Before starting to review the STILETTO soundtrack, maybe a little background on the scores composer Sid Ramin. A Composer conductor and arranger for Broadway and Hollywood musicals, movies and television shows, Sid Ramin was born on January 22nd in 1919, he grew up in Boston and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and The Boston University before he moved to New York City, both his parents were musical but never played professionally. He worked as the staff composer, orchestrator and arranger for The Milton Berle Show from 1949 to 1956 and began working as a staff arranger with R.C.A during the mid 1950, s. Leonard Bernstein approached Ramin to act as an arranger/orchestrator for his musical WEST SIDE STORY, Ramin eventually winning a Grammy for the soundtrack album of the musical and also an Academy Award for scoring the movie version. He later arranged the most memorable numbers from the musical into suite for symphony orchestra that is still often performed in concert. After the success of WEST SIDE STORY Ramin became much in demand for Broadway assignments and he contributed arrangements and compositions for the musicals Gypsy, Wildcat, I Can Get It for You Wholesale and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Ramin also worked in television during the early 1960s and was the resident musical director for The Patty Duke Show and also became a permanent fixture on the U.S. version of Candid Camera. He provided television with some of the most memorable advertising jingles of the 1960s including “Come Alive for Pepsi” and Music to Watch Girls By which later became a top 10 hit for The Bob Crewe Generation after being used for Tab diet cola.
Ramin was always busy but never seemed to get the credit or recognition he so richly deserved, much of his work as an orchestrator, arranger and conductor going un-credited. I personally do not look upon him as a film music composer because there is so much more to him than being a composer for the cinema. He did however compose the original score for the movie version of Harold Robbins’ Stiletto, this 1969 B-movie thriller had a surprisingly impressive cast in the forms of Alex Cord, Britt Ekland, Patrick O’Neal, Joseph Wiseman and Roy Scheider, the score which is probably the only thing that is really worth mentioning about the movie was full of dramatic and jazz laced compositions; the soundtrack was originally issued on a long playing record on the CBS/Columbia blue label in 1969. Although the score was popular among soundtrack collectors the music has not up until now been issued on compact disc.
My first memories of the music from STILETTO was a 45rpm record on a white CBS promo label, which had the highly infectious Hammond organ led central theme on the A side and the song from the score entitled SUGAR IN THE RAIN as its B side. The lyrics for the song were the work of famed lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who had also penned the lyrics to numerous other songs many of which had been for the silver screen and were also known for collaborating with French composer Michel Legrand on a number of occasions. On hearing the theme and song on the single release I was prompted to find the LP. This premiere compact disc release of STILETTO is brought to us courtesy of the DUTTON VOCALION label which is based in the U.K. The release contains the same track line up as the original LP, no extra music I am sad to say, but then again who needs extra music when you have here a superb soundtrack that is filled to overflowing with contagious and highly rhythmic themes and also has a great re-mastered sound about it. Right from the start one just knows its going to be a great listening experience which posses a quality that one rarely comes across today.
The compact disc opens with KNIFE FIGHT ON THE HILL, this tense and apprehensive sounding track commences with edgy strings that are interspersed with percussion and piano plus are punctuated by brass stabs that seem to lung and then pull back as if they are depicting the stabbing movement of an assailant, the composer also employing lower sounding strings that conjure up an atmosphere that is unsettling. Ramin builds the cue to a crescendo of sorts bringing all of the musical elements together into a dramatic sounding musical peak, then smoothly segues into the scores infectious central theme, which is an exciting and up tempo arrangement that has a big band sound to it underlined with a sense of urgency created and sustained by the utilization of strings that are filled with menace, the composition picks up even more pace as it progresses and the composer adds more instrumentation to create a powerful and enticing opening to the score and also lays down the foundation of the sound and style that we will be treated to throughout the remainder of the score. Track number 2, MAIN TITLE is a more developed working of the central theme, Ramin expanding the instrumentation and giving the composition a definite big band resonance, the composer also cleverly employs a jazz/pop orientated Hammond organ solo, which essentially becomes the core of the composition and upon this foundation.
