Released in 1995, the first DRG compilation was something of a groundbreaking release as it contained a number of cues from Italian western soundtracks that had at that time not been released; of course now the titles included have all seen compact disc releases as soundtracks in their own right. This compilation or series of compilations as there are more than just the one, are still important and entertaining releases and can also be a rich source of reference material for collectors etc, that is why I decided to review them, they do occasionally come up on a number of internet shopping sites but can reach quite lofty heights in the price tag department. DRG released four compilations in the series, volume one (1995) was a two disc set showcasing music from the Cinevox records catalogue, volume two (1995) another double CD release highlighted General Music’s western scores, Volume three (1996) a single disc release also included the catalogue of General Music and the fourth instalment (1997) which was back to a double disc set was made up of cues from the vaults of the BEAT record company. So we were treated to the Good, The Bad and some of the Ugly music that was inspired by the quirky and contagious Spaghetti western genre and brought recognition to composers such as Morricone, De Masi, Cipriani, Baclov, Nicolai, Savina, De Sica, Piccioni, De Angelis, Lavagnino, Tempara, Gigante, Umiliani, Martelli, Di Stefano Trovaioli, Frizzi, Ferrio, Ortolani, Rustichelli, Poitevin, Pregadio,Bixio, Donaggio, Simonetti, Alessandroni, De Gemini Edda Dell Orso and many many more including the vocalists and soloists that frequented Italian western soundtracks.
The first volume opens with the imposing and infectious music of Gianfranco Di Stefano from the soundtrack of the 1970 movie SHANGO (the invincible gun) solo guitar introduces the track JEFF BLOOM with the light touch of harpsichord acting as a subdued background, the composer underlining the proceedings with strings and also introducing solo trumpet punctuated by bass guitar. The second track representing Di Stefano’s score is a Mexican flavoured theme FIESTA FIEASTA, again relies upon solo guitar and has a background supplied by upbeat tambourine that shakes and creates a contagious support for the guitar and is joined by strumming guitar giving it more depth and a greater atmospheric effect. The third and final selection from SHANGO is PISTOLA CHE SCOTTANO where again trumpet and guitar are the mainstay of the piece with brass acting as the musical commas with strings enhancing the proceedings. At the time of the release of this compilation the soundtrack to SHANGO was not available and this was the first time Di Stefano’s music had been released on compact disc, since then of course we have been treated to the full score release on the Cinevox label.A critic once remarked that it was better to buy compilations of Italian westerns soundtracks because invariably the full soundtrack was not that good and it was normally the theme song or main title music that was the most attractive thing about the score. I have to disagree, and with the DRG compilations we as collectors were not only served up the title song and instrumental central theme in some case but also were given a rare chance to hear other sections of each score, of course THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN ENCYCLOPEDIA on King Records Japan had been previously released and this is I think the music bible as far as collectors of Italian western music is concerned, but what the difference was between the King records series and the DRG compilations was that DRG included a handful of cues from each soundtrack that they included in some cases two cues in others there were more and yes the King records series did have a few sections that included more than one track from certain scores but not to the same degree as DRG.
I am not saying that either series of compilations is better than the other because although the music included on both is from the same genre and does in fact include some of the same tracks each series is very different. Track number 4 on volume one is the work of stalwart Italian Maestro Francesco De Masi, taken from the 1968 production QUANTO COSTA MORIRE again at the time of the compilations release the soundtrack had only been released on a Long Playing record, and this was the first time collectors got to hear this music on compact disc, three tracks represent the score with a rousing song starting off proceedings plus an instrumental version of the song then a particularly plaintive and romantically laced cue C’E SEMPRE UNA VITA, which has a lovely classical guitar solo underlined and supported by subdued strings, which has more or less the same sound as THE TWO ELISA’S from Bruno Nicolai’s LANDRAIDERS score and also I did detect a certain phrase that can also be compared with Nicolai’s IL TRONO DI FUOCO but as the De Masi score was written first I think that maybe Nicolai received inspiration from this rather than the other way around. The style employed by De Masi when scoring westerns was a fusion of styles, by this I mean the composer used a romantic and dramatic theme that was normally purveyed by strings or brass in a very similar fashion to that of composers such as Dimitri Tiomkin in Hollywood westerns, but De Masi also managed to create a western sound that was akin to the Italian western genre but this too was tinged with an atmosphere of originality which was all his own. For the next section we jump forward a decade to 1978, the composer is Pino Donaggio and the movie is AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE, (CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37) two cues represent Donaggio’s score and the harmonica plays a major role in both of these tracks. TEMA DI CLAYTON is the central theme from the score with a wailing but at the same time tuneful harmonica solo opening the composition, this is soon accompanied by solo guitar and the harmonica solo mellows to produce a melodic and quite romantic sounding piece. The next cue from the score is basically a more romantic and developed version of the central theme with strings and soft guitar being given support by harmonica which introduces the cue and reappears at the tracks conclusion. Donaggio had at the time been known mainly for his music to the horror movie DON’T LOOK NOW and the atmospheric score for CARRIE he also scored Joe Dante’s PIRAHNA in the same year as AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE and there are hints of the low key theme he penned depicting the river for PIRAHNA within this western soundtrack. Tracks 9 and 10 are taken from the 1971 production ED ORA RACCOMANDA L’ANIMA A DIO (AND NOW RECOMMEND YOUR SOUL TO GOD). The music is by Franco Bixio who worked on numerous westerns which can be categorised within the comedy western genre, this is a sub genre of the spaghetti western that either worked wonderfully as in the TRINITY series or failed miserably in lesser known low budget examples but saying this Bixio who at times teamed up with Vince Tempera produced a number of very good scores, this being one such example, the title song JUST A COWARD is represented here in both vocal and instrumental versions, with Mary Usuah providing the distinct vocals underlined by a jaunty almost jolly sounding guitar and the instrumental version being much the same but slightly darker in places.
The next section is taken from the 1966 movie WANTED JOHNNY TEXAS, the score being the work of three composers Marcello Gigante, Alessandro Nadin and Aristide Bascerano the lions share of the work probably being done by Gigante, three cues represent this infectious score, MAIN TITLE, M 22, and FINALE.
All three tracks are basically varying arrangements of the central theme with the second track being a more Mexican flavoured version, this too has since the release of this compilation seen a full soundtrack release and it is a lesser known film and score that should be investigated and certainly added to your collection if you have not already acquired it. It has many of the now accepted musical trademarks of the Italian western score, such as solo trumpet, racing snare drums, female voice tolling bells etc and I would say is one of the most interesting and appealing sections within the compilation.
QUEI DISPERATI CHE PUZZANO DI SUDORE E DI MORTE (LOS DESPERADOS) is up next with music coming from the great Gianni Ferrio who worked extensively within the genre of the spaghetti western, what I think was most appealing about Maestro Ferrio’s music for the western was that like De Masi he fused the established style of the Hollywood western with the new and fresh sound that was becoming associated with the Italian western the end result n most cases was a stunning and highly original end product, that was laced with contagious and rhythmic themes and highly dramatic and romantic sounding phrases. Ferrio would also at times included a kind of jazz vibe within his western scores that gave them a more contemporary and bluesy feel which although I know sounds implausible actually worked making the music more attractive. For LOS DESPERADOS the composer created a favourably dramatic and at times lush sounding score which also included an energetic comic sounding march of sorts. Track number 18 is the opening theme or BLACK JACK from KID IL MONELLO DEL WEST, which was composed by Enrico Simonetti in 1974, originally released just as a 45 rpm single on vinyl, it was not until a few years ago we got to savour the entire score on a Digit Movies compact disc, I have to say however that this is one of those scores that you would be better of just having this one track and maybe the flip side cue from the 45 rpm which was the opening theme sung by children’s choir. For track number 19 and 20 we are back with composer Franco Bixio who on this occasion collaborates with Roberto Pregadio on the music for the 1970 release DESERTO DI FUOCO. The main titles theme is a haunting piece written for strings and a slightly upbeat background over which we hear the exquisite voice of Edda Dell Orso that is a first performed in unison with strings to create a unique and haunting sound the strings then take the theme on board and give it a fuller working before returning to the wonderful aural performance of Dell Orso. This is an excellent example of the genres music, with Pregadio’s influences being heard throughout and I am guessing that this score was more Pregadio than Bixio, as we can hear in the second selection from the score OMBRE SULA SABBIA which again is upbeat and contagious with horns performing the vocal parts of the composition in this arrangement, the FINALE from the score is also included which is a slightly extended version of the main titles theme with strings on this occasion carrying the haunting theme. The next two sections are also courtesy of composer Franco Bixio, tracks 22 through to 24 being taken from the 1974 movie CARAMBOLA with composers Fabio Frizzi and Vince Tempera adding their considerable skills to that of Bixio’s. Then tracks 25 to 26 are taken from the 1975 sequel to CARAMBOLA, CARAMBOLA FILOTTO TUTTI IN BUCA which was created by the collaborative talents of Messrs Bixio, Frizzi and Tempera. Both sections are very good indeed with the original score opening with TEMA PRINCIPALE that has a trumpet solo performance played over a fairly slow background of strumming guitar in a similar fashion to THE MAN WITH NO NAME from Morricones A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, also included is a comedy slanted almost mariachi sounding track entitled MEXICAN CANTINA that is pleasant enough listening.
