John Barry

The Name is Barry, John Barry by Claudio Fuiano
Originally published in Il Giaguaro in Lounge No. 8, 2002
Text reproduced by kind permission of the author Claudio Fuiano

John Barry at his piano in 1967, the year both Born Free and You Only Live Twice

Act I: Origins of a musical genius

In inaugurating a gallery of famous musicians, one couldn’t pick a better candidate than John Barry. His name is intricately tied to Lounge Music, thanks mainly to his memorable themes and musical atmospheres created for the James Bond movies, which exploded internationally in the early Sixties. John Barry (whose full name is John Barry Prendergast) was born in York on the third of November, 1933. As a child his parents provided him two things that would be crucial to his career choice; classical piano studies and his father’s movie theater chain. John Barry developed his musical talent by playing the piano and the trumpet, and his love for film was already obvious during his childhood years: his biggest dream was to become a composer for cinema. At the age of 14 his favorite song was ‘The Sheikh of Araby’, which he loved listening to while he worked in his father’s movie theaters as projectionist. During that same period he had seen A SONG TO REMEMBER, a film featuring Paul Muni on the life of Chopin: it was this movie that inspired his future as a composer.

The young John was an avid fan of films like THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and its soundtrack by Max Steiner, and THE THIRD MAN, which John Barry found fascinating for its innovative score, the bare sound of a zither. Barry passed a two-year military service in a regiment based in Malta and Cyprus. There, he was fortunate enough to join a group of musicians with whom he experimented in all sorts of arrangements, besides taking a composition course through correspondence. After leaving the army, John Barry started a Rock ‘n’ Roll band called ‘The John Barry Seven’. After several concerts and TV appearances, he signed a contract with the EMI Parlophone label, with which he made records and played concerts. In 1960, he was signed for the first time as composer for the movie BEAL GIRL, characterized by Rock ‘n’ Roll songs. His next effort was to write ‘The Amorous Prawn’, and he also released one of his best albums, ‘Stringbeat’. The last time John Barry and his band, The John Barry Seven, worked together was during the recording of The James Bond Theme, in 1962, the year in which what was to become one of film’s greatest musicians met the world’s top secret agent.

Act II: How John Barry became James Bond’s best friend for twenty five years

John Barry 1969John Barry’s destiny changed forever one evening when he received an unexpected call from Noel Rogers, head of United Artists Music, in London. Rogers asked Barry if he would be interested in arranging the theme for a new film titled DR. NO. According to reliable sources, producers Broccoli and Saltzman weren’t happy at all with the version arranged by composer Monty Norman. Unfortunately, there was very little time to redo everything, including the recording. That same weekend, Barry worked on the theme after having heard the version by Monty Norman (who was recording the film’s orchestral score, dominated by symphonic variations on ‘The James Bond Theme’). To this tune, he would add a Henry Mancini of ‘Peter Gunn’-style sound, especially regarding the use of the bass guitar. The team used for the recording was made up of five saxophones, nine horns, an electric guitar and a rhythm section, with no string section. Had things gone differently, nowadays the Bond saga would have had ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’ as its leitmotif, as this was also in DR. NO and Monty Norman wanted to use it as James Bond’s theme. The recording took place in the Abbey Road studios, where a nervously meticulous John Barry prepared the entire arrangement before the session itself. Legendary guitarist Vic Flick played the Clifford Essex acoustic guitar through a Fender Vibrolux amplifier, and created the hard sound which has characterized ‘The James Bond Theme’ for forty years. The single was pressed in Great Britain and quickly shot up the charts: it was initially released in mono, but a stereo version was later recorded, too.

