“Yo Adrian, it’s me Rocky” – Rocky Balboa
What’s a Rocky?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movies, Rocky Balboa is a fictional boxer written and played by action movie star, Sylvester Stallone. Rocky, A small time loan shark who nobody believed in receives the chance of a lifetime to fight the boxing World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed. It was critically acclaimed, well received grossing over $200 million at the box office and grabbing 3 academy awards from 10 nominations. It was a difficult movie to get into production but paid off massively – How so? Well that discussion deserves an entire dedicated episode on its own. The movies had some of the most animating music that I have ever experienced. Housing hits such as Robert Tepper’s No Easy Way Out, James Brown’s Living In America, Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger and Burning Heart.
Bill Conti, the film’s composer definitely outdid himself in lending the franchise it’s distinct heartfelt atmosphere especially on tracks such as Going The Distance (Rock I), Redemption (Rocky II), Conquest (Rocky III) and most celebrated Gonna Fly Now (Rocky I).
He wasn’t the studios first choice, originally it was planned to be lead actress Talia Shire’s husband who was a film composer – He turned them down. After failing to find another conductor John G. Avildsen, the film’s director eventually suggested that they hire Bill. The offered him a $25 000 package deal. The rules of the deal were that Bill would use the funds to acquire the musicians, tapes, engineers and he would receive whatever was left as income. His agent tried to negotiate for a better deal but remained underpaid in the first movie due to limited budget and resources for the film’s production.
One night during the first film’s development, John invited Bill to his house. They watched some boxing tapes in slow motion while Beethoven played in the background. Inspired by the scene they both agreed to give the film music that captured and boosted the emotions portrayed in its story. Both men cooperated well, leading to some scenes and music being changed because they felt as if that they didn’t complement each other.
Gonna Fly Now?
“That song is the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard” – Sylvester Stallone
Undeniably Gonna Fly Now is the most recognizable piece from the movie and has an interesting story behind it. Originally the training montage in the film where the track made an appearance was originally meant to only be a minute at a half instead of the final 3 minute cut, John had a bunch of extra footage of Sylvester working out lying around. He fetched Bill, showed him a clip and asked him for 30 seconds of music to narrate it. Bill played some fanfare he had written on the piano nearby. John was so impressed with the outcome that he asked for another 30 seconds consecutively, so much so that it eventually stretched to become 3 mins.
“It wasn’t really a song….it began as just bits and pieces that eventually became a song” – Bill Conti
Originally Bill wrote the song to be sad, thus manipulating the audience to feel sympathetic for Rocky’s hardships – he was a bum, a loser, someone who believed that he couldn’t get anything done because he had lost. He combined this segment with the fanfare for the montage. John and Bill liked the idea of the song starting off minimalist and progressing confidently with Rocky’s training pace, engaging the audience to root for him. The final act of the montage where Rocky celebrates his efforts after running up the stairs with a little victory dance, is actually played backwards. This was done because they felt that the camera panning out didn’t quite do the emotion of the music and scene justice.
“…getting strong now, won’t be long now….”
John liked the outcome of the song,but still felt as if something was missing. “Can’t we say something, like he’s getting stronger now?” he asked. “You can say anything you want it’s your movie” Bill responded. Bill then approached Kate Connors and Ayn Robbins who at the time were writing lyrics to You Take Me Away, one of the film’s original soundtracks and asked them if they could write a chorus for it – they took the challenge. He then phoned his wife, who at the time was a secretary at KHJ TV in Hollywood, asked if any of her office mates could sing and tasked her to bring them over to the studio during their lunch break to in order to sing the newly written lines. Within one, 3 hour session they had finished recording the entirety of the rocky score. Sylvester Stallone loved it and demanded to write his thoughts on the back of the original tape when the film was released– he wrote him a heartfelt paragraph. Bill’s involvement in the film managed to grab 2 Academy Award nominations for the Best Original Song category.
A Song Changed The Story’s Ending
The original first movie ending script involved Rocky and Adrian holding hands while walking away as the wind blew away dirty newspapers, set in the major fight’s arena parking lot. Bill was displeased when he saw this footage and confronted John to do something about it. He pitched an alternative ending to the film and played it out with the aid of the piano. During the very first screening of the movie with the MGM executives, they stopped the film after the end of the final fight scene and then John stood up. Bill’s cassette playing piano started playing the ending music whilst John narrated Bill’s version of the ending, the executives loved it. Production had already ended 2 months prior to the screening, so they had a limited amount of people they could use to re-shoot the ending. Staff, friends, family members, literally anyone they could find where called in and used – This explains why the ending had so many close-up shots since they didn’t have enough people to re-fill in the entirety of the crowd of spectators
It fascinates me the way that way that music can help, shape and move a story. The Rocky franchise birthed an immense level of confidence and motivation to get things done in my childhood. The level of adrenaline it has is like pouring sugar onto a koeksister and then dipping it into a can of Red bull. Revisiting these pieces of music today makes me feel like a champion, even though I’m unemployed and still living with my parents.
Going The Distance
Gonna Fly Now
You Take My Heart Away
Alone in The Ring
The Final Bell