MACHINE GUN MCCAIN Gli intoccabili Morricone's Ballad #24
This series is inspired by a controversy thread where someone posited the idea that besides THE MISSION and some Sergio Leone westerns Ennio Morricone hasn't written anything great. Rather than making my usual comment that most of Morricone's great scores are from Italy and trying to get Americans to listen to them is like getting them to see movies with subtitles, I decided to take another tact. Since I am at an age where I will only be able to make my case a finite number of times I decided to turn this into a series presenting each great score one at a time, sort of like recordman.
Back into the throws of controversy I go. This goes straight into the argument I've had with Morricone fans and film score buffs for decades. Whenever Morricone does a score it stands to reason that he would use every tool at his disposal. One of his tools, or talents is orchestrating songs, which he did for everyone from Mario Lanza to Paul Anka during his early days. The problem is most film score fans not only hate vocals they particularly hate Italian vocals because too often they are in English and sung by those who don't quite have that language down. But there is a handful of Morricone scores where the central piece of music happens to be part and parsel to a song. This is one of them. His ballad is in three parts. The beginning and end are cool but the bluesy heart of it is the middle, as memorable as they come:
To further illustrate how controversial this is when GDM released the extended CD of this, not long ago, they did something I had never even heard of. They have both this 3 part vocal and the 3 parts without the vocal. For me it just illustrates what I believed in the first place, the background was written to support that melody and without it it just hangs there. So the best representation is on the vocal but for those who are allergic to such things it is available with and without. I, for one, believe Jackie Lyton did a fine job. But to put it in perspective, of the twelve films Morricone did with director Giuliano Montaldo only this and SACCO AND VANZETTI were deemed appropriate to have vocals as the central piece of music.
BTW This is a good place to introduce a name that all us Italian soundtrack collectors kept seeing, A. Nohra. This elusive lady, Audrey Nohra (Also under her married name Audrey Stainton), was a composer in her own right and wrote quite a lot of the lyrics for a number of composers as well as Morricone songs like "Home To My Love" THE HILLS RUN RED, "Deep Deep Down" DANGER DIBOLIK, "Run Man Run" THE BIG GUNDOWN and, of course, "The Ballad of Hank Mccain." Now I don't want to misrepresent this score by focussing on the ballad. Like for Tornatore, Morricone's scores for Montaldo were never monthematic (as you can see from MARCO POLO). This score has no fewer than 3 waltzes (epic, sad and funny). Also two very different love themes for "Rosemary" and "Irene". A nifty 60s dance piece and a bigger variety of good lounge pieces than you can find on any Mancini album. There is even a jaunty western theme "Vegas" that reminds me of Delerue's theme to THE CONFORMIST (of course this came years before that film). All that Plus some of those usual crime suspense pieces that you might expect in a film called MACHINE GUN MCCAIN. You do get your money's worth here.
BTW I always thought this was simply a B-movie because I saw it when I was young and hated it. But later realizing this was directed by Montaldo and that it competed in the Cannes Film Festival I decided to give it another look. Sure enough it was among a string of films that was picked up by American distributors and cut down to fit American sensibility. Hence the poetic masterpiece Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE was cut down to THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS and Montaldo's GLI INTOCCABILI was reduced to MACHINE GUN MCCAIN.
But appropriately "The Ballad of Hank Mccain" is the through line for this movie. It gives it a mythic dimension. No one knows better than Morricone how to do that.
I picked up the b**t lp of this back in the late 70s and was immediately hooked on the easy listening tracks. Yes indeed, the latest GDM CD really expands on the original tracks, with great stereo sound, and is highly recommended.
This is another one I've only heard on my ANTHOLOGY set, which seems to be my only reference point for many of these things. The famous ballad is really hokey, but fun!
Thanks, Thor. You reminded me of something I left off this entry and originally was going to put on the DANGER DIABOLIK one. The lady who wrote this and practically all hokey-but-fun lyrics for Morricone, Audrey Nohra.
I have always found the ballad incredibly catchy, groovy and hilariously parodistic. While OK CONNERY has much more of an intended Bond spoof character, I find The Ballad of Hank McCain much more similar to the usual overblown James Bond title song lyrics. It surprises me that it gets more flak than the Sacco & Vanzetti ballads whose singing style could really not be exptected to be everyone's cup of tea and which are - in my opinion - much harder to get into.
P.S.: I only noticed just now the sweet pun your closing sentence represents to someone who's familiar with the song:
No one knows better than Morricone how to do that.
Original lyric: No one knows better than McCain how to disregard the pain...
Morricone's ballad is great but I feel it's let down by poor lyrics and godawful singing.
Just my opinion however
I totally disagree about the singing. For a change, a song in an Italian-produced film was sung by a native English speaker, rather than someone who was just singing the English lyrics phonetically. In this case, the singer was Jackie Lynton (born John Bertram Lynton, 27 February 1940, in Shepperton, Middlesex, England). Nowadays, Lynton is regarded as something of a legendary figure in British rock & roll, but in a near-forty-year career his only brush with the "Big Time" was as the vocalist in a dodgy 1970s Blues and Boogie band. And ironically, despite Lynton's own inherent "Englishness", that success was pretty much restricted to the United States.
In 1969, Lynton hooked up with the former producer of the British pop band The Casuals, David Pardo. (The Casuals are best known for their 1968 #2 UK hit, "Jesamine.") Lynton cut a series of covers for the European market - specifically, for Germany and Italy. During these sessions he also recorded Ennio Morricone's The Ballad of Hank McCain, the theme tune of the John Cassavetes movie Gli Intoccabili, which was released in Italy on the Joker label.
I have something of a toned-down love-hate relationship with this score. I've owned both the Alhambra and Dagored releases but found that whilst I can enjoy it, others times it irritates me. The song is so prominent that the rest of the score disappears.
I recall that the sleeve notes on the Alhambra release were not complimentary re: the vocals, or the structure of the score.
I've never made a connection with the JB007 title songs ... I think it's much more like the Western ballads I have by Marty Robbins ... only the singing is nowhere near as good.
Have owned the older Dagored version for years always felt lukewarm about it after reading many different collectors giving the expanded score much praise.Decided to check it out myself and I'm really glad I did many of the bonus tracks are superb and totally different to what was on the version that I owned.
Now I love this score with the very cool cover art.