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Lock Up - Bill Conti - Soundtrack Review

There is only one reason, I wanted to talk about “Lock Up” on my blog, the track “First Down!”, one of the typical action tracks, only Bill Conti can compose, and the only reason, I bought the soundtrack to this movie. So, let’s look at “Lock Up” this week.

The movie

“Lock Up” is a 1989 American prison action film, directed by John Flynn, with Sylvester Stallone in his typical underdog role, a fabulous Donald Sutherland as antagonist, and John Amos as Captain Meissner, the man with the “incredible smile”. People who already watched this movie will understand my comment here. Here is the trailer:

Stallone plays Frank Leone, a skilled mechanic and a model prisoner nearing the end of his time in a low-security prison, who is looking forward to finally come together again with his girlfriend Melissa. One night, he is forcibly taken to a maximum-security prison run by Warden Drumgoole, played by Sutherland, to take revenge on Leone after he informed the press about the treatment of his prisoners. As you can imagine, we have a highly interesting situation here with these people confronting each other. Sutherland creates a lot of situations to push Stallone finally over the limit, but Stallone tries not to react to these provocative situations. He knows if he would try to escape, he would get locked away for much longer. The final confrontation between Leone and Drumgoole has a very good twist. Overall, I like this movie very much.

Stallone is more critical: “Not a film that was produced and performed with enough maturity to really make a significant impact on the audience or my career. And that’s the truth.” I think this comment is too harsh. Compared to movies such as “D-Tox”, for me, the worst in his career, or “Get Carter” or the famous “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot”, this movie is quite good. And I admit something here: I think that “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” is a hilarious one! Like very often, also this Stallone was nominated for the Razzie Awards which is not surprising. The most interesting fact is that some scenes were shot in a real prison in New Jersey with real criminals.

Director John Flynn worked later together with Bill Conti on the TV movie “Nails” (1992). In the liner notes to the soundtrack CD, there is a statement from the director: “I was a big fan of the first Rocky. I wanted to go back to that; when he was just an average guy from the streets, facing these great difficulties. We wanted to make an action picture that was human.”

The music

In the liner notes, Bill Conti gave us some nice insights about his collaboration with Stallone. This movie was the seventh collaboration between them. I do not really understand the meaning of Conti’s statement, perhaps he does not want to be reduced to the nickname of a “Rocky composer”: “I could understand someone wanting to pair us together, thinking that something magic might happen. Now that’s completely erroneous but its some kind of casting philosophy that people believe in.”

Let’s face it: Bill Conti’s music was one of the reasons that “Rocky” was so successful because his ability to put emotions straight into touching music, often with a very simple but very powerful melody, is a talent that you cannot praise enough.

With the “Main Title”, Conti sets the tone of the music. This track, mostly played on the piano (I assume played by Michael Lang), is a great piece of music and a wonderful performance of the good-natured personality of Stallone’s character. As you can hear, this guy just wants to have piece in the last weeks of his prison stay and then want to start a new life again. With the second track, the action starts: Stallone gets out of his more pleasant prison and is confronted with Sutherland’s character. If the piano is the instrument for the good-natured elements, then the strings and especially the electronics are the instruments for the bad people here. Track three “He Can Take More” is another suspense track and underscores the first visualization of the sadistic attitude of Drumgoole.

Conti points out in the liner notes: The piano theme was “just about the emotion of it all, you can have wall-to-wall atmosphere, and some pictures deserve it. But “Lock Up” did not deserve that, it needed an emotional dimension. The musical contract is not to reinforce the prison, that’s for sure; ignore the environment and only go with the emotions.” Here is the main theme:

The score as a good balance between the action and suspense tracks and the more peaceful tracks. Track 5 “The Shank” is one of these suspense tracks which have a great impact on the scene it was composed for. The track order does not follow the order of the music in the movie. I assume this was done to have a better balance between the quieter and the action parts. Track 7 “You Won’t Break Me” is one of these tracks which combines both aspects. A lot of tracks just work on screen, and in my opinion, Conti uses too much electronics in this score. There is no need for them because they are more used in the typical 80s style. The orchestra, as Conti is using it, is much powerful than the electronics. Track 12 “Do It!”, for a very important scene in the movie, is a great example.

Unfortunately, the track for the escape called “Breakout” is also one of the weaker ones, again because of the use of the electronics. Perhaps Conti wanted to let the score sound more modern, so he used the synthesizer a lot in the second half, but because this usage of the electronics is not very sophisticated, the tracks with the higher amount of electronics are also the weaker ones. “Breakout” is mostly interesting because of the rhythm and the balance between the electronics and the piano, sometimes it sounds like they are playing against each other, but if you compare this track to “First Down!”, you understand what I mean with weaker tracks.

Now, let’s talk about my favourite track “First Down!, a track for the big football / rugby scene in prison which is also the big confrontation between Stallone and the sadistic prison guy played by Sonny Landham which we remember from Schwarzenegger’s “Predator”. The music is composed in the fight music style of the “Rocky” movies, and the game is shot like a fight, between Stallone and his team and Landham and his guys which are stronger and which are playing highly unfair. I remember watching this scene in the cinema and immediately loved it. Conti’s dynamic music, especially the music from 2’20, is very similar to the title “Conquest” from “Rocky 2” and “Rocky 3”. This kind of music is the reason that I consider Bill Conti as one of my favourite composers.

Here is the scene:

The last track “Your Incredible Smile” repeats the main title theme. Conti confesses in a very frank way that he does not have a lot of memories of the “Lock Up” sessions: “I think that most things are not memorable, to be truthful. First time you kiss a girl, you’re gonna remember it. But after you’ve kissed a few girls, you might forget the ones in the middle!”

So, that means “Lock Up” is one of the girls in the middle if I get this right. But because of the track “First Down!”, the CD is worth buying, and perhaps this track can be considered as the special kiss with the middle girl which you will still remember after a while. It is one of my all-time favourite tracks composed by Bill Conti.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2019, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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