First Blood made a real impact when it was released in 1983, providing Sylvester Stallone with one of his biggest post Rocky hits and almost inevitably spawning two inferior sequels. But one of the key contributing factors to that success is often overlooked. Of course I’m talking about the terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith. As Robert Townson says in his sleeve notes, Goldsmith hit a rich vein of form in the early eighties (The Final Conflict, Poltergeist, Psycho II, Gremlins, the list goes on and on) and the music from First Blood holds its own very well among such notable company.
The central theme introduced in ‘Home Coming’ is a thoughtful, somewhat wistful melody which has become a Goldsmith standard over the years, but really the score is dominated by a whole array of high-octane, robust action and powerfully suspenseful cues like ‘Escape Route’, featuring that characteristic latter-day Goldsmith mix of electronics and orchestra which is so much a part of his distinctive ‘voice’.
The trumpet laments of ‘First Blood’ speak subtly of John Rambo’s (Stallone) past experiences as a Green Beret, although this soon leads into more straightforward action territory which continues right through ‘The Tunnel’ where the tension is gradually turned up notch by slow notch.
One of my own favourite cues is ‘Hanging on’, a clever, inventive amalgamation of all of the composers customary musical devices and frills, brought together in a potent evocation of the hunter and the hunted. And this is reinforced by the use of restrained string and brass effects to create a genuine sense of dangerous foreboding, most notably in ‘Mountain Hunt’. Edge of your seat stuff. ‘My Town’ is far more introspective in comparison with a brief reprise of the ‘Home Coming’ theme and this is also recalled in ‘It’s a Long Road’, a somewhat bigger, expansive version and finally heard once more in a vocal rendition performed by Dan Hill. To round things out, ‘No Power’ and ‘Over the Cliff’ are really extensions of all of the accomplished taut, energetic music that has come before, although ‘The Razor’ has a darkly percussive and overtly martial feel, reminiscent at times of Planet of the Apes.
Because Goldsmith is so consistently good, it could be argued that there’s a danger of becoming complacent about his output. We just expect his scores to be better than most. And what’s truly remarkable is just how often he delivers. First Blood is certainly no exception to that rule. We can only marvel and signal our appreciation of such a truly wonderful talent.