REVIEW: The Music of James Bond (2012)

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book's Amazon.com page

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page

Music journalist Jon Burlingame is nothing if not persistent. To write The Music of James Bond, he had to reconcile differing accounts and memories of various participants to create a narrative of how 007 film scores were created. This included new interviews as well as drawing upon interviews he had done previously while writing about film and television music for variety.

Perhaps the most daunting task was explaining the creation of The James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman but revamped by aggressive orchestrations by John Barry. Short of traveling back in time to watch it first hand, Burlingame’s account is likely to be the most definitive we’re likely to get. Along the way, he provides additional anecdotes, including quoting a 1990 interview about Barry’s shock (and anger) after editor Peter Hunt had put it throughout the finished Dr. No film. Barry had been told it would just be in the main titles.

Along the way, Burlingame provides many other details about 007 scores, including Barry’s own disenchantment with Bond starting in the early 1970s. “It’s a trap, and I don’t know how to get out it, really,” Barry says in a 1971 interview published in the RTS Music Gazette in 1976. Burlingame also interviewed Cary Bates, a one-time scribe for DC Comics who among those who submitted story ideas for The Spy Who Loved Me. Barry had told Bates in 1972. “You know, I’m not doing them anymore.”

John Barry

John Barry

That would prove not to be the case. Barry kept returning, not ending his association with 007 until 1987′s The Living Daylights. Partly, it was out of loyalty to the series that helped launch his career as a movie composer. Partly it was because producer Albert R. Broccoli knew Barry could produce the inevitable tight deadlines that Bond movies made by Eon Productions continually faced. Barry had one last chance to return, for 1997′s Tomorrow Never Dies, but passed.

Some of the tales Burlingame tells are known but he adds nice flourishes. A 2006 U.K. television special detailed how producer Harry Saltzman despised the Barry-Don Black title song for Diamonds Are Forever. Burlingame notes how Broccoli was present after Saltzman stormed out of a meeting with Barry and Black at Barry’s apartment. “Do you have any Jack Daniels?” the veteran producer asked after a few moments of silence.

What’s more, some of the best passages discuss Bond songs that didn’t happen, including a planned Frank Sinatra rendition of a Moonraker title song (for which Paul Williams had written the lyrics). Also, throughout are quotes that go beyond the typical fare. One example was composer Marvin Hamlisch, who scored 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me on his own frustration he was never asked to do another 007 film. “You can deliver an Oscar nominated song. You can deliver a number-two record, and it still ain’t good enough.”

Personally, I would have liked a bit more commentary on how Barry could get passed over for Oscar nominations for Bond while getting five Oscars for other work. But that’s a quibble. The author tells readers that Broccoli didn’t believe in big Oscar campaigns for Bond films as well as how United Artists actually unsuccessfully promoted a nomination for Clifton James as J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die.

Music has always been one of the distinctive aspects about the Bond films. It’s about time for a book on the subject, including 1967′s Casino Royale and 1983′s Never Say Never Again, the two non-Eon Bond films. Burlingame delivers. GRADE: A.

SEPTEMBER 2012 POST: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK.

The Music of James Bond, 293 pages, Oxford University Press.

UPDATE: The September 2012 post referenced a lawsuit related to the song Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. The lawsuit was filed by Shirley Bassey. She recorded her version *after* Dionne Warwick’s rejected main title song for Thunderball. The idea was it might be suitable as the song for the end titles. Jon Burlingame details how this plan went awry.

About these ads

One Response

  1. I’ve Been meaning to purchase this book. This review just cemented that purchase. Interesting info about Clifton James being pushed for an Oscar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers

%d bloggers like this: