HMSS talks to Jon Burlingame about his 007 music book

Image of the cover of The Music of James Bond from the book’s Amazon.com page (don’t click it won’t work here; see link at bottom of this post).

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, is coming out with a new book, The Music of James Bond. He’s come up with some research that should intrigue 007 fans. Example: one of the singers of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, originally intended to be Thunderball’s title song was involved in a lawsuit to try to stop release of the fourth James Bond film.

We did an interview by e-mail. He provided a preview of his book. The author didn’t want to give away too much in our interview, including identifying which Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang singer was involved. Both Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick performed the song before Eon Productions went with Tom Jones singing Thunderball.

Anyway, the interview follows:

HMSS: Did you come across information that you found surprising? If so, what was it?

BURLINGAME: I was able to piece together the chronology of what happened with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” — the unused theme for THUNDERBALL — which had always eluded previous writers and researchers. And I discovered that one vocalist was so incensed about the failure to use her recording that her company sued the producers to attempt to stop distribution of the film in late 1965. (She didn’t succeed, of course.) It was a stunning new discovery and, to me, one of the most fascinating stories in the book.

I also got Paul Williams to recall many of his unused lyrics for MOONRAKER and Johnny Mathis to confirm that he recorded that song, which no one has ever heard. I successfully unraveled the story of the missing Eric Clapton recordings for LICENCE TO KILL and the sad and unfortunate tale of why John Barry was ready to score TOMORROW NEVER DIES and how studio politics derailed it. I obtained new details about the aborted Amy Winehouse song for QUANTUM OF SOLACE and finally got to the bottom of the story involving “No Good About Goodbye,” which has always been rumored to be an unused QoS song.

HMSS:How long did it take to prepare The Music of James Bond? How many of the principals were you able to interview directly?

BURLINGAME: It took eight months to write — and about 45 years of intense interest before that. I signed the contract with Oxford in May 2011 and delivered a final manuscript in December. Like any film-related history that covers several decades, it required considerable research as well as interviews with those key players who were still with us. I had interviewed John Barry often since the late 1980s, so I had material from him prior to his passing.

New interviews included Monty Norman, Vic Flick, Leslie Bricusse, Don Black, Hal David, producer Phil Ramone (OHMSS), engineers Eric Tomlinson and John Richards, Sir George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, Paul Williams, Bill Conti, Tim Rice, Michel Legrand and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Maryam d’Abo, Narada Michael Walden and Diane Warren (LICENCE TO KILL), Eric Serra (GOLDENEYE), David Arnold, conductor Nicholas Dodd (the Arnold films), and Madonna (DIE ANOTHER DAY), among others. {plus extensive, previously unused interviews I had done with Michael Kamen (LICENCE TO KILL) and Michel Colombier (DIE ANOTHER DAY) before each passed away.

HMSS: What is your view of the disputes related to the creation of The James Bond Theme? To some laymen, it really does sound like Barry at the very least added a lot to Monty Norman’s work.

BURLINGAME: He did. The story is very, very complicated, as anyone who followed the London court case should understand. The creation of a piece of music for a film — whether in 1962 or in 2012 — can be a complex process involving a melody line, the addition of rhythm and countermelodies, bridges, etc., and performance issues related to what instruments are being used and how. So it started with Monty Norman and an unused song from an unrealized production; passed through the hands of his own orchestrator; reached John Barry, who undertook what one expert witness at the trial called an “extreme” arrangement; and when Barry called in guitarist Vic Flick, he added his own special touches before the theme was recorded for the first time. To his credit, Norman — despite his differences with Barry over the years — continues to credit Barry with the definitive orchestration of his theme.

I would urge Bond fans to read my first chapter very carefully before drawing, or modifying, their own conclusions. I believe it is as complete a chronicle of the creation of the “James Bond Theme” as is possible at this date.

HMSS: Harry Saltzman almost killed the title songs to Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever and while liking the Live And Let Die song didn’t want Paul McCartney to perform it. Are there any other examples of this sort of thing (not restricted to Saltzman)?

BURLINGAME: From the beginning, it’s always really been a kind of crap shoot to try and create a song that would serve the film but also reach the pop charts to serve the broader promotional needs of the film and be successful on its own. There has always been second-guessing, from the examples you cited to the rush job on MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, the last-minute decision to change lyricists and singers on MOONRAKER, the involvement of record-company people on the songs for A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LICENCE TO KILL, and finally the deep involvement of the studio music department on films like TOMORROW NEVER DIES, DIE ANOTHER DAY and the 2006 CASINO ROYALE. I detail all of these in the book.

For a long time, no composer not named John Barry did a second turn as a 007 film composer, until David Arnold came along. What did he bring to the table that the likes of Bill Conti, Marvin Hamlisch, etc., didn’t?.

