Archive for September 15th, 2012

September 15, 2012


John Barry’s “James Bond Theme” music is instantly recognizable and has stood the test of time. The British composer, who died in early 2011, wrote the scores for 11 Bond movies between the 1960s and ’80s and the opening theme songs for “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball.” Other non-Bond film projects for Barry included “The Lion In Winter,” “Born Free” and “Out of Africa.”

In a 1999 interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, Barry commented, “Every time [Sean Connery] says, ‘I’m Bond — James Bond,’ it laid [the music] in all over the damn place. And it worked. I mean, with film there’s no middle ground, you know. It either works or it doesn’t. There’s no, ‘Well, it works a little.’ A good score is a score that really works 100 percent, where you just hit all the buttons.”

Well said! While recently watching the 1977 blockbuster “The Spy Who Loved Me” (starring Roger Moore as James Bond), I was amused by the opening scenes with a rather cheesy disco version of the familiar Bond theme. It was based on Barry’s original composition but this time, it was called “Bond 77.” Listening to this in 2012, it was a bit odd, but there was no mistaking that this was a re-working of the original Bond theme — which still worked!

I was also surprised to discover that Marvin Hamlisch, who has always seemed to me like more of a pop songwriter, composed the score for this particular Bond movie, although he certainly incorporated John Barry’s iconic theme music. Hamlisch also co-wrote, with Carole Bayer Sager, the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better” (famously performed by Carly Simon) which includes the line, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Other scenes from “The Spy Who Loved Me” incorporated classical works by Bach and Mozart, as well as Maurice Jarre’s haunting “Lawrence of Arabia” theme. When you think about it, this was one wacky film score. Disco, pop, classical, “Lawrence of Arabia,” etc. And yet it worked!

This type of variety is something that I have been studying and practicing lately. Throughout my career, I have composed music in several styles. But the past two years at IGT have really forced me to learn how to compose and arrange music in almost any style. That challenge is one of the reasons why I love my job.

At its core, music needs to set a mood, support the story being told and take you somewhere. I usually start with a single instrument and sketch out a direction that will eventually become the basis for the entire piece. As with any creative endeavor, this process can take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours or even days. But this is the most critical part of composing. If you have something that translates and resonates to the listener, even if it isn’t fully produced, you’ve succeeded. Once happy with the direction, I’ll continue to arrange, orchestrate and produce the entire final piece.

As an experiment, I recently took one of my cues and created separate orchestral, rock and acoustic instrument versions. Surprisingly, the original musical idea was still intact and had the same emotional effect, despite being presented in three dramatically different styles. Because of this, I’ll be doing a lot more brainstorming about how this idea can be used to entertain.

John Barry’s Bond theme is one of those incredibly well-written pieces of music that can be arranged and produced in a lot of different ways. Even when turned into a disco version of itself, it still imparts adventure, intrigue and action that is undeniably James Bond. With regard to “the music either works or it doesn’t,” this music is a shining example of what works.