Even though the DR. NO orchestra score had been commissioned to Monty Norman, in 1963 Barry was hired to compose and direct the symphonic score for the second James Bond movie, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Initially, some people wanted Lionel Bart to compose the music, but Albert Broccoli himself demanded John Barry write the score, although the young musician had no experience in film scoring. Lionel Bart was a well-known song writer, and his fame would have made the second James Bond movie producers feel more at ease, but since an instrumental version of the song was chosen for the opening credits, John Barry was forced to come up with one of his amazing arrangements. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE also marked the birth of another famous tune, this time written by John Barry: ‘The 007 Theme’, the driving, open and epic track which the composer later used for other Bond movies. Barry felt the need to create this track so as to have his own identity on the screen, next to the typical credit “The James Bond Theme written by Monty Norman.” The album includes the film’s most important themes (although over half an hour of music is missing), such as the vocal version of the ‘Main Theme’, performed by Matt Monro. Also present is a wonderful theme titled ‘The Golden Horn’, which was never included in the movie, and there are several tracks featuring the guitar sound of Vic Flick, who, after having left The John Barry Seven, became one of Barry’s faithful collaborators on several James Bond sessions.

In 1964, the third James Bond movie, GOLDFINGER, was released. The score for GOLDFINGER is among John Barry’s personal favorites and, of course, includes the most famous of 007 title songs. Sung by twenty seven year-old Shirley Bassey, ‘Goldfinger’ reached number 21 for nine weeks even hit number one in the Japanese hit parade (note that the single version is different from the ones on the album and film), Three people wrote the title song: music by Barry and lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. In a peculiar event: every Friday, John Barry would dine at Leslie Bricusse’s The Pickwick Club restaurant, together with his close friends Michael Caine and Terence Stamp. In a recent biography, actor Michael Caine said that one night he had stayed up listening to John Barry compose a tune on the piano… the tune which would later become ‘Goldfinger’. The sales of the album, on United Artists Records, went well in the UK, but in the United States it was an unprecedented success. The figures speak for themselves, if we consider that this soundtrack album was even able to top The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ in the charts! In 1965, John Barry won the gold record for the one million dollars obtained through the record’s sales, which then became two million in six weeks. The score even earned a Grammy nomination. The US and British editions are different, since on the British one there are four selections missing, which only appeared on the US album, while the UK record includes the instrumental version exclusively, not present on the American one.

In 1965, THUNDERBALL was released. With the help of lyricist Leslie Bricusse, Barry wrote a song called ‘Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ for which the producers decided to hire another top vocalist Dionne Warwick, after having discarded the version sung by Shirley Bassey. Not even this second performance was deemed fit (the lucky owners of the rare THUNDERBALL twentieth anniversary Laser Disc box set can see the opening titles with the alternative version of Warwick’s version of the theme song, recorded on a secondary audio track)! Finally, production decided it wanted a song titled ‘Thunderball’ and the lyrics were assigned to twenty-seven year-old Don Black, with whom Barry worked for a very long time. Tom Jones sung the track with vigor and energy, and to this day this song is among the ones preferred by James Bond fans. Based on the main thence, Barry wrote a symphonic score which was then proposed with variations in the score. Barry composed a sort of “marine music.” It was magical, mysterious and rarefied, and relied on strings, a celeste and a harp. And even though it was eliminated from the opening credits. ‘Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ appears in various arrangements in the score. In 1992, for the 30th anniversary, a “Best of James Bond” double CD was released featuring several rarities, including the unused ‘Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ versions by Shirley Bassey and Dionne Warwick and approximately half an hour of unreleased music, which hadn’t been included on the original version of the album. Another rarity is the alternative instrumental version of ‘Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ which had been included on certain mono copies of the American album, and is totally different from the better known, more orchestral version.

In 1967, John Barry wrote the title song and the symphonic score for YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, a sort of swan song for Sean Connery, who would leave the series after five, highly successful movies. For Barry, keenly studious of international musical traditions, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE represented the opportunity to create an oriental-style score since the film was set in Japan. According to Barry, the film’s leitmotif, sung by Nancy Sinatra, had to be softer, more romantic and less aggressive compared to THUNDERBALL. Leslie Bricusse had written the words but, according to recent news, a song had been recorded to be included in the film’s final cut (the track was mistakenly taken for a demo, and is available on the double CD The James Bond 30th Anniversary Limited Edition) as opening credits performed by Julie Rogers (famous in Italy for Piero Piccioni’s ‘You Never Told Mei from the film FUMO DI LONDRA), but the version featuring Nancy Sinatra was chosen. The score was recorded in the CTS studios, where the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed all the musical takes (only half of the music is available on the original record). John Barry composed calm, romantic and sometimes moving tunes, all of which were tied to the leitmotif of the titles, and used Japanese instruments to create the atmosphere, although there also are ‘James Bond Theme’ variations, performed in a dramatic and aggressive way.

