Damien on… Hugo Montenegro
For the full story on this HACK, we need to go back to 1960. For it was in this year that “The Magnificent Seven” emerged – it being a virtual remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic.
The young Sergio Leone decided a trick done once could be repeated – and so he found another Kurosawa movie – “Yojimbo” – and set about remaking that. He called it ”A Fistful Of Dollars”.
However, this first instalment of the “Dollars Trilogy” (about which, more later) did not reach an international audience for some time – because Leone neglected to make any kind of deal with Kurosawa.
It took a while for the dispute to be ironed out – the eventual settlement being a pile of cash paid to Kurosawa (ironically, a lot MORE cash than “Yojimbo” ever grossed).
But then, in 1965, came the second entry in the “Trilogy” – “For A Few Dollars More” – and once AGAIN there was trouble. Sergio had fallen out with the producers of “A Fistful Of Dollars” and when he released its “sequel”, they were somewhat miffed.
And so THEY sued. But since none of the “Dollars Trilogy” actually had anything in common – they LOST. Sergio was able to show that the similarity in titles was merely a piece of publicity bullshit. Despite having the same cast – the characters’ personalities, names and situations were NOT RELATED.
You see, the “Dollars Trilogy” WAS not and IS not a TRILOGY (in truth, NONE of Sergio’s movies were related to each other in ANY way – apart from his use of similar style, cinematography and the same composer, technicians and actors).
But when the wrangles were finally settled, this did not stop the publicity machine from pretending it WAS. In 1966, with the first two movies already in the can and “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” nearing completion, “A Fistful Of Dollars” finally burst upon the international scene.
Its trailer voice-over rumbled on about The Man With No Name (actually, he’s called Joe in the film) and said “This is the first movie of its kind” (it wasn’t – there had been a NUMBER of “spaghetti westerns” before Sergio entered the field – but none of them had gone international).
And six months later, following the ENORMOUS success of “A Fistful Of Dollars” (in ’66, most people were still used to traditional white hat vs black hat “cowboy” movies) the same voice rumbled that The Man With No Name (actually, he was Monco in this one) was BACK – and ended with “This is the SECOND movie of its kind – it won’t be the LAST.”
Which was hardly news, given the hype that had been emerging about “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” – unprecedented at the time, outside of the Bond saga.
At which point, we must examine Ennio Morricone’s involvement in the proceedings.
Ennio had been a CLASS-MATE of Sergio’s and had designed the score for “A Fistful Of Dollars”, based on some backing he had done for a cowboy-style country/pop record, a while earlier.
He went on to score ALL of Sergio’s movies for the next decade or so and RCA had the rights to release the “Dollars” scores internationally. Which they did – belatedly. (RCA was Italy’s leading international label – not surprising, considering who owned it).
It had been no use releasing the records in ’64 and ’65 – since no-one outside of Italy had SEEN the movies. They were the best-kept secret in showbiz (apart from Rock Hudson being gay).
But when “For A Few Dollars More” finally burst onto the international scene, RCA figured they’d better check out what they had. And they discovered that for both films, a lot of it was atonal music – with planks being slapped together, whistles and other peculiar noises.
Thus they decided to lift the BEST of BOTH scores and put them onto ONE album, with the highlights from “A Fistful Of Dollars” on one side and from “For A Few Dollars More” on the other. Then, to make sure it sold, they released it at BUDGET price.
And sell it did – by the bucket-load! EVERYONE bought it!
Which is why, when “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” emerged (no “Dollars” this time – and there was initially some confusion over who was the “Bad” and who was the “Ugly”) RCA, still stinging over what they saw as a major marketing BLUNDER, released the “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” soundtrack as ONE, FULL-PRICE album.
Although this writer WONDERS about that. Was it REALLY a blunder to release the best of those first two soundtracks on one, BUDGET-priced album? The thing is, albums were EXPENSIVE in those days – and one suspects that the profits from two full-priced albums added together might STILL have netted RCA LESS than the FORTUNE they glommed from the single, budget album.
We will never know (perhaps on a World far, far away…) but RCA were convinced they had sold the first two soundtracks CHEAPLY – and had NO intention of committing a FURTHER faux pas by releasing the main theme from “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” as a SINGLE.
So despite the fact that people were going around WHISTLING it (mostly BADLY – it’s a tricky backward-warble) if you wanted to BUY it, you had to shell out for the ALBUM. And despite its price, a number of people DID – but many could not.
Enter Hugo Montenegro (and not before TIME – this piece has his NAME as its TITLE, after all!)
Hugo was a mediocre composer of “chirpy” film and TV scores and themes – NONE of which were ever hits. But the theme from “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” was such a great piece, it was hard NOT to make it sound interesting.
And so Hugo set to work to arrange a cover version – and ended up creating the best thing he ever DID. Whether he was inspired by Morricone’s piece (a so-so musician often finds themself raising their GAME when pitted against a master) or just got lucky, we will never know. Suffice to say the record sold BIG-TIME.
Ironically, on RCA records.
Footnote: if you want to hear the piece in question, click on – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLJnxRPS6z4 – but if you want to hear the MASTER, your humble scribe put together a piece you can enjoy by clicking on – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNdT6FlOkhU