I apologize for not keeping you as informed and entertained as usual this week, but my creativity muscle (it’s in the lumbar area) has been flexing in other ways. Mainly I’ve been working on a new idea I had, which is to mix dancehall acapella tracks (i.e. just the singing part of the song) with music custom-assembled by me from spaghetti western soundtracks. Dancehall artistes have had a well-known and long-lasting fixation on westerns, so the combination seems like a good one to me – at least on paper it does. We’ll have to see how it goes when the team takes the field. But if I can somehow honor the legacy of the Supercat-led group album “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & The Crazy” – not to mention the toasting efforts of reggae DJs Clint Eastwood and Josey Wales – then I will have done what I set out to do.
Since I’m low on creative wattage at the moment, I’ll just fill some space with a low-creativity blog post. Namely,
HERE’S SOME OF THE GREATEST DANCEHALL AND SPAGHETTI WESTERN TRACKS, LISTED ALPHABETICALLY
(Slick, aren’t I.)
~ “Batty Rider” by Buju Banton. With a goofy keyboard loop and a kind of annoying sample of a guy saying “Big it up!” over and over, you’d think this song would be a big fat miss. But Buju lays on one of his best, most infectious hooks ever. No song about short shorts will ever rival the greatness of this one. Click on track 2 here if you want to hear a bit of it.
~ “The Ecstacy of Gold” from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly by Ennio Morricone. This is darn close to the definitive spaghetti western song; I honestly can’t listen to it without getting chills. The spectral wailings of the female singer alongside the swooning strings and defiant brass gets me every time. I also can’t listen to it without picturing Tuco (Eli Wallach) running circles in that cemetery, looking desperately for treasure he doesn’t deserve – but which by the slightly cruel generosity of The Man With No Name will soon be his anyway. A classic piece of scoring and a timeless scene. It’s track 20 here if you feel inclined.
~ “Fedup” by Bounty Killer. This is a HUGE dancehall anthem. It had to overcome a few obstacles to get there though. The beat is somewhat generic except for an occasional interjection where the kick drum pounds right on the beat four times in a row. There’s an odd sample that is not quite on rhythm (riddim?) and sounds kind of like a guitar crossed with a steel drum, pitch-shifted down an octave. And there’s the fact that Bounty’s main melody is lifted right from Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” But when the Killa gets to the hook and bellows “Poor people FED UP!” you know what the fuck is up. And what is up is this, Diane: this tune is kicking your ass. Enjoy the Tom’s Diner-ness here (track 1).
~ “Il Grande Silenzio” from The Great Silence by Ennio Morricone. This is a tremendously sad little bit of folksy scoring that precedes one of the bleakest, coldest westerns ever made. Spoiler: When the title character meets his demise at the hands of superfreak Klaus Kinski at the end, this song by the maestro is what makes it not particularly surprising. Goodbye, Silence; hello, beautiful soundtrack that transports me to a much sadder place.
~ “Killa Is A Killa” by Bounty Killer. He says he’ll execute your family, and it sounds like he means it. This is probably one of Killer’s finest tracks in terms of pure delivery. His voice had reached a deep resonance, aged like a fine wine after years of chatting, but he had also just recently started inserting these bizarre modulated bits (e.g. “Hey yo! Yallo!”) that are awesome and funny at the same time. With a solid, stripped-down riddim behind him, Bounty can’t miss on this one. Track 3 here.
~ “Main Theme 1” from Indio Black by Bruno Nicolai. As solid a Morricone pastiche as you’ll ever hear, with catchy chants of the title character’s name, horse-gallop rhythms, a soaring theme for trumpet, and flute shenanigans right out of the “Fistful of Dollars” playbook.
~ “Parte Prima” from The Grand Duel by Luis Bacalov. I’m kind of glad that this song is too slow to make a good dancehall track, because otherwise I’d certainly use it, and everyone would think I was sampling the “Kill Bill” soundtrack. And with all due respect to Uma, she’ll never hold the same esteem in my heart as Lee Van Cleef. Anyway, this song is one of the defining musical cues in “Kill Bill,” and it’s a lovely, melancholy thing with an almost chaotic amount of emotion in it. God, I miss big ol’ melodramatic scores. Here it is if you want to refresh your memory – track 3 on the “Kill Bill” CD (the original soundtrack is utterly MIA).
~ “Step Out” by Busy Signal. This song has a hyper riddim (as is pretty common nowadays – the dancehall is speeding things up every year) and delivery to match from newcomer Busy Signal. But the true awesomeness arrives in the eerie chorus where he croons in slow motion: “Wuk gal/Buss guns/Smoke weed/Have fun” – and then tops it off with an energetic “Wah mi do!” Yeah, me too, Busy. I also work the gals, and have been known to bust a gun or two. First track here.
~ “Titoli Di Testa” from The Big Gundown by Ennio Morricone. The instrumental version of the theme – a defiant, rousing piece of work with blazing trumpets and ghostly feminine crooning – just beats out the vocal version (“Corri, Uomo, Corri”) because it lets you imagine rather than be confronted with the impressive but weird singing of these lyrics: “Go ahead young man! Reach toward the sun! Run man while you can! Run man, run man, run!” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be humming that all afternoon.
~ “To The Point” by Sizzla. All I can say about this song is “HEY HEY HEY HEY Sizzla Kalonji say fi unno love one anothah! HEY HEY HEY HEY Sizzla Kalonji say hot hotta fyah!” Track 7.
~ “Two Mules For Sister Sara: Main Title” from the film of the same title by Ennio Morricone. This slightly edges out the very similar discordant guitar title music Morricone used in “Death Rides A Horse” and “Face to Face.” It benefits from not being as fast as the latter, or as jangly and chaotic as either. But mostly it benefits from that wonderfully off-kilter flute bit that comes in around the two minute mark. This movie pales in comparison to the two I just mentioned, but the theme is great stuff. It’s track 1 here.
~ “Wrath” by Sizzla. It’s baffling to me that this tune hasn’t appeared on a Sizzla album yet. Scratch that; it’s baffling to me that this tune hasn’t appeared on every Sizzla album, ever. Even his old ones should be reissued with this song leading off. For one thing, the riddim is enormous… elephantine, even. It’s fast and driving with a kind of evil minor key melody, and these funny, squeaky percussive noises marking the end of every measure. And then Sizzla just erupts: “Gangsta nuh left dem gun an mi run it!” Yessir, I won’t dispute it.