At every Metallica show since the Eighties — before the riffs, solos and drum fills — there’s a rumble of timpani and piano and the lonesome keen of an oboe. Those instruments comprise the opening moments of composer Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold,” one of his most famous compositions from one of his most famous works — the score for 1966’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — and it’s served as Metallica’s walk-on music for nearly four decades.
Morricone died Monday in Rome at the age of 91 and Metallica swiftly paid tribute to the Oscar-winning composer, who masterminded the sound of the spaghetti Western and scored over 500 films during his career.
“R.I.P. Ennio Morricone,” Metallica wrote on Twitter. “Your career was legendary, your compositions were timeless. Thank you for setting the mood for so many of our shows since 1983.”
R.I.P. Ennio Morricone
Your career was legendary, your compositions were timeless. Thank you for setting the mood for so many of our shows since 1983. pic.twitter.com/ac1QZ9QLPs
— Metallica (@Metallica) July 6, 2020
On Instagram, James Hetfield shared an additional note, writing, “The day we first played ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ as our new intro in 1983 it was magic! It has become apart of our blood flow, deep breathing, fist bumping, prayers and band huddle pre-show ritual ever since. I have sang that melody thousands of times to warm up my throat before hitting the stage. Thank you Ennio for pumping us up, being a big part of our inspiration, and a bonding between band, crew, and fan. I will forever think of you as part of the Metallica family.”
In recent interviews with Rolling Stone, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett happened to speak about how “The Ecstasy of Gold” became part of their live show. Both credited Jon Zazula, the founder of Megaforce Records, which released Metallica’s 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All.
Ulrich remembered flying from California to New Jersey in 1983 for a run of East Coast shows and shacking up with Zazula and his wife at their home in New Jersey. “We didn’t have an opening tape or any walk-on music or whatever,” Ulrich says. “And he was the one that suggested ‘The Ecstasy of Gold’ from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly… It’s just part of who we are, and we’ll always be grateful to Johnny for that suggestion.”
The song has become such a key component of Metallica’s live performances that Hammett says there’s a kind of “Pavlovian conditioning that comes along with it. Whenever I hear that I feel like I have to go into stretch mode and check the tuning on my guitar and make sure that makes my hands and my arms and wrists are loose enough.”
Along with using “The Ecstasy of Gold” as their intro music, Metallica recorded their own version of the song for the 2007 Morricone tribute album, We All Love Ennio Morricone.
Additional reporting by Kory Grow.