james bond music

MOVIES: From Barry to Billie – Celebrating 60 years of Bond music

“The James Bond Theme” and Bond music at 60

60 years this October (2022), the very first James Bond Film, ‘Dr. No’, was released. The studio said it was “unshowable”, but with a budget of $1m having been spent, they were forced to show it and at least try to claw some money back. Producers Harry Saltzman (1915-1994) and Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli CBE (1909-1996) would have the last laugh as the film ‘clawed’ in $60m ($981m in today’s money) at the box office. And so set off a global fascination with Mr. Bond that now extends to 25 films that have collectively grossed over £7b at the box office, making it the third highest grossing franchise in movie history and also the longest running production series.

One key element of that success has to be the music. From hit songs on the pop charts to the soundtracks themselves, Bond music is a part of pop music culture as well as film culture. No other film series had ever exploited songs so much as the Bond films did in the early days and they still lead the movie music world today. We may only get a film every two or three years, but when they do arrive, so does another hit single on the download and music charts, lead by a band or singer that are ‘hot’ at that very moment in time. Back in 1962 it was pop music songwriter and producer John Barry (1933-2011) who performed “The James Bond Theme”, something totally unheard of in movie music. A brash and bold new sound for a new decade and a new style of film that would soon sweep the world off its feet. It was British composer Monty Norman (1928-2022) who used a previously written tune and developed this into “The James Bond Theme” that we hear in every single 007 film.

Little could Norman have known that the film United Artists didn’t want to show, would spawn and mass produce over the next six decades and keep the British film industry going, often in hard times, and keep his theme, which had been born out of the line “I was born with an unlucky sneeze”, very much at the front and unparalleled by anyone else forever more. After Barry came Barry. John would become the man most associated with Bond music through his inventive and often outstanding film scores that have been sampled and used so often throughout the years. Barry was also instrumental in his choices of artist to sing the Bond songs. The very first came with Matt Munro (1932-1984) in 1963 for the second film, ‘From Russia With Love’. This was the first time proper that a song using the title of the film could be head, albeit at the end of the film over the closing credits. But this struck up an idea come the next film, ‘Goldfinger’. What if the song was heard over the opening titles? What impact would that make?

Barry enlisted Welsh singer Shirley Bassey (b.1937), with whom he had worked in her early years in the 1950’s. Bassey belted the Leslie Briccuse (1931-2021) Anthony Newley (1931-1999) song to kingdom come as we were presented with images of a golden girl on screen – “he loves only gold” – Shirley informs us of a song not only written for a Bond film but of a Bond villain. “Goldfinger” was a Gold seller in America and went on to become the standard for which all Bond songs would be marked against. ‘Goldfinger’ was released in the year that Bond creator Ian Fleming died at the age of 56. He lived to see his literary creation brought to the screen and become popular, if not the sensation ‘Goldfinger’ was that Winter, taking over $124m (over $1b in todays money) at the box office. More of the same came with ‘Thunderball’ in 1965 and it was Barry who brought in the latest chart star, Tom Jones, to Bond to perform the title theme, which had Barry and songwriter Don Black (b.1938) perplexed about writing a song by the name of “Thunderball”. Having toyed with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang“, Bond’s affectionate nickname in Italy, they eventually came up with something and with Jones fainting upon holding the final note, they also realised one take would be all that was needed!

Being a producer as legendary as Broccoli, you meet and make friends with some big names in showbusiness. ‘Cubby’ was with one Frank Sinatra and he had wanted him to perform the title song of the next Bond film, ‘You Only Live Twice’. Frank was busy, but he sent along his daughter Nancy instead. Her boots were made for walkin’ to the studio and she would provide one of the most elegant and beautiful of the Bond songs ever. “One life for yourself and one for your dreams” we are informed. Bond lived twice in ‘Twice’ but for original Bond actor Sean Connery (1930-2020), twice was the only way to live. He left the series after its release and was replaced by an unknown Australian model, George Lazenby (b.1939) for the next film. ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was in many ways a restart for the series. This was reflected in the title them for which John Barry went back to ‘Dr. No’ with an instrumental piece. Two songs were, however, recorded for film. The first, “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?” was recorded by Danish singer Nina and was heard during Bond’s arrival in Switzerland. The second was a love song to span all time, “We Have All The Time In The World“.

The song was co-written by Barry and Burt Bacharach’s friend, Hal David (1923-2012) and performed by Jazz legend, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong had been ill for some time and was not able to play his beloved trumpet on the soundtrack. But after one take, enough was enough and Armstrong slipped away, never to record again. If “You Only Live Twice” is the most elegant then “We Have All The Time In The World” must surely be the most profound. A flop upon release in 1969, it took 25 years before a commercial audience really bought into this number and thanks to a Guinness television commercial that it would eventually peak at No.3 on the UK singles chart at Christmas 1994. Moreover, “We Have All The Time In The World” was reused for the most recent film ‘No Time To Die’, when it could be heard in the pre-credits sequence and as the closing titles theme and the film proper. No other Bond theme has even been accorded such a prestigious honour. A link with the past and a reminder of Bond music at its very best for film audiences in the 2020’s. John Barry wasn’t done yet. He was back and so was Bond for the 1970’s and the big news was that Connery was back too for ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.

Back too came Shirley Bassey for the sexy and commanding title song, with John Barry producing and Don Black writing the lyrics. The film set the tone for the style of film that would be seen in this decade while Bassey reminded us that Bond music could still be bold and brassy – “forever…and ever”. Barry took a break at this juncture as the offers of film work mounted as did the Academy Awards for his art. Beatles producer George Martin (1923-2016) stepped in for a new Bond, Roger Moore’s first outing, in 1973 and he brought with him one fourth of the group, Paul McCartney (b.1942) to compose and perform the title theme of ‘Live And Let Die’ with his new band, Wings. “Live And Let Die” was a rock fantasia that really brought Bond music kicking and screaming into the new decade and it was a huge hit, as was the film itself, when released that Summer. It received an Academy Award nomination for best song, the first to do so for the series. After a one film hiatus, Barry came back for ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ in 1974 as did regular lyricist Don Black. There were a number of possibilities for the song with this film but they settled for pint-sized Scottish singer Lulu as the performer for this one.

The Man With The Golden Gun” was the most overtly sexual yet of the Bond songs – “who will he bang? We shall see…” we are politely informed! The song was not a commercial success, the first 007 song not to make such a cultural impact upon the music scene, despite a hugely popular artist at the microphone. Barry was off again and two and a half years later, the tenth Bond film, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ arrived with American composer Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012) in charge of the music. He, together with his then partner Carole Bayer Sager (b.1947) brought in American singer Carly Simon (b.1945) for the song, which would not use the title of the film. For “Nobody Does It Better”, they fashioned a song for Bond himself. The villains had got some of the best songs so far, so what about 007 himself? They blended the title of the film into a verse just so there was an association and with Simon’s easy going vocals for the late 1970’s, the song put Bond back in the top ten and another Oscar nomination to the series tally. With Bond back on track at the end of his second decade came the biggest production film yet, ‘Moonraker’. James Bond in space!

Back to score the many fantastical scenes and locations for this film was John Barry, who composed one of his greatest soundtracks of all with this film. Back for a third time too was his go-to Bond singer, Shirley Bassey. She sang the haunting lyric of Hal David’s atmospheric theme that accompanied the opening credits while a pumped up Disco remix of the song played us out as Bond’s space shuttle made its ‘re-entry’! Like “The Man With The Golden Gun”, “Moonraker” was not a commercial success unlike Bassey’s two earlier efforts, but it does open up thoughts of what may have been had Kate Bush accepted the original offer… Now in his 50’s, Roger Moore was showing no signs of hanging up his Walther PPK and nor was producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli going to let him go after the phenomenal box office receipts that ‘Moonraker’ left on the accounting office floor. Bond entered the 1980’s with ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Bill Conti (b.1938) was the composer for a new decade of Bond music, with Disco and pop music now at the forefront of chart success, Conti and songwriter Michael Leeson would use this to bring Bond really up-to-date and also with the record buying public. 22 year old Scottish singer Sheena Easton was the girl of the moment and in 1981 she had “For Your Eyes Only” for 007.

