which Blade Runner version you end up with; you’ll probably want the 2007 anniversary edition.)
I still have a lot of exploring to do. I wandered off from his music as I grew older but the man was apparently putting records out there on-and-off until last year. Something to look forward to, perhaps.