ROCK Sex tells a tale once upon a time in the West.
The Italian Western soundtracks by Ennio Morricone are among the coolest music ever made, and the most influential on all forms of music. Here's the surprising trail that led there.
It begins with a traditional British Isles folk song called "Pretty Polly", a ballad about the murder of a young woman by a heartless @#%&er. Perhaps because of the misogynistic pall, other variations of the song arose expanding it with her ghost coming back to destroy him. The song, like all Euro-Folk music, immigrated into the Appalachian regions of America and pollinated through Folk, Country, Blues, and Bluegrass versions.
The song has been covered by artists from The Byrds and Sandy Denny to Current 93 and Gillian Welch. It is also reportedly the inspiration for Bob Dylan's "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown", Poison Girls' "Pretty Polly", and Nirvana's "Polly".
Here is a Bluegrass version by Bill Cornett.
BILL CORNETT -"Pretty Polly"
But back on the main path of our trailblazing...
The People's Troubadour Woody Guthrie turned the general melody of the song into an epic anthem for migrant workers called "Pastures Of Plenty".
WOODIE GUTHRIE -"Pastures Of Plenty" (1941)
Ennio Morricone was a pop arranger in the early-'60s, and did a dramatic arrangement for this cover version by Italian singer Peter Tevis. The background vocals are almost certainly by I Cantori Moderni (The Modern Singers), and the twanging guitar by their leader, Alessandro Alessandroni.
PETER TEVIS, w/ Ennio Morricone -"Pastures Of Plenty" (1962)
A couple years later, as he began his career scoring films, Morricone was asked by director Sergio Leone to compose for his film A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), a Western remake of Akira Kurasawa's wayward samurai film Yojimbo (1961).
Leone asked for a sound in the style of Dmitri Tiomkin, but when he heard a 45rpm of Tevis' song he was thunderstruck and insisted that it was the dynamic sound they needed.
The backing track then became the basis for the revolutionary Italian Western sound. Alessandro Alessandroni stepped up to the mike with his trademark haunting whistling. The "with the wind" background chant became what everyone interprets as "we can fight".
ENNIO MORRICONE -"A Fistful Of Dollars" (1964)
The Italian Western sound -galloping rhythms, hard twanging guitar, eerie whistles, monastic chants, triumphant Spanish horns, and ethereal arias- has had an endless impact on Rock'n'Soul music. Disciples include Blondie, Adam Ant, Wall Of Voodoo, Crime And The City Solution, Nick Cave, Pixies, Air, Muse, Calexico, Gnarls Barkley, Mike Patton, and Goldfrapp.
Hear more Italian Western classics and more at MORRICONE Rocks!
© Tym Stevens
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