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How Ennio Morricone influenced Radiohead's 'OK Computer'

Ennio Morricone is perhaps the most iconic film soundtrack composer of all time. He penned so many film soundtracks that an exact number has never been calculated, with estimations varying between the mind-boggling figure of 450 and 500. 

The wonderful thing about Morricone‘s work is that it was always imbued with a quality that superseded that of his contemporaries, managing to touch on primal emotions. His work has a timeless feel, and he truly averted the norm by proving that it is possible to be prolific and still produce art of esteemed status. 

A confirmed master of his craft, his diverse back catalogue is one of the most entertaining ever assembled. He was not confined by genre, and this gave his work a fluid feel that was way ahead of its time. Interestingly, although it is clear to anyone who has heard any of his soundtracks beyond the prominent titles that he was chameleonic, the mainstream always tried to pigeonhole Morricone, something that quite rightly frustrated him. He told Channel 4 News: “I get really annoyed because even though only 8% of my film scores were for westerns, most people only remember me for those films”. 

A band that are fully aware of the full spectrum of Morricone’s work is the Oxford legends Radiohead. According to the biography, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story, for the band’s 1997 album OK Computer, Radiohead were partly inspired by Morricone’s “more stark, foreboding work”. His influence can be heard clearly on the haunting classic ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’. Attempting to recreate the sound of Morricone and other legends such as krautrock masters Can, Radiohead created an album that is understandably hailed as one of the most important ever released. 

In terms of ‘Exit Music’ and Morricone, the band started moving in the direction of the Italian composer when composing the song, as its lyrics were based on Shakespeare’s Italy-based play, Romeo and Juliet, and because the song was to feature in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film of the same name. They needed something authentic but modern, and they achieved this feat resoundingly.

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The moody atmosphere of Morricone was emulated by the band, with Jonny Greenwood performing the track’s unmistakable Mellotron parts, giving it the haunted, swooning sound that often underpinned Morricone’s work. In a New York Times piece discussing OK Computer, Yorke said that a track from Morricone’s soundtrack for 1974’s Spasmo, ‘Bambole’ was what particularly inspired ‘Exit Music’ and other parts of the album. 

The parallels are uncanny. Morricone’s ‘Bambole’ features moody acoustic guitars, and reverb-drenched backing vocals, creating a spine-tingling sense of suspense that fit in perfectly with the classic giallo’s menacing themes. Across OK Computer, its influence can be heard on other tracks such as ‘Karma Police’, ‘Paranoid Android’ and the introduction to ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’.

This was the true brilliance of Ennio Morricone; he influenced a wide array of artistic legends in many ways. Muse, Hans Zimmer, The Mars Volta, The Prodigy and even Metallica have all been greatly impacted by his work.

Listen to ‘Bambole’ below.