This week saw the passing of film composer legend Ennio Morricone. For film fans around the world, this guy was a god. His films not only changed film forever, but it defined an entire genre. How many composers can say they defined an entire film genre? Through his collaborations with Sergio Leone, among others, Morricone created more songs than any of us can possibly remember. In that regard, Morricone is immortal.
While his passing is tragic, we’d like to take some time to remember some of his greatest hits and why they mean so much to us.
Unlike past LRM’s Top 5 lists, this one will not be in order. Two of the songs come from me and three others from other LRM contributors. Morricone was too big for me to want to hog him to myself, so I had to share the love. This list of songs is by no means definitive. I’m sure there are plenty of other more obscure and heartfelt songs we’re forgetting, so make sure to let us know what those are in the comments below!
“Harmonica” – Once Upon a Time in the West
Recommended by Joseph Jammer Medina
There was no way this Ennio Morricone song wasn’t going to make it onto the list for me. I knew for a fact that if I was going to get any input on this list, this would have to be the one I put on it. To me, this is one of those songs that really drives home the feel of the Spaghetti Western. If American Westerns were classical music, the Spaghetti Western was rock music. And there’s no way to better exemplify that with the electric guitar moments in this song. Starting off with the eerie tones of a harmonica, it then moves into the memorable electric guitar riff before leading into the more standard orchestration mixed in with vocals.
It was utilized several times in Once Upon a Time in the West, but most memorably in the intro when the McBains were massacred at their homes by Henry Fonda’s character. I’ll never forget the moment we see Frank and his posse walk out from the brush as dust cascaded across the scene. It’s a song that’s been aped since. In fact, it was practically plagiarized by Hans Zimmer in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and you can hear the similarities below!
“L’Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock” – The Hateful Eight
Recommended by James Burns
Way back in 2015, some 34 years since his last western score, it was announced at comic con that Ennio Morricone would provide the score for Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight. This surprised some people, as Morricone claimed he would never work with the director again after having provided an original track for Django Unchained. Regardless, I’m glad he did, as the resulting soundtrack was one of my favorites he has ever done.
The Grammy-award winning track “L’Ultima Diligenza Di Red Rock” is a haunting homage to the Spaghetti Westerns we know and love. What’s even crazier is that the score contains tracks from Morricone’s repurposed score from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and “Regan’s Theme” from The Exorcist II. The soundtrack would go on to win several awards, including a golden globe and academy award for best soundtrack, serving as Morricone’s final cinematic triumph.
“L’Arena” – Il Mercenario, Kill Bill Vol. 2 –
Recommended by Brandon Jones
Oddly enough, when Kill Bill Vol. 2 was released, I was admittedly disappointed. It’s one of the few films that, upon second viewing, I completely changed my mind about. That said, what didn’t require additional consumption to decide that I loved it was the music. I’m fairly certain that that’s pretty standard for Tarantino movies. You might not like the film, but that soundtrack sticks to your ribs.
In this case, “L’Arena” was one such song. Originally written for 1968’s Il Mercenario, “L’Arena” appears in Kill Bill Vol. 2 as the Bride digs herself out of the grave of Paula Schultz (possibly the wife of Dr. King Schultz). The scene would likely be unremarkable on its own, but the swelling and triumphant horns blaring as Kiddo punches her way to freedom made it a moment that stuck with me.
That’s the mark of great music.
“The Ecstacy of Gold” The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
Recommended by John Boone
The climax of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is one of the most famous and rewarding endings to any film. After two-plus hours of meticulous build up it is a fantastic payoff. What makes it work for me is the scene featuring “The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone. Without a doubt, it sets a mood. After all this time, we finally see the graveyard that’s been the goal of the film and we know it’s where the movie is going to culminate. We hear the music slowly build as Tuco runs looking for the grave that contains the gold and as he runs through, faster and faster, the song builds and pushes our anticipation higher and higher.
It matches the character’s own anticipation of finally getting his reward. And when the song reaches its peak, he spots the grave and the music halts like it’s taking a gasp of joy. That’s what Morricone could do better than anyone. His music set the mood and made you feel perfectly what the scene was conveying. Good movie music does that. It complements the film without overbearing it. This piece of music to me is a prime example of how to use music in order to enhance a scene. It makes us feel exactly what Tuco is feeling in that scene. Besides, it’s a darn good piece of music all on its own as well.
“The Trio” – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Recommended by Joseph Jammer Medina
Okay, so I have to admit it. This feels like a cheat. How can we possibly choose two songs from the same movie? Furthermore, how can we choose two songs from what is quite easily one of the greatest Spaghetti Western classics of all-time? Well, John was about as adamant on putting down “Ecstasy of Gold” as I was on “The Trio”. So, this is merely how it all shook out. But I don’t think I can say enough words on how great this piece is.
If you’ve seen the movie, you already know how great it is. It’s an extended final scene where the main trio of the film is realizing the entire story has been building to this point. Fate will decide then and there who will live and who will die. And they slowly set about arranging themselves within the circle of the cemetery. It’s totally drawn-out. It’s unnecessary. And it wouldn’t fly nowadays at all. But it is through Ennio Morricone’s piece that we truly feel the tension and the epic nature of this Mexican standoff. Mix it in with the unparalleled cinematography and editing, and you have one of the most memorable sequences in film history.
What did you think of our list? Which of your favorite Ennio Morricone songs did we miss? Given his body of work, I know we did miss at least a few. Let us know down below!
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