Music in the movies: more scores of John Barry 1968-1979

Our round-up of John Barry’s non-Bond movie scores continues with a look at some romantic compositions from the disco decade…

As we embark on the fourth part of our appreciation of John Barry’s career beyond Bond, we move into a decade renowned for its glitter balls, bell-bottoms and jiggle television. However, this phase of Barry’s career is representative of a burgeoning interest in more emotionally charged, fractured and complex ideas, viewed through the filter of a maturing, mellowing artist.

Even the most vibrant, exotic scores could not disguise the introspection and sensitivity of the man himself. He continued to chase universal themes – and he was still capable of conjuring up worlds of intrigue and drama – but the projects he gravitated towards more in the wake of Midnight Cowboy were those that allowed him to explore more intimate musical textures.

Barry still accepted a range of eclectic assignments, ranging from period drama to aquatic thriller, but there was more of a discernable romanticism, tenderness and delicacy to many arrangements. He was honing that ‘classic Barry sound’, with lush strings and achingly lyrical melodies. Those epic, sweeping classics with which he is most readily associated were a decade away, but he was already manifesting a heady blend of earthy sensuousness and lofty ideals.

His romantic style would dominate the cinematic landscape for years to come, but it was now about a more personal human experience, played out in some of the most intoxicating scores of the 70s, from the tender melancholy of Follow Me to the sensual pleasures of The Deep.

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Barry’s big passion was out there for all to appreciate, filled with drama, subtlety, warmth and shadows, but he was protective of his emotional life and inner solitude. He lived through his music, but did not consciously seek to reveal himself though it. However, two significant events took place in the 70s that would change the trajectory of his personal and professional life and set him off in a whole new emotional direction: he moved to America, and he met his future partner, Laurie.

Barry was forty-two when he was approached to write the score for the American TV movie, Eleanor And Franklin. He checked into the Beverly Hills Hotel in October 1975 for a few weeks, and while he was there he was offered Robin And Marian and King Kong. He’d intended to go to the USA for a few weeks, but fate had other plans. He resided on the West Coast for nearly five years, during which time he met Laurie through Barbara Broccoli, and they married in 1978.

They moved to Oyster Bay in New York, forty-five minutes from the city. In this secluded hamlet, Barry watched the boats and thought about a million notes. As his friend Don Black would later reflect, Barry brought York to New York. Halfway between the glitz of LA and the sentimental pull of London, he would go on to compose enormous, emotionally charged harmonic worlds such as Out Of Africa and Dances With Wolves.

Barry once said that the worst thing you can do is fall in love with the first thing you do. In this period of new beginnings for Barry, we see a lyrical sensibility that was to deepen into something truly captivating.

These romantic touches are played out here in ideas as diverse as the Golden Age, post-mod London and the underworld. From French poetry to disco sauce, his music would continue to beguile, but he was now taking on something more elemental, something that could be appreciated from many sides, represented in multiple timbres, but treated in a purer form: the human heart. 

Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971)

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Marking the third of Barry’s historical movie outings, this gorgeously delicate score is worlds away from The Lion In Winter and The Last Valley. It is evocative of period, but not exclusively so – it is less dramatic and regal, more intimate and bittersweet, and so its impact is more universal and endearing. In this score, as with The Ipcress File and Midnight Cowboy, Barry composes around specific characters. It is not so much 16th century England that interests him here as the relationship between the two female leads and the men who influence them.

Selected by Hal Wallis, who he would work with again in Follow Me (The Public Eye), Barry blends time, story and sensibility with impeccable charm, giving another dimension to this compelling saga of Mary (Vanessa Redgrave) and Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson), creating a score of sides and collusions, yet also a tangibly feminine persuasion. 

As an accompaniment to the well-known tale of two royal cousins in monumental conflict in 1558, it largely renounces the pomp and drama that had made Barry such an obvious choice for Hal Wallis after The Lion In Winter. This score is replete with vulnerability, warmth, dignity and heartbreak. As a nod to the period, Barry brings the harpsichord front and centre, but elsewhere uses a delicate orchestration infused with strings, although there are occasional bagpipes and French horns, and also a lute – the instrument of choice for David Riccio, Mary’s private secretary. Individual cues use trace elements of the choral style Barry had put to solid effect in The Lion In Winter, but this is an altogether softer, gentler experience.

Mary, Queen Of Scots is a story of duality and conflict. While Queen Bess chooses to be a monarch above all, Mary chooses to be a woman first, lead by the heart and a stubborn desire for Timothy Dalton’s pitiful (and pox-ridden) Darnley and Nigel Davenport’s beefy Bothwell. Still, Barry ensures that those contrasts are accentuated in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.

His score identifies key elements of empathy as well as conflict between the two women, making seamless transitions between their two worlds. As Jackson’s queen makes tacit reference to the ways in which their fates are intrinsically linked, Barry’s music accentuates those tragic bonds such that they are made all the more tragic when they are ultimately severed.

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The melodic texturing on display here is an early example of Barry’s quintessential romantic style, exquisitely placed but, at this point, unexpected. He showed no fear in reworking the landscape of a well-known story, a story loaded with grandeur and association, and his score encapsulates a host of cues that would demonstrate his enterprising instincts and gifts.

