Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Margaret Nolan, Bond’s ‘Golden Girl,’ dies

Margaret Nolan, an actress who appeared in Goldfinger and A Hard Day’s Night, has died, according to director Edgar Wright.

Wright reported her passing on Twitter:

Nolan was 76, according to her entry on Wikipedia.

Nolan had a small role as Dink in Goldfinger, a woman James Bond (Sean Connery) meets in Goldfinger. But it was the film’s main titles, designed by Robert Brownjohn, where Nolan made her biggest impact.

In Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel, Auric Goldfinger has a fetish of having women painted gold. Brownjohn jumped on the idea for his main titles. Nolan, clad in a bikini, was painted gold, with scenes from the movie (as well as scenes from Dr. No and From Russia With Love) projected onto her body.

Brownjohn’s visuals of Nolan coupled with the title song written by John Barry and lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, helped make Goldfinger a huge hit. The lyrics referred to a “Golden Girl.” Both the song and the images captured the imaginations of audiences in 1964.

She also had a small role in A Hard Day’s Night starring The Beatles. Bond fans could spot her instantly.

Below is an image from her brief appearance in Goldfinger outside of the main titles.

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”

And below is one of the Goldfinger posters with the Nolan image.

Goldfinger poster

UPDATE (Oct. 12): The official 007 Twitter feed took note of Nolan’s passing this morning.

A modest proposal for any official 007 50th anniversary gala

James Bond fans worldwide have been chatting this week since Tom Jones performed the title song from Thunderball at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts 2012 awards show the other night. Most readers of this blog have already seen it plenty, but just in case, here it is again:

Jones really made an impact with the audience of celebrities. What could possibly top that?

Well, how about if there really is a 50th anniversary gala — particularly if such a gathering could really bring the six 007 film actors together — having Jones perform with Shirley Bassey and Nancy Sinantra? That way you could bring the surviving performers of the major James Bond title songs from the first decade of the 007 film series. Bassey’s performance of Goldfinger (written by Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) set the standard. Jones’s Thunderball (Barry and Don Black) was a worthy follow-up and You Only Live Twice (Barry and Bricusse) is one of the most memorable of the series.

We have no idea if this idea is practical. But if it could be pulled off having that trio would make a 50th anniversary gala special. Bassey performed last year at a memorial concert for John Barry. Jones showed at BAFTA he’s going strong. We don’t know if Sinatra would be interested, but it would merit an inquiry if a big 007 gala takes place.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary: even Michael Jackson wanted to get into the act?

Over at Examiner.com, they’re running a story saying Michael Jackson had wanted to perform the song Goldfinger. The quoted source for this? None other than Shirley Bassey, who became a star performing the title song of Goldfinger, first released in the U.K. in September 1964 and in the U.S. in December of that year.

A sample of the article:

Although Michael Jackson never had the opportunity to perform Goldfinger during a concert at London’s O2 Arena, Shirley Bassey had grown close to Michael Jackson and actually looked forward to hearing the King of Pop perform her most famous of the three James Bond theme songs she provided for the legendary film franchise.

“He loved Goldfinger and had said he wanted to do Goldfinger in his next show,” revealed Bassey.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (cont.): the first hit 007 song

Nearly 45 years after it was introduced, Goldfinger’s title song still resonates with the public. As we’ve written about before, the song was nearly killed because co-producer Harry Saltzman hated it. But there was no time to record a replacement. So it remained and became a big hit.

The previous 007 film, From Russia With Love, had a title song but the main titles used an instrumental version coupled with the James Bond Theme. The Matt Monro performed vocal version was used in the middle of the movie (supposedly playing on a radio) and in the end titles. Thus, Goldfinger was the first 007 to have a song play in the main titles. Goldfinger was also composer John Barry’s first opportunity to write a title song for the series. He had arranged the James Bond Theme in Dr. No and composed the dramatic music for From Russia With Love while Lionel Bart wrote that film’s title song.

This time, Barry teamed up with lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Meanwhile Robert Brownjohn designed titles where scenes from the movie (along with an outtake from From Russia With Love and a shot from Dr. No) were projected over actress Margaret Nolan, who played Dink in the film (the character Sean Connery slaps on the rump). The results can be seen in this video:

That’s not the end of the story, though. In 1992, an alternate version of the song surfaced as part of a CD celebrating the 30th anniversary of James Bond’s film debut. Anthony Newley, co-writer of the lyrics, had given it a try with an alternate arrangement of the music:

For John Barry, Goldfinger would become part of a spectacular career scoring movies. In 2001, Barry conducted an orchestra playing an instrumental version of the song, which sounds similar to the sequence in the film where Bond drives the Aston Martin in the Swiss Alps. Take a look:

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Countdown to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary part I

Whether you like the movie or not, Goldfinger in 1964 was the first mega-007 hit. There may be better Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service come to mind), but Goldfinger made James Bond a cinema super star.

Next month is the 45th anniversary of the film’s world premier. In honor of that upcoming anniversary, we begin with a 1970s rendition of the title song by Shirley Bassey. Clips of this performance were used in a 2006 U.K. TV special that named Goldfinger the most popular 007 song. Here’s the entire clip: