Even if the name's unfamiliar, you'll have heard the man's music.
No, seriously. Go to IMDB. Just perform a cursory scan of the ridiculously long list of films he's been attached to. I guarantee you will have watched one of those films. Even if only by accident.
His prolific output stems from the fact that when it comes to genre he's not particularly picky (although he's best-known for his contribution to the Spaghetti Western and many collaborations with Sergio Leone). Rather than list people he's influenced, it would just be quicker to list people he hasn't. He's been sampled and covered by artists ranging from John Zorn to Jay-Z. Everybody tends to form an orderly line in order to heap superlatives on him.
Born in Rone in 1928, a lifelong Rome resident and classically trained musician, Morricone began studying at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia at age 12. Advised to study composition, Morricone also specialized in playing trumpet and supported himself by playing in a jazz band and working as an arranger for Italian radio and TV after he graduated. Morricone subsequently became a top studio arranger at RCA, working with such stars as Mario Lanza, Chet Baker, and the Beatles. Well-versed in a variety of musical idioms from his RCA experience, Morricone began composing film scores in the early '60s. Though his first films were undistinguished, Morricone's arrangement of an American folk song intrigued director (and former schoolmate) Sergio Leone. Leone hired Morricone and together they created a distinctive score to accompany Leone's different version of the Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Rather than orchestral arrangements of Western standards à la John Ford—budget strictures limited Morricone's access to a full orchestra regardless—Morricone used gunshots, cracking whips, voices, Sicilian folk instruments, trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar to punctuate and comically tweak the action, cluing in the audience to the taciturn man's ironic stance. Though sonically bizarre for a movie score, Morricone's music was viscerally true to Leone's vision. As memorable as Leone's close-ups, harsh violence, and black comedy, Morricone's work helped to expand the musical possibilities of film scoring.
And what's even more astounding is that at the age of 80 he's STILL scoring films.
Significant works include soundtracks for
- A Fistful of Dollars
- For a Few Dollars More
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
- Once Upon a Time in the West
- A Fistful of Dynamite
- Once Upon a Time in America, which Sergio Leone himself considered the finest work Morricone had ever done for him. Unfortunately, it was the victim of a particularly aggravating Award Snub when the paperwork to submit it for an Oscar nomination wasn't filled out properly.
- The Battle of Algiers
- Danger Diabolik (yes, THAT Danger: Diabolik)
- Operation Double 007 (yes, THAT Operation Double 007)
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
- The Mission
- Cinema Paradiso
- The Untouchables
- The Thing, where he imitates John Carpenter's composing style so well that many mistakenly think Carpenter did the score.
- Red Dead Revolver, in a way. While he didn't particularly score the game, it used quite a bit of his music.
- Inglourious Basterds deserves a mention. Morricone originally agreed to do the score, but had to bow out due to conflicts with his workload; Quentin Tarantino wound up filling the soundtrack with Morricone pieces originally written for other films.
- Two Mules for Sister Sara. His main theme from this film is also used in the "pony riding" scene from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.