The Legend of the Lone Ranger (John Barry) – Score Review

The Lone Ranger remains an iconic figure in American storytelling despite decades of not being commercially viable. One of the attempts to reinvigorate the franchise was the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger, bringing the classic radio and television character to the big screen. Tepid critical response led to a lackluster box office draw, sidelining the character once again from popular culture. One of the casualties of the film’s being swept under the rug was composer John Barry’s score, hastily assembled for an LP release at the time of the film’s premiere and then subsequently ignored for decades by soundtrack labels. Intrada’s release of the soundtrack on CD finally rectifies this.

With the original session masters missing,this release is not an expanded presentation, but rather a remastering of the original LP program. Running just shy of 27 minutes, the album is quick and breezy, featuring a selection of Barry’s score highlights bookended by narrative songs sung by Merle Haggard, who also pops up to add narration to several tracks.

The opening number, “The Man in the Mask,” introduces Barry’s main theme as the song’s melody. Corny lyrics turn the song into more of a curio than something you will want to revisit, but Haggard’s delivery and country instrumentation establish an appropriate tone. Barry’s theme, on the other hand, is one of his typical long-lined and romantic ones, conveying a Western vibe more through instrumentation than its own melody.  True to form, Barry is very loyal to the theme throughout the course of the album. It’s full airing in “John and Amy Meet” providing a score highlight as a light contemporary arrangement peps up the tune and harmonica plays over top.

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Several other ideas do exist, but are given little chance to stick in the memory with the album’s truncated presentation. An idea for the Ranger’s friendship with Tonto is introduced in “Brothers” on harmonica, although is easily forgettable in its standard Barry progressions. An ominous melody for the Cavendish gang informs the first half of “The Cavendish Gang Strikes,” and “The Breaking of Silver” debuts a pleasant idea for the Lone Ranger’s horse that is further expanded upon in the mis-titled “Ambush.”

Without any rollicking themes, Barry’s approach to the score unfortunately lacks much of the needed oomph. “The William Tell Overture” is present for the final action sequence, but otherwise there is a distinct lack of swashbuckling spirit. Even the score’s other action track, “The Valley Chase,” uses rhythmic bass strings in a way that recalls Barry’s other action tracks of the period more than it does a Western score. The most we get is the occasional harmonica or bouncing bass strings, but both have been used by the composer in similar ways for non-Westerns. –

Barry’s adherence to his signature style has long been a discussion point among score fans, and The Legend of the Lone Ranger offers a great argument for why his consistency can be harmful. Seasoned fans of the composer will hear hints of everything from Out of Africa, James Bond, and even The Dove throughout his work here, and without a fuller presentation of the score available to appreciate the thematic narrative, the album can become fairly anonymous. When Merle Haggard showing up to sing/narrate over your track is its strongest connection to the Western genre, you may want to reconsider your approach.

While it is always nice to have albums back in circulation, The Legend of the Lone Ranger unfortunately offers little that truly stands out in Barry’s canon. It is a western score written squarely in his comfort zone, and without the entire score or a chronological ordering, any nuanced narrative is harder to grasp. Much like the film it accompanied, there is little reason to revisit this work with so many stronger genre entries are out there.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger is now available from Intrada Records.

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