The main titles to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly are perhaps the most famous evocation of the wild west. OK, so the themes for The Magnificent Seven
and The Big Country
are very famous and probably would be recognised, Morricone's curious combination of whistling, electric guitar, chorus, grunting men, piccolo trumpet, harmonica, acoustic guitar and percussion is just so unusual and sticks in the mind that it is impossible to imagine how he came up with the ideas for that combination. Well, genius works in mysterious ways I guess. While some will expect the rest to be equally weird, this is not even close to the truth. The rest is more beautiful than bizarre. Morricone does use some unusual orchestration, but it always works and never sounds less than inspired. The Sundown features exquisite guitar and string combinations that evoke the place so well that it's almost impossible not to recall the kind of image that was onscreen at the time. Other fascinating evocations of space appear in The Desert which starts from a very barren sound, but builds effectively with piano arpeggios in the background with high end strings, woodwind and the occasional low end guitar note and quite noble brass theme.
There is much nobility about the score, and nowhere is that more present than in The Strong, The Carraige of the Spirits and The Ecstacy of Gold where a glorious brass elegy is combined with those sputtering high range trumpet fanfares that Morricone is so partial to. The Carraige of the Spirits (which has to be the most lyrical track title I've ever heard) and several other tracks feature soprano Edda dell'Orso with her beautiful soaring singing adding yet more lyricism than one could imagine. March is a curious tune that starts from harmonica and whistling and then adds subtle strings for a rather slow and almost nostalgic piece ending with a lovely brass choir (which is sadly spoiled slightly by the poor sound quality). The Story of a Soldier features a sung version of the theme in March (with a small male chorus). It is a little strange at first, but works very well indeed.
The finale, however, has to remain the pinnacle of the entire score, with The Ecstacy of Gold being a cue that builds to a soaring and stunning climax. The piano part of The Desert returns, along with Edda dell'Orso, trumpets, drums and some suggestions towards the main title, but overall a much smoother composition than the spikey opening. The Trio is equally stupendous, with a gorgeous trumpet theme over the top of the orchestra and chorus. The touch I liked the most were the slightly less upbeat guitar and piano sections that surround the phrases of the full orchestral moments. The rich and reverberant guitar is just wonderful. Just a shame that the sound, once again, lets the music down.
It is a shame that I must report that this release isn't very good in terms of sound quality or packaging. It is one of those scores that every store has for virtually no money, but no-one thinks to buy. If they did buy it, I'd hope that they would be enamoured with the music, but absolutely shocked that such marvellous music is distorted by such rotten sound quality. This is of course especially noticable in the louder sections where the sound needs opening out so that every part of Morricone's extraordinary orchestration can be heard clearly. Let's hope that something is released sometime soon. While I'm all for re-recordings, I believe that this is one score that no re-recording could replace. It's just too quirky, therefore we must hope that the original masters are still in good condition and they can be remastered to hear it as Morricone intended. Until then, I can't recommend the score enough. I would give it gold stars if the release of was good, but since it's not, 5 will have to suffice, otherwise a classic in every way.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad