A Brief History of the 'Magnificent Seven' Theme Song in Pop Culture

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
‘The Magnificent Seven’ (Everett)

If you stay for the credits of Antoine Fuqua’s Western The Magnificent Seven (which opened at No. 1 this weekend), you’ll hear a rousing anthem that sounds familiar for good reason: It’s the theme song to the original The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges’ 1960 film starring Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, and Steve McQueen as its heroes. Composed by Elmer Bernstein, who received an Oscar nomination for his score, “Theme from The Magnificent Seven” took on a life all its own. Here’s a brief history of the song as it appears in movies, commercials, and other artists’ covers, from 1960 until today.

The Aaron Copland-inspired Magnificent Seven theme, below, was a personal favorite of composer Bernstein, who wrote it for the film in 1960.  “Every once in a while — it doesn’t happen often — you hit on something really feel quite thrilling,” Bernstein, who passed away in 2004, once said in an interview. “I remember being very excited when I found that opening rhythm. It was like a surge of energy.”

In 1961, Jazz guitarist Al Caiola reached no. 35 on the Hot 100 with his orchestra-backed cover of the song. (For Western music super-fans, the record was reprinted in 1962 with the Bonanza theme song on the B-side.)

English composer John Barry, best known for creating the James Bond theme, released his surf-guitar-influenced cover of “Theme from The Magnificent Seven” with his band The John Barry Seven in 1961.

In 1963, Marlboro cigarettes began using the theme in its television commercials. The wildly popular “Marlboro Man” ad campaign ended (on TV, at least) when cigarette commercials were banned from the airwaves in 1971.

Arthur Conley’s 1967 love song to soul, “Sweet Soul Music” (which hit no. 2 on the Hot 100), opened with a horn riff borrowed from the theme song.

An inside joke for film buffs, the Magnificent Seven theme played when James Bond threw on a serape and hopped on a horse in 1979’s Moonraker.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band used the song during their entrance on several dates of the 2012 Wrecking Ball Tour. Here, it’s an introduction to Springsteen’s 1978 hit “Badlands.”

Composer Simon Franglen and James Horner created an entirely new score for the 2016 Magnificent Seven remake, but recorded a new arrangement of Bernstein’s theme to play over the closing credits. “We put Elmer in the film,” Franglen told CBC Music. “We have nodded to the master.”