John Barry, an appreciation

John Barry’s music, along with Ken Adam’s sets and Sean Connery’s depiction as James Bond, made 007 films events in the 1960s. Barry, though, kept on with Bond longer than either Connery or Adam. Barry worked on the series, on and off, for a quarter century: scores for 11 films plus crucial orchestrations and arranging of The James Bond Theme in Dr. No.

Barry even reportedly was negotiating a return to the series with 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, but turned away not it became clear he wouldn’t be allowed to work on the title song. Truth be told, some 007 fans hoped against hope Barry might still come back for one, last 007 turn.

Barry’s death this week at age 77 slams the door on that dream. For Bond fans, the loss is personal. Barry’s scores stirred the emotions, whether it be a rousing action composition, a lush love theme or a song viewers remembered long after seeing the latest Bond films. At times, most notably 1967’s You Only Live Twice and 1979’s Moonraker, Barry and Adam almost seemed to be the real stars of the movie.

Perhaps the best compliment Barry ever got is referenced in this video. Live And Let Die was the first Bond film where Barry didn’t participate at all. Paul McCartney would write the title song with his wife Linda. But, as this 2006 U.K. television special notes, McCartney, himself a musical legend, knew he was filling some pretty big shoes. George Martin provides the anecdote, starting around the 1:45 mark and running just past the 2:00 mark:

Fans can judge for themselves whether McCartney succeeded but the story indicates that Barry had created a classic movie music template — and everybody in the business knew it. Marvin Hamlisch, in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, virtually adapted Barry’s pre-title music in the second 007 film, From Russia With Love. Queue up the scene where Bond and Agent XXX look for Jaws in some ancient Egyptian ruins, then listen to the FRWL pre-titles music.

John Barry lived almost four-score years, won five Academy Awards for his film music (although none for his Bond work) and wrote many memorable movie songs and themes. By any standard, that’s a good life, a fabulous life. His fans, though, can’t help but wishing they could witness him conducting his music just one more time.