The Gargantuan Legacy of Ennio Morricone
Many tend to drop Ennio Morricone
’s name as a reference or an influence but few actually get to the depths of understanding how vast and extremely rich his massive catalog is. With over 400 film & TV scores to sift through (containing roughly 6000 tracks), dozens of pioneering 1960s Italian pop song arrangements to his credit, additional library and chamber music composed and recorded, and his albums with Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza
, the task of processing the maestro’s collective universe is almost impossible. Among many things, he is a master at creating the most beautifully powerful, yet simple thematic music for film — songs that are extremely memorable and timeless. And for every memorable track you can name created by any other composer who has ever scored for film, Morricone has created 10 or more that are as memorable or better — a point that is indisputable and all of his contemporaries knew it, whether they were willing to admit it or not. I’m not trying to create a competitive argument among the fraternity of classic film composers worldwide, or their fans. Many other composers obviously have massively brilliant legacies of work. What I am saying is that there is NO argument — absolutely NONE whatsoever. And it is this point that needs to be hammered home much more than it has been. And to further pound this spike into a collective American perspective — a bullshit academy awards lifetime achievement award, where a fragile and bumbling Clint Eastwood
cannot even pronounce his words correctly while glossing over his career before introducing him (the entire Eastwood speech was deleted from you-tube probably due to Eastwood’s extreme embarrassment) while Quincy Jones
and Steven Spielberg
stand to applaud for the cameras, is NOT even remotely close to being enough to articulate this. Morricone has always had a certain disdain for Hollywood and the only redeeming factor of him actually showing up to claim the award is that he gave his acceptance speech in his native Italian as the confused audience stared and smiled, pretending to be relevant in his presence.
Dagored Records and Quentin Tarantino’s Italian Soundtrack Coup D’etat
Italian record label Dagored has been reissuing classic full-length soundtrack LPs and CDs since 1998. There was a new awareness of retro Italian soundtracks propagated in the late 90s by European and Japanese record labels, club DJs, collectors, and various cine-freaks resulting in a greater level of appreciation for this impossibly diverse genre as new release Italian film soundtrack reissues began appearing regularly on the shelves of independent record stores for the first time. From 1960s & 1970s westerns and spy films to action, drama, horror, and exploitation soundtracks, the floodgates were opening and a larger audience was being introduced to this bottomless pit of mostly unknown and completely underappreciated music. CDs began to rule the music industry then and the new release LP all but disappeared from the record store shelves. Yet Dagored was one of only a handful of labels with the foresight to release vinyl LPs at that time. The momentum began to wane by 2004 and it has taken almost a decade for a steady stream of Italian soundtrack LPs to return — and it has returned with a vengeance. In fact, you may have noticed Italian retro soundtrack LPs appearing much more frequently over the past two years wherever you may shop for music. And of course it is not only Morricone getting reissued — many other legendary Italian composers including Stelvio Cipriani
, Bruno Nicolai
, Nico Fidenco
, Armando Trovajoli
, Luis Bacalov
, Alessandro Alessandroni
, and Piero Umiliani
are receiving the same treatment. There are a multitude of reasons one could propose as to why this is happening but the one I am choosing to mention is the fact that Quentin Tarantino
has loaded his last five films (Kill Bill 1
, Kill Bill 2
, Death Proof
, Inglourious Basterds
, and Django Unchained
) with 1960s & 1970s Italian soundtrack cuts. A few of these are internationally familiar songs like Luis Bacalov’s Django
, but most of them are extremely obscure tracks such as Morricone’s Un Amico
and La Resa
. Of course I’m not holding my breath in hopes for more of the same from other visionary film directors, but I really wouldn’t give a shit if Tarantino or David Lynch
casted themselves as Ennio Morricone or Piero Piccioni
or Riz Ortolani
in an epic soundtrack composer biopic, as long as the original classic music was hyped and propagated far and wide across the globe. As has been the case since the mid 1990s, CD only reissues are still being pumped out monthly by original Italian labels like Beat, Cam, Cinevox, GDM, and Cometa, yet the LP has re-claimed its original crown as the format of choice for the discriminating listener. Thankfully, Dagored has heated up their engines and answered the challenge for demand by re-pressing some of their older titles plus select new reissues many have been waiting on for decades.
