For fans of Ennio Morricone and classic spaghetti westerns, today’s post of music history will come as a nice treat. Even those who are unfamiliar with the classic film, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” will recognize the iconic theme behind it, which plays through the opening scene of the film.
Largely due to the success of the theme, the soundtrack to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” stayed on the Billboard 200 album chart for over a year. Over the years since its release, the score has become regarded as one of the best in cinematic history. The composition was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.
Fifty years ago, American composer Hugo Montenegro released a cover version of the classic theme from the soundtrack. Upon its release, the cover version peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, held off from the top by Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”. In the UK, however, Montenegro’s cover reached #1, and stayed there for four weeks.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” is a 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti Western. It is the third installment of the Dollars Trilogy, following “A Fistful of Dollars” in 1964, and “For A Few Dollars More” in 1965. Fun Fact: While it was the third installment, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” actually takes place before the first two movies, and acts as more of a prequel for the Man With No Name.
While the acting, cinematography, and innovative style of Sergio Leone bears the brunt of the film’s success, there’s no denying that Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack contributed to its legendary status.
Ennio Morricone’s theme plays out in the animated title sequence of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. In it, we hear the classic two-note melody that trades off with the wah-ing harmonica. The theme is punctuated by occasional gunshots, which were synced up with the visuals. Other additional sounds follow, some of which symbolizing characters or themes of the film.
Hugo Montengro’s Version
After hearing the music from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, Hugo Montenegro decided to compose and record a cover version of the theme. During the recording, Montenegro decided to use a variety of different instruments. The idea was to update the original, in a way, and make it more modern and hip.
Montenegro first added a stronger beat, paired with strong, rhythmic strumming on an acoustic guitar. Other instruments included an electric violin, a piccolo trumpet, an ocarina, and an electric harmonica. The whistler was Muzzy Marcellino, noted for his extensive blow job throughout John Wayne’s The High and the Mighty (1954).
Here’s another fun fact for you. The tune’s distinctive grunting (“Hep! Hup!”) was actually voiced by Montenegro himself.
It’s All Good
I originally thought that I’d find something to nitpick in this cover version. In my mind, when I started this article, I thought I’d point out the good, the bad, and the ugly bits of Montenegro’s cover. But to my surprise and delight, I was unable to find a single thing about this song that I would change. Therefore, in my eyes, it’s all good.
It seems that there are several musicians over the years who also support this opinion. And they’ve shown their admiration for the classic theme by sampling Montenegro’s version across multiple genres. The Beastie Boys’ did it with their 1988 song “Desperado”. 10 years later, The Wiseguys did it with “Cowboy ’78”.
Ennio Morricone’s original soundtrack has seen far more samples and covers, of course. you can find a comprehensive list of the 82 songs that have drawn from it here. The animated sitcom “The Simpsons” have also used the opening notes in several episodes.
I tried my best to hit this one from every angle, but I am, of course, only human. If I missed something, or made a mistake, feel free to leave a comment down below, and I’ll address it as soon as I can.