The song put Bond back in the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic and with it too came the now customary Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song – “only for you”. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was a huge hit at the box office, if not quite the barnstorm that ‘Moonraker’ had been two years earlier. So Broccoli returned to a formula that he knew the American audience would approve of. Bond13 would be ‘Octopussy’! How do you write a song with that title? Well, British lyricist Tim Rice (b.1944) found it hard to do so and like Hamlisch/Bayer Sager, instead focused on the film and the relationship between 007 and the only female character ever to give her name to the title of the film. The film posters screamed BOND’S ALL TIME HIGH! and so it was. “All Time High” was not performed by a hip and happening artist of the moment, more of a contemporary and a favourite of Cubby’s daughter Barbara, American singer Rita Coolidge (b.1945). Coolidge’s theme was relaxed and yet still Bondian with John Barry’s production that would make it a firm hit Stateside that Summer as was the film itself. Sean Connery had made six films as 007, ‘Octopussy’ was Moore’s sixth. So could there be a seventh…?

Yes is the answer. Aged 57, Roger donned the tux, and a leather jacket, for the last time in 1985’s ‘A View To A Kill’. Pitted against two very strong enemies, Max Zorin and May Day, Bond was also looking for a killer for the pop charts, now in an age of MTV video. The band who had been consistently at the top of the charts for the past three years was Duran Duran and with John Barry, they brought Bond into the modern era with their electric title theme. “Meeting you, with a view to a kill” Simon Le Bon opened with and later we are all invited to “dance into the fire” as the song cuts well into Maurice Binder’s title sequence. “A View To A Kill” would become the first, and to date, the only 007 song to top the US singles chart. Bond had never been so big or as successful as this. Home soil for Duran Duran too was just as lucrative as the song went to No.2 there, again the highest peak for a Bond title so far. But with ‘A View To A Kill’, time was up for MooreBond. 1986 would herald a new era and a new 007. Incoming Timothy Dalton (b.1946) would bring a new Bond to the screen with ‘The Living Daylights’ in 1987 while familiar and trusted Barry was on hand to ensure the handover was as smooth as always. For this film, he worked with another big band of the times, a-ha, on the title theme.

Sadly, whereas “A View To A Kill” had been a time to relish for all those involved, the same could not be said of “The Living Daylights“. The band were not overly happy with the end result, but despite this and Barry’s added Bond magic to the soundtrack, the song climbed to No.5 in the UK and No.1 in their home country of Norway. ‘The Living Daylights’ would also see a much happier collaboration with the band, The Pretenders, on two songs that were heard in the background of the film itself. “Where Has Everybody Gone?” would accompany the many scenes of assassin Necros while the love theme used as an instrumental throughout most of the film, would develop into “If There Was A Man” for the closing credits. This song was released as a single and would just miss the UK top 40 in the Summer of 1987. ‘The Living Daylights’ would ultimately become the last film to be scored by John Barry. He went on to win more Oscars and score films into the 21st century, but he would never return to the series in which he had made his name as a composer and to which his is the sound that is best known and most identified of all. Others would follow to refresh the Bond sound into the 1990’s and beyond, but always with a nod to John and in the end, if all else fails, a complete return to the notes and sound of John Barry and Bond music from the very beginning.

‘Licence To Kill’ in 1989 saw American composer Michael Kamen (1948-2002) step in for a very American Bond sound. Often regarded as the most un-Bond Bond film of them all. Nevertheless, a really great song was recorded for this film as 60’s singing star Gladys Knight brought some Shirley Bassey class to the track and the most powerful 007 title song since her days. “Licence To Kill” was a big hit across much of the globe including the UK, where it peaked at No.6. But Bond was soon to fight against an enemy he was not prepared for or able to match as the series would come to a halt, seemingly forever. 1992 saw the release of the “30th Anniversary Collection”, celebrating thirty years of James Bond music with all the title songs and on the expanded 2CD set with cues and previously unreleased songs from the series. There was hope of a new film, but it was not to be. By the time that ‘GoldenEye’ was announced in late 1994, Tim Dalton was finished and so a new 007 in the shape of Irish actor Pierce Brosnan (b.1953) would be the face of James Bond as he attempted to reinvigorate the series to a whole new audience. With John Barry out of the equation, the producers approached French composer Eric Serra (b.1959) to come up with a new 007 sound for the new decade. As pop had given away to dance and electronic music, Serra arranged a score in keeping with this.