The FINALE is also included as is a guitar version of the opening theme. The music for the sequel is much lighter and also more in a comedic vein with a bluesy almost country sounding opening theme performed on banjo with an upbeat percussive background aided by bass and strumming guitars that create a sort of bustling atmosphere which is busy but very easily forgotten. Which can also be said for track number 26 FUNNY TOWN the title I suppose giving it away, fiddle, guitar and banjo combining with clumsy sounding brass to purvey an air of comedy which really does not hold a lot of interest and is thankfully short lived. Gianni Ferrio returns for the next selection of themes, from the 1973 movie AMICO STAMMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO (the ballad of Ben and Charlie). Originally released on a Cinevox long playing record the score saw an expanded edition release on Digit movies a few years back, this in my opinion is one of the composers best western scores with a great title song LET IT RAIN LET IT POUR the melody of which can be heard throughout Ferrio’s score in various arrangements, this is a dramatic and also a bluesy sounding soundtrack that is appealing and memorable. We are treated to six cues from the score within this compilation. The final track on disc number one is from Sergio Leone’s DUCK YOU SUCKER, GIU’ LA TESTA, A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE etc, released in 1971 this was to be Leone’s final western as a director with a theme laden score by his long time friend and collaborator Ennio Morricone. The main title theme is included here which is a tour de force of everything that is good about Morricone, exquisite theme wonderful performances by Alessandroni, il Cantori Moderni and the first lady of Italian film music Edda Dell Orso.
Disc two opens with UNO STRANIERO A PASO BRAVO (1967) by the great Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, who contributed so much to Italian cinema as a whole, his western scores were often overlooked by collectors many thinking they were no true spaghetti western scores but they are some of the most original and memorable works within the genre, again I have to say that this composer created a western sound that was all of his own, with a fusion of both Hollywood based styles and upbeat more contemporary sounds which were being employed within the Italian western. UNO STRANIERO A PASO BRAVO is one such example it contains a good solid western or cowboy theme but to this the composer adds solo trumpet, organ and electric guitar and a soaring title song performed in Italian by an energetic sounding Vittoria Brezzi, great stuff. Lavagnino is represented on a further two occasions on disc number two, tracks 13 to 16 are taken from REQUIEM PER UNO GRINGO (1967) tracks 19 to 22 are taken from his score for JOHNNY WEST IL MANCINO (1966). Both scores are vibrant, original and filled with outstanding themes and although the latter example does have within it some clumsy sounding comic orientated music it still remains entertaining. It is no wonder that Lavagnino was Leone’s initial choice to score A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The remainder of the second disc reads like a who’s who in Italian western scoring, with titles such as PRAY TO GOD AND DIG YOUR GRAVE, OCCHIO ALLA PENNA, VADO VEDO E SPARO, LA NOTTE DEI SERPENTE, ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK, REVENGE AT EL PASO, BOOT HILL etc etc, with composers such as Gigante, Ortolani, Rustichelli, Umiliani, Morricone, Bixio, Martelli, Plenzio and Pregadio being represented. Volume one of this DRG compilation is certainly an entertaining 2 hours plus of music taken from the Cinevox vaults, which contains something for everyone.
