That is what I was told as a fourteen-year-old after playing my Father the song Run Man Run from The Big Gundown by Maestro Ennio Morricone that was performed by Christy. I know that the music and indeed the genre of the Italian western was not to everyone’s taste, but it is a genre of film and a style of music that has without any doubt had an impact on the world of both film and film music.
I am glad that the remarks I heard on that day did not deter me in any way from pursuing my addiction for the music of Morricone and many other Italian composers who were to create that quirky, inventive, and innovative sound.
And many years later I looked around and I was just one out of millions who shared that passion for the films and the raw and exhilarating music that they contained. I think it was that raw energy and the earthiness and primitive like sounds that were the attraction, it was fresh and it was different.
ITALIAN WESTERN THE OPERA OF VIOLENCE.
In 1973 I came across a book Italian Western-The Opera of Violence, by authors Laurence Staig and Tony Williams, it was a book that I read from cover to cover and thumbed through almost every day during the 1970’s at one point wearing the original copy out and having to replace it. For me and I know for many others this was like a Bible, in fact it was 189 pages of details, facts and interesting information that was not at that time available anywhere else (no we could not click onto wiki whatever because it did not exist). The book was the first of its kind that explained the rise and the eventual decline of the Italian Western and I do not think there has been anything like it since, yes there have been books on the Italian western, but The Opera of Violence was special and somehow very personal. it spoke to collectors and fans in a language we all understood and was a terrific read.
New books have appeared about the same subject, but none for me at least will ever top the writings of Staig and Williams. Even now I will occasionally go to it and use it for a reference which I suppose is a testimony to its content and the way in which that content was put together and presented.
MICHEAL (YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THIS) JONES.
It was just before the book was published that a young gentleman from Belfast turned up in London and started to sell Italian film soundtracks on LP. Again, this was something new and Michael Jones has to mentioned for his foresight and his enthusiasm for the genre and its soundtracks.
He first set up under the name of Soundtrack in the foyer of the Arts Theatre Club in Soho, then he moved to join the guys at 58 Dean Street, before eventually basing his mail order business in a shop in Brockley London, with Geoff Kilgour assisting.
He then progressed to being a producer of records and later CDS often working with Silva Screen releasing cover versions of popular TV shows from both America and the UK, which were performed by Daniel Kane and his orchestra.
A far cry from the sounds of the Italian western, but if it were not for Mr. Jones I think the popularity of the Italian soundtrack and possibly Ennio Morricone would not have been as great as early as it was.
He was responsible for introducing many collectors to the likes of Gianni Ferrio, Noco Fidenco, Gianni Marchetti, Michela Lacerenza, Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, Marcello Giombini and so many more, and bringing into the country the soundtrack LP’s for classics such as The Five Man Army, Sabata, The Dirtiest Story of the West, A Man A Horse and a Gun, and Corri Uomo Corri, to mention just a few, at a time when British retailers had never even heard of them.
So, with the popularity of the Italian western score and the book Italian Western Opera of Violence, going hand in hand, collectors were pretty much in soundtrack heaven in the 1970’s (if you liked Italian film music that is). I thought it might be an idea to take up the story of the Italian western and its soundtracks where Staig and Williams left it.
The last chapter of their book being Only at The Point of Death, which is a line from the Sergio Leone western Once Upon A Time in the West, spoken by Harmonica (Charles Bronson) in reply to a question from Frank (Henry Fonda) just before they engage in what has been referred to as a bolero of death in the final gunfight of the movie. This final chapter examines the importance of the duel, the gunfight, the settling of accounts, the apex and the conclusion of many films within the genre or La Resa dei Conti and the important role that the soundtrack played in 99 percent of these sequences. It also focuses upon various director’s use of music in the gunfight scenes, highlighting Corbucci, Sollima, and Leone and how each filmmaker utilised music to maximum effect in these scenes.
