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True Grit (Elmer Bernstein Conducts His Classic Scores for the Films of John Wayne)

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Album Review

John Wayne won his only Academy Award for his portrayal of aging U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, a successful Western of the late 1960s also notable as the screen debut of country-pop singer and television host Glen Campbell. Naturally, Campbell sang the title song, written by the film's score composer, Hollywood veteran Elmer Bernstein, with lyrics by British journeyman Don Black. Bernstein was familiar with the Jimmy Webb-style country-pop Campbell was accustomed to singing, and Black, as usual, turned in something serviceable, even given the challenge of inserting a nearly unsingable word like "grit" into a lyric. ("The pain of it / Will ease a bit / When you find a man with true grit.") The result was a Top Ten country and Top 40 pop hit as well as an Oscar nomination for best song. The soundtrack album, which contains two versions of the song (first the hit single, then the one from the closing credits), like many soundtrack albums, does not actually consist of material drawn straight from the film soundtrack, but rather of suites constructed separately in the recording studio. Unlike many soundtrack albums, however, this one admits to the switch. "Elmer Bernstein conducts Themes From his Original Score Arranged by Artie Butler," reads a statement on the album cover. Butler's arrangements also take contemporary pop writers like Webb and Burt Bacharach into consideration for a set of instrumentals that suggest light pop/rock, as if the album had been made by Henry Mancini or Ray Conniff. In "A Dastardly Deed," for example, an electric guitar is made to sound like a sitar; elsewhere, a single wind instrument carries a melody, Bacharach-style, before it is caught up by horns as drums pound, and then an organ intrudes. None of this sounds much like the Old West, of course, but it does sound like typical easy listening, instrumental pop of the late '60s. And that, along with the hit single, was enough to place this album in the Top 100.


Born: 04 April 1922 in New York, NY

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

If Elmer Bernstein had realized his childhood hopes, he might have been a successful concert pianist from the '40s through the '60s. Instead, thanks to his ability as a composer (manifested at an early age), and the timely intervention of World War II, he has for more than four decades been a major force in popular and film music, and a major influence on American popular culture. Born in New York City, Bernstein as a boy showed a consuming interest in music, especially on the piano. He was a natural...
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