His score includes an overture and an intermission, plus a musical interpretation of a poem Mary herself is said to have written; Vivre et Mourir was allegedly a sonnet she composed for Bothwell, found in the infamous Casket Letters. Barry’s touching melody aligns strings with flute and brings out the wistfulness of the poem, sung in French by Redgrave; it’s a halting, tender refrain, evocative of chanteuse Francoise Hardy.

Elsewhere, there is the dynamic But Not In My Realm and the brooding Black Night, but perhaps the most identifiable aspect to the score is Mary’s Theme, played in romantic interludes with Bothwell. This theme describes perfectly the emotional resonance at the centre of the story; warm, feminine and heartrending. Later on, it would be turned into a song and recorded by a variety of artists, most notably Scott Walker.

There is a tremendous depth, as well as quality of material, to the score for Mary. Composing the music for this film was said to be a true joy for Barry and resulted in an Academy Award nomination for best original dramatic score.Follow Me! (aka The Public Eye) (1971)

Sometimes the only word for a film is ‘lovely’. Carol Reed’s study of an eccentric detective conducting surveillance on the wife of an accountant is an absolute treasure, joyful and enchanting, and also easy to miss, as the DVD seems to have been released only in Japan. Having heard the score in isolation, I was compelled to seek out the film (with Japanese subtitles) by any means, such was the evocative nature of the story that Barry brought to life.

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The sonic euphoria of this delicately pitched and tender score can be enjoyed in isolation, but it’s so much better when you see how he creates an aura of childlike wonder around the detective and wife as they take in the delights of London without uttering a word, using that same melody to galvanise the husband and wife so they can recapture the delights of a courtship that started with a lapful of caramel chicken and a ceremonial nose flute.

Using music that is persuasive, melancholic, whimsical and achingly romantic, Barry communicates on a direct level and effectively rewrites the language of loneliness as his score anchors and weaves around the film’s neurotic starchy banker (the smashing Michael Jayston) and his impulsive, affection-starved partner with her love of Peter Pan statues and horror films (luminescent Mia Farrow), a couple who are compelled to re-evaluate their terms via the unlikely conduit of Topol’s irrepressible detective, with his dislike of Tuesdays and his love of macaroons.

In this film, the characters are all instructed to listen to the sound of emotions growing. We are also told that love is a burst of joy that someone exists, and that particular moments of joy are all we can wish for. This is what Barry’s score seeks to illuminate, and the results are exquisite.

With an arrangement that’s somewhere between a caress and an invitation to dance, he captures moments of gut-wrenching sincerity, creating enormous emotive impact by using a single instrument, a haunting timbre and a seemingly slight melody. This melody is adapted throughout to signpost changing emotional temperatures, from sweeping strings to stripped-down woodwind and even a psychedelic-funk concoction.

Central theme Follow, Follow (with a Don Black lyric sung by Roz and John) has a haunting quality that nails the loneliness shared by all, and the desire for joy in all its forms. It would eventually be released on single with the theme from The Adventurer ITV series, although the soundtrack album was released exclusively in Japan. Playful and pretty, this mellifluous suite generates a pas de deux of wind and string that stirs the senses.

Barry exhibits how adept he is at describing the terrain of the heart in this beautifully understated film about how a couple can and should find their way back to each other. His genuinely delightful arrangements give this sweet film a passionate touch. It’s a gorgeous coupling. The listener is urged to take this score to bed and have an early night.

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The Deep (1977)

Rumour has it that Barry was not first choice for the score to accompany Peter Benchley’s underwater thriller, which, like Jaws, featured sharks and Robert Shaw, but offered the added bonus of Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt. Allegedly, John Williams passed it up because of his prior commitment to Star Wars (although Barry himself gave no credence to this story).

Still, whether this is mere idle gossip or a happy twist of fate, it certainly squashed further comparison with the movie about the ubiquitous great white, and set the scene for an altogether more sumptuous musical arrangement. So was born a classic instrumental suite – and a hypnotic disco smash for Donna Summer, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.

Defined by the success of Love To Love You Baby and other pulsating musical orgasms, Summer could easily have drowned in the soundscapes provided by Barry’s original material. However, the evocative purity of Down, Deep Inside forces Summer to raise her game and her throaty soft-core interpretation is as romantic as it is sensual. Of course, she can’t resist some frothy groans of pleasure as the music ripples and undulates around her, but this is still one of her more beguiling outings.   

Elsewhere, Barry’s lush and ambitious instrumental arrangements provide a tantalising glimpse of the haunting refrains that would reappear in Moonraker a couple of years later, but here it feels more like the bends than celestial navigation. The film contained over an hour’s worth of music, and much of the underwater material was subsequently transformed into a ballet suite called Return To The Sea, 2033, which took up a whole side of the soundtrack album.

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Barry recalled the experience as particularly challenging, because much of the story had to operate on such a visual level. However, he seemed perfectly at ease assisting in the manifestation of the sensory terrors implicit in this claustrophobic environment.

