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It’s said that every hero needs his theme song. A lot of celluloid heroes, including a scrappy boxing underdog named Rocky Balboa, would have no wind beneath their wings were it not for legendary, Oscar-winning film composer Bill Conti. Thirty-five years after the release of Rocky, Conti’s breakthrough project, his “Gonna Fly Now” theme remains an ode to passion, tenacity and going the distance. Conti looks back at the composing process.

“I was writing the score to Rocky as the film’s director, John G. Avildsen, was editing it. I had created a musical theme that was, for the first nine reels [or 90 minutes], slow and sad. But [in] the 10th reel, where Rocky’s training for the big fight … the music needed to give audiences an emotional feeling that Rocky actually had a chance to win the fight. I prepared a minute and a half of music using a faster version of the sad, slow theme, preceded by the fanfare that began the movie. John asked for another 30 seconds. Then another 30 seconds. We ended up with three minutes of music.

“The first time we showed Rocky to an audience, it was cast and crew. In the 10th reel, the training montage plays, the theme comes up and the audience absolutely erupts. We were the only three people in our seats. Everyone else was standing, cheering.”