Ramin builds his strong and vibrant theme, giving the organ room to breathe and allowing it to lace the cue with its presence but at the same time allowing other elements of the orchestra to shine, the track containing polished horn arrangements, support from the string section and showcases the brass section wonderfully. Track number 3, ILLEAN’S THEME is a more laid back affair, this haunting samba led piece is easy listening personified, with light woodwind, underlined by even more chilled out percussion and gorgeous sounding airy and romantic strings flourishes, which are in turn enhanced by the use of guitar and piano. The main fabric of the cue is taken on by trumpet mid way through with woods assuming a backseat for a while, jazz organ again makes an appearance as the composition moves forward but is in a more subdued mode than its first outing in the previous cue, it is a classic easy listening sound that oozes class and sophistication and one that rivals anything that has been composed by Legrand, Schifrin or even Mancini.
Track number 4, GOAT ISLAND is another romantic and haunting piece, I am certain that it is a mandolin that Ramin utilizes at the tracks outset and achieves a wonderfully melodic and restful ambience, to this the composer adds a medium paced background and introduces the central theme once again, but on this occasion it is a low key and highly romantic sounding arrangement that we hear, performed in the main by lush but not overpowering strings that relay an atmosphere that is filled with pure luxury. Track number 5, is for me one of the highlight tracks from the release, (if indeed there are any stand out cues, as all are of the highest quality) CONFRONTATION, is where we hear the composer up the anti musically speaking, introducing a style that is certainly more dramatic and forceful, again brass features largely being underlined by fast paced percussive elements and interspersed with sliding tense strings that hold a single note to crate tension, as the piece progresses there is no let up in memento, in fact Ramin introduces more elements into the mix to create an exhilarating and highly volatile sounding composition. Again it is dramatic but still maintains musicality and strong thematic material that leans towards the big band jazz sound which is cleverly interwoven with undertones of foreboding. Track number 6, STILETTO this is the version of the theme that was released as a single and also one that was covered by a number of popular artistes during the early 1970,s, the composer arranges and orchestrates the core theme from the soundtrack into a more up beat and hip/pop sounding composition.
Hammond organ again plays a major part in the proceedings as do the trumpet section, the theme being passed from organ to trumpets and then being taken on by saxophones and then handed back to Hammond organ, it is an entertaining and highly contagious cue that I am sure will have many toes tapping. Track number 7, is SUGAR IN THE RAIN, this is the tantalizing vocal from the score, light airy and simple, a fantastic easy listening lounge track, that is sensual, attractive and performed to perfection by Sally Stevens. Track number 8, FOLLOW THAT MAN is just the opposite it’s a hard hitting and high powered cue, filled with brass stabs, dark sounding piano, electric guitar punctuation's and up beat percussion that together convey a mood of trepidation and agitation, this atmosphere is further underlined and reinforced by the composers use of jangling sounding cymbals and tense strings. Track number 9, NORTH WEST CORNER FACING EAST, opens in a similar fashion to KNIFE FIGHT ON THE HILL, low key but all the time slowly building a tense and nervous ambience until it erupts into a full on and unrelenting chase. Ramin bringing dark sounding piano and jagged almost frenzied strings into the equation which are powered along by strong percussion and supported and bolstered by various brass instruments. Track number 10, TRAM brings the compact disc to its close. And is an unstoppable and explosive cocktail of brass, woodwind, guitar and racing drums.
STILETTO is in my opinion a classic score from the 1960,s and with this excellent CD release on Dutton Vocalion we have at last got the opportunity to have in our collection a soundtrack that is high in quality and filled to its brim with inventive and highly rhythmic compositions. Presented superbly with detailed and informative notes and sharp un-flawed sound. The Compact disc boasts the original LP cover plus a number of stills from the movie in its booklet and a reproduction of the U.K. publicity poster. Have you ordered it yet? Don’t let it get away……..