Ever since Sean Connery introduced himself in the 1962 James Bond film “Dr. No,” music has been an integral part of the Bond mystique.
As music writer Jon Burlingame tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, the theme introduced in that film spawned an entire genre of spy music, “which is often very minor keys, kind of stealthy, suspenseful and also exciting.”
Bond films also introduced the world to songs like “Goldfinger,” “Live and Let Die” and “Nobody Does it Better.”
“The wonderful thing about Bond songs is that if you look at the grand arc over the 50 years, it really kind of mirrors what’s going on in popular music at the time,” Burlingame said.
We take a listen to some of the songs in that arc, as well as the latest Bond song, “Skyfall” by British star Adele.
When Ian Fleming sat down to write Casino Royale in 1952, he could hardly have imagined the billion-dollar industry that would result from his novel about the exploits of a British secret agent. Other authors would pen spy novels, to be sure, and many of the best of them would—like Fleming’s James Bond novels—be turned into movies and television shows.
A significant part of the multimedia Bond world that would blossom after Fleming’s death in 1964 was the music of those films. It all began in 1962 with Dr. No, where a chance connection between a songwriter and an arranger would turn the “James Bond Theme” into an unlikely hit and one of the most famous movie themes in history. It would extend two years later to Goldfinger, which found even greater commercial success as a popular song and a soundtrack album. Thereafter, the style of music heard in the Bond films would become the de facto sound of international espionage on screen.
“Spy music,” as the lounge movement of the late 20th century would come to call it, had a cool, slinky vibe and was rooted as much in jazz and pop as in classical music. Hitchcock films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and North by Northwest (1959) sported fine Bernard Herrmann scores, but Herrmann’s conservatory training resulted in a fairly traditional symphonic sound for both. As the Bond series was gaining steam, other composers offered fresh musical ideas, notably Henry Mancini with the lighthearted score for Charade (1963), Jerry Goldsmith’s exciting work on The Prize (1963) and Bond score architect John Barry himself with a moody, cimbalom-infused ambiance in The Ipcress File (1965).
The Bond “sound” was an accident, really: Monty Norman had a tune in mind that John Barry arranged into something that would suit a dangerous spy and also work as a pop instrumental record with both rock and jazz elements (highly unusual in 1962). Editor Peter Hunt liked it so much he kept repeating the piece throughout that first film. The success of the “James Bond Theme,” both dramatically and commercially, led to future Bond movie assignments for Barry—11 in all.
“It was a mix of all kinds of things,” Barry explained many years later, “jazz, classics, pop. I just found myself doing it—I looked at it and said, ‘That’s working.’ That became the Bond style.” The approach was as much practical as it was creative: “If you had a car chase, the damned car was right in your face; even the fistfights were noisy, so you had to come up with an orchestrational palette that would cut through all that. Big strong brass chords, sustained strings to retain the tension, and percussion, of course. It was the only thing that worked. You couldn’t put soft violins in there. It was an overall mood, all minor keys, very sinister. It was distinctive, and it really set the tone for those Bond movies.”
The enormous popularity of the 1960s Bond films made that approach de rigueur for all future Bond installments, and also for the many spy adventures that would follow in their wake. Composers Jerry Goldsmith (in the Derek Flint films and TV’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Elmer Bernstein (The Silencers, first of the Matt Helm movies), Lalo Schifrin (The Liquidator, TV’s Mission: Impossible), Earle Hagen (TV’s I Spy), Edwin Astley (TV’s Secret Agent), Laurie Johnson (TV’s The Avengers) and Quincy Jones (The Deadly Affair) were obliged to follow, to varying degrees, Barry’s lead. Even Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand, who would score the two “unofficial” Bond films, found they needed to write lively, jazz-oriented orchestral scores with pop elements in order to compete with the “official” cinematic Bond. And those who followed Barry on the official films—George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra and David Arnold—understood that they were expected to follow this new style of action-adventure scoring.
“John Barry was one of the few people that created a genre of film music: He uniquely, single-handedly, created the spy genre,” says David Arnold, who has scored the last five Bond films. “You have the bebop swing vibe that he created in his initial arrangement of the ‘James Bond Theme’ coupled with that vicious, distorted electric guitar, which was definitely an instrument of rock ‘n’ roll. You hadn’t really heard that combination before. It represented everything about that character, soundwise, that you would want: it was cocky, swaggering, confident, dark and dangerous. It was suggestive, sexy and unstoppable—all in two minutes.”
As for the scores, Arnold explains the innovative mix of musical arenas: “The blueprint of what became the Bond sound are his chordal use of brass; having the entire string section play the melody, and then play it again an octave up; the dark cello counterpoints, the sharp trumpet and trombone stabs, the use of vibes and brushes, electric bass and electric guitar. It’s a very contemporary cross between rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, swing and to a certain extent classical music.”
That style, Arnold argues, “so defined the tone of the films and the character. I still use those ideas. You can go away from it to a certain extent, but I embrace it because I know it’s the right sound and the right approach and always will be.”
Monty Norman’s credit as composer of the “James Bond Theme” graces every Bond movie, and that piece is probably one of the dozen or so most recognized musical signatures of all time. Even actor Sean Connery, the first to play 007 on the big screen, acknowledges its power: “That theme gives the audience a direct connection to Bond. It’s an instant recognition.”
As for the Bond songs—especially the classics such as “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” but also such later hits as “Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “A View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day”—have proven hugely popular among cinemagoers and record buyers alike. Matt Monro, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, even Louis Armstrong have left their mark on the Bond series as vocalists; and in later years, the contributions of Duran Duran, a-ha, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Chris Cornell and others have demonstrated the Bond company can shift and change with the times, helping to keep 007 relevant into the 21st century.
This volume marks the first attempt to chronicle the entire 50-year saga of Bond music making with all of its ups and downs, surprises and disappointments, disasters and triumphs. In addition to the film-by-film history of Bond songs and scores, every chapter looks in detail at the music within a film to help fans pinpoint specific themes and musical highlights, enabling them to match up the music from the film with their favorite tracks on the soundtrack albums (an important commercial by-product of the film scores, also examined in detail).
James Bond songs and scores—like diamonds—are forever, and this book celebrates that remarkable legacy.
Excerpted from the book THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND by Jon Burlingame. Copyright © 2012 by Jon Burlingame. Reprinted with permission of Oxford University Press.
Music From The Show:
John Barry & Hal David, “We Have All the Time in the World” performed by Louis Armstrong
John Barry & Hal David, “Moonraker” (Main Title) performed by Shirley Bassey
Duran Duran & John Barry, “A View to a Kill” performed by Duran Duran
Bono & The Edge (of U2), “Goldeneye” performed by Tina Turner
Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzaï, “Die Another Day” performed by Madonna
Monty Norman “James Bond Theme”
Monty Norman “Under the Mango Tree”
John Barry, Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, “Goldfinger” performed by Shirley Bassey
Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, “Skyfall” performed by Adele
John Barry & Don Black, “Thunderball” performed by Tom Jones
Burt Bacharach & Hal David, “The Look of Love” performed by Dusty Springfield
Paul McCartney, “Live and Let Die” performed by Paul McCartney
John Barry & Hal David, “Moonraker” (End Theme) performed by Shirley Bassey
John Barry & Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, “The Living Daylights” performed by ah-ha
David Arnold (based on a theme by Monty Norman), “The Name’s Bond…James Bond”
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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