Soundtrack Review: Goldfinger

Composed by: John Barry

James Bond already had two films, but 1964’s Goldfinger is what turned him into both a pop culture icon and ensured a still ongoing movie series. There was an intriguing plot involving a theft of the gold vaults at Fort Knox, the hat-throwing henchman Oddjob, and the popular, bombastic theme song sung by Shirley Bassey. I think, for all the great elements it has, the film is a bit overrated thanks to a heavy dosage of Bond villain stupidity, but its score surely isn’t. John Barry returned and established himself as the primary Bond composer. Finalizing the formula for these soundtracks, the main song was played during the opening credits.

This is a near-monothematic entry. Outside of the James Bond theme, most of the motifs are just variations of the same tune derived from “Goldfinger”. This big, brassy number serves as a fanfare for the titular villain. The lyrics don’t have much variation, but the tune and Bassey’s singing voice more than make up for this. Even the James Bond theme, showcased this time in “Bond Back in Action Again”, is woven into the title song and thus is woven into the film’s theme in most of its appearances. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: From Russia with Love

Composed by: John Barry

The soundtrack for Dr. No by Monty Norman consisted of mainly Jamaican source music and didn’t feature much in the way of orchestral score, the one track for the James Bond theme being the only highlight on the whole album. John Barry, who had helped arrange the theme (and may have even created it himself), was chosen as the composer for From Russia with Love, based on what is considered to be the best James Bond novel and also considered as one of the best of the movies. Just as that movie further steered the franchise into its successful formula, John Barry moved the music into more familiar territory.

This is the first of the films to have a theme song that has its tune incorporated into the score. “From Russia with Love” is a love song that actually plays in the middle of the movie as opposed to over the opening credits. As a love song, its main tune is usually used as a love theme as heard in “Bond Meets Tania”. It does get usage in a couple other ways, playing mournfully in “Death of Kerim”.

The opening titles themselves are scored with an instrumental number, a fast-paced, percussion-backed cue that starts with a bombastic motif. David Arnold would later use this motif in his soundtracks for the Pierce Brosnan entries. An instrumental version of the song plays before segueing into the James Bond theme, and the opening motif returns to close it out.

The other highlight is the 007 theme, an alternate theme for James Bond devised by John Barry. It has hints of peril, but is otherwise more light-hearted than the more popular Bond theme. It would become a secondary theme for Sean Connery’s Bond, playing in all of his next entries except Goldfinger. I like this theme a lot, and would love to see another composer bring it back with a twist.

The rest of the music is not that great, but it’s a step above Dr. No’s score. There’s a little motif for evil organization Spectre that underscores their manipulative villainy and pops up fairly often (“Spectre Island”). There’s also a bit of source-style music as with Dr. No (“Guitar Lament”, “Leila Dances”), but they don’t drive out the orchestral cues. The James Bond theme itself starts to appear more in the underscore, but outside of “Opening Titles” it’s only major performance is “James Bond with Bongos”, which of course ends with some bongo beats.

This is a nice score, but pales in comparison to the most of John Barry’s  other Bond scores. Some of the underscore isn’t all too interesting either. But by no means skip it. It’s got some amazing highlights in “Opening Titles” and “007” and a solid main theme.

Rating: 7/10

  1. Opening Titles: James Bond is Back/From Russia with Love//James Bond Theme (2:24)
  2. Tania Meets Klebb (1:27)
  3. Meeting in St. Sophia (1:08)
  4. The Golden Horn (2:28)
  5. Girl Trouble (2:25)
  6. Bond Meets Tania (1:18)
  7. 007 (2:45)
  8. Gypsy Camp (1:15)
  9. Death of Grant (2:00)
  10. From Russia with Love (sung by Matt Munro) (2:35)
  11. Spectre Island (1:15)
  12. Guitar Lament (1:09)
  13. Man Overboard-Smersh in Action (2:18)
  14. James Bond with Bongos (2:29)
  15. Stalking (2:01)
  16. Leila Dances (1:57)
  17. Death of Kerim (2:29)
  18. 007 Takes the Lektor (3:00)