Volume two is a selection of music that has been gathered from the archives of EMI General Music which was another label that was particularly active in the release of soundtracks from the late 1960,s through to the early 1980,s. The first disc opens with Bruno Nicolai,s stirring score for 100,OOO DOLLARI PER RINGO which was released in 1965, the score is represented here by a suite of the soundtracks principal themes including the title song RINGO DOVE VAI performed by Bobby Solo with the English language version also being included within the suite. Nicolai’s score is a highly dramatic one with choir, strings and driving percussion and although it was a true Italian western the music still contained influences from the old west as in the Hollywood western score. The composer employing quite grand and forceful sounding brass based themes underlined by at times chaotic percussion to relay adventure, excitement and action, in fact at times the music sounded more like it was from an American made B western movie rather than a spaghetti but nonetheless an impressive work. Section two tracks 2 through to 4 are taken from the comedy western I DUE GRINGOS DEL TEXAS, now you remember I said that this sub genre of the spaghetti western either worked or fell flat on its face, well this I suppose can be said for the music for these productions, on this occasion the music is by Carlo Savina, and in my humble opinion it is probably not one of the composers best efforts for the genre. Three tracks are included two of which are thankfully very brief. Again another candidate for having just a few tracks from a score rather than the entire soundtrack on CD, surprisingly the entire score was issued a couple of years back now, but its not one that collectors were exactly clambering for. Moving swiftly on to 1967 and tracks 5 to 8 DJANGO L’ULTIMO KILLER is the work of Roberto Pregadio and Walter Rizzati and this is completely the opposite from the previous section, it contains a slowly building but strong and memorable theme with solo trumpet, strumming guitars and strings being at the forefront of proceedings with the remainder of the music being in the same style. Tracks 9 through to 11 are taken from SIPUO FARE…AMIGO (The Big and The Bad) music is by Luis Bacalov and this is the first of many sections where Bacalov is represented, track number 9 is the title song from the movie CAN BE DONE which is performed by Rocky Roberts with a little help from a children’s choir.
Bacalov of course is better known for his score to DJANGO the vocal theme of which is also included on this compilation (disc two track number 30) performed by Roberto Fia.
Other Bacalov scores represented include the excellent L’ORO DEI BRAVADOS (Gold for the Bravados), IL GRAND DUELLO (1969), QUIEN SABE (A Bullet for the General)-(1966), LO CHIAMAVANO KING (1971), SUGAR COLT (1966), A MAN CALLED NOON (1973) etc etc, in fact disc two could easily be re-titled THE BEST OF LUIS BACALOV WESTERN THEMES, with a handful of sections such as UN BUCO FRONTE (1968), TEXAS ADDIO (1966), PROFFESSIONAL KILLERS, (1967), A GUN IN THE HAND OF THE DEVIL (1972), SEVEN GUNS FOR KILLING (1967) and THEY CALL ME NOBODY (1973) having music by Roberto Pregadio, Anton Garcia Abril, Carlo Pes, Piero Piccioni, Francesco De Masi and Ennio Morricone respectively. This I think is the only negative about this particular volume within the compilation, too much Bacalov cant be a bad thing I hear you say, well at times the originality of his music does wear a little thin and if one listens to his western scores in particular the composer does shall we say re-cycle certain cues within various projects and cues from DJANGO turn up in QUIEN SABE etc. But then we have the highly original and stirring themes from IL GRANDE DUELLO, L’ORO DEI BRAVADOS and A MAN CALLED NOON to compensate for this.
Volume three in this series also includes tracks from the archive of EMI GENERAL MUSIC. A number of films that are represented on volume two also make an appearance here as well, but the music selected is different and at times the running order includes a suite from a score for example track number 10 is a five minute suite from SUGAR COLT, where as on volume two just the main title made an appearance, Bacalov is also represented by more tracks from GOLD OF THE BRAVADOS and a seven minute suite from A MAN CALLED NOON, I think that by the time DRG had reached volume three in the series they might have been lacking in ideas but they have included a number of Morricone tracks ie; GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS, A PISTOL FOR RINGO, SEVEN GUNS FOR THE McGREGORS, THE RETURN OF RINGO, DEATH RIDES A HORSE,TEPEPA, A PROFESSIONAL GUN, FACE TO FACE, COMPANEROS(which is an alternative version of the main title) ,LIFE IS TOUGH, E THAT’S PROVIDENCE and an alternative version of THEY CALL ME NOBODY main title, admittedly all great cues but like volume two had a little too much Bacalov maybe volume three has a few Morricone too many. Might have served the continuity and listening experience better if DRG had mixed it up a little and taken some Bacalov off two and put it on three and then the Morricone from three and put on two, if you see what I mean? Really volume three is a little ordinary as most of the tracks on this compact disc have already been within other compilations etc. Also included is a suite from SEVEN GUNS FOR A KILLING with a vocal by Raoul( different cues from the score were on volume two), a great solo trumpet track from THE TWO RINGOS FROM TEXAS ( music from this was also on volume two), but we do have a couple of Nicolai pieces to prop up the proceedings, namely DEPARTURE which is taken from THEY CALL ME SHANGHAI JOE and FINALE from THE DAYS OF VIOLENCE.