While the score is forgettable in many key areas, the song was not. Bond’s comeback needed something big and with Gladys Knight having seen out a would be six year gap between films, it fell to U2’s Bono and The Edge to write a song for Bond17. A similarly top class female was selected to perform the powerful “GoldenEye” in Tina Turner. All the right ingredients were there as well as a dash of 1990’s technology to produce a top ten smash just as the film was greeted with open arms by the cinema-going public. Any fears that 007 was finished were quickly put away as the box office went from $100m to $200m and into the $300m. Not bad for the nervous $50m that had been given to the film by way of a ‘budget’. Bond was back and that meant the next film could be that music bigger. Rumours were abound that even John Barry would be back to score ‘Aquator’, as Bond18 was to be called. But it was not to be and instead British composer David Arnold, born in the year 007 first set out to stop Dr. No from his evil plans, took up the helm. ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, as the film would eventually be titled, saw Arnold’s lifelong obsession with John Barry’s music manifest and with the blessing of the great man himself, Arnold turned in a triumphant score of strings and brass to accompany the many action sequences and more sublime moments of the film.

Arnold had even united with John Barry’s favoured songwriter Don Black to compose a title song for the film. Originally titled “Tomorrow Never Dies”, they enlisted Canadian singer kd Lang to perform this epic song to blast over the main title sequence. But as with Barry himself as a possible composer, this was not meant to be either. The producers leaned on David to use someone who was ‘chart friendly’ and so singer and songwriter Sheryl Crow (b.1962) would record her own “Tomorrow Never Dies“. kd’s was used. It was retitled “Surrender” and featured over the closing titles. But what a song! Crow’s song would make No.12 in the UK, the first not to reach the top ten since Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High”. But what if…! With Brosnan now firmly accepted as the new James Bond, 007’s fourth decade on the screen was coming to an end. But was the world really enough? The Bond family moto, as seen in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, is The World Is Not Enough, so that was an apt title for the next film in the series. David Arnold was back to give continuity after the huge critical success of his music for ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and this time it would be Scottish band Garbage who supplied the title song.

“The World Is Not Enough” embellished elements of 007 heritage with an indie-rock feel to it that would satisfy Garbage fans. The song peaked at No.11 in the UK, but like its two predecessors, the Bond songs were not hitting the US singles chart like they used to. That trend would be reversed with the first Bond film of the 21st century, ‘Die Another Day’, which would be made and released in 2002, the 40th anniversary of ‘Dr. No’s first screening. Sheena Easton had become the only artist who sang a title song who actually appeared in the title sequence in 1981 and so this time, Queen of Pop Madonna would become the first title song performer to actually appear in the film itself! Madonna was cast in the role of Verity Lambert, fencing instructor to villain Gustav Graves. Madonna, with her then regular collaborator Mirwais Ahmadzaï, styled a new Bond song for the new century, blending electro vibes with a stop-start beat to produce the most successful song since the 1980’s, peaking at No.3 in the UK and, hoorah, a top ten hit in America (No.8), Bond’s best chart placing since Duran Duran, seventeen years earlier.

Pierce was done after four outings and incoming 38 year old Daniel Craig surprised many when he was the next actor to take up the mantle of Fleming’s prized cinematic icon. And he kicked off with a genuine Fleming novel. The very first, ‘Casino Royale’, the first true Fleming story to be made into a film since ‘The Living Daylights’, in 2006. By now, David Arnold was settled in as the new John Barry and came up with his fourth score for the film, and worked with former Soundgarden guitarist Chris Cornell (1964-2017) for the main titles song. A song called “Casino Royale” proved too difficult, so to establish a new Bond, a bit of reverse psychology was applied with the song “You Know My Name”. ‘Casino Royale’ was an enormous smash at the box office as the Bond6 era proved that Fleming’s literary character was far from done. “You Know My Name” was a top ten hit in the UK but only made it to No.79 Stateside, but this did nothing to stop the producer putting the follow up into production almost immediately. And it was another Fleming story, ‘Quantum Of Solace’, that really established CraigBond to the cinema in 2008. Arnold was back for a fifth time, now the most prolific 007 scorer save John Barry himself.