Soundtrack Review: Dr. No

 

Composed by: Monty Norman (with an assist from John Barry)

Dr. No is the sixth novel in Ian Fleming’s series of spy novels, but the first in the James Bond film series. It didn’t quite have the formula of the series down yet. There was no pre-credits sequence, no frustrated Q, and no fantastic gadgets. Also different was the outlook of the music. Compared to the big brassy and romantic scores that John Barry would make the norm, Dr. No’s score is almost entirely made up of Jamaican and Caribbean style music, much of it acting as source cues. There’s not even a proper theme song, a surety in following Bond films. The opening titles are comprised of four different tracks, cut and edited together in abrupt fashion.

The one piece of music that should please fans of the franchise’s music is the first track, “James Bond Theme”. What new can be said about this, one of the greatest themes ever? It evokes coolness, danger, and sexiness (and at times heroism). It’s the ultimate spy theme. The actual creation of the theme is without controversy. The composer for Dr. No, Monty Norman, has always been credited with its creation in every film, and still receives royalties for its frequent use outside the movies. John Barry, composer of nearly a dozen James Bond movies, claimed that he wrote the theme. It is not known if this is true, but he did arrange the theme in its jazzy form. Continue reading

The Gods and Goddesses of Canaan

When I started getting an interest in mythology, I started to think about the references to other gods in the Bible. I was curious to learn more about Baal and Asherah and Moloch, gods who were worshipped by the Canaanites and their neighbors and found continued devotion in the Israelites, who were always proving themselves unfaithful to their singular God. Not much information is actually known about Canaanite mythology outside of a few incomplete texts found at the site of Ugarit in Syria. I’ve decided to give a short overview of the Canaanite deities (as well as a couple human characters). I’ll give more information on those mentioned in the Bible or in the epic Baal Cycle. Continue reading

Top Ten Norse/Germanic Gods and Goddesses

Of all the mythologies, that of the Norse is second to the Greeks’ in terms of influence on western civilization, though in the last couple centuries Egyptian mythology has challenged it in the popularity rankings. The recent Marvel superhero movies have certainly helped with the Thor franchise, though the Valkyries and several of the gods and heroes have long captured public imagination thanks to the operas of Wagner. Before listing the gods, I should give a little background in how they are organized. There are two pantheons of gods: the Aesir and Vanir. There really isn’t too much of a difference between them, though the Aesir appear to be more prominent as in addition to ruling Asgard, they have the king-god Odin. According to myths, the Aesir and Vanir warred for a while before coming up with a treaty. Both Aesir and Vanir deities were worshipped by the Norse peoples. There are also deities outside of these two groups, more monster than man, such as the dragon Nidhogg and the serpent Jormungandr. The prophecy of Ragnarok claims that almost all of the gods will die in a a great final battle against the giants and a host of monsters, including Loki. This list may cover bits of German mythology, as the Germanic peoples virtually worshipped the same gods under different names.

10th. Freyr

A Vanir, Freyr is the son of sea god Njord and brother of  Freyja (a love and fertility goddess who giants and monsters are constantly trying to force into marriage). Freyr and Freyja moved to Asgard following the ending of the Aesir-Vanir war to ensure peace. Freyr and Freyja are both beautiful gods, and both oversee fertility, as well as aspects of sexuality. Freyr himself is the god of male virility and good weather. Depictions of him often emphasize his phallus. He also owns a shining boar named Gullinbursti, who was literally fashioned by the dwarves using pig skin. Freyr once owned a magic sword that could fight on its own, but had to give it away. What brought this around was his love of the giantess Geror. He asked his servant Skirnir to get her on his behalf, but Skirnir demanded that he get the sword. Freyr agreed. This will come back to bite him later when he battles Surtur. Without his magic sword, he will fall before the fire giant. Continue reading