Underrated and Overrated Music from The Rocky Saga!
The Rocky Saga bowed out of the ring in 2006, after a successful three decade reign, with the release of Rocky Balboa, which brought the story of “underdog” fighter – hi, can you still be labeled an underdog after thirty years, six films and successful ten title defense – Robert “Rocky” Balboa Sr. to a close. Of course, by the end of the saga’s cinematic run, much of the shine of the flagship film’s Oscar-winning glory had tarnished, courtesy of some saggy sequels in the middle of the franchise. Still its cast of endearing characters – Mickey, Paulie, Adrian, Apollo, Mr. Gazzo, Clubber Lang, Drago, Cuff & Link, Butkus and, of course, Rocky himself – have enabled the franchise to remain in reasonably good graces with fans all over the world. Of the many iconic elements within the films – does anyone not call the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art the “Rocky steps” – the music is perhaps the most unforgettable. Well except for the tracks that flat out stink. I see you, Three 6 Mafia.
“You Take My Heart Away” – Rocky
A.K.A The song playing when Rocky and Adrian go at it for the first time in one of cinema’s most incredible kisses! I am as hardcore a Rocky fan as anyone, yet I didn’t realize that this was in fact a real piece of music and I actually already owned it. I just assumed it was some tune I’d never be able to find and gave up. I have been playing it like whoa for several months and it never stops causing a lump to rise in my throat. It’s like “With You I’m Born Again” but with a bombastic horn section and a 70s pr0nny sounding organ turned to eleven.
“Double or Nothing” – Rocky IV – Kenny Loggins & Gladys Knight
Ahh, the undisputed “King of Soundtracks” and the “Cool Auntie of R&B” click their Wonder Twin rings together, yielding a combustible duet! Why did it take the third Rocky sequel to get these two vocal powerhouses into the studio together? It’s like they have always sung together. Deserved to be a much bigger track. Their vocals perfectly complemented each other. Little burnt the track is used as throw away music while Rocky and Apollo are gabbing on the phone like gossipy neighbors.
“One Way Street” – Rocky IV – Go West
This is one of my favorite non-instrumental track of the entire saga. Go West’s Dan Hartman-ish brand of blue eyed, grocery store-ready (Ray-Bone Burnett, where you at?), satisfying soul was about as “edgy” as the soundtrack of any Rocky sequel ever goes. No, it was not “edgy” to recruit Oscar winners Three 6 Mafia to record a lousy track for the saga’s swan song. This deserved to be Go West’s big soundtrack hit, instead of the mediocre, radio friendly and frequently played in dentist offices “The King of Wishful Thinking” from Pretty Woman. Go West is basically Tears For Fears with better vocal capabilities and unreleased demos stolen from either The Blow Monkeys orLevel 42. And that’s cool.
“Pushin’” – Rocky III – Frank Stallone
Everyone remembers “Take You Back” because anytime Rocky features a gritty, rough and tumble shot – like a trashcan ablaze and some musically gifted jolly hobos warming their hands around it – the song makes an appearance. “Pushin” is a far more entertaining song; Frank’s voice is a lot better utilized here, despite the spectacular levels of cheesiness that is the arrangement.
“Eye of the Tiger” – Rocky III – Survivor
“Eye of the Tiger” long seemed like the coolest song ever to me; a critical misstep, which would become incredibly apparent to me the first time I stood with a mic clutched in my hands and actually sang its head shaking lyrics in front of crowd of strangers filled with good will and Mexican food. One of which was my own Mother who said rather astutely, “Wow, what silly lyrics.”
“Living in America” – Rocky IV – James Brown
Don’t let the smooth taste fool you; “Living in America” – as satisfying as it might be – is not new hotness. It is a warmed over, Vegas drenched, critical system failure from one our greatest musical legends. It’s a Eddie Murphy James Brown parody skit set to music. And the way the normally fierce horn section morphs into the Horns of Hell is utterly appalling. The only saving grace is the staccato chant of a seemingly random collection of American cities, where oddly Rocky’s own stomping ground shout out – Philly – seems like an afterthought. Habba Zuh Bat, indeed.
“Hearts on Fire” – Rocky IV – John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
As much as I adore this song I am not in denial it is nothing more than a rehash of Cafferty’s wannabe Springsteen/Mellencamp song “On the Dark Side” cut with a side of Kenny Loggins’ Footloose gem “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man)”.
“Going the Distance” – Rocky – Bill Conti
Under no circumstances should one assume the inclusion of this cut is an indictment of the Saga’s fantabulous composer Bill Conti. When a Rocky musical cue makes “Gonna Fly Now” seem subtle that’s saying something! There is nothing subtle about the Hans Zimmerish horns and those furious strings. I realize “Going the Distance” predates Zimmer’s equally cloying and sucker punching “Aggressive Expansion” by a few decades; these songs are of similar bombast. This is the music I hear whenever I’m trying to open a particularly resistant jar of salsa or trying to tighten a screw without stripping it. That said, I am going to have the first half of this track played (if I get married) as I walk down the aisle and the second half after the minister or whatever says, “I now pronounce you Man and Wife.”
Honorable Mention: “Training Montage” by Vince Dicola, which has the dubious distinction of being the only cut from the Saga I simply do not like. I’ve said a dozen times, but it’s worth repeating: its synthetic notes sound like the background music of those 80s Soloflex infomercials or the “soft rock” setting on old Casio keyboards.
Agree? Disagree? Rocky fans, which songs from the Saga do you find overrated/underrated!
An extra video for you: