Ennio Morricone and Peter Tevis – “A Gringo Like Me” (1963)
Ennio Morricone and Peter Tevis – “A Gringo Like Me”
There are some songs that don’t fuck around. Time is money. I got things to do, like play Dead Cells for the 5,000th time or cook a pasta dinner that I will be angry for eating ninety seconds after I finish. I can’t be listening to your big, lumbering opus, Michael Gira. I need a song that gets down to business. Better yet, I need a song that gets down to business and provides me with some hard ass life lessons while they’re at it. I don’t need some trust fund indie type muttering some quiet revelation they had to me. There should be no poetry or joy in music. Just cold hard facts. Thankfully, there is a song that fulfills those two criteria: “A Gringo Like Me”.
All joking aside, “A Gringo Like Me” is one of the best songs ever written, in my opinion. This collaboration between vaunted film composer Ennio Morricone and American folk singer Peter Tevis is an early anomaly in Morricone’s career. While still finding his way as a composer for radio and film in 1962, Morricone met Tevis and the two began working on a version of Woody Guthrie’s “Pasture of Plenty”. They struck up a short-lived collaboration that eventually led to them creating the 1965 album Un Pugno Di… West, which featured a version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, an early version of the Fistful of Dollars theme, and, of course, this song.
Ennio Morricone is rightfully viewed as one of the greatest film composers to ever live, but this song predates his noted collaborations with directors the likes of Sergio Corbucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Dario Argento. It even predates his breakout work with Spaghetti Western pioneer Sergio Leone. Hell, to go even further than that, this even predates the Spaghetti Western genre. This song was used in the 1963 film Gunfight at Red Sands, a kind of proto-Spaghetti Western. It’s like the MC5 to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’s Ramones.
The Morricone and Tevis collaboration also sticks out in Morricone’s discography because these songs have lyrics as opposed to his typical instrumental film scores, and my God what lyrics they are. Every line of this song is gritty fucking gunslinger life lesson. This is not an exaggeration. Let’s break it down, line-by-line:
- Keep your hand on your gun. Fair. People want to shoot gunslingers. This is implied in the job description.
- Don’t you trust anyone. Again, fair. As the great western philosopher Steve Austin once said, “D.T.A.”
- There’s just one kind of man that you can trust, and that’s a dead man or a gringo like me. The first part of this, totally. A dead man’s motives are of a singular focus: being dead. Zombies aren’t real. The second part is specious at best. My exception to that rule would not be some white dude. However, it’s a gringo like him, so there are extenuating circumstances. Maybe we can trust this grizzled gringo. The “x” of this equation, the gringo, is technically undefined. However, he’s a white guy that shoots people, so perhaps we actually do have enough information to solve for “x” in this case.
- Be the first one to fire. Much like comedy, timing is everything in a shootout.
- Every man is a liar. I don’t even have to add anything here.
- There’s just one kind of man who tells the truth, and that’s a dead man or a gringo like me. Again, see above. Although, in this instance I would like to point out that the dead can’t tell the truth because they’re, you know, dead.
- Don’t be a fool for a smile or a kiss or your bullet might miss. If you are a gunslinger, think of the parable of the Pooh Bear: if you fall for the honey pot, you’re going to have a rough time.
- Keep your eye in your goal. I mean, you could find this on a poster in any sad office job in America.
- There’s just one rule that could save you your life. It’s a hand on your knife and the devil in your soul. Overdramatic? Sure. But life’s rough out in the Wild West. A willingness to stab someone was probably as valuable a life skill as blacksmithing back then.
That’s nine life lessons right there. Are they life lessons for lone wolf maniacs? Of course they are, but they’re life lessons nonetheless. This song is everything awesome about the Spaghetti Western ethos, and it presaged it by a full year. Definitely something worth checking out.
For more short song discussions, check out our post about the awesome Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You) here.