Barry employs the oboe like a deep-sea diver, capturing perfectly the weightlessness of descent and the chill of ambiguous discovery. By accident or design, the oboe player punctuates every melodic twist and turn with a subtle gasp for air, while an escalating string section hints uneasily at the vortex of tension lurking just beyond the depths. Put simply, if you don’t get sucked into this masterfully seductive watery cocoon, you’re probably already dead.Next week

We’ll be looking at some of Barry’s defining scores from the 1980s, including Somewhere In Time, Body Heat and Out of Africa.

Honorable mentions

They Might Be Giants (1971)

An elegiac soaring of strings provides a satisfying counterpoint to a sweet story about a delusional Sherlock Holmes obsessive (George C Scott) and his compassionate psychiatrist, Dr Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward). Barry gives the film, named after an allusion to Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills, an affectionate touch. It’s a charming rendering of a very human response to a world that doesn’t make sense.Walkabout (1971)

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Nicolas Roeg’s stark outback horror about two children who get shot at by a father and then abandoned in the desert is a difficult and occasionally hallucinogenic experience, but it found an eerie and compelling voice in this sparse arrangement with strings, a didgeridoo and a young choir. Barry’s contribution resists the obvious aboriginal choices and brings subtlety and grace to a distressing emotional landscape.

The Day Of The Locust (1975)

This apocalyptic study of 1930s Hollywood inspired Barry to conjure up a similarly disturbing score that moves like a wounded animal thrashing in its own juices. Grim, sinister and deliberately atonal, his contribution to this adaptation of Nathanael West’s tale of alienation and mob disintegration is profoundly unsettling. As a side note, Donald Sutherland plays a character called Homer Simpson.

Robin And Marian (1976)

Tender and reflective, this score gave superlative warmth to Richard Lester’s tale of an ageing Hood (Sean Connery), featuring Audrey Hepburn as Marian in her first film for nearly a decade. Pushing the tale of the heroic outlaw to its geriatric conclusion could have been an execrable experience, but Barry is on engaging form with a more mature, understated style. Legend has it this is one of his most bootlegged scores.

Hanover Street (1979)

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Barry invited the audience to squeeze a few more handkerchiefs for this story about a bomber pilot and a married British nurse who get it on during the Second World War. Harrison Ford is still lumping around a fair bit of wood from his carpentry days, but this is another strong example of Barry’s emerging romantic style, burgeoning months later into the sublime Somewhere in Time.

Other highlights

Billy (1974)

Michael Crawford’s affected ‘lad from the North’ ventures into the realms of ick (and the downright offensive) at times in this popular musical based on the book Billy Liar. Still, the tunes are catchy, thanks to some cheeky trumpets and flugels, and Barry’s collaboration with Don Black gives clout and humour to Keith Waterhouse’s tale of a misguided fantasist who resorts to increasingly ludicrous lies.

Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries (1973-1974)

A fat, sinister synthesizer and spooky zither are a stylish accompaniment for Welles, at his enigmatic best navigating a gothic warehouse in a long cape. This mystery anthology of twenty-six episodes for Anglia Television, which lasted for just one season, included such delights as Come Into My Parlour and A Terribly Strange Bed, and featured Christopher Lee, Joan Collins and Jenny Magpie Hanley (of Magpie fame).

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The Persuaders! (1971–1972)

Ken Thorne wrote the series cues, but Barry wrote the title theme for this TV series about the shenanigans of Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) and Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore), two playboys fighting crime and credulity. This striking mix of kantele, accordion, feisty bass and melancholy Moog became a top 20 UK hit. Sadly, while Moore went on to Bond, Curtis had to settle for The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.

The Adventurer (1972–1973)

In this TV show about a government agent who is also a movie star, the tagline “Everybody’s pin-up: nobody’s fool” is as plausible as it sounds. The adventures were dull affairs for Gene Bradley (Gene Barry) and Mr Parminter (Barry Morse), but if this is car-crash TV, John Barry saves it with a deliciously dark, squelchy theme that pulses with a malevolent bass line and playful tambourine: brooding, but funky. 

The Glass Menagerie (1973)

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The music is reminiscent of being on a merry-go-round, but this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play is one bleak fairground ride. Katherine Hepburn is the curmudgeonly mother in this TV movie by Anthony Harvey. Like The Lion In Winter, the onus is on formidable presences with severe emotional baggage, but the score is a tender affair with its childlike invocation of nostalgic reflections.   

Eleanor And Franklin (1976)

You may recall that Edward Herrmann was the head vampire of The Lost Boys. Still, as well as representing in the house of the undead, he managed a decent turn as FDR in this well-regarded mini-series. Barry’s score didn’t hurt, either. This rhapsodic score fused brass and a soaring string section with a dancing zither and a lilting melody, elevating this theme some way above the usual TV fare of the day.  Americans (1975)

The album notes describe it as “a personal impression of the sights and sounds of The United States”, and this assortment of sonic vignettes is the soundtrack to a film only Barry could see. In opening the door to that personal movie theatre, this blend of classical and jazz influences is an enchanting, nuanced rendering of inner worlds that would be explored further with The Beyondness Of Things and Eternal Echoes.

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