Hugo Montenegro

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Song Review by

Although generally rock music dominated the popular charts in the 1960s, there were those occasional off-the-wall hits from other genres that would overwhelm the airwaves, including some easy listening and soundtrack instrumentals. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was one such flaming spear, ascending to #2 in 1968. Although the song did originate as a soundtrack theme by one of the most famous soundtrack composers of all time, it would, unusually, be a cover version by someone else that would become the big hit. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was first heard as the theme song to Sergio Leone's 1966 spaghetti western film of the same name, composed by Ennio Morricone (who scored several Leone films in the 1960s). As issued on the 1967 soundtrack album, the main title of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is an effective classic, starting with heartbeat rhythms, perhaps to mimic Native American patterns. The main hook, however, is the fluttering repeated riff, done in a whistling way by various instruments (including actual whistled wordless vocals), haunting and evocative of open but slightly threatening landscapes. The riff gives way to ultra-twangy guitar (by Alessandro Alessandroni) and Morricone's use of trademark creepy chanted vocal arrangements. When the main motif reappears, the rhythm has sped up to a horse's gallop, with women scatting the riff in a yet more disquieting fashion. Then a bugle enters with a grand fanfare, gunshots are heard, and it's time for a yet faster gallop through the main theme, now almost seeming to verge on losing control, like a horse breaking free of its cart. Morricone's version of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" packs a lot of melodic and instrumental ideas into less than three minutes, and it seemed unlikely both that it could be covered successfully by another artist, and that such a song could become a chart hit in any form. That, however, is exactly what Hugo Montenegro did when he arranged and conducted a version with his orchestra. Although "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" might be widely known by now as a Morricone composition, it's the Montenegro recording that's likely to be the one remembered first. Montenegro gave it a steadier rock tempo, and greater emphasis to the trilling whistling qualities of the hook and the almost Neanderthal-like wordless male vocal chanting. Although many soundtrack scholars would see the Morricone version as the definitive one, in fact Montenegro's version has substantial merits of its own, and is -- as ridiculous as it might sound -- much easier to dance to, should you wish. It also has a more effective fadeout, concentrating on the wistful qualities of the secondary riff that concludes the verses.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Nipper's Greatest Hits: The 60's, Vol. 2 [1990] 1990
Various Artists
RCA 2:47
Hooray for Hollywood [RCA] 1991
Various Artists
RCA 2:45
AM Gold: Late '60s Classics 1992
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:44
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 1992 RCA 2:45
Songs of the West 1993
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:46
Songs of the West, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Rhino 2:45
Cappucino Classics, Vol. 2: Sweets for My Sweet 1995
Various Artists
Temple 2:46
RCA's Greatest One Hit Wonders 1996
Various Artists
This Is Easy [Virgin] 1996
Various Artists
Chartbusters USA, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Ace 2:50
The Best of Hugo Montenegro 2003 Paradiso 2:48
Those Lazy, Crazy Days... 2010
Various Artists
Universal 2:46
Easy Listening Classics: Time Life's Movie Classics
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:43