Very few composers can be said to have created a new style of film music,” says David Arnold. “John Barry single-handedly created the spy genre.”
Arnold, who recently completed scoring “Quantum of Solace” (his fifth James Bond score), has a long way to go to catch up to Barry’s record of 11 complete 007 scores (not counting his arrangement of the original “James Bond Theme” for “Dr. No”).
Arnold admires Barry’s accomplishments — saluting them in his 1997 album “Shaken and Stirred” — and Arnold’s Bond scores, from “Tomorrow Never Dies” to “Die Another Day,” still draw on the musical ideas that accompanied 007’s earliest film adventures 40 years ago.
It was a combination of the time (the early ’60s), a collision of musical cultures (the end of the big-band era, the beginnings of rock) and the offbeat qualities of Ian Fleming’s creation that led to Barry’s unique mix of jazz, rock, pop and traditional orchestral writing.
Barry’s arrangement of the Bond theme for “Dr. No” in 1962 started it all. “You have the bebop-swing vibe coupled with that vicious, dark, distorted electric guitar, definitely an instrument of rock ‘n’ roll,” Arnold says. “Sound-wise, it represented everything about the character you would want: It was cocky, swaggering, confident, dark, dangerous, suggestive, sexy, unstoppable. And he did it in two minutes.”
The commercial success of both the movie and Barry’s single (No. 13 in the U.K.) assured the 29-year-old composer’s future with Bond. He scored the second film, “From Russia With Love” (including a Lionel Bart title song) and, starting with “Goldfinger,” wrote the title tunes and entire scores for 10 more.
Michael Caine remembers staying with Barry when he was between apartments in 1964: “He played the bloody piano all night and I couldn’t get to sleep,” Caine says. “I came down in the morning to breakfast and he was sitting there — he hadn’t been to sleep — and he said ‘Listen to this.’ It was ‘Goldfinger.’ ”
The “Goldfinger” soundtrack rocketed to the top of the charts, knocking the Beatles out of the No. 1 spot in early 1965; and hit albums for “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever” followed. Barry’s collaboration with Duran Duran sent the single of “A View to a Kill” to No. 1 in 1985. His last 007 outing was “The Living Daylights” in 1987.
“John is part of the original DNA of the Bond film franchise,” says Barbara Broccoli, producer of the Bond films since 1995 and daughter of original Bond producer Albert R. (Cubby) Broccoli. “The sound he created was unique, and ultimately very important to the whole cinematic history of Bond.”
Broccoli says Bond is a very solitary character. “He has a lot of internal emotions that he doesn’t verbalize, so the music really provides the inner life of the character. One of the extraordinary things that John created was this unsettling sense of tension, then pounding away with excitement through the action sequences. His music works on so many different levels, with so much texture, so many colors, that it’s a very complex sound.”
Barry, back in the 1960s, referred to his Bond scores as “million-dollar Mickey Mouse music,” meaning that it followed the action but boasted a sophisticated sound. Looking back today, he explains, “I didn’t just go with the action, I would try to figure out what the emotion was behind it. What the audience gets — although not consciously, in terms of music — is the emotion of the scene.”
While he agrees that the spy sound he launched is a one-of-a-kind mixture of jazz, pop and classical, Barry admits that it was something of an accident. “I just found myself doing it,” he explains. “I looked at it and said, ‘that works.’ That became the Bond style. That’s why there’s a similarity in all the Bond songs. It’s not the melody, it’s an attitude.”
In terms of updating Bond musically in the 21st-century films, Arnold points out: “I’m always aware of the shadow that John casts and the music that he wrote. I try and be respectful of that whilst trying to put something of myself, and the new direction of the films, into it.”