Contact with the Godfather
I’ve been collecting retro Italian Soundtracks for the past 35 years, starting primarily with Morricone albums. It was a difficult task in 1980s America to find much more than the usual Morricone-scored Sergio Leone Westerns or the domestically pressed LPs released by the Cerberus label based in Los Angeles. Undoubtedly if I’d been living in Europe, Italian soundtrack LPs would have been easier to acquire but in the early 90s, I stumbled across a subscriber-only newsletter/fanzine that was being published from The Netherlands called MSV, created by Martin Van Wouw of the Ennio Morricone Society. Directly after subscribing to MSV, I found out that Wouw had just published the Ennio Morricone Discography; a large spiral bound hardcover book highly detailing every single Morricone soundtrack in chronology from 1961 to 1990. These two publications were a major breakthrough for me in being able to decipher the maestro’s work. There were 116 printed newsletters of MSV from 1980 until 2012. It has switched to a subscriber only online edition ever since.
In the back of the MSV newsletter there was a small classified ad section with a few listings by hard-core fans selling Italian soundtrack LPs. This is how I came into contact with the original godfather of Morricone collectors, the legendary Don Trunick. At that point, Don was a retired commercial airline pilot living in Southern California — and a true Morricone fanatic & ambassador who’d been collecting the maestro’s music since the 1960s. He told me a story he often told others — that he was one elusive album away from completing his Morricone vinyl collection, when a guy from the UK had finally sold him the missing piece to his puzzle — a copy of the Il Federale EP, Morricone’s first recorded soundtrack. Yet when the package arrived in the mail, it had been shredded in a postal accident! Don was perhaps the most kind and sincere record collector I have ever met. He would speak tirelessly and enthusiastically about the music and often mailed me handmade cassettes of rare tracks that were almost impossible to locate otherwise at the time. He did this for everyone who knew him and was one of the greatest sources of information on Ennio Morricone that we have ever had. [Don Trunick passed away earlier this year and will be missed dearly by many who knew and loved him].
(1973/Music by Ennio Morricone/Orchestra conducted by Bruno Nicolai)
When I first met Don, he was in the process of transferring his Morricone LPs to tape and had decided to sell his entire collection, 15 of which he sold to me. One of the records he highly recommended that I purchase was the original Japanese pressing of Revolver, the soundtrack to a 1973 crime film directed by Sergio Sollima. Since the moment I placed the needle down on the main instrumental theme Un Amico, the melody has not left my brain. I never got the chance to ask Don if he saw Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds or more specifically what he thought of Un Amico appearing unexpectedly during the film’s climactic projection room scene. Again, there was Tarantino giving new life to one of Morricone’s most beautiful themes. But perhaps I should be a little more specific here — Morricone has more than 100 MOST beautiful themes, just to be absolutely clear. On the album, Un Amico is additionally treated to a male vocal version and the remainder of the score is salted with a variety of beat, lounge, and dramatic orchestral tracks.
Comandamenti Per Un Gangster
(1968/Music by Ennio Morricone/Orchestra conducted by Bruno Nicolai)
This is an obscure 1968 mafia film score that begins with a short dramatic theme complete with pounding tympani, a horn section, distorted electric piano, ascending strings and a monumental vocal chorus. This title track has been a neglected masterpiece of sound forgotten over time. The same can be said for the lovely vocal track Solo Nostalgia sung by Jane Relly set to echoed drums, electric bass, and baroque organ. The screenplay to the film was co-written by Dario Argento and the balance of music is a pastiche of dark moods and colorfully orchestrated intensity. Dagored had great taste in prioritizing this LP for reissue.
La Resa Dei Conti(The Big Gundown)
(1966/Music by Ennio Morricone/Orchestra conducted by Bruno Nicolai)
The Big Gundown is a Sergio Sollima Western from 1966 and is one of Morricone’s finest achievements. There are many unique compositional ideas swirling around in this score and perhaps it is the only Italian Western soundtrack that can rival in scope the vast musical territory covered in the maestro’s indisputable masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Christy’s vocal on the track Run Man Run is manic and explosive, one of her greatest performances. And the epic La Resa, which was also used by Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, is one of those majestic showdown-styled tracks Morricone would later eclipse in 1969 on Man with a Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West.
(1968/Music by Ennio Morricone/Orchestra conducted by Bruno Nicolai)
I shamelessly push my favorite Morricone scores onto friends and strangers alike and have been doing so for the greater part of my life. Escalation is a very easy sell. If you don’t buy it for the front cover image alone I would call for an execution squad to end your life immediately but there is plenty more to love about this record. The title track is the precursor (in stylistic approach) to the main score from Giu La Testa (A Fistful of Dynamite/1971) — a Morricone signature flirtatious orchestral pop theme catapulted to the heavens by an impossible to forget “Wah Wah Wah” female vocal chorus line. There are sparse, moody segments with Indian sitar, as well as the venerable, almost ‘Catholic Rock’ track, Dies Irae Psichedelico. Although it clocks in at slightly less than 30 minutes, this is an LP that is sequenced well and one you should own and play often.