About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

Bond 25 questions: The composer edition

Hans Zimmer title card from Inception (2010),

Thanks to Variety (but still not announced), the word is out that Hans Zimmer is working on the score for No Time to Die. Naturally, the blog has a few questions.

Is it Zimmer or Hans Zimmer & Co.?

Hans Zimmer runs a company called Remote Control Productions. It has more than 60 affiliated composers. On a number of films (Dunkirk, Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises and Inception), Zimmer gets sole “music by” credit while of the Remote Control Productions composers get an “additional music” credit.

Those other composers have included Lorne Balfe and Junkie XL. The number of additional music composers varies from project to project.

On other occasions, including Blade Runner 2049 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zimmer has shared the main “music by” credit with another one of the Remote Control Productions composers. Benjamin Wallifisch shared the credit with Zimmer on Blade Runner 2049 while Junkie XL shared the Batman v Superman music credit.

How long has Zimmer been working on No Time to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website, in a story early today, said it “understands that orchestral sessions are currently being recorded” for the new Bond film. Mr. Obvious observation: That sounds like the score has been written, or at least partly written.

What happened to Dan Romer?

The Variety story said “creative differences” without providing more details. News that Romer was initially hired to score No Time to Die surfaced last year. He was listed in the crew in an August press release issued primarily because of the title reveal.

Presumably, Romer’s work didn’t please Eon Productions in some way. Meanwhile, Eon has been working with Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions for its upcoming non-Bond spy film The Rhythm Section. Zimmer is listed as executive music producer.

Why don’t they bring David Arnold back?

Arnold composed scores for five Bond films and is a fan favorite. But starting with Skyfall, Eon Productions has — at least initially — hired a composer chosen by the director.

Sam Mendes wanted Thomas Newman and got him. Romer had worked on some previous projects of No Time to Die director Cary Fukunaga.

In the end, any composer is a hired hand when it comes to the family-run Bond films. Marvin Hamlisch got two Oscar nominations for The Spy Who Loved Me but was never asked back into Bondage.

Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, Spy was that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won. 

Peter O’Toole dies; his minor 007 connection

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O'Toole in 1967's Casino Royale

A pair of Peters: Sellers and O’Toole in 1967’s Casino Royale

Peter O’Toole has died at 81. His stellar career included one very, very minor James Bond connection: an unbilled cameo in producer Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

We’d try to explain, but it’s really not worth it. Feldman signed up a lot of famous actors for his over-the-top comedy. The producer opted to go the spoof route after being unable to cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli (a former employee) and Harry Saltzman, who held the film rights to the bulk of the Ian Fleming 007 stories.

O’Toole in various obituaries (including THE GUARDIAN, VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER) understandably emphasized his role as the title character in Lawrence of Arabia.

That 1962 film, directed by David Lean, had a crew that would have a greater impact on the film world of James Bond: director of photography Freddie Young (You Only Live Twice), camera operator Ernie Day (who’d be a second unit director on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and special effects man Cliff Richardson, the father of John Richardson, who’d work special effects on several Bond movies.

Also, Spy’s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, included a snippet of Maurice Jarre’s main theme for Lawrence for a scene set in the Eyptian desert.

From Russia With Love’s 50th anniversary Part II: John Barry

John Barry

John Barry

John Barry wasn’t a happy man after Dr. No came out in 1962.

Barry had arranged and revamped Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. He thought the piece would only be in Dr. No’s main titles. Instead, it was inserted by editor Peter Hunt throughout much of the movie.

With the second 007 film, From Russia With Love, “John Barry’s irritation at seeing his work all over the film of Dr. No would soon turn to elation,” author Jon Burlingame wrote in his 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. Barry got the job of scoring the new 007 film and, in the process, established the Bond movie music template.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Lionel Bart to write the title song. But Barry would score provided all the dramatic music.

Barry’s impact was evident immediately. Dr. No’s gunbarrel logo utilized electronic noises. Barry instead used an arrangement of Bond theme. The pre-credits sequence, where where assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) kills a Bond double during a training exercise, was heightened by Barry’s music. In 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, composer Marvin Hamlisch did an homage to Barry’s work where Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are searching for Jaws amid Egyptian ruins. (CLICK HERE to see a Stuart Basinger-produced video comparing the two scenes.)

Barry’s work on From Russia With Love was the beginning of the James Bond sound.

“The 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor,” Burlingame said in a 2012 E-MAIL INTERVIEW WITH THE HMSS WEBLOG about his book. “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.”

Barry also composed what amounted to a second Bond theme, simply titled 007. It was used during two action sequences: A big fight between Bulgarians and gypsies working for MI6 and when Bond snatches a Russian decoding machine out of the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. Barry would end up bringing the 007 theme back in four more movies, the last being 1979’s Moonraker.

For the composer, this was just the beginning. He scored 10 more Bond movies and become one of the most sought-after composers in the movies. Remarkably, his Bond work never got an Oscar nomination. But he won five Oscars for non-007 films starting with 1967’s Born Free and ending with 1990’s Dances With Wolves.

Meanwhile, Barry’s template was something other composers had to keep in mind when they worked on 007 films. In the 1990s, David Arnold, a Barry admirer, produced new takes on classic Barry 007 songs. That helped him to secure work on five Bond films, making him the only composer so far besides Barry to work on more than one 007 film.

NEXT: Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as Q

January 2011 post: JOHN BARRY, AN APPRECIATION

September 2012 post: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

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.