Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am looking at Eurospy films.
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It probably says a lot about EuroSpy films that their soundtracks are a lot easier to find than many of the movies. That, no doubt, has a lot to do with the quality of composers coming out of Europe at the time, such as Ennio Morricone, Mario Nasimbene, Piero Umiliani, Michel Legrand, Sandro Brognolini, Riz Ortolani, Manuel Parada and many, many more.
With Eurospy soundtracks there are many varying styles, and it is hard (and pretty unfair) to lump them all together. The first style attempts to stay as close to the John Barry, James Bond sound as possible. These are the least interesting to me as soundtracks, because quite frankly, if I want John Barry, I will listen to the real thing. One of the better examples, is Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s score for Operation Kid Brother. Some of the film’s musical cues, mimic the Barry sound quite successfully.
The second style, operates under the premise that James Bond is an old ‘suit’ and not with the times. And the music reflects this – possibly owing more to The Beatles, than John Barry. In the films, you’ll often see a Beat group – called something like ‘The Spyders’, ‘The Planets’ or ‘The Fireballs’ – playing in a nightclub that the hero visits in the course of his investigation. If the film happens to be directed by Jess Franco, there’s also a good chance that there will be a scantily clad woman dancing in a cage too.
Since I have so foolishly mentioned Franco, if you can find the soundtracks to his Red Lip films – Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster – by Jerry Van Rooyen, give them a listen. Truly amazing wild and swinging stuff. Also, the music by Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – to the Franco / Miranda trilogy (okay, only The Devil Comes From Akasava counts as a Eurospy – the other two being Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy) is also well worth listening to.
Below, are my thoughts on a few of the more easy to locate Eurospy soundtracks.
Agente Speciale LK
Agente Speciale LK, or Lucky The Inscrutable as I call it, is a strange little film that was directed by Jess Franco, and released in 1967. Just mentioning Franco either conjures up fear or perverse delight. But generally, Franco’s films, despite what you may think of their content, usually had pretty good soundtracks.This one is composed by Bruno Nicolai.
The film itself is a weird hybrid of comic book and spy movies. It stars Ray Danton as ‘Lucky The Inscrutable’, a super hero – spy who wears superman style costume with a large ‘L’ on his chest. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is light hearted and pop oriented – albeit sixties Italian pop, rather than cool spy jazz. It includes some sixties choral singing – Light ‘Bub-adubba-das’ lilt over the top during action sequences – and deep ‘Bum, Bums’ resonate in the title song. The style is more like Hugo Montenegro (Matt Helm phase) than Nicolai’s sometimes partner, Ennio Morricone.
I must admit when I saw the film, I didn’t think the music was that bad at all (hence, why I bought the album), but as a listening experience on it’s own without visuals, I was fairly disappointed. It is quite cheesy in places. But it does take the smorgasbord approach. Unlike some soundtracks which keep repeating the same theme over and over again, here each track is very different. If you don’t like one, you may like the next.
The standout track for me, is ‘Lopagan Island’ which is a jaunty calypso style number with Edda Dell’Orso’s soprano voice warbling over the top. The CD is almost worth it, for this track alone (only it is too short). Who is Edda Dell’Orso I hear you ask? Thanks to her collaborations with Ennio Morricone, on the soundtracks to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, she is often referred to as ‘The Voice Of Italian Cinema’. You might not know her name, but anyone who has listened to The Good, the Bad & The Ugly or Once Upon A Time In The West soundtracks, will recognise her voice.
As each track is so different it is hard to classify or compare this album to something else. On the whole, I find it a bit abrasive. It isn’t smooth ‘lounge music’. If you are a fan of Eurospy soundtracks (and you’ve got spare cash to throw away) if you see it, buy it. It’s worth a listen, and I am sure one of the tracks will grab your attention, but I wouldn’t spend hours searching the net for a seller.
Dick Smart 2.007
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Orchestra conducted by Roberto Pregadio.
Released by Hexacord.
Dick Smart is a pretty wild Eurospy production directed by Franco Prosperi. It features Richard Wyler as swinging sixties dilettante, womaniser, and part-time spy, Dick Smart. Smart is hired by the CIA, for a fee of one million dollars, after five atomic scientists go missing from around the world.
Nascimbene’s score is very good, and the hook will get stuck in your head for days, even weeks perhaps. You will find yourself humming the theme after you’ve finished listening to the album. As the film is primarily set in and around Rio, the soundtrack features a lot of Latin beats, like Sambas and Bossa Novas. Each track gives away it’s musical style in it’s title ‘Samba For Dick’, ‘Bossa For Dick’ etc… There are no vocals until the end track. The male vocal is quite flat – it almost seems spoken. But the instrumentals are quite good, although slightly repetitive, but it is a soundtrack, so you’d expect that a few musical motif’s are repeated.
If the album has a weakness, it is that sometimes the instrumentals tend toward ‘elevator music’ with weird sixties electronic sound effects over the top. At the end of the CD, there are some musical cues and control room dialogue from Nascimbene. It is an interesting curio – but doesn’t add much. But still it isn’t a bad album. If you’re a fan of Eurospy Soundtracks, buy this one. I wasn’t disappointed.
Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die
Composed and arranged by Mario Nascimbene.
Released by Avanz Records
Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die, even if you haven’t seen the film, as a stand alone listening experience, is great. It is better than the Dick Smart soundtrack, but is similar in so many ways. Once again, the film is set in Rio, so the soundtrack has a Latin American feel to it. Although there is a lot more variety on the Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die soundtrack. The closing title song, although not listed on the album, is performed by Lydia Macdonald (I think. Please correct me if you know otherwise). Macdonald, while hardly a household name these days, was a very busy girl in the 1960’s especially singing title songs to Eurospy films. She can be found singing ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Go’ on the soundtrack to Requiem For A Secret Agent; ‘Nothing To Fear’ from MMM Missione Morte Molo 83, and the title track to From The Orient With Fury.
As with the Dick Smart, Kiss The Girls also has a few weird sci-fi electronic soundscapes. No doubt, if I had seen the film I’d know what these are. Most likely they are from scenes in the film, where the chief villain is test firing his latest hi-tech weapon. These call be a little bit grating. They aren’t really ‘lounge’ tunes, and as such aren’t really easy listening. But on the whole, this is a pretty good soundtrack album. It’s a bit harder to track down than Dick Smart, but once again, if you are a fan of this type of soundtrack, this is worth hunting down.