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, Die Another Day and You Know My Name (from Casino Royale) – lack the same cohesion. Arnold’s soundtracks are superb but he only wrote one 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.