From Morricone’s soaring trumpet solos, percussive echoes, and a death knell performed on guitar in The Good the Bad and The Ugly’s, The Trio, to the same composers Il Pinguino composition in Vamos a Matar Companeros. Each piece being very different, in fact opposites, but in theory doing the same job in each specific scene. Raising the tension, adding apprehension, heightening the excitement, and even becoming integral to the confrontation, via the use of chimes or instrumentation that has been included in the storyline of the movie. This is something that was not just a trademark of Morricone.
Marcello Giombini, put this practise to effective use in Sabata, with one of the central characters Banjo seen on screen playing banjo and organ before he guns down his opponent. Giombini incorporated these instruments into his score and orchestrated them into the fabric of his music for the movie.
But it was Morricone who was probably the Master at this with the Harmonica in Once Upon A Time in the West and also the watch chimes in For Few Dollars More. Both being in normal circumstances everyday sounds but in the hands of Morricone, the harmonica becomes menacing, and sinister and the chimes are seen as time running out for one of the protagonists.
Many Italian westerns included a gunfight scene that was out of the ordinary or quirky, compared with the run of the mill stand-offs in American and German made westerns. In an Italian western it was very rarely a stand in the street shootout or if it was there were other elements involved that made it more interesting for the watching audience. The films too had to them novel ways of signalling when the draw should take place when the scenes were not scored, The Bounty Hunters is one example when a weather cock is sent spinning by the central character Sabata played by Yul Brynner, the time to draw being when it stops turning and squeaking.
Then there is a combination of actions and music in movies such as Dead Men Ride, when a bag of gold is split open, the signal to shoot is when it has emptied, this time the action being accompanied by a soaring trumpet solo penned by Bruno Nicolai.
In The Big Gundown, there are two face offs at the end of the movie, one between the bounty hunter Corbett (Lee Van Cleef) and a Prussian Baron (Gerard Herter) complete with monocle, which is accompanied using Beethoven that composer Ennio Morricone cleverly adapts and weaves together with a Spanish guitar solo. The Beethoven Bagatelle no 25 in A minor being used as the theme for the Baron. The other showdown is between the character Cuchillo (Tomas Milian) who the audience have seen as the villain throughout and the real villain of the piece Chet Miller (Angel Del Pozo) in which Morricone employs what sounds like a horn but is in fact a bass trumpet, which is underlined by choir, piano, castanets, strings, woods and percussion that build slowly but surely into a full on powerful composition that ends in an exciting almost shimmering crescendo whilst the protagonists face each other one with a gun the other with a knife. Another example of the music becoming foreground instead of a background to the action is from the Sergio Corbucci Zapata western A Professional Gun, the end scene is superbly filmed and wonderfully scored by Morricone and Nicolai, with Alessandroni’s distinct and flawless whistle, Il Cantori Moderni, bass electric guitar, solo trumpet percussive elements and a stirring string arrangement. The Arena composition from A Professional Gun for me personally is the peak of the duel or shootout scoring technique.
Moving away from the music penned for the showdown in Italian westerns to the theme song, which many westerns that were produced in Italy had. It was seen as something that maybe would make the films and their scores more acceptable to American audiences and critics. Because many of the Hollywood western soundtracks often featured a vocal. So, I think we should now look at the western vocal Italian style.
WESTERN INTO OPERA, AND OPERA INTO POP.
Often the title song from an Italian western would be released onto a 45rpm single record with a picture cover either showing a scene or poster from the movie in question or a picture of the vocalist of the song wearing cowboy outfit. I suppose this in the early days was also a way of promoting the movie and its soundtrack, some of the songs from the movies even entering the hit parade as it was then called. The singles were mainly released in Italy, France, and Germany as in the beginning there was limited interest in the songs from the movies outside of those countries.
Artists such as Maurizio Graf, Peter Tevis, Christy, Peter Boom, and others often achieving high chart positions with their performances, and in Italy often appearing on RAI-TV performing these.
