“Spaghetti Western” is a genre of Western films that emerged in the mid-60s in the wake of Italian director Sergio Leone‘s “Dollars” trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964) [which was an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo (1961)], For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Most of the films, in this genre, were made by Italians and, thus, the term “Spaghetti Western” was coined.
Sergio Leone‘s films also had the distinction of being scored by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who used “gunshots, cracking whips, whistles, voices, jew’s harp, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar” instead of the orchestral arrangements favored by American composers in Western classics such as John Ford‘s The Searchers (1956) and John Sturges‘ The Magnificent Seven (1960) [which was an official remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (1954)]. Ennio Morricone‘s score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the most iconic in Western film history, spaghetti or otherwise.
Spaghetti Westerns disappeared, mostly, by the mid-70s, but the genre’s influence continued into later decades, inspring renegade filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and others. Ennio Morricone‘s scores also inspired many instrumental surf bands who enjoyed a resurgence in the wake of Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction (1993), whose eclectic soundtrack included a few ’60s surf instros. The Hellbenders were one of the best modern bands ever to be influenced by Ennio Morricone’s distinctive Spaghetti Western themes.
The Hellbenders were a side-project of The Volcanos from Detroit, MI. The Volcanos played “revved-up 60s surf style instros,” and released two amazing albums on Estrus Records: Surf Quake! (1996) and Finish Line Fever (1998). The 1st album was an all-out surf party, while the 2nd kicked out some hot rod sounds, too. The Volcanos were a phenomenal traditional surf band, but The Hellbenders traded sun and fun for guns and revenge, and a new obsession, for me, was unleashed.
“Have a Good Funeral, My Friend” was my introduction to The Hellbenders [who named themselves after Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film The Hellbenders (aka I crudeli)]. I own the original 45 RPM vinyl record on Neurotic Bop. The track is a cover of Italian composer Bruno Nicolai‘s theme for Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay (1970), the 3rd film in the “Sartana” series. Listen to The Hellbenders‘ cover here, and Bruno Nicolai‘s original version here. I like The Hellbenders‘ battle march better, but, I heard it first. The original theme inspired Goro Yasukawa‘s score for Atsushi Muroga‘s Gun Crazy series of films, whose 1st episode [A Woman From Nowhere (2002)] is a modern interpretation of the Spaghetti Western genre while the 2nd [Beyond the Law (2002)] is more of an homage to John Woo‘s heroic bloodshed films.
The Hellbenders‘ “Have a Good Funeral, My Friend” appeared on Spaghetti: “Duck You Suckers!” (One Million $ Records, 1997), a tribute to Spaghetti Western themes by various surf/garage rock bands. The single’s B-side “The Gunman Left Standing”, an original, appeared on Spaghetti II: “Revenge!” (One Million $ Records, 1999). Both tracks eventually ended up on The Hellbenders‘ debut album Today We Kill… Tomorrow We Die (Double Crown Records, 2004), which included 9 instros, 8 vocals and 4 instro interludes. The vocal tracks were lacklustre, but, the instros more than made up for them. However, none of those tracks made it to Spaghetti III: “See Ya In Hell!” (One Million $ Records, 2004), but, it was the weakest of the trilogy, so no love was lost.
Spaghetti Western scores were as important to the genre as were any of the visual or thematic aspects of the films themselves. The haunting music conjures up images of Clint Eastwood‘s iconic character “The Man With No Name” walking into a desolate border town. He wears a battered brown hat, a poncho, and a single revolver holstered on a right-handed gun belt. He is unshaven, with a cigarillo clenched between his teeth. He looks like this …
However, to some, he looks more like this …
Well, maybe it’s just me. Anyway, allow me to share my perfect Spaghetti Western playlist comprised of tracks culled (mostly) from the “Spaghetti” trilogy and The Hellbenders‘ album. My favorite tracks are the ones by bands that stay true to the Spaghetti Western influence without trying to re-define it within their own genre (i.e., surf, garage, etc). So, here it is …
1. “Outlaw Kill” – Hank Ray & the Executioners. Gun shots open this moody dirge that’s fueled by fuzzy guitar tones. This track is the 1st track on Spaghetti: “Duck You Suckers!”, so its a perfect 1st track for my playlist even though the next song is my favorite. Hank Ray is a purveyor of what he calls “death country”.
2. “Have a Good Funeral, My Friend” – The Hellbenders. From Spaghetti I.
