„Rocky“ is American history. It is the movie that made Sylvester Stallone famous, it is the movie that made composer Bill Conti famous, and it is still one of the best sports movies ever. So, it is time now to talk about the “Rocky”-franchise.
One of the rules I set for my blog from the beginning is that I will talk just about one score of a franchise when the composer is still the same. Therefore, I will not review the other “Rocky”-scores in a separated review even though I think that the best tracks of the franchise are on the score for “Rocky 2” and “Rocky 3” and even “Rocky 5” has one track that is very nice, it is track for the fighting scene in the end.
“Rocky” is a 1976 American sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen and both written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It tells the typical American Dream story: Rocky Balboa is an uneducated but kind-hearted working class Italian-American boxer. He works as a debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia and gets the chance to fight against the heavyweight boxing champion, played by Carl Weathers. Here is the trailer:
Most film fans know the story that Stallone got inspired by the fight between Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner, “The Bayonne Bleeder”. Chuck was able to fight against Ali fifteen rounds, he got not knocked out early as boxing experts supposed, and he could hit Ali very hard in the ninth round, a scene which you can also find in the movie.
Producers liked the story but not the fact to see the unknown Stallone in the role. Stallone was fighting for his project, and we all know the rest. The film, made on a budget of just over $1 million and shot in 28 days, was a sleeper hit; it earned $225 million in global box office receipts, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1976, and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. “Rocky” is considered to be one of the greatest sports films ever made and was ranked as the second-best in the genre, after Raging Bull, by the American Film Institute in 2008.
“Rocky” started a franchise with six sequels: “Rocky II” (1979), “Rocky III” (1982), “Rocky IV” (1985), “Rocky V” (1990), “Rocky Balboa” (2006) and “Creed” (2015). Stallone portrays Rocky in all six sequels, wrote the first five, and directed four (Avildsen returned to direct “Rocky V” and Ryan Coogler directed “Creed”). From all the movies, I like “Rocky III” best because I think it has the best story and the ideal of the fallen champion who underestimate his opponent, lost his appetite (“Eye of the Tiger”) because he is afraid of losing again, but fights back with the help of a friend, is a great storyline and proofs that Stallone is a great screenwriter. Also, I think that especially the quieter parts of Bill Conti’s score are the best of the series.
I grew up with the “Rocky” movies. I cannot count how often I saw the movies. The Rocky movies are not only an inspiring story, they are great for your own motivation. Never give up, always stand up after a punch in the face and keep going until you succeed and reach your goals.
Bill Conti worked with the director before and composed a score for “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” (1975) that was ultimately rejected by the studio as Conti explained in an interview with “Emmy TV Legends”. In the interview, Conti explained that composer David Shire, at that time Talia Shire’s husband, was not composing the music, he did not know the reason, then another guy also could not do it, so Avildsen then reached out to Conti again due to the film's relatively low budget. "The budget for the music was 25 grand," said Avildsen. "And that was for everything: The composer's fee, that was to pay the musicians, that was to rent the studio, that was to buy the tape that it was going to be recorded on." Therefore, Conti recorded the music in one three-hour session.
Each film music fan considers “Rocky” as one of the most amazing movie soundtracks ever. When Rocky is running up the steps to the Museum of Modern Art in Philadelphia, you are still impressed by the energy of this scene combined with the powerful score by Conti. The main theme song, "Gonna Fly Now", was placed by the American Film Institute as 58th on its AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.
“Rocky” is like John Williams’ score for “Indiana Jones” a simple, but powerful composed score and has a characteristic motif that you can easily play on the piano. The music is pure Italian – both Conti and Rocky have Italian origins - in its sense of a lovely melody and, of course, also a product of the 70s in the use of electric guitars. Even after 40 years, the training music has such energy that you just have to put the music in your tape recorder, pardon you have to upload it on e.g. iTunes and transfer it to your iPhone or iPod, and can start your own training and have also a perfect rhythm for pumping the iron.
Here is another great peace of music that shows how Bill Conti is able to create emotions. This is the music after the last bell and the fight is over:
There is a great interview on YouTube with Bill Conti playing the famous “Gonna fly now” on the piano. Conti explained that this song was not actually planed as a song; it came up by adding different pieces together. John Avildsen came to Conti and said he needs nearly 90 seconds for the training music. So, Conti composed the fanfare and went over to the beat. Avildsen needed more music because he did not use the medicine ball and push-ups, so Conti composed more, then the director needed another 30 seconds and another 30 seconds. Therefore, Conti began adding these pieces together, and it became the now famous song. A great example of composing a piece of unforgettable music!
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