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First Blood
  • Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
  • Varèse Sarabande / 40m

It may be full of implausible action sequences and its reputation is probably forever sullied by its inferior sequels but First Blood is a surprisingly deep and intelligent thriller examining the sometimes harsh reaction given to returning veterans, in this case John Rambo played by Sylvester Stallone in one of his two most famous roles.

Jerry Goldsmith didn’t have many periods during his career that weren’t notable in some way or other but even by his standards the few years in the late 1970s and early 1980s were remarkable, with one great score following another. His music was often the best thing about the action/thrillers he did – and perhaps that is also the case with First Blood – but he was able to take his cue from the somewhat deeper nature of this film and craft something along those lines.

Jerry Goldsmith

His theme for Rambo is just brilliant, heard in the opening “Homecoming” – the lonely guy trumpet line, the sounds of home from the guitar, the grit and determination the composer manages to wring from that – it’s one of his greatest themes without doubt and has stuck with the character through all the sequels.

A bit of action follows in “Escape Route” – tense, gritty – and then the score’s secondary theme emerges in “First Blood”, an action motif which has also found its way into all the sequel scores – the cue is a masterpiece of construction, building tension and thrills before exploding into life with the trademark furious string runs backing first horns and trombones before the main theme seems to try to burst out on the trumpets. There are some electronics but unlike some of his other scores around this time, they play very much a background role.

“The Tunnel” is one of the score’s excellent suspense tracks, building up fairly slowly through various little cells that the composer uses as building blocks, various motifs being used throughout and with these wonderful little bursts of action. The tempo is ratcheted up a notch in “Hanging On”, the composer approaching fugue form in the way he builds and builds the piece’s central motif – it’s furiously exciting in the way that only Goldsmith’s action music has ever been.

“Mountain Hunt” is incredible: the powerful opening, the brassy blast of the main theme (the first time on the album we’ve heard it since the very beginning), the trademark stop-start action/suspense that follows, the piercing horror movie strings – it’s intelligent, beautifully musically-structured and packs a hell of a punch.

There’s a sinister-sounding opening to “My Town” reflecting Rambo’s sense of loss of belonging before a particularly whimsical version of his theme comes in; then in “The Razor” we get some prime action music, all the percussion and low-end piano and brass – it’s breathlessly exciting. “No Power” (a track absent from the original LP but added to the initial CD releases) is like a bridging piece of suspense music.

We end with the spectacular action finale “Over the Cliff” which follows the secondary theme with more of that brilliant stop-start action/suspense and then two versions of the main theme, “It’s a Long Road” – first a glorious orchestral arrangement which wasn’t used over the credits then a vocal version which was, performed by Dan Hill (no, me neither…) which is actually surprisingly good as far as these things go. The orchestral version is one of my favourite Goldsmith pieces, actually – like all the great film composers of his time he had the knack of capturing a whole movie in a two or three minute theme, and this is one of the best examples.

Intrada first put this title out on CD back in the 1980s (one of their first releases); it was reissued by Varèse Sarabande many years later with identical content. Intrada did revisit it to give it the deluxe treatment later, but there are only a few minutes more music (and all the painstaking micro-edits Goldsmith did to get the original album just right were removed) so I didn’t do the double-dip – but whichever version you go for, I’m sure you can’t go wrong. It isn’t the sprawling jingoistic action-fest of the first sequel score, which many people prefer – and it’s not the bizarrely cerebral sound written for (but largely unused in) the second sequel – somewhere in between, it’s a first-rate action score from the man who did more of those than anyone else.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. Ashley (Reply) on Wednesday 25 September, 2019 at 23:59

    Hi James,
    Hope you’re well!
    Will we ever see the review for Avengers Endgame?
    Anxiously waiting for your take on it 🙂

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 29 September, 2019 at 19:55

      Hi Ashley – hopefully! Probably in an end of year roundup now, given how late I am with it.

  2. Andre---Cape Town (Reply) on Sunday 29 September, 2019 at 01:48

    A marvellous homage, James, to the genius that was Goldsmith….I hope you’ll revisit JERRY’S ‘The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’ as INTRADA have done wonders in restoring missing tracks. The result is so much more accessible and satisfying than the original pirate release way back in the mid 1970s. Once a time I used to order up to eight new albums per month—–so far this year, they sadly number a mere six, and most are expanded versions of scores I already possess. Thankfully I’ve got the masterpieces created by JARRE, DELERUE, ROTA, MORRICONE, BERNSTEIN, GOLDSMITH, HORNER and other maestros of that amazing period spanning the late 1960s-early 1990s AND earlier trendsetters such as MIKLOS ROZSA and ALFRED NEWMAN. I do have some sensational scores by contemporary composers, but their discography is limited to three scores, at most,and then they disappear. In the meantime, I’m rediscovering magnificent film music from my collection of over 3000 titles.