By Audrey Avril ‘19
A vast open vista. A rattlesnake gives you the serpent equivalent of the middle finger. A bandit has his own fingers a little too close to his gun for your liking. The screeching hawk sound effect cries overhead, looking for a bone to pick too. The sun’s beating bullets down onto what is apparently the only street in town, and you’re trying to keep your cool, but it’s really tricky when all you’ve been doing for the past ten darn minutes of screen time is getting a camera shot all up in your face. You wonder when you can stop making eyes at this guy and just get to shootin’ already. You draw and-! Oops he’s dead it literally took .2 seconds.
Back in the day, Westerns were very popular by way of fantastic wish fulfillment. Now, we’ve sort of fallen into disillusionment about the genre. Maybe, once we finally got to watching all of those old films, we realized that being a cowboy consisted of a lot of sun exposure, a disappointing amount of actual gun exposure, wandering around the desert for an eternity of screen time (think Lord of the Rings, except only scenes of hobbits walking across New Zealand. So, essentially, Lord of the Rings), and having a grumpy-stoic persona so on point that no one will actually have a decent conversation the entire movie. Thank god, then, that these movies had some pretty kick-butt soundtracks. These songs are so suspenseful, so epic, so nostalgic, and so wonderfully invigorating, it can make even a boring weekday too intense. Here are just a few of my favorites.
“Main Theme” from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” by Ennio Morricone
Kicking off the list is a tune that will highlight three trends that appear on this playlist. One, you’ve most definitely heard this before. Two, it’s by Ennio Morricone, a film composer and true legend at that (he’s on here a lot). Three, the song will start with a lone riff, and then the orchestra will come out of nowhere and totally kill it. An epic intro to the Sergio Leone masterpiece and our playlist.
“Main Titles” of “For a Fistful of Dollars,” by Ennio Morricone
Ah, a guitar, slide whistle thingy, and whip. My favorite instrument combo. All said, a lighter, jauntier intro into the first of the Dollar trilogy.
“Main Theme” of “For a Few Dollars More,” by Ennio Morricone
Bless Morricone. He has kept the charm of the tune of the original, and made it even more memorable and intense for the next installment of the tale of “the man with no name.”
“Main Theme” from “The Magnificent Seven,” by Elmer Bernstein
Less b.a. and more of the wholesome adventuring variety, this tune resonates with the lighthearted adventurer in all of us.
“Main Theme” from “Django Unchained,” by Luis Bacalov
A newer movie, but one whose sound (and Tarantino brutality) captures the ballad of the western heroes of yore perfectly. I always wonder if in these exposition songs, the main character can hear them. Like, it’s playing during the opening credits when they’re wandering the wasteland, and the main character is just like, “wow, thanks, omnipotent song, for reminding me how I’ve lost literally everything. Like, thanks.”
“Westerado Theme” from Westerado: Double Barreled, by Sam van Lonkhuyzen
This little tune fits all the light adventure pomp, wistful lulls, and quiet suspense into a three and a half minute loop for Adult Swim’s 2015 browser-based pixel game, Westerado: Double Barreled. The game fits the genre to a T, while still taking a subversive and hilarious turn where it needs to. I would highly recommend a listen, a play through even more so.
“Main Theme” from Red Dead Redemption, by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson
A more solemn tune from the classic Western videogame saga, Red Dead Redemption. This song especially keeps the excitement and suspense high, although much of the soundtrack works to a similar extent as you play through this no-nonsense adventure game.
“Fortune Hunters” from Borderlands, by Raison Varner, Sascha Dikiciyan, Cris Velasco, Jesper Kyd
The last of the video game tracks, this heart-pumping track from Borderlands is just the kind of dark and gritty for a firefight out in the wild wastelands of Pandora. While not a straight stab at capturing the western genre, Borderlands (and its accompanying sound) pulls a lot from the classic look and feel of your favorite western stories in an homage that cannot be accidental.
“Man with a Harmonica Theme” from “Once Upon a Time in the West,” Ennio Morricone
Before this track, I didn’t know that those little spit canisters (harmonicas) could be anything but campy and quaint. However, give it some space and a boost from some killer acoustics, and you get a sickly tune that can only mean there is danger looming on the horizon.
“Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” by Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Sung by B.J. Thomas
Well, technically it’s music FROM a Western. One of the quirkier elements from the tale of that charming yet deadly duo, but I thought we needed to lighten it up a little. Also, Paul Newman! (Unpopular opinion, though: Robert Redford?)
“The Trio” from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Ennio Morricone
Here, we’re back at the beginning for the end (and more Morricone, but I’m not complaining. Dude knew how to make good music). A quietly drifting tune bursts into a powerful horn at every turn, building full to burst.
“The Ecstasy of Gold” from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Ennio Morricone
I saved my favorite for last. Short, but immensely powerful. A kick-butt ode to “The West,” with it’s unforgiving yet breathtaking landscapes (mostly Italy), dirty gunslingers, honorable thieves, lonely wanderers, cannon-fodder extras (also a surprising amount of Italians), and all the Wilhelm screams we know and love.