Composer Bill Conti's iconic score for Sylvester Stallone's tale of over-the-hill Philadelphia boxer Rocky Balboa ranks as one of the most memorable and instantly recognizable pieces of film music ever applied to celluloid. The first Rocky is still the best, with classic cues like "Going the Distance," "Fanfare for Rocky," the "Final Bell" and "Gonna Fly Now" – the latter was actually a hit single – eschewing the myriad of questionable AOR songs that would end up cluttering future installments.
There’s always been a wonderful, symphonic bombast that’s gone with the heroes of space operas, probably no more notably then when John Williams re-launched the old-school sound of the Big Hollywood Orchestra with 1977’s STAR WARS. Yet as he made a new generation of sci-fi fans imagine they were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Princess Leia Organa, there was a group of earthbound heroes with names like Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Gus Grissom who needed to get their Hollywood due, not to mention the swirling strings and brass that would come with it. The composer who would help elevate them to icon status would be Bill Conti, whose main theme for 1983’s THE RIGHT STUFF became the soundtrack equivalent of “Entrance of the Gladiators” – music that defined pride, bravery and duty with no small measure of rousing excitement. Here that patriotic vibe is played under a slow-motion shot of astronauts marching towards the fearsome wonder of space itself, a classic cinema image that would be riffed on in every film from RESERVOIR DOGS to ARMAGEDDON.
The rare sequel that improves upon its predecessor, Rocky II expands on the uplifting approach exemplified by Bill Conti's immortal "Gonna Fly Now" to create a score that's both more cohesive and more emotional. Writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone affords Conti a wider emotional berth this time around, allowing for poignant, melancholy themes like "Vigil" alongside fist-pumping anthems like the climactic "Overture" – as before, Conti employs little more than solo piano, a small string ensemble, and a potent brass section, and it's to the composer's enormous credit that he can forge such larger-than-life music from relatively few instrumental elements. "Gonna Fly Now" even reappears, this time with a children's choir in tow, and sounds better than ever. Not even Frank Stallone's "Two Kinds of Love" can torpedo this one.
Twelve years after they released their first Merle Haggard box, The Untamed Hawk, Bear Family delivered the sequel, Hag: The Studio Recordings 1969-1976. This picks up where The Untamed Hawk left off, which is more of a musical dividing point than it initially seems. If The Untamed Hawk caught Haggard as he was reaching full flight, Hag captures him in his prime, as every single he released reached the Country Top Ten – often capturing the number one slot – and as he sometimes crossed over into the pop Top 40. Hag was without a doubt the biggest star in country music but the remarkable thing about his reign at the top was that he never played it safe.
Released in 1976, Naked & Warm is the fifth studio album by American R&B singer Bill Withers and his second for Columbia Records.