It was actually an accident: English composer Monty Norman was entrusted with composing the score for the first Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962. John Barry arranged it. The outcome? A mixture of jazz, classical music and pop. From then on, the James Bond Theme was the signature tune of every James Bond film.
In 1962, it was extremely unusual to compose music that crossed genres: What at first seemed like an accident soon turned out to be a phenomenal success.
James Bond Theme
The music that Monty Norman and John Barry had created was developed further in the following decades: The melody remained the same, only the arrangements were changed.
In 1969 a synthesizer could be heard in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in the seventies disco interludes were used, and in the eighties electronic music immortalized itself in the James Bond Theme.
To this day, the James Bond Theme‘s task remains to bundle contemporary musical trends in order to please the listener. The theme mainly accompanies action-packed scenes.
The ultimate challenge of pop music
In addition to the James Bond Theme, there is another musical interlude that no Bond film lacks: the James Bond title song. It, too, has changed over the decades. In the first film Dr. No it took a background role, but in Goldfinger, the Bond song as it is known to this day was born: the ultimate discipline of pop music, as often stated. Singer Shirley Bassey performed the song Goldfinger. The song waspenned by John Barry. For the first time, the Bond song was part of the film’s opening credits. It is difficult to think of the Bond classic Goldfinger and not hear the echo of Shirley Bassey’s voice in one’s head.
He strikes like Thunderball
Tom Jones chose a similar, yet unmistakably his very own interpretation of the hit song for the next Bond film Thunderball: The western film industry had fallen into Bond mania – the lyrics by John Barry fitted this mania.
The last verse describes the effect that a James Bond film could achieve in the mid-sixties: Every new Bond movie hit like a thunderball.
But Sean Connery gradually lost interest in the role of James Bond and left the franchise after fulfilling his contract, which included five films. The producer team Broccoli and Saltzman hired George Lazenby in the role of James Bond. They had been planning a film adaptation of Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for some time. Since Lazenby had not yet achieved much fame, they needed another drawing card: Louis Armstrong. With We Have All The Time In The World, Satchmo and John Barry delivered one of the most romantic James Bond theme songs. Hal David wrote the lyrics.
Live and Let Die
In 1973, a change occurred in the world of the Bond theme song: After Shirley Bassey had returned in 1971 with Diamonds Are Forever in the Bond film of the same name, one dared to go new ways: Paul and Linda McCartney’s Live and Let Die, which had elements of progressive rock in it, brought a breath of fresh air to the world of James Bond theme songs. Meanwhile, Roger Moore had taken over the role of James Bond. Live and Let Die was the first time since Dr. No that John Barry relinquished the musical direction of the new Bond song.
Nobody Does It Better
Carole Bayer Sager, co-songwriter of the 1977 Bond song for the film The Spy Who Loved Me, described the lyrics of her Bond song Nobody Does It Better as “incredibly vain.” There was only one singer in the seventies who knew vanity: Carly Simon. Five years earlier, she had a big hit with You’re So Vain. So the choice was made.
Nobody Does It Better, sung by Carly Simon, is still one of the most played Bond hits. It was also the first Bond song not to bear the title of the film in which it was featured.
Co-songwriter Marvin Hamlisch admitted to stealing a bit from the Bee Gees for the adaptation of the James Bond Theme in The Spy Who Loved Me. The scene where Bond and Anya ride through the desert was scored with music from Lawrence of Arabia: The generous budget of a Bond movie made it possible to acquire rights from other film scores.
First Bond music video
In 1983, the James Bond franchise was enjoying an all-time high: on March 29, 1983, it was announced that singer Rita Coolidge would sing the new Bond song All Time High and also star in the first James Bond music video. John Barry returned as composer and co-wrote the lyrics to All Time High with Tim Rice.
007 at the top of the music charts
With the synth-pop hit A View to a Kill by the band Duran Duran, the Bond franchise once again demonstrated that it moved with the musical taste of the times: It was not only because of its music why the last James Bond movie starring Roger Moore was in tune with the times. James Bond fights the villain Zorin (Christopher Walken), who plans to raze Silicon Valley to the ground in order to establish a monopoly on the microchip market with his own company. Duran Duran’s music video led to a James Bond song hitting the top of the charts for the first time.
Between pop and classical music
In August 1986, Timothy Dalton was announced as the new James Bond actor. John Barry got involved one last time to compose the music for the new James Bond film The Living Daylights. In 1986, Barry had won his fourth academy award for the soundtrack of Out of Africa. Together with the songwriter of the Norwegian band A-ha Pål Waaktaar, he wrote the Bond hit The Living Daylights. It was the last time that John Barry demonstrated his extensive talent in a Bond song: Barry was both a pop songwriter and an orchestral composer. But his greatest secret was to skillfully use new technologies of the music world. To balance the pop style of A-ha, classical music plays a major role in the film The Living Daylights: the Bond girl Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) plays the cello in several film sequences.
At the end of the film, Kara plays Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with an orchestra: John Barry himself is at the conductor’s podium. It was his farewell to James Bond.
In 2012, the James Bond song experienced a renaissance in its original form: Adele and Paul Epworth composed the Bond song for Skyfall. The classic orchestration of the song and Adele’s soul voice are reminiscent of the first James Bond classics: the original James Bond Theme, which was embedded after the first chorus, also found its way into Skyfall.
James Bond without a Bond song: unthinkable today. Musical greats Monty Norman and John Barry immortalized their talents in the original James Bond soundtracks. With each performer, the repertoire of Bond songs grows. The Bond repertoire has now formed its own genre. The Bond song remains the ultimate discipline of pop music to this day.
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig
Main sources: Burlingame, John: The music of James Bond, 2014 Oxford University Press and the english Wikipedia article on the music of James Bond