Perhaps the film’s title did nothing to intimidate the songwriting skills of White Stripes singer Jack White (b.1975) when he was approached to provide the title song but what he did do was make this one the first duet/collaboration on a Bond song. He roped in American singer Alicia Keys (b.1981) for the composition “Another Way To Die”, performed as an alt-rock tune, that would break the top ten in the UK, but fare worse than its predecessor in America and charted at No.81 there. 2012 was the 50th anniversary of Bond on the big screen and all efforts went to make this one not only a real best of Bond but with some shocking twists and a truly heart-breaking ending. Not since ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ would a Bond film close with sorrow and sadness. With David Arnold on other projects, director Sam Mendes brought in his friend Thomas Newman (b.1955) for music duties. For the title song, and this time it was a title song of the film, award winning British singer Adele would he hired to make this 50th anniversary Bond the biggest and the best yet. And it was. With box office way over $1b, ‘Skyfall’ would become the biggest grossing Bond film ever. The biggest grossing British film ever and the second biggest in the world in 2012. Adele’s “Skyfall” did not disappoint either, becoming the best selling Bond theme of all time.

“Skyfall” topped the chart around the world and with a UK peak of No.2, the best performing since “A View To A Kill”. In America the song reached No.8, but spend so long in the charts, it went on to shift over two million copies. “Skyfall” earned the series their first Academy Award nomination since Sheena Easton and at the 2013 ceremony, won the category, for the very first time. Craig, Mendes and Newman were all back three years later for another bash at Bond with ‘SPECTRE’. Unsurprisingly, no one could write a song with that as the title, although British band Radiohead came close with a very credible offering that did fit well with the title sequence. It was British singer Sam Smith (b.1992) who was chosen with the ballad “Writing’s On The Wall”. The song would top the UK singles chart, the very first to do so and like “Skyfall”, was another international smash hit, although the song only peaked at No.71 in America, where it did go on to sell over a million copies. Like Adele, the song was nominated and won the category of Best Original Song at the 2016 Oscars, the second time a 007 tune had achieved. Daniel Craig had signed on for five films and that came to an end with the next entry in the series, Bond25 that went into production in 2019.

The film that would become ‘No Time To Die’ saw a new composer step up to the job with American Hans Zimmer (b.1957). The film’s production was turbulent and release dates were pushed back and back again with the global Covid pandemic. The original release date of April 2020 had not stopped American singer Billie Eilish (b.2001) from recording and releasing the official title song, which would follow “Writing’s On The Wall” to the top of the UK charts and make No.16 in America. The song was written by Eilish and her brother, producer Finneas O’Connell (b.1997) and produced by distinguished veteran Stephen Lipson and when the film did eventually see the light of day in late 2021, sales and chart placings of the song soared once more. At the 2022 Academy Awards, “No Time To Die” became the third 007 song in a row to win the category of Best Original Song and, as previously mentioned, the score itself, looking back to Bond’s past life, saw the music of John Barry’s “We Have All The Time In The World” performed by Zimmer and his orchestra along with Louis Armstrong’s unparalleled recording of the song itself in the film. Tribute to Barry and Armstrong while recognising all that had gone before. The best of Bond in one film.

While 2022 will not see a new 007 film on the screens, Bond’s heritage and Bond music is there for all to hear. 60 years that chart the evolution of popular music itself, from Barry to Bassey, Sinatra to Sheena, from Carly to Crow and a-ha to Eilish, they’ve all contributed to James Bond history and music history itself. And while all of that has happened and will continue to happen in the future, every composer and artist has been aware of one theme and one theme only. It begins with a guitar. Has no vocals. And is the most recognisable piece of cinematic music of all time, ever. When you hear it, you know what to expect. As the end credits remind us, James Bond will return. That is guaranteed. And so will the “The James Bond Theme”.

For Monty Norman (4th April 1928 – 11th July 2022)

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