ROCKY (1976)

His Whole Life Was a Million to One Shot

The Rocky soundtrack album is often overlooked thanks to the somewhat poor musical reputation of the rest of the series. In this case, however, that reputation is undeserved. The brilliant Bill Conti is responsible for the musical end of the Rocky phenomenon.

The original soundtrack album was composed, conducted, orchestrated and produced by Conti, an accomplished composer who has a well-deserved reputation for serving up exciting scores which easily span the boundaries between traditional classical film scores and contemporary rock music. The best example of this bridge is in his music for the Rocky series, but the scores for other films such as The Karate Kid and For Your Eyes Only also demonstrate the same effortless fusion.

“When I wrote the script for Rocky,” Sylvester Stallone remarks in the liner notes, “I wanted passion music. I wanted a symphony of powerful men, of lonely women, of thick-necked losers, of human ships that crash in the night.  Of love.  Of courage.  Of dignity cast in bronze.

“I only wished the music could come from inside me, but I was born with ears of stone.  Bill Conti shook everyone’s hand [at the initial consultation] and walked out the door.  Three weeks later, Conti walked in the door with music under his arm.

The music began.
I was sweating.
I am impossible to satisfy, I thought.
I was cheering!

How did this thin man with an Afghan dog, seize the soul of every character and set it to music?! Then it dawned on me. Simple. How could I have not known at our first meeting that he was brilliant:  Bill Conti is Italian.”

Rocky is a particularly good example to demonstrate the economy in Conti’s use of thematic material. The familiar main title seems to contain all the thematic elements, and most of the soundtrack seems to spring from there with deceptive ease. This is despite the fact that other tracks are so varied in nature, ranging from the boxing fanfare through classical contrapuntal cues to the songs to a romantic interlude.

Conti’s recording of Rocky’s Theme, “Gonna Fly Now”, reached #1 in July of 1977.  Penned by the songwriting team of Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins, “Gonna Fly Now” was named on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest motion picture songs – it was ranked #58.

One track left to the devices of anther musical mind was “Take You Back”.  Written by Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother Frank, the song went on to appear (in various versions) in all the sequels except Rocky IV.  Frank Stallone recalls:  “When I did the a cappella song for Rocky, “Take You Back,” that was just a simple nothing song, but it’s become a little culty thing . . . I like writing, I like the process.”

Vocals on the album are provided by DeEtta Little, Nelson Pigford and Valentine.  Little and Pigford’s rendition of the love song “You Take My Heart Away” (written by Connors and Robbins) made it to #35 on the Top 40 musical charts of 1977 and was covered by many artists of the day.