Many film soundtrack collectors in the UK never latched onto the Italian western theme song until RCA records released the LP compilation Il Western by Ennio Morricone, which included songs from movies such as Gunfight at Red Sands, 7 Guns for the McGregors, Bullets Don’t Argue, A Pistol for Ringo and its sequel The Return of Ringo. The songs from both of the Ringo movies becoming firm favourites with Italian western fans and Morricone devotees almost straight away. It was after the release of this compilation that collectors outside of Italy began to take more notice of the title songs for the Italian westerns, and although composers such as De Masi, Fidenco, and Ferrio, had written songs before for their scores gained more of a following. De Masi in particular believed that it was essential for a western to have a title song. And his opening song Find a Man from Quella Sporca Storia Nel West, was to become one of the most popular and enduring from the genre.
The song, which was performed by Maurizio Graf, was co-written by Alessandro Alessandroni who also provided the infectious guitar riff that opened the performance. It also featured the Il Cantori Moderni and an upbeat pop orientated backing that resembled a Surf type song which was popular at the time in the USA, and tracks such as those recorded by the UK band The Tornadoes, so it was more like a track one would hear in say a coffee bar in London rather than being from an Italian western. But this is how the song for the Spaghetti western evolved, composers combining the dramatic and conventional symphonic sounds of film scoring with the more contemporary sound of the 1960’s.
Another example of pop meets the Italian western is the opening vocal for Sergio Corbucci’s Django music by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, again it opened like Find a Man with a distinctive guitar riff, that led into an upbeat vocal complete with backing vocals and punctuating strings.
Many of the songs were recorded in English which at times could be rather problematic because the vocalist being Italian did not have the correct pronunciation for some of the English words, which resulted in rather laughable performances, so I for one was always pleased to see the Italian recording included on the soundtrack, Django, had both English and Italian versions but the Italian language performance is instantly engaging and far more powerful and expressive. The vocal for this being by Roberto Fia with the English version performed by Rocky Roberts. Roberts was an American vocalist and went onto work with composer Bacalov on a handful of other songs which included Can Be Done from the western Si Pio Fare…Amigo. The English version of the song was given a new lease of life more recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Bruno Nicolai’s rousing revolutionary themed opening song for Corri Uomo Corri is also worthy of a mention, performed on the original CAM LP release by Peter Boom, Espanto en el Corazon, which is actually performed in Spanish the title translating to Horror in the Heart is a robust and lively affair, with Boom giving his all, sadly the song was not used on the opening of the movie, instead a different arrangement with Tomas Milian speaking and shouting the lyrics rather than singing them was utilised.
This is an example of a more traditional sound rather than pop driven flourishes, with Nicolai employing racing percussion and strings to evoke sounds that were associated with the Mexican revolution.
It is also worth mentioning that Morricone’s theme for A Fistful of Dollars began life as a song. Pastures of Plenty (RCA PM45-3115). which was written by Woodie Guthrie and arranged by Morricone, for singer Peter Tevis was re-worked as an instrumental eventually becoming the theme for the first movie in Leone’s Dollar Trilogy, the vocal parts being performed by whistler Alessandroni.
Tevis himself became a well-known figure in the world of the Italian western score, performing for the likes of Morricone, and De Masi, most notably on tracks such as A Man Must Fight from 7 Dollari Sul Rosso-(Seven Dollars on the Red), which for many evoked the sound of the Hollywood western score, with nods to Dimitri Tiomkin in-particular.
Maybe one of the most well-known songs from a Spaghetti Western is for the comedy They Call Me Trinity, the film was scored by Franco Micalizzi and Roberto Pregadio, after being turned down by many established composers, Morricone included because it was something different, instead of over top violence it contained a lot of visual comedy that often became slapstick. The up-beat and infectious title song was performed by Annibale Giannarelli, under the name of Annibale, with lyrics penned by British lyricist Lally Stott. It is basically a send up (as is the film) of the Italian western and the American western, drawing from both to create a parody of the genres.
The iconic vocal was an international hit and is still performed by Franco Micalizzi’s big bubbling band in an instrumental arrangement when they are touring.
Singer Raul or Raoul Lo Vecchio performed the title songs on numerous westerns, Death Rides a Horse, A Taste of Death, 15 Scaffolds for a Murderer, 7 Winchester per Un Massacro, Quanto Costa Morire, I 4 Inesorabili, Ammazzali Tutti E Trorna Solo, Testa a Croce, Vado L’Amazzo E Torno, and many others. His distinct voice giving the songs an earthy and dramatic feel.
