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From Dr No to Spectre: the definitive history of the James Bond movie themes

Discover the stories behind some of the most famous movie themes ever written.

The Complete James Bond Themes explores the history of the iconic songs that have accompanied the famous opening credits of the James Bond films. This fascinating companion looks at more than 50 years of 007 themes from the creation of the original James Bond Theme to the first ever number one hit more than five decades later.

With contributions from writers, artists, composers and Bond experts, this is the definitive guide to the themes that have become as important to the enduring popularity of James Bond as the cars, gadgets and villains.

Find out who originally recorded the theme to Goldfinger, why the writers of Licence to Kill ended up paying royalties to John Barry and what Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper, Bono, Pulp, Blondie and Ace of Base have to do with the film series.

If you're a fan of movies, music, or the world of James Bond this is the perfect book for you.

Hello there. I'm Nick Parkhouse and I've been writing about pop music and films for years. I'm the UK's go-to expert on the music of 007 and you may have heard me on national radio or seen me on BBC television talking about the importance of Bond music in the run-up to the release of Spectre in 2015.

My first book 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s did for that decade's music what this book does for Bond. From sharing cigarettes with Johnny Hates Jazz in the car park of the NEC to appearing on the same bill as Tony Hadley, I spent two years meeting and interviewing the artists, writers and producers that shaped 1980s music.

"Can't put it down" - Alexander Armstrong

When I am not listening to The Living Daylights on repeat, you will find me teaching and performing improvised comedy, or hiding in the dark in my local multiplex cinema. I live in Nottingham with my wife, two dogs, five cats and, regularly, a smart twelve year-old named Madeleine.

The development of the sound of 007

Between them, Monty Norman, John Barry and David Arnold have scored seventeen films in the 007 series. With no disrespect to George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Thomas Newman and Eric Serra – each of whom added their own take to the Bond sound – the music we identify as a distinctly 'Bond' soundtrack is thanks to these three men.

The first two Bond composers – Monty Norman and John Barry – met on the first Bond adventure, Dr No. Norman had been handpicked by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, impressed by the composer’s work on West End musical Belle or The Ballad Of Doctor Crippen. Barry, meanwhile, was a young, talented commercial orchestrator who was asked to arrange Norman’s James Bond Theme, using a ‘big band’ sound to create the powerful sound heard on the soundtrack album.

Norman’s iconic Bond theme - not Barry’s, despite the legendary composer’s frequent assertions and court battles – was based on a song he had written some years previously for the first draft of a stage musical called The House of Mr Biswas. The song, Good Sign Bad Sign, had an instantly catchy hook and Norman adapted the melody as an instrumental track with the result being the memorable James Bond Theme that we still love today.

While Barry may have been responsible for the arrangement of the theme, Norman remains responsible for arguably the most famous and instantly recognisable film theme in the history of cinema. The James Bond Theme has been used in every Bond film for 50 years, and will remain as long as the franchise continues.

With Norman not interested in scoring the second Bond film, Broccoli and co-producer Harry Saltzmann shortlisted two young composers for From Russia With Love. After his superb arrangement work on the James Bond Theme for Dr No, John Barry was the obvious choice to take the reins but the producers and director Terence Young were worried about the composer’s lack of big-screen experience.

Saltzmann preferred the talents of Lionel Bart (who would later have great success with the film Oliver!) but, after some deliberation, Barry was chosen. In the meantime, Saltzman had committed himself to Bart and that is why the theme song From Russia With Love is a Lionel Bart composition.

The choice to hire Barry would fundamentally shape the Bond sound for each of the 22 subsequent films. Lush orchestral arrangements became the hallmark of Barry’s work and his regular use of bombastic brass gave 007 action sequences a distinct identity. His own themes – the likes of the 007 theme and Space March – featured regularly throughout the series and his collaborations with lyricists Don Black, Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse and Hal David produced some of the classic Bond title songs.

It’s impossible to understate Barry’s contribution to film music. His five Oscars, perhaps surprisingly, were never for his work on Bond soundtracks – although 007 remains arguably his most famous work.

Barry’s final Bond soundtrack was 1987’s The Living Daylights. The producers hired well-known composers Michael Kamen and Eric Serra for the next two adventures, but by the time Tomorrow Never Dies came around, the search for a safe pair of hands was intensifying.

The 34 year old Brit, David Arnold, had been responsible for arranging and producing 1997’s Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project which involved eleven contemporary artists including Pulp, Chrissie Hynde and Iggy Pop covering classic Bond themes.

John Barry was extremely complimentary about Arnold’s work, saying: "He was very faithful to the melodic and harmonic content, but he's added a whole other rhythmic freshness and some interesting casting in terms of the artists chosen to do the songs. I think it's a terrific album. I'm very flattered."

Indeed, Barry was so impressed with Arnold’s work that he recommended the composer to Bond producer Barbara Broccoli who hired the 34 year old to score Tomorrow Never Dies.

