Define the musical texture of Gorillaz It’s not easy because from the outset, we’re talking about a vast universe of rhythms, influences and styles that make it unclassifiable. And they won’t let us lie: when we heard for the first time the debut album of the project led by Damon Albarnone could not pigeonhole the material that composes it so easily.
There’s rock, there’s rap, reggae little things are felt, there’s one or another flirtation with trip-hop out there and we can’t let go of the meticulous lo-fi arrangements that suddenly appear. A total madness without a doubt, which has in Clint Eastwood perhaps to his most iconic role.
For the pure whim of remembering that great two-mile period, this time we review the story behind this great song with which Albarn himself took us by the hand towards a new musical experience for those times.
“Clint Eastwood” and the actor’s influence on the song
It is quite obvious to think that the title of this song by Gorillaz draw inspiration from the legendary Clint Eastwood… but there are obviously more details behind this aspect. Perhaps the most recognizable are a couple of movies that, from their soundtrack, ended up inspiring some of the melodies of the track.
On the one hand, some enthusiasts mention that the film A Fistful Of Dollars -starring Eastwood himself- is one of the influences. The official musical theme of that tape uses a score composed by Ennio Morricone that according to the site SongFactsAlbarn recreated with the melodica that is heard periodically in his song.
It is a fairly subtle detail and you have to have your ears very attentive to catch the reference… but it is not the most accurate in any case.
And from another angle, the influence of the work of Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone himself is more evident if we listen to the official soundtrack of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. That melody that has become part of popular culture and that immediately takes us to a western setting, it is an element that appears in the theme of Gorillaz.
If you realize, the vocalizations that open the song and one or another sequence of the melodic -the wind instrument-, they are a very faithful recreation of Morricone’s work for that film. And well, in case it was necessary to confirm it, in the book The Rise of the Ogre that reference is played that “Clint Eastwood” had a certain resemblance to the soundtrack of that actor’s film, set to music by Ennio.
On top of it all, the Gorillaz song verse that says “I got sunshine in a bag” is one of the lines from the script that Clint Eastwood says on the tape. So the influence was more obvious, it couldn’t be. But hold on, not all the influences issue ends there….
The trip to Jamaica, and a reggae Eastwood?
As we said, Gorillaz’s debut album has an important influence reggae, rap and that is not essentially due to the closeness that a certain circle of British music has with these musical styles. In this sense, two important aspects that defined the production should be highlighted: the incorporation of the producer Dan The Automator to Damon Albarn’s team, in addition to his brief but significant move to Jamaica.
Dan was important in introducing hip-hop vibes to the material, according to the producers. Tom Girling and Jason Cox -Damon’s former collaborators- to the site sound on sound. They also worked on the album and they remember in that interview that The Automator helped them and Albarn himself to work under the guidelines of what a first-rate rap production needed. That was obviously something new for everyone because they came from a hardened career in rock with Blur.
“Certainly Dan knows what he’s doing in the hip-hop realm.”Girling told the aforementioned medium. At this point, in addition, Tom and Jason mention how important the trip to Jamaica for five weeks was also to rewrite, incorporate and complement much of the material that wase had worked at the iconic Studio 13. That’s how several songs, including “Clint Eastwood”, adopted some of the country’s traditional reggae. “The intention when we went there was to catch some kind of reggae and dub…”Tom mentions.
And that reggae vibe, Damon Albarn mentions it in a statement from 2014recalling his fascination with the actor from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Ennio Morricone: “We were recording in Jamaica and listening to a lot of dancehall music. and we imagine a cool title would be Clint Eastwood. I’m also a big fan of the actor, [del director] Sergio Leone and Ennio Morriconehe mentioned.
But not only the iconic western actor would be the influence to name the song. Around there, the anecdote runs that during their stay in Jamaica, Damon and his team also approached the DJ’s music Robert Brammerwho is known in Jamaican lands under the pseudonym of Clint Eastwood due to his tendency to adopt names of figures from the most popular spaghetti westerns.
Brammer/Clint Eastwood is recognized by many for his career in the 70s and in his second facet in the 80s, as part of the duo Clint Eastwood & General Saint. Although that anecdote is not specifically official, it makes sense that while Albarn and company were in Jamaica, he decided to take that name to baptize his song based on everything we have told you before.
You can also read: “ROCK THE HOUSE” BY GORILLAZ, THE ROLE THAT WAS BORN FROM A 60s JAZZ SONG
The rap lines in the Gorillaz song
Another important aspect in creating Clint Eastwood, is the fact that the song went through several changes from its demo to its final version. The most significant thing in that sense is that the first rap lines had been written by British rappers Phi Life Cypherbut the result did not convince Damon Albarn or Dan The Automator.
The latter, then, resorted to an old acquaintance: From The Funky Homosapien of the band Deltron 3030, whom Dan was producing around the same time as Gorillaz. Basically, the track was already done, with everything and Albarn’s chorus in order, so only the verses were missing.
Del The Funky Homosapien was given complete freedom to write the lines according to what he felt the song was talking about…and that’s how it came to be. A few years later, there were some legal disputes between the rapper and Damon, so the song could not be played live with the verses that we know and various artists such as De La Soul or Snoop Dogg reverted it. However, the battle is a thing of the past and the man from Deltron smoothed things over with the also Blur vocalist.
As you can see, this Gorillaz song was worked to the bone, rewritten as much as possible, and on top of that, it handles any number of influences. No wonder it’s a new millennium classic that stands the test of time and feels as fresh as when it came out back in the early 2000s. That is part of the magic of Gorillaz and Damon Albarn as such.
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The actor, a Jamaican DJ and more: The story of how Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” came to be
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