3. “Django” – Los Banditos. This track [not the Luis Bacalov theme from Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film Django] delivers haunting, twangy guitar over the sound of wind sweeping over a lonely desert. Los Banditos are a “surf and big beat” band from Germany. From Spaghetti II.
4. “Bandido Mexicano” – DM Bob & The Deficits. This track’s twangy guitar is backed by a slowed march. DM Bob plays a mix of “blues, bluegrass, hillbilly, country, cajun and garage.” From Spaghetti I.
5. “A Fistful Of Pasta” – The Charles Napiers. Sweeping winds, harmonica and twangy guitars dominate this somber mini-suite before gun shots and startled horses give way to a brief up-tempo interlude. The Charles Napiers played Link Wray-esque instros. From Spaghetti I. Charles Napier, by the way, was an American actor best known for playing “square-jawed tough guys and military types.”
6. “Los Diablos” – Los Plantronics. This track is an upbeat march whose rhythm is underscored by the sound of a tuba and whistles. Los Plantronics, from Oslo, Norway, plays “mariachi death surf.” They have also covered Ennio Morricone‘s “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. From Spaghetti I.
7. “There’s A Pale Moon Over The Valley Of Darkness” – Hank Ray & the Executioners. This track, which closes Spaghetti I, is another haunting, twangy dirge from “the godfather of death country.”
8. “The Gunman Left Standing” – The Hellbenders. This excellent track sounds like Duane Eddy meets Ennio Morricone. From Spaghetti II.
9. “El Loco de la Sierra” – The Satelliters. This track is driven by rhythmic voices, whistles, gun shots, twangy guitar, and a tribal beat. The Satelliters, from Germany, play “60s garage-punk.” From Spaghetti II.
10. “Flamingo Sunset” – Hank Ray & the Executioners. This is a slightly more up-tempo, twang-driven ballad from Hank Ray that closes out Spaghetti II.
11. “For A Few Dollars More” – The Hellbenders. This track is a cover of Ennio Morricone‘s main theme for Sergio Leone‘s For A Few Dollars More, the 2nd film in the “Dollars” trilogy. From the compilation B-Movie Brain (Neurotic Bop Records, 1993).
12. “The Vice Of Killing” – Langhorns. This track is a cover of another one of Ennio Morricone‘s themes for Sergio Leone‘s For A Few Dollars More. Langhorns, from Lund, Sweden, play “surf, twang and more.” From the compilation For A Few Guitars More: A Tribute to Morricone’s Spaghetti Western Themes (Dancing Bear, 2002).
13. “Last Requiem” – The OK Kings. This track is a twangy dirge that opens with a little trumpet. The OK Kings are a surf band who might be from Denmark. Or not. From Spaghetti II.
14. “Satanic Freak of The Western Wastelands” – Hank Ray & the Executioners. This track, who’s percussive rhythm sounds like a rapidly beating heart, is the most upbeat of the 4 Hank Ray tracks. Great title, too. From Spaghetti III.
15. “Tarantula Blues” – Guitar Junkie. OK, this Link Wray-esque track sounds more like a Robert Rodriguez movie theme than a Spaghetti Western theme, but, I like it. From Spaghetti III.
The next part of this playlist is comprised of most of the instros and interludes from The Hellbenders‘ Today We Kill… Tomorrow We Die in the order they appear on the album. They’re all good …
16. “Winchester Justice” – The Hellbenders.
17. “Desert Standoff” – The Hellbenders. Interlude (0:54).
18. “Unmarked Grave” – The Hellbenders.
19. “Waiting To Kill” – The Hellbenders. Interlude (1:18).
20. “The Big Gundown ” – The Hellbenders. This track is a cover of Ennio Morricone‘s main theme from Sergio Sollima‘s 1966 film The Big Gundown.
21. “Unmarked Grave Revisited” – The Hellbenders. Interlude (0:44).
22. “A Taste Of Death” – The Hellbenders. Interlude (0:28). Love this interlude!
23. “The Hellbenders (I Crudeli)” – The Hellbenders. This track is a cover of Ennio Morricone‘s main theme from Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film The Hellbenders (aka I crudeli) from which the band takes its name.
And, here’s a bonus track …
24. “A Fistful of Dollars” – Dave Wronski. This track, from For A Few Guitars More, is an acoustic guitar cover of Ennio Morricone‘s main theme for Sergio Leone‘s A Fistful of Dollars, the 1st film in the “Dollars” trilogy. Dave Wronski fronts the surf band Slacktone.
Finally, remember: “Every gun makes its own tune.”