5/19/17

Rocky vs Rocky vs Rocky vs Rocky: "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)" (1977)

Shot over the course of 28 days for a little over a million dollars, Rocky was both a surprise critical and unlikely commercial success after its nationwide release in December 1976, becoming the Weekly Box Office Champ for nine (non-consecutive) weeks and eventually winning the Best Picture Oscar on its way to earning more than $200M at the box office. Director John G. Avildsen tapped Bill Conti to compose the film's score after his initial candidate for the job, David Shire, declined the gig. For just $25,000, Conti worked from unedited film clips, piecing together a complete score built upon a simple, recurring melody representing the title character.
Sylvester Stallone and Bill Conti
As Avildsen shot and added more scenes, the original minute long instrumental that served as Rocky's theme grew longer and longer before evolving into the nearly three-minute motivational theme we've come to immediately recognize over the past 40 years. That is until Avildsen described the final scene of the training montage (seen above on the film's poster) to Conti as
"It’s like he’s standing up there jumping around. It’s like he’s gonna fly."
Soon, Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins had composed the inspirational lyrics, just 14 different words. Singers DeEtta West, Nelson Pigford and an uncredited Shelby Conti (Bill's wife) then sang those words and their three voices were overdubbed to create the chorus that has inspired countless weekend warriors over the past five decades.
The film's soundtrack album (๐ŸŽง) was released a few weeks ahead of the film on November 12, 1976, though it went unheralded except for a brief write-up as a Recommended LP in the December 11, 1976, issue of Billboard. Rocky did not debut on Billboard's Top LPs and Tapes chart until three months after it was released, beginning its journey at number 188 the week of March 5, 1977. Ten weeks later, the album had dug in at the number 4 spot where it spent six of its thirty-four weeks on the chart.


Surprisingly, the first single release of ""Theme From Rocky" (Gonna Fly Now)" was not Bill Conti's soundtrack version but Rhythm Heritage's slightly rearranged take with Jay Graydon laying down a tasty, laidback solo. Released in January 1977, the song was the leadoff track from the studio ensemble's second album Last Night On Earth and was edited down to 3:00 from the album's 3:35 (๐ŸŽง).
""Theme From Rocky" (Gonna Fly Now)" was also released as a double-sided promotional twelve-inch single for Panasonic's line of Thruster stereo speakers. Being the first out of the gate, the single managed to land on five charts total but quickly fell off once the original Bill Conti began climbing the charts.
Rhythm Heritage2/52/122/192/263/53/123/193/264/2
Billboard Hot 100106106106989694
Billboard Easy Listening4949
Billboard Hot Soul Singles8780787892
Cash Box Top 1001009895
Record World Singles123118122132149
The second version of the song to chart was a disco version by Current, another studio ensemble. Their "Theme From "Rocky" (Gonna Fly Now)" appeared on the charts in February 1977. It was the act's second and final single. The 45 runs 3:07 while the Disco Version (above) runs 5:57 (๐ŸŽง).
Current2/122/192/263/53/123/193/264/24/94/164/234/305/75/14
Billboard Hot 1001081021071041079810094
Billboard Easy Listening3733303031414147
The most popular version of the song, other than Bill Conti's original, is Maynard Ferguson's soaring, screaming high-note take from his album Conquistador. Though it charted simultaneously with the original Conti recording, unverified accounts say that, after Rhythm Heritage and Current, Ferguson beat Conti to Top 40 radio by mere days with his version of "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From "Rocky")". The single was not only a boost to Maynard Ferguson's long career, spurring sales of Conquistador and earning him his only Gold record, but to big band and jazz music in general. In addition to the 4:22 album version (๐ŸŽง), the 45 edit runs 3:30 and there's a sweet 6:25 Special Disco Version on the twelve-inch single (below) (๐ŸŽง).
Maynard Ferguson4/24/164/234/305/75/145/215/286/46/116/186/257/27/97/16
Billboard Hot 10080705846413534302928366898
Billboard Easy Listening48464647
Billboard Disco Action37
Billboard Soul Singles9797
Cash Box Top 1009875635145413734313133414460
Record World Singles121104866957484342404041414348
Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From "Rocky")" was finally released as a single on the last day of February 1977, and it made its first chart appearance two weeks later. This is the soundtrack album version (๐ŸŽงheard extensively on the radio in the Spring and Summer of 1977 that most people love (or hate) though it is not exactly the same version that appears in the film; that version features the vocals and guitar more prominently in the mix. Another version was recorded for Rocky II featuring a quicker "disco" tempo and a chorus of children in place of the adult voices (๐ŸŽง)In 1979, Maynard Ferguson would follow Conti's lead, recording "Rocky II Disco" aka "Rocky II Disco... Knockout!" (๐ŸŽงwhich features Sylvester Stallone working the speed bag while grunting in the song's breakdown.
Bill ContiHot 100Easy ListeningCash BoxRecord WorldWLS
3/1232
3/1928
3/2631
4/237
4/941
4/1688109
4/2384698137
4/3058415423
5/729302611
5/14213523193
5/2172316142
5/286201371
6/4520564
6/11423455
6/18328356
6/25228147
7/215410
7/949412
7/161126617
7/2319291219
7/3028352024
8/647422729
8/1346623834
8/2054663938
8/276363
9/37970

At least one other artist released a 45 of "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From "Rocky")" in 1977: 
Saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood's release from his Sweet Bad Lonnie on the Turbo label failed to chart (๐ŸŽง) despite a rarely seen Higher-powered production credit. Wonder if George Kerr had to split his fee? 

Though not released as a single, Henry Mancini included his take on "Gonna Fly Now" (๐ŸŽงon his 1977 album Mancini's Angels alongside other television and movie themes.
Italian saxophonist Fausto Papetti enjoyed a long career in Europe though he is most known for the topless women he featured on the covers of his many albums. In 1977, his version of "Gonna Fly Now" (๐ŸŽงappeared on the album pictured above.
Lastly, renowned organist Richard "Groove" Holmes stretched and mellowed "Gonna Fly Now" (๐ŸŽงout over nearly ten minutes on his Star Wars/Close Encounters album from 1978. The album is an anomaly in an otherwise stellar career, featuring less than Groove-y takes on the organ-driven rocker "Carry On Wayward Son" (๐ŸŽง) that played over the closing credits of the film Heroes and the romantic yearning of the mega-hit "You Light Up My Life" (๐ŸŽง). If you followed the links, you can't say I didn't warn you.

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