1969 was the year of ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, considered John Barry’s musical masterpiece by many James Bond fans. Sean Connery had left his position vacant and George Lazenby, a thirty year-old Australian model who had worked in TV commercials, was chosen for the Bond part. This 007 adventure is adored by fans as the only movie which reveals James Bond’s human side; he gets married only to lose his wife Teresa. John Barry wrote a beautiful love theme called ‘We Have All the Time in the World’, a title taken directly from a phrase by Ian Fleming. Hal David wrote the lyrics and its success was decreed by the famous voice of Louis Armstrong, at the suggestion of Barry himself to producers Broccoli and Saltzman. Armstrong had just recently left the hospital after a long illness but, nevertheless, he agreed to sing the song. Not being able to travel to Europe for the recording session, John Barry and Hal David flew to America, to record the track in New York. The song was huge success: in Italy, it was number one for nine months. The orchestra score was recorded in the CTS Studios, as usual, and the original album includes the score’s highlights. Unfortunately, some important selections are missing which may be published someday on CD. Apparently, John Barry became angry with producer Harry Saltzman due to artistic differences regarding the main theme to DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the seventh 007 movie with music by Barry, which also saw the return of Sean Connery as James Bond, Shirley Bassey recorded the title song during a midnight recording session at CTS. Barry’s anger was due to Saltzman’s scores on the lyrics, which he considered scandalously “dirty.” Barry’s score for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, besides the variations on the main theme, was characterized by some very violent and dramatic passages to describe the action scenes. The original album also features several Lounge-type tracks to describe life in the Las Vegas casinos (and several symphonic tracks were not included on the album, at the time).

Perhaps due to his engagements and his anger towards Saltzman, in 1973 John Barry didn’t write the music to LIVE AND LET DIE, which started the Roger Moore era as James Bond. In his place, George Martin, former arranger and producer for the Beatles, wrote and conducted the score, while the title song was composed and sung by Paul McCartney and Wings.

In only three weeks, John Barry wrote, directed and recorded the music to 1974s second movie featuring Roger Moore, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. The score was one of Barry’s most interesting works, and was tied to the title song sung by Lulu (reliable sources later revealed how much John Barry hated this track). Also included was a wild Jazz version of the main theme, recorded specifically for the album, which didn’t appear in the movie.

John Barry dismissed himself from James Bond for five years, being busy with other soundtracks and perhaps tired of accompanying musically the adventures of the tireless secret agent. Only in 1979 did he return to the world of Bond, by writing the music for MOONRAKER. (It had been preceded in 1977 by THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote its theme song, ‘Nobody Does it Better’, a huge hit by Carly Simon.) For MOONRAKER, Shirley Bassey interpreted the romantic title song for the third time, and the music included some of the most beautiful melodies ever written by Barry, such as the space music for orchestra and chorus. Due to a strange anomaly in Bond’s record history, the album doesn’t include a note of the ‘James Bond Theme’ although it was used as background in action scenes such the pre-titles sequence and the gondola chase in Venice.

Bill Conti was recommended by Barry himself for the soundtrack to 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, the fifth movie with Roger Moore as James Bond, but eventually Barry returned to the 007 franchise with OCTOPUSSY in 1985, in 1985 on A VIEW TO A KILL 1985, and THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in 1987; the titles songs were performed, respectively, by Rita Coolidge, Duran Duran and A-Ha.

For the past fifteen years now, John Barry and James Bond haven’t met, but the memory of twenty-five years spent together as old friends remains. John Barry’s sound for James Bond is immortal and unforgettable, and it is in honor of this alliance that Il Giaguaro pays tribute to the only man who truly possesses the License To Compose for 007.

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