- Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
- La-La Land Records / 2016 / 45m
A rather-forgotten late-era western made in 1975 by Antonio Margheriti credited as Anthony M. Dawson, Take a Hard Ride blended elements of both American and Italian westerns (and indeed was co-financed by production companies in each country). Jim Brown took the lead as a rancher’s right-hand man tasked with delivering a load of money across the border into Mexico, assisted by a gambler played by Fred Williamson. Needless to say it doesn’t go entirely smoothly and they cross paths with, amongst others, bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef.
Jerry Goldsmith’s western scores are all some degree of great, though his achievements in other genres means perhaps they don’t get the credit they deserve. From beautiful pastoral Americana to rousing adventures in wide open spaces, via of course taut and exciting action, the film composer who did it all certainly contributed a lot to the great catalogue of Hollywood music for what was for a long time the most beloved of all types of film. My favourite of the lot is probably the glorious Wild Rovers, but for my money his best western theme came from this movie, Take a Hard Ride.
The score opens with disconcerting mid-1970s synths accompanied by harmonica which lead into a spot of orchestral dissonance in “After You”, Goldsmith using similar techniques to those heard in numerous Italian westerns (though you’d never fail to spot his unmistakable musical voice). After that comes the main title and that barnstorming theme, trotting rather gently along in its initial presentation before it giddies up into a full-blown gallop – truly thrilling. Its best arrangement, for the end titles, is one of the first cues I put on any Goldsmith playlist or compilation (it’s that good).
There’s some good action music, as you’d expect from this composer, starting with the dark and serious “Run for Cover”. “Friendly Enemies” is more expansive, featuring the main theme, and no less exciting. With its explosions of brass and percussion punctuated by driving string runs, “Two Gentlemen” is classic Goldsmith action, completely thrilling. The lengthy “Cliff Dwelling Battle” (which continues straight into “We Made It”) is another corker, full of furious little passages that the composer links together ingeniously to generate such raucous energy – it’s so thunderous yet so fun.
At the softer end of the scale, I suppose “Hunter’s Harmonica” has to invite comparison with a rather more famous piece from a western, but it’s Goldsmith through-and-through in the way it expresses feeling, and feelings are again the centre of attention in the following “A Sad Story”, which certainly lives up to its name and is very beautiful in its way. The atmospheric “Nowhere to Go” is also lovely, with the rattling percussion and lonesome flute.
La-La Land’s 2016 reissue of the score offers upgraded artwork and liner notes and, most importantly, upgraded sonics (and while the sound is still far from pristine, particularly in the louder moments, it is a definite improvement over the old FSM album). It’s a really good score and I can’t overstate just how wonderful the main theme is, but the vintage synths are a bit abrasive at times and do slightly temper my enjoyment overall. Having said that – you can’t go far wrong with Jerry Goldsmith doing a western and this one belongs in any collection.