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Making Rocky progress
As we have seen previously, music that is linked with something else outside its sole existence gives it a certain longevity. The object which it is associated with may be a dance, such as the song Gangnam Style's association with lassoing and horseriding dance steps, or the song Macarena's links with slightly less outlandish movements. Or it may be something else like a film. Visualise the scene from Titanic where Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet are on the deck, as she steps forward, wind in her hair and face - does Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On not echo in your ears? Even in we substituted Debussy's La Mer in the scene, it just wouldn't work - the scene and music have become too inextricably linked with each other.
Film-makers have always depended on music to evoke emotions - in the above scene, the romantic nature of the image is complemented by the hushed, whispered tones in the singer's voice. The same goes for a film such as Platoon, for example, where the slow and emotive Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, which arguably was the work that defined him, is used to accompany scenes that subtly comment on the futility of war. So when Sylvester Stallone needed a new up-tempo number to accompany the scenes of Rocky Balboa bulking up and training for his next boxing match in Rocky III, he chose something with a strong rock beat that would resonate with the rock crowd. What he got from the Chicago band Survivor was "Eye Of the Tiger", which matched the success of the original Rocky theme, Gonna Fly Now, in reaching number 1 on the charts. But while the latter was an orchestral number featuring the brass instruments, Eye of the Tiger has been described as a "brute force pop song" by virtue of its driving, syncopated rhythms in the electric guitars.
Even though Eye of the Tiger is a rock song, its effects can be suitably recreated on the piano. The chords of C minor, B-flat major and A-flat major, with which the song begins, are best played as open chords in the lower register of the piano, and for the rest of the song, the tune can be played in the right hand while the left hand plays a pattern that is based on the beat.
The Rocky franchise and Survivor went on to more symbiotic success in following years, scoring a #2 hit with Burning Heart in 1985 for the Rocky IV film, but there is no denying that Eye of the Tiger, along with Gonna Fly Now, have become synonymous with Rocky. In a further twist, did Stallone also choose the group because their band name resonated with the protagonist and his story - Rocky Balboa being a survivor against the odds? Perhaps the links run deeper than we imagine.
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