A firm favourite with collectors is his performance on The Man From Nowhere, which was penned by Francesco De Masi, and Alessandro Alessandroni for the movie Arizona Colt (1966). Don Powell was another popular vocalist who regularly appeared on Italian western soundtracks, working with the likes of Marcello Giombini on Tre Pistole Contro Cesare-(Death Walks in Laredo) the title song Laredo was a fast paced affair, with Powell exaggerating the Laredo, to Lareeedo.
He also worked with composer Carlo Savina on Pocchi Dollari Per Django (A Few Dollars for Django) 1966 and on Ehi Amigo..sei Morto in 1971 and Nevada with Gianni Ferrio also in 1971. The singer collaborated with Angelo Francesco Lavagnino for the title song A Gambling Man on 5000 Dollari sul Asso-(5000 Dollars on the Ace) 1964, And with Spanish composer Anton Garcia Abril on the classic Texas Addio in 1966. Powell’s voice was at times compared with that of Frank Sinatra, having to it a smooth and mellow tone, which can be heard particularly in his vocal for Nevada entitled They call it Gold. Gianni Ferrio was a composer who I think we can say was different from many other Italian Maestros who scored westerns, his music containing a jazz influence and having to an inventive and innovative style, that arguably could be seen as an alternative to the more familiar stock sounds of the spaghetti western soundtrack. Ferrio often combined elements of what was then established as Italian western music with that of a more classically slanted approach, the composer utilising solo trumpet, electric guitar etc but no in the same way as say Morricone and Cipriani. This style of scoring can be heard in his excellent score for Find A Place to Die, the soundtrack contained two songs, both exceptionally good.
Un Era Cow-Boy and the title song Find a Place To Die, having to them elements of classic Hollywood western scoring and Italian or European influences. Un Era Cow-Boy utilising choir, harmonica, strings and solo female voice that supported a seductive sounding vocal and Find A Place to Die going down the road of a more traditional ballad, that is essentially a love song, as guitar and strings combine to underline the powerful lyrics and build to a crescendo that is filled with grandeur and a sense of romance.
Ferrio included many songs on his western scores, A Man A Story for example from Un Dollaro Bucato, Golden Poker Kid from Djurado, That Man from Mi Chiamavano Requiescat, Let it Rain Let it Pour from Amico Stammi Lontano Almeno Un Palmo, and his The Last Game from Sentenza Di Morte, to list but a few.
From the title song or songs that were written for Italian westerns to the quirky, inventive and innovative themes that were penned by many of the composers who worked within the genre. I suppose we should straight away mention the work of Ennio Morricone, because it was he and Sergio Leone that effectively created the sights and the sound of the Italian western. Morricone’s output in the world of film music as we all know was vast, so it is very surprising that a genre or style of music that his best remembered for (The Western) takes up just a small section of his CV. It was without a doubt his music for the Dollar films that many were attracted to, The Good The Bad and The Ugly being the most famous, but there are many other lesser known films and scores to the wider public that Morricone wrote for westerns that are certainly worthy of mentioning with themes that are instantly recognised by devotees. The Grand Silence, The Big Gundown, A Pistol For Ringo, They Call Me Nobody, The Genius, Death Rides a Horse, The Five Man Army, Once Upon A Time in the West, Duck you Sucker, Bullets Don’t Argue, Tepepa, the list is literally endless, but as I say took up a very small section of his overall output. He also scored westerns such as Two Mules for Sister Sara, Guns for San Sebastien and more recently The Hateful Eight which were not Italian productions, but did contain elements of the successful formula as applied by Italian filmmakers.
Morricone had a knack of creating a theme that stayed with the watching audience, and even when they left the cinema it was something that was recalled easily and became like an ear worm. But the same can be said of the music for the entire genre let’s face it a spaghetti western without its music is not the real deal.(or is that just me?) No one had heard or seen music and images working together in such a way before, and it is probably true to say that we will never be affected and influenced by a genres music now or in the future in this way again. In new movies we never get a theme or if we do it is short lived and unmemorable, we have to make do with the humming and dronelike sounds they are referred to as soundscape or sound design, but is sound design still something that can be categorized as scoring a movie?
