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What is Take a Hard Ride? Sure it's yet another Jerry Goldsmith-scored western, but this 1975 20th Century-Fox production is so much more. It's a buddy movie. It's a blaxploitation epic. It's got kung fu. And it's a spaghetti western to boot. It's got Jim Brown, Fred Williamson...and Lee Van Cleef. It's got 1971 International Middle Weight Karate Champion Jim Kelly playing a character who dresses, acts and best of all, kicks like Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack.
Take a Hard Ride has it all, including one of Jerry Goldsmith's most enjoyable western scores. A few selections from this western barn-burner were made available to collectors by Doug Fake on a CD compilation made for the Society for the Preservation of Film Music in 1993. Now Doug has compiled the entire 45-minute score with a much-improved sound mix. Goldsmith's score was heavily modified in the editing process of the movie; cues were repeated, sections of music were dropped out and replaced with music from other parts of the film, and some music was never used. This is your first chance to hear the entire score as it was written to accompany the film.
While he had scored numerous westerns by the mid-'70s, Goldsmith had found a new lyricism and depth of character for the genre while working on Blake Edwards's Wild Rovers in 1971. And Take a Hard Ride, while still emphasizing action, benefits from this more sophisticated sensibility. Goldsmith's main title melody starts from a quirky, picaresque piccolo motif and builds to a rousing, full-blooded western adventure theme. It also provides a surprisingly warmhearted theme for the grudging friendship between Jim Brown's loyal Pike and Fred Williamson's gambler Tyree, suffusing the entire score with a sentimentality that is only given lip service by the film itself.
Of course, Take a Hard Ride was at its core a spaghetti western, and Goldsmith was well aware of the musical legacy created by Ennio Morricone in his stunning scores to the Sergio Leone westerns, as well as in countless Italian knock-offs of the same. Goldsmith consciously references various Morricone-isms in his score, from the buzzing electronic stinger that always accompanies shots of Van Cleef's bounty hunter to the moody semi-source harmonica motif also associated with the character. Goldsmith also references Morricone in some bursts of aleatoric brass and shrill string writing that recall some of the explosive, hallucinatory effects Morricone produced for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. But unlike Morricone, Goldsmith worked these effects into a traditional, linear structure. The quirky, unobtrusive piccolo motif becomes a charging action motif when necessary, and Goldsmith provided an appropriately elastic, percussive motif to accompany the antics of Jim Kelly's character during several incongruous karate sequences. Full of lengthy action set pieces, suspenseful interludes and surprisingly lyrical passages, Take a Hard Ride was the climax of Goldsmith's western work until he revisited the genre in the '90s.