I recently watched a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at the cinema. The two films – scored by Marvin Hamlish and Bill Conti respectively – are both missing something, a key vital ingredient that makes them feel in some way that they’re lesser Bonds. Even The Spy Who Loved Me, undoubtedly one of the stronger films in the Bond canon, feels a touch unfinished. That missing ingredient, of course, is the work of the great John Barry.
Drafted in to re-arrange and record Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme for Dr. No, Barry went onto become the de facto in-house composer of the Bond films, eventually scoring eleven of the next fourteen films.
Those non-Barry films are always interesting for their non-Barry-ness, but his absence is always to the film’s detriment. I don’t know what Live And Let Die would sound like without George Martin’s score. Would Barry’s brassy sludge have evoked the same calypso feel as Martin’s orchestration of the wind section? In The Spy Who Loved Me, what would Bond have sounded like skiing down the mountain in the pre-credits sequence soundtracked by Barry instead of the disco beats of Hamlisch’s Bond’77?
In working with other composers instead of Barry – unavailable due to his falling out with producer Harry Saltzman (Live And Let Die) or for tax reasons (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only) – it seems the Bond producers used the opportunity to do something different. They worked with the Academy Award-winning fifth Beatle (Martin), the Academy Award-winning composer/adapter of The Sting (Hamlisch), and the Academy Award-nominated composer of the Rocky films (Conti), with varying degrees of success.
John Barry, like a lot of composers, regularly re-uses his own work. Like John Williams, it’s easy to hear snippets of minor sections of his scores re-used as more major themes in later films. Sometimes, just the feel of a score can lend itself to re-appropriation. I recently heard Barry’s score to 1985’s Out Of Africa and couldn’t help but spot the likeness to his earlier score for the Moonraker soundtrack.
This LP from 1966, is a nice little taster of Barry’s Bond scores up to that point – From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and of course, the ever-ubiquitous James Bond Theme. The second side features some lesser-known works, themes from films I’m very unlikely to ever see – The Chase, King Rat, The Knack, and Seance On A Wet Afternoon. However, the final two tracks – themes from The Ipcress File and Born Free – really show that Barry was untouchable around 1965-1966.
Hit: The James Bond Theme
Hidden Gem: The Knack