Well yes in many ways, but instead of music it is sounds that are placed on the film’s soundtrack, or at least this is how it was explained to me. I suppose we could say that Italian western soundtracks were pioneers in using sound design, and this is evident in that ingenious opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West, not one note of actual music graces the opening credits, instead natural sounds are utilized, water dripping, a windmill turning, a fly buzzing, a telegram machine chattering away etc, it was a brilliant idea to use these for what is essentially the main title of the movie. The sounds raising the tension and also introducing us to the waiting men at the station and heightening the audience’s expectation about who they are waiting for. Sounds also played an important part within all the movies in the genre, wind blowing, people talking loudly, doors banging, odd sounding gunshots, and over the top sounds in fist fights, etc, these were all the trademarks of the spaghetti western, and in many ways are just as important as the musical scores. But to go back to the themes from Italian westerns, and to composers such as Bacalov, Nicolai, Cipriani, Rustichelli, Fidenco, and so many more. The scores for the movies were very thematic, one only has to look at the music for Once Upon a Time in the West, with Morricone providing themes for all of its main characters, Harmonica, Cheyenne, Jill and Frank the Maestro employing these either separately when the character is on screen or about to enter from the wings and then combining elements of each when there is a confrontation or a scene with two or more central characters present.
The music for Spara Gringo Spara, is also a good example of this type of scoring the entire soundtrack is made up of themes that accompany either characters or locations and scenarios. Composer Santa Maria Romitelli’s pop driven soundtrack with upbeat percussion and rhythmic backgrounds that underline, and support rock orientated electric guitar and sweeping strings is a prime example of the motif or theme deployment in Italian westerns.
And it was not just Romitelli that utilised this method to great effect, Nico Fidenco too, fused pop sounds with that of symphonic drama and suspense in his scores for movies such as John Il Bastardo, One more for Hell, To the Last Drop of Blood and Bury them Deep, the latter three titles all appearing on one LP record back in the late 1960’s on the CAM label.
.So, themes played an important part within the soundtracks of Italian westerns, and these were not restricted to just the opening titles. In fact, when listening to an Italian western score one can pick out various tracks that could act as a central theme or a main theme for a movie in ther own right rather than being part of just one score.
Morricone’s The Good the Bad and The Ugly for example, has within it The Ecstasy of Gold, and The Trio, as well as its own Main theme. The former two titles could easily be core themes on their own in any number of movies because they are of such quality and excellence.
Another theme that stands out is Gunmen of the Ave Maria which for me is the epitome of the Italian western sound, whistle, guitar, choir, soaring trumpet solo, and a the that is to die for written by Franco Micalizzi and Roberto Pregadio, this has everything, that a spaghetti western theme requires.
Then we have the more melodic theme as in A Man Called Noon and The Grand Duel both written by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, the former is a romantic sounding piece dominated by strings, with the composer underlining these with chimes, subdued percussion, and woods, that are further embellished by horns and in later arrangements the vocal excellence of Edda Dell Orso.
But these lighter moments were rare occurrences in spaghetti western music, with the emphasis being placed upon being raw and savage, as in the screams at the beginning of Navajo Joe, the pulsating theme for The Big Gundown, and the earthy but alluring vocals of Gianna Spagnola on The Hills Run Red.
These were certainly not in any way paying homage to Aaron Copeland, as Hollywood composers had done in the past, but instead were establishing a stye a sound and an identity all of their own. Another thing I find very surprising with Italian western scores is that they sound as if they are performed by huge orchestras, but this is not the case, with orchestras being made up sometimes of less than fifty players.
Day of Anger for example sounds massive, loud, brash, and raw, but when you listen closely there is two maybe three guitars, a small brass section, with strings, timpani and percussion, all recorded with reverberating echo effect that makes it sound bigger than it actually is, plus a certain amount of overdubbing I suppose. The music for Italian westerns was and remains as hardnosed and brutal as the films it was written for, and because of its originality it influenced and inspired generations of composers that followed.