BURLINGAME: I don’t think it’s fair to compare David Arnold with Conti and Hamlisch. Each composer tried to do his best with the film he was given. The circumstances were different in each case. All three attempted to “modernize” the Bond sound in their own way, with Hamlisch and Conti applying the pop rhythm sounds of their day (1977, 1981). Arnold came along at a time when the largely electronic (Eric) Serra
score for GOLDENEYE proved problematic for the filmmakers and they were eager to return to a more “traditional” sound. Arnold’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES score took the classic Barry sound and “updated” it with contemporary synth and rhythm-track sounds that proved just right for that film. He delivered what was needed and thus was retained — especially in a time of risk-averse studio thinking that often says, “that worked, that movie made money, let’s have more of that.”

HMSS: What qualities make James Bond scores different than scores of other movies?

BURLINGAME: One of the main points of the book is the assertion that these composers invented a new kind of action-adventure scoring for the Bond films. Partly pop, partly jazz, partly traditional orchestral scoring, the 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor.

It was a tall order, and John Barry, especially, delivered what was necessary and helped define James Bond in a way that wasn’t possible with the visuals alone.

John Barry


HMSS: John Barry won five Oscars for his film work but never for a Bond movie. Meanwhile, Marvin Hamlisch got nominated for his score for The Spy Who Loved Me, and three title songs where Barry was absent (Live And Let Die, Nobody Does It Better and For Your Eyes Only) got nominated. Why was that?

BURLINGAME: This is a sore point with me. “We Have All the Time in the World” and “Diamonds Are Forever” are two of the greatest movie songs of their time, and both should have been nominated. But the reality is that the Bond films were not taken seriously as artistic achievements at the time, and neither song was a big hit (while record sales helped to drive Barry’s “Born Free” into Oscar territory, and the Bacharach-David “The Look of Love” from (1967’s) CASINO ROYALE was from a very popular, L.A.-based hitmaking team and so was an obvious choice for Oscar attention).

“Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” and “For Your Eyes Only” went to no. 2, no. 2 and no. 4 on the American charts, respectively, and thus could not be ignored at Oscar time on the basis of their commercial success alone.

I think you could make a case that “You Only Live Twice,” “We Have All the Time in the World,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “All Time High” and “Surrender” from TOMORROW NEVER DIES could and should have been nominated for Oscar. Maybe even “You Know My Name” from CASINO ROYALE, which has grown on me over the years. Changing Oscar rules in recent years hasn’t helped, but this year, with five nominees for Best Song assured because of a rule change, I think it’s quite likely that we may have a Bond song in contention.

HMSS: What do you think is the best Bond film score? What do you think is the most underrated?

BURLINGAME: You can’t ask a guy who spent six months listening to nothing but Bond
music to choose just one!

I love every note of both GOLDFINGER and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. I think FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER are terrific scores in every way. And the fact that I grew up in that era may influence my passion for the early Bond scores, when the Barry concept and sound
was so fresh and exciting. I believe THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS may be the most underrated score. There is so much original melodic and rhythmic material there, and a very contemporary sound for 1987; I feel that Barry went out on a very high note with his last Bond score. I also think there is much to admire in Arnold’s first two Bond scores, TOMORROW NEVER DIES and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, and I think his unused song from the latter, “Only Myself to Blame” (with Don Black lyrics) ranks with “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” as another of the unsung masterpieces of Bond music.

HMSS: What do you think Thomas Newman brings to Skyfall?

BURLINGAME: I very much look forward to the SKYFALL score. Every few years there is a new voice in Bond music — this year we have two, in Adele and Thomas Newman — and it’s always a good thing to reexamine what makes Bond music work. Arnold tried to do that with each new Bond score, but I think Newman will offer a fresh musical point of view and I can’t wait to hear what he brings.

For information about ordering the book, CLICK HERE to view Amazon.com’s Web site. You can look at some pages on the Amazon site BY CLICKING HERE.

UPDATE (Sept. 28): Jon Burlingame passes on the following about “rejected” James Bond title songs:

One of the book’s appendices is a chronicle of “would-be” Bond songs. There is a widespread notion out there that these were “rejected” (Johnny Cash for THUNDERBALL, Alice Cooper for GOLDEN GUN, etc.) when in fact most were, at best, unsolicited demos that never even reached the producers, who were not in the habit of entertaining song suggestions from outsiders.

The idea that Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were sitting round their offices listening to these and giving them serious consideration is the height of lunacy.

There really was a “cattle call” for songs for TOMORROW NEVER DIES, but that was done by the studio, not the producers, and I detail the unhappy results in the book.

The murky origins of the James Bond theme: a sequel

Eleven months ago, we posted about the murky origins of the James Bond Theme which included a link to a portion of a U.K. documentary.

The gist of the documentary was that while Monty Norman wrote the theme originally, John Barry contributed a great deal with the way he arranged and orchestrated it. And it should be noted that producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman would retain Barry, rather than Norman, to compose scores for future 007 films.

Last month, a YouTube poster called Blofeld39 weighed in with a video. It basically shows how various compositions, mostly by Barry, influenced what has become one of the most famous pieces of film music ever. Here it is:

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