"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" is the theme to the 1966 film of the same name, which was directed by Sergio Leone. Included on the film soundtrack as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (main title)", the instrumental piece was composed by Ennio Morricone, with Bruno Nicolai conducting the orchestra. A cover version by Hugo Montenegro in 1968 was a pop hit in both the U.S. and the U.K. It has since been one of the most iconic scores in film history.
Ennio Morricone version
Ennio Morricone is an Italian composer who has created music for dozens of films. In the 1960s, director Sergio Leone was impressed by a musical arrangement of Morricone's and asked his former schoolmate to compose music for one of his films, A Fistful of Dollars. This led to a collaboration between the two on future Leone films, some of which came to be referred to as "Spaghetti Westerns". After a steady percussion beat, the theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly begins with a two-note melody sounding like the howl of a coyote. Additional sounds follow, some of which symbolize characters and themes from the film. This instrumental composition plays at the beginning of the film. Largely due to the memorable quality of the main theme, the film's soundtrack peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and it stayed on this chart for over a year.
Hugo Montenegro version
Hugo Montenegro was an American composer and orchestra leader who began scoring films in the 1960s. After hearing the music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he decided to create a cover version of the theme. Musician Tommy Morgan is quoted in Wesley Hyatt's The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits as saying that Montenegro's version "...was done in one day. I think it was all day one Saturday at RCA." Similar to Morricone's original composition, Montenegro and a few session musicians sought to recreate this record using their own instrumentation. The opening two note segment was played on an ocarina by Art Smith; Morgan provided the sounds that followed on a harmonica. He was quoted as saying: "I knew it was live, so I had to do this hand thing, the 'wah-wah-wah' sound." Hyatt's book states that Montenegro himself "grunted something which came out like 'rep, rup, rep, rup, rep'" between the chorus segments. Other musicians heard on the record include Elliot Fisher (electric violin), Manny Klein (piccolo trumpet) and Muzzy Marcellino, whose whistling is heard during the recording.
Much to the surprise of Montenegro and the musicians who worked with him, this cover of the film theme became a hit single during 1968. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June of that year, held out of the top spot by another song from a film, Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" (from the 1967 film The Graduate). It spent three weeks atop the Billboard Easy Listening chart during the same time frame. In September 1968, Montenegro's version reached the UK Singles Chart and began a steady climb, eventually reaching the top of the chart on 16 November and remaining there for four weeks.
Detailing this song in a description of the film soundtrack, the website CD Universe states that it is "so familiar as to be a cultural touchstone. Even an abbreviated sound byte of the theme is enough to conjure images of desolate desert plains, rolling tumbleweeds, and a cowboy-booted figure standing ominously in the distance." It has been used frequently to convey these sorts of images on radio, film and television in the years since the film's release. The Simpsons has used the opening notes of this theme in multiple episodes over the years.
Among numerous musicians who have, in full or in part, borrowed or sampled from this song are Gorillaz, whose 2001 debut single, "Clint Eastwood", was so named because it reminded the group of Morricone's theme and its melodic structure. Bill Berry, former drummer of the band R.E.M., played what was dubbed an "Ennio whistle" on the track "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us", from their 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. The song was also covered by The Pogues for the soundtrack of the parodic western Straight to Hell.
The Ramones were known to play a cover of this song live at the beginning of their setlist. The song is also featured in the video game, Maestro! Jump in Music. 80's R & B band Cameo used the theme's opening whistle in their singles Word Up! and Single Life. Las Vegas, Nevada-based band Sin City Sinners always walk onto stage with a recording of the tune playing in the background.In the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the character Jacob Moore, played by Shia LaBeouf,had a mobile cell phone ring tone of the opening tune of the "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", the film coincidentally also starred the actor who played the "Ugly", Eli Wallach.
The song was also used in TV commercials for Camel Cigarettes during the 1980s.