Music in the movies: John Barry

In the latest Music in the movies column, we celebrate the Bond themes of John Barry…

A phenomenally successful composer with dozens of credits to his name; John Barry is best known for his contributions to the James Bond franchise. Throughout his work for the franchise, Barry helped create iconic scores that would set the foundation for those who would follow him, and whilst he didn’t receive any recognition from the Academy for his work, the scores he created are held in high regard.

Below is a look back at the full scores Barry composed for the Bond franchise:

From Russia With Love

Barry’s first full score for the Bond franchise really set the formula for what followed, and what is now deemed as being iconic and fairly typical as far as action scores go, was, at the time, seen as being quite dynamic.

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All in all, it’s a near perfect action score and on the strength of this alone it’s easy to see why Barry would go on to score so many of the Bond films over the years. Every piece compliments the action on screen, and even though some of the pieces go for a tone of suspense, and as such are not as all out action as others, there’s relentlessness to the piece as a whole that makes this an incredibly thrilling piece of work.

Goldfinger

Following the quality of the previous score can’t have been an easy task, but in many ways Barry surpassed his previous work with his efforts here and earned himself a number one record in the process.

Whereas the previous score provided a musical blueprint that many Bond scores would follow, Goldfinger saw the introduction of another Bond staple in the Bond theme song, this time sung by Shirley Bassey.

Highlights here include the incredibly suspenseful Dawn Raid On Fort Knox, which outshines the more overt action pieces. There are specific leitmotifs for characters in the film, making this a more complete and interesting score than what preceded it.

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Thunderball

Whilst this is a reasonably strong effort, it doesn’t have the same impact as the previous two scores in my opinion. This could partly be explained in that the score was only finished shortly before the film was released. Part of the reason for the delay in finishing the score can be attributed to the uncertainty around the title song for the film, which was originally going to be Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was recorded by both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick.

Eventually, it was decided the film’s theme should carry the film’s title, and Tom Jones was called in to sing the piece after a submission by Johnny Cash was dismissed.

Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was reworked into the score and stands as one of the highlights.

You Only Live Twice

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Not one of the Bond scores that I’ve seen gets a great deal of appreciation, but this is one that I’m particularly fond of. For me this is an interesting change from the relentless action outings heard previously and instead places a greater emphasis on atmosphere.

Capsule In Space is a sublime piece of music and is certainly up there with the finest pieces heard in the franchise. The score as a whole, though, is hugely impressive, incorporating a number of styles, the most interesting being the Japanese stylings.

Nancy Sinatra’s title song also seems at odds with many of what are considered to be the classic title songs, but is in no way a poor effort. Barry’s music provides a great backdrop to this Leslie Bricusse penned ballad.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Not only is this one of the best scores for the Bond franchise, but it’s arguably the finest score Barry composed. This score marks the evolution of a number of factors that were gradually introduced throughout the series and it balances these aspects brilliantly to create a hugely effective score for the film and a fantastic standalone listen. It also saw Barry revamp the main theme and introduce a new action theme.

The film also boasts one of the finest title songs of the series in Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World, which was his last recording before his death. Whilst the song doesn’t carry the film’s title, it shows that this isn’t essential to create a hugely effective and memorable feature song.

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Diamonds Are Forever

Continuing his run of quality scores, Diamonds Are Forever sees Barry offer up a number of variations on the title theme, as well as incorporating a number of musical styles in the score as a whole.

Of course, Barry is no stranger to offering varied and interesting scores, but this not only utilises a number of musical styles, but also references film genres such as film noir.

The stand out for me is Circus, Circus, which is one of the better standalone pieces in the franchise.

The Man With The Golden Gun

One of Barry’s weaker efforts, not only for the Bond franchise, but from his career overall, the score for The Man With The Golden Gun is a fairly uninspiring effort that is even more disappointing considering it was preceded with a run of quality scores that are up there with the composer’s best works.

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Barry himself acknowledged his dislike for his work here. It just seems to lack a sense of urgency or invention that makes the music for the series so interesting. It’s a shame that this is something of a letdown, as the film that preceded this, Live And Let Die, saw Barry take a break and George Martin take over on composing duties and compose an excellent score and title theme.

Moonraker

Following a disappointing effort for The Man With The Golden Gun, Barry took another break from the franchise for The Spy Who Loved Me, but returned for Moonraker. Not a strong effort by any means, but it’s a much better score than his score that preceded it.

There’s a difference in style and sound that can be attributed to the fact that he recorded his work in Paris as opposed to London, where he composed all of his other scores for the series. His work here sees him ditch the brass-heavy sound that dominated the music in the franchise to date, and instead he goes for a series of down tempo string passages.

As is typical with Barry’s work, there’s a variation on the title theme that sees him adopt a Samba style as well as featuring experts from his work on previous films such as On Her Majesties Secret Service.

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Octopussy

A number of previous scores for the franchise saw Barry experiment with traditional instrumentation and styles to evoke a sense of place. He opts to stick with instruments familiar to him and the effects are rather good. And whilst they perhaps lack the impact of some of his previous efforts, it’s still a strong overall score that, although it isn’t up there with the best of the franchise, is certainly not the worst.

A View To A Kill

The film features one of the stronger Bond title themes by Duran Duran on a track co-written by Barry. It blends pop with the up-tempo and exciting musical backing that served the franchise so well.

Certainly one of the better efforts, it earned the band a number one hit. The score as a whole is as equally impressive, as there is a lack of some of the complacency that typified the composer’s later efforts for the franchise, and a return to a combination of the themes that made his early work so great.

Action, romance and melancholy are all present and handled effectively, creating a score that far outweighs the quality of the film it accompanies.

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The Living Daylights

With his final score for the franchise, Barry goes out in style as he creates an 80s action score without a heavy reliance on synths. They’re used sparingly, with Barry instead opting to use the orchestrations that he is so accustomed to. It’s a well balanced score and one that, taken as a whole, ranks among the finest Barry composed.

It’s great that he finished his work on the franchise in such grand style, by creating two extremely memorable scores after a hit and miss spell. One of the finest contributions to a series by any composer.

Please add your thoughts on Barry’s contributions to the Bond franchise below, along with any scores you’d like to see covered in a follow-up article.

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