Plus a short cue from I DON’T FORGET I KILL by Piero Piccioni, which is a pleasant surprise and also a welcome one? The sound quality on the compact disc is very good apart from a couple of tracks one of which sadly is probably one of the best on compact disc A PROFESSIONAL GUN suffers from very bad distortion during the solo trumpet interlude and it is not entirely crystal clear from that moment onwards, so production issues on this track that I think could have been remedied, it is strange because the version of the score released on GDM had very good sound quality and I have not heard any really bad production on any of the other releases compilations or full soundtrack issues. Also SHANGHAI JOE is distorted not as bad as A PROFESSIONAL GUN but never the less the distortion is there and is somewhat grating and does spoil the overall effect of Nicolai’s music.
Volume four is a two disc set and brings to us the music from the archives of BEAT records, like Cinevox and also General music and CAM. The BEAT record company was and still is one of the busiest recording labels in Italy and it was along with the aforementioned labels one of the first soundtrack specialist labels to go into business. Volume four opens with a selection of cues from the 1963 production THE SIGN OF THE COYOTE music is by Francesco De Masi but because this movie was released before the spaghetti western had established itself the music is very different from later De Masi scores after the advent of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and after Morricone and Leone had changed the western forever. De Masi’s score for COYOTE is rather typical of what was being written for American productions at the time, there is not even a hint of the spaghetti western score musical trademarks, and this can also be said for the next section which is again De Masi scoring the 1964 release A MAN IN THE VALLEY OF THE DAMNED.
In fact we do not hear any hints of what was to come from De Masi until Track number five of this compilation which is from the 1965 movie RANCH OF THE RUTHLESS, the style of De Masi I would not say changed it merely altered and developed into the sound that we now associate with the composer, tracks seven and eight are taken from A COFFIN FOR THE SHERIFF (1965), which includes a great song with vocals by Peter Tevis.
De Masi more than most composers I think seemed to like to have a title song and a vocalist he worked with many times was Raoul, who’s distinct and powerful vocals graced many a De Masi soundtrack. AND THEN A TIME FOR KILLING or TEQUILA JOE was released in 1968 and we are treated to two cues from the soundtrack here one being a glorious Raoul vocal performance. De Masi is well represented within this compilation and no I am not complaining as his music is always exquisite and entertaining and never repetitive. Disc one for example also includes FOR A FEW BULLETS MORE, KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE, RINGO THE LONE RIDER and SARTANA DOES NOT FORGIVE. All of which are excellent and significant and important contributions to the genre of the spaghetti western, Disc two also has its fair share of De Masi musical gems, I,M SARTANA -TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN and CHALLENGE FOR THE McKENNAS, The compilation also has within its running time THE FIVE MAN ARMY, GRAND SILENCE by Ennio Morricone. HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL SARTANA WILL PAY, THE MAN CALLED APOCALYPSE JOE, BULLET FOR A STRANGER and LO CHIAMAVANO TRESETTE,GIOCAVA SEMPRE COL MORTO by Bruno Nicolai. BUKAROO by Lallo Gori, NO ROOM TO DIE by Vasco Vassil Koyucharov, THE SPECIALIST by Lavagnino, AND GOD SAID TO CAIN by Savina, PRAY TO KILL AND RETURN ALIVE by Mario Migliardi, THE THREE MUSKETEERS OF THE WEST by Rustichelli, MY NAME IS TRUTH by De Sica and THE DAY OF FIRE and WACH OUT GRINGO, SABATA WILL RETURN by Piccioni and all these great scores and this wonderful music from one label BEAT. The series of compact discs from DRG are accompanied by eye catching art work and informative notes volumes 1 and 2 have notes by Didier c Duetsch and volumes 3 and 4 contain essays and info penned by John Bender. Maybe not the definitive collection or indeed as iconic as the SPAGHETTI WESTERN ENCYCLOPEDIA released on King records but still invaluable and a great source of information for anyone wishing to discover the music of the Spaghetti western.