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Music

When Ennio Morricone and Joan Baez collaborated for a political anthem

The musical world is full of weird and wonderful convergences. Whether that be Jagger and Bowie’s cover of ‘Dancing in the Street’, Metallica and Lou Reed’s oddity Lulu, or even Rick Astley and Blossoms, there has been innumerable occasions where some of our favourite artists have teamed up to deliver us a work of surreal beauty.

One of these such collaborations came in 1971, and it was a thing of majesty. Somewhat lost to the sands of time, it brought together two icons who we’d never have imagined would have ever worked together, but it worked. Even at the time, no one would have dared to dream that the great film composer Ennio Morricone would somehow team up with the equally as brilliant Joan Baez. 

The song ‘Here’s to You’ came as part of the soundtrack for the docudrama film Sacco & Vanzetti, directed by Giuliano Montaldo. The interesting thing about the song is that it is intended as a tribute to two canonised Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The pair were sentenced to death by a US court in the 1920s after they allegedly murdered a guard and a paymaster during an armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Massachusetts.

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It has since been established, in the mainstream opinion, that the verdict was based on the court’s bigoted aversion to anarchist political beliefs, although this is widely contested. Due to the men’s suspected innocence, the ‘Sacco and Vanzetti Affair’ became one of the 20th century’s biggest causes célèbres. Protests were held on their behalf in every major city in North America and Europe, as well as in far-flung places such as Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne, and São Paulo.

The brilliant thing about the ballad is that lyrically, it is only comprised of four lines. Sung repeatedly by Baez, it drives the songs message home. They read: “Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart / Rest forever here in our hearts / The last and final moment is yours / That agony is your triumph”. 

The lyrics are touching as they directly refer to a statement Vanzetti made to the journalist Philip D. Strong just three months before the pair’s execution. Vanzetti said: “The taking of our lives—lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler—all! That last moment belongs to us—that agony is our triumph.”

Written by Morricone and Baez together, the song took on another life outside of the film’s soundtrack. Due to its inherently political nature, it became one of the staples of the human rights movement of the 1970s. An emotionally affecting track, there can be no surprise that the Morricone and Baez partnership was so powerful.

Featuring a solemn organ line from Morricone, Baez’s lyrics float over the top of the mournful music like a hymn sung in a Church. Aside from emulating the solemn essence of a funeral song that perfectly captures the film’s spirit, the song also has a strangely upbeat feel, carried by Baez’s acoustic guitar. 

A catchy tribute to the casualties of political corruption, it’s always worth a visit. 

Listen to ‘Here’s to You’ below.

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