Vince DiCola, ’80s Soundtrack Master

Vince DiColaFew movies are more quintessentially ’80s America than Rocky IV. It really is a masterclass in nationalistic cinematic propaganda not seen since the era of Sergei Eisenstein and a young USSR. Only in the heady days of the Reagan/Cold War era could a film depicting America (through its proxy, Rocky Balboa) as a plucky underdog be seen as somewhat credible.

And if the simplistic political clichés weren’t all bad enough, the Rocky IV story is so weak that Sylvester Stallone had the balls to stack two separate training montages right on top of each other. Together they account for nearly ten percent of the movie’s run time, and that’s not counting the other musical interludes or James Brown’s performance of “Coming to America.”

I caught a showing of Rocky IV on cable a few weeks ago — by my count the 25th time I’ve watched it — and it occurred to me again that the main reason I keep coming back for more is the sweet, synthesized soundtrack by Vince DiCola. It does what a good soundtrack for an action movie is supposed to do, which is to enhance the effect created by the on-screen action.

Hell, every time I listen to DiCola’s “War” from the soundtrack (used during the climactic Rocky/Drago bout) I want to chop wood, do upside-down situps and take on a juiced up Soviet.

But Rocky IV isn’t even DiCola’s best film work. No sir, that honor goes to his soundtrack for the 1986 animated feature The Transformers: The Movie. There are no less than three pieces from that movie that I love without a trace of irony or shame.

Up first is “Autobot/Decepticon Battle,” featuring some of the greatest and funkiest synthesized bass ever laid to tape. Prepare your pulse for pounding my friends.

Now it’s time to dial things down a bit and listen to “Unicron Medley,” aka “Music to Devour Planets By.”

Finally we get back to some serious mechanized ass-kicking on “Megatron Must Be Stopped, Parts 1 & 2.” DiCola reuses some of the parts from “Autobot/Decepticon Battle” here, but it’s still 100% awesome. This takes place during the Optimus Prime/Megatron fight that leads to Prime’s death, so think of this as the robot version of Rocky vs. Drago.

DiCola is still active in composing and producing music, but it seems his time in the sun has sadly come and gone. Still, creating two of the greatest soundtracks ever is still a damn fine legacy.

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