Twang! Twang! You’re Dead - The Foundations of A Spaghetti Western Score Library, Part II
Part Two: Beyond Morricone
Of course, you can’t talk about essential Morricone western scores without talking about his former orchestrator Bruno Nicolai. At one time, these two were inseperable, or so it seemed. They used to arrange and conduct each others scores and split scoring duties etc, from what I understand. Then something happened... I don’t know what... but they completely fell out over it. Morricone has always been very tight lipped about it. I remember asking an acquaintance of Morricone’s (not mentioning his name here for obvious reasons) what had happened between the two a few years back and he said it’s something I should never ask Morricone (like I’d ever get the chance to). He said he’d asked him once and the maestro’s response had been... less than cool (I think he may have even stopped talking to him for a while, in fact). Many people say a lot of Morricone’s early style came from Nicolai’s arrangements. I’m not completetly convinced by that but, certainly, Nicolai’s own compositions more than give Ennio’s masterpieces a run for their money.
Two really great Bruno Nicolai scores would be for the pseudo Sabata sequel (which actually isn’t a Sabata sequel, in actual fact) known in most countries as Indio Black. This has an absolutely amazing instrumental sound effect on it and, unfortunately for the purposes of this article, I’ve no idea how it was made. But it’s a kick ass score for sure with some really strong action cues. The other Nicolai score I would recommend you grab is Run Man Run (Corri uomo corri), the sequel to The Big Gundown, with a title ripped right out of the lyrics to Morricone’s song for the first film. Buyer beware... you NEED to get the expanded, remastered Digitmovies release of this as it is the only version at time of writing with the proper opening title song as sung (talked) by the film’s main lead actor Tomas Milian. His vocals really make that particular track work and it’s the absolutely essential version of the song. Don’t make the mistake of buying the old CAM recording of this or you’ll be sorry. On a related note, I once watched a short featurette on this movie where the director says that it was actually Morricone, uncredited, who composed the score for this movie. I don’t buy it, personally. The style doesn’t sound quite right and when I asked an expert on Italian film scores I see occasionally about that comment, he said he didn’t know why the director said that as it’s quite obviously Nicolai’s score. Either way, it’s a good ‘un and well worth your time.
When it comes to Luis E Bacalov, most western afficionados are going to recommend you his score for Sergio Corbucci’s classic movie Django as an essential listen. I won’t. It’s got a great opening song which absolutely is esssential listening but, for me, the rest of the score is mostly quite nice... but that’s all. It’s not earth shatteringly wonderful, by any means. If I was going to recommend anything by the composer it would either be Quién Sabe? (A Bullet For The General) in an expanded form which has a proper representation of the score (and not just the original “highlights” album, which was pretty unlistenable in my opinion) or the slow build sound of the Lee Van Cleef starrer The Grand Duel (Il Grande Duello). Sticking with Lee Van Cleef westerns will also bring you to Riz Ortolani’s score for Day Of Anger (I Giorni Dell’Ira). This has a fluffy but intense, driven theme which brings to mind galloping horses and the sound of hot flying lead cutting the air.
Stelvio Cipriani is another massive name on the Italian music scene with, perhaps, his scores for police procedural and giallo type movies being what he will be best remembered for. He’s also done some nice Western scores (as everyone seemed to be doing back then) and while his two Hallelujah scores, They Call Me Hallelujah (Testa T’Ammazzo, Croce... Sei Morto... M Chiamano Aleluja) and Return of Hallelujah (Il West Ti Va stretto, Amico... È Arrivato Alleluja) are quite good, if I had to hone it down to one, drop dead gorgeous western score he did I couldn’t live without, that would be Blindman. The film itself is a remake of one of the hugely succesful Shintaru Katsu-starring Zatoichi movies of the time but, like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon, retooled to be a western ( a genre of film which is not that different from the chanbara anyway). The movie even has Ringo Starr playing one of the Mexican villains. Cipriani’s score for this is both melodic and also delivers the neccessary orchestral abrasion when it’s at its most striking. This one got a lot of plays from me when Digitmovies finlly released it.
Okay, two more key composers and then we’re almost done. These two composers are brothers and work as a team, providing strong scores, usually with a very strong song. Keoma, starring Franc Nero as the title character, is fantastic and it’s all about the song. Only a handfull of tracks were released from this, and even then I lucked out and got the one last copy “found in a back drawer” by the producer of the CD itself. It’s a compilation of three scores by the brothers in question, Guido And Maurizio De Angelis and, like the film... it’s all about the song. I don’t care what else is on the album, Keoma has one of the greatest songs written for it ever, with female vocal and then a guy who sounds like a cross between Stephen Hawking and Tom Waits on acid coming in half way through as counterpoint. Not only is it a great Spaghetti western song but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the ten greatest songs ever written for anything. Their other really cool western score would be for a film which is, in many ways, a remake of Keoma. Mannaja (A Man Called Blade) stars the uber moustached Maurizio Merli and there’s another song by the De Angelis brothers which forms the backbone of the score and turns up in various guises with assorted lyrics throughout the movie. And, of course, the excellent expanded edition from Cometa, released in 2011, also has the song turning up in various guises on it.
And that’s aboth it for drop dead essentials to use as your foundation for future explorations of the genre. Others I might reccomend you point your horse to when you’re done listening to these would be Mario Migliardi’s score for Matalo, Marcello Giombini’s scores for Sabata (Eh Amico... C’è Sabata, HHai Chiuso!) and The Return of Sabata (È Tornato Sabata... Hai Chiuso Un’Altra Volta), Franco Micalizzi’s score for They Call Me Trinity (Lo Chiamovano Trinità) and Morricone’s scores for Gunfight At Red Sands, Guns Don’t Argue, A Pistol For Ringo (Una Pistola Per Ringo), The Return Of Ringo (Il Ritorno Di Ringo) and Vamos A Mater Companeros (this last one is, again, definitely one you need the expanded version for).
And that’s about it. If you’ve never heard these classic scores before then I hope I’ve given you the smattering of information you need to be able to saddle up and head on out to have a listen to the kind of west that was truly wild. One last word of warning though... a lot of these scores seem to have hideous, drunken Mexicans singing nonsense with each other style source tracks interrupting the flow of the listening experience. My advice would be to either programme these out or make like Alessandro Alessandroni and whistle your way past them. Adios strangers!
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