Arnold’s great success was to pay great respect to the classic Barry soundtracks of old while updating the instrumentation for the PC generation. His work on five Bond films is terrific, maintaining the traditions established by Barry while managing to introduce more synthesisers and electronica.

The real shame for Arnold was that he wasn’t allowed to write more of his title tracks. With all the Bond soundtracks, the ones that always work the best are the ones where the composer is also responsible for penning the title track. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moonraker and Octopussy are all superb as they weave Barry’s title track throughout the whole soundtrack. Those pieces – mainly in later films – where a popular commercial artist has provided the theme in isolation – think Goldeneye, Skyfall and Die Another Day – lack the same cohesion. Arnold’s soundtracks are superb but he only wrote two of the five title tracks for his 007 films.

The one remaining oddity regarding Bond soundtracks is that none of them have ever won the Oscar for Best Original Score. Indeed, Marvin Hamlisch’s The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond soundtrack to ever be nominated, as late as 1977. While the soundtrack music may be as memorable as any other film over the last five decades, the Academy has never thought it worthy of the biggest prize of all.

Read more...

The main man of 007 lyrics talks to The Complete James Bond Themes

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

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Hello all

As I walked through the front door of his beautiful Kensington home, it was clear that Don Black was having a busy day. Despite his 77 years, the Oscar-winning lyricist is still in huge demand and it turns out that it was a long-time collaborator that had been keeping him on his toes on a Thursday morning.

"Andrew Lloyd-Webber keeps ringing me every 20 minutes from New York," he explained…

Another Oscar-winning legend contributes to The Complete James Bond Themes

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Bill conti

If you were sitting in your local pub and you decided to make a list of the most recognisable and loved film themes of the last fifty years, you wouldn't get far before someone suggested the iconic theme from Rocky. Forever associated with Sylvester Stallone's training montage - and that climb up the Philadelphia steps - Gotta Fly Now was a US number one single and catapulted composer Bill Conti into…

A House for Mr Biswas

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

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Hello everyone

Back in 1962, a young singer and West End composer was asked if he'd be interested in providing the music for a brand new spy thriller. Made with a budget of under $1 million, the new United Artists feature was based on a well-known series of books and producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman needed someone to write its score.

Monty Norman was initally unsure about the assignment…

On an All Time High

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Tim rice

Hi everyone

It's not every day that you get the chance to meet a true musical legend, but that's what happened last week when I was invited to the home of three-time Oscar-winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Perhaps most famous for his work in musical theatre, Rice has penned some of the most famous songs ever seen on a West End stage. From his work on Jesus Christ Superstar to Joseph, Rice is…

A chat with a legendary American writer and producer

Monday, 11 April 2016

In the late 1980s, if you wanted a hit record there was one producer you went to. Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Jermaine Stewart and Starship all had huge hits across the world thanks to the production skills of Narada Michael Walden.

Indeed, in 1987 he joined a very elite list of producers who managed to knock one of their own productions off the top of the charts…

Two men, one theme

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Hello everyone

Last week I had the great pleasure of speaking to a man whose name you may not know but whose work is world famous. Back in 1958, Vic Flick was the lead guitarist of the popular combo The John Barry Seven and played guitar on the soundtrack of the 1960 film Beat Girl. You can hear his trademark sound in the attached YouTube clip.

A couple of years later Barry was asked to arrange…

Listen to the BBC radio interview about The Complete James Bond Themes

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Hi everyone

In the run-up to the release of Spectre in 2015, the good folks at the BBC got in touch to ask me if I would speak about Sam Smith's song and Bond music more generally. Why does it remain so popular and why is it still such a big deal? 

Over the course of a few weeks I did more than 40 interviews for the network, including a spot on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC2 and pieces…

Michael Fuhrer
Michael Fuhrer asked:

Hi,
just wondering. I made a Pledge of £20, but you seemed to have changed the Pledges. Could this be a Problem to mine?
Bye
Michael Fuhrer

Nick Parkhouse
Nick Parkhouse replied:

Hi Michael

The pledges haven't changed, as far as I know. Did you use a special code to claim a discount? If so, your pledge is fine.

Kind regards

Nick

Brian Nichols
Brian Nichols asked:

Hi. I pledged £60 back in April for the signed A4 giclee fine print option. I now see that you are 55% towards goal, and in order to speed up getting there, I'm open to pledging some more. The two I'm interested in pledging against are the signed Don Black cd pledge and the signed Monty Norman cd pledge. However, I notice that both are sold out. Is there any way I can pledge against these? Thanks. Brian

Nick Parkhouse
Nick Parkhouse replied:

Hi Brian

Thanks very much for your support.

I am afraid I only had a limited number of the signed CDs, all of which have been bought.

Sincere apologies

Nick

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