Soundtrack Review: Moonraker

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Composed and conducted by: John Barry

One of the last James Bond novels to be adapted to film was Moonraker. The timing was perfect since Star Wars had sparked a science-fiction craze a couple of years earlier. Its more realistic plot of a madman planning to fire a single earth-to-earth rocket was of course adjusted to feature an actual space station and laser battles in the climax. The villain of the Moonraker film plots to kill off earth’s human population and repopulate it with a genetically perfect remnant. As usual, James Bond and his love interests are there to stop him. Famed henchman Jaws also makes a comeback (though his menace is drastically neutered).

Despite continuing tax issues, John Barry was able to score Moonraker and here he provides one of his most out-of-the-box Bond scores, featuring choir and a heavier than normal dosage of romance. It is a surprisingly slow work to accompany such a wacky action film. Unfortunately, the album was not able to be expanded in its re-release and only a half-hour of music is available on the main soundtrack. This is frustrating because I think there was almost enough room on an LP to fit the entire score. There is a lot of random pairings of cues in the tracks, so it would take some editing software to rearrange the music chronologically if that’s a big deal for you. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Spy Who Loved Me

 

Composed by: Marvin Hamlisch

With the Bond series losing its touch, Eon Productions spent a little extra time and much more money to produce the next film, returning Bond to the level of earlier spectacles. The Spy Who Loved Me remains a large favorite of the series, introducing large lavish set pieces, some neat action, and the iconic sharp-toothed henchman Jaws. The plot concerns Bond and Soviet agent Anya’s efforts to stop an undersea madman from stealing nuclear submarines and then using their cargo to start a world war. John Barry could not score the film thanks to tax problems. Instead song-writer Marvin Hamlisch was signed on.

The best tune on the album is from the ridiculous yet striking “Nobody Does It Better”, sung by Carly Simon with perhaps the most suggestive lyrics of the franchise. Hamlisch doesn’t weave it into the score as well as Barry would, but it still receives a piano instrumental version and a reprise in the end titles. “Nobody Does It Better” remains one of the most popular Bond songs, but the score is not quite up to par. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Man with the Golden Gun

Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

The Man with the Golden Gun is considered a low-point of the James Bond franchise. Smaller in scale, and full of goofy humor, the 007 movies were veering into B-movie territory. It’s still a pretty fun film, its most redeeming element being Christopher Lee’s performance as hitman Francisco Scaramanga, the titular man with the golden gun. Despite his tax problems, John Barry was still able to score The Man with the Golden Gun, albeit on an incredibly tight schedule of under a month. This results in a competent score that falls short of his previous efforts.

Not helping is the main title song, which like the movie is not up to par with its predecessors. It’s a fast, bouncy song with some ridiculous lyrics. Lulu sings a different song with the same tune in “End Title”, which instead of focusing on how dangerous Scaramanga is, declares James Bond’s victory over him. Since he did not have much time to think up much melodies and motifs, Barry ends up using both the song’s tune and the James Bond theme in liberal doses. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Live and Let Die

Composed by: George Martin

The James Bond franchise underwent a radical change around the time of Connery’s departure. The films grew more light-hearted and goofy and the producers were having a hard time trying to find an actor who would stick to the series in the main role. Television star Roger Moore stepped up to the plate and would become the longest-running James Bond of the official series (Connery was in an equal number of films, but one of them was Never Say Never Again, which fell outside the main Eon Productions series). Live and Let Die takes a break from the epic world-ending plots of the previous films. This time James Bond is running around the Caribbean trying to end the machinations of petty dictator Kananga, meeting a virgin psychic, numerous swampland threats, and the unkillable Baron Samedi. Overall, it is considered a very fun film and doesn’t get the grilling of most of the Roger Moore offerings.

John Barry also started to disappear during the 1970s, with tax problems preventing him from coming to England to score many of the Moore films. This resulted in several composers having a one-film go at the series. In general, their scores have not aged well, even though Barry himself would sometimes utilize bits of popular contemporary music styles in his work. George Martin’s score certainly sounds straight out of the late sixties to early seventies, but it’s actually quite good. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: Diamonds are Forever

Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with Lazenby doing his only appearance as James Bond, was successful, but box office receipts were down from the previous two thanks to the casting of an unknown in the main role. With Lazenby declining a return thanks to terrible advice from his agent, the producers begged Sean Connery to come back. Wanting to raise money for a charity, the first film Bond accepted, knowing that a lot of said money would be earned. Diamonds Are Forever marks the official beginning of the more goofy and implausible era of Roger Moore’s James Bond, although Connery as said before is in this picture. Despite many ludicrous antics such as a moon buggy chase and Blofeld disguising himself as a woman, Barry delivered a strong musical score once again, and he would continue to do so even as the Bond films fell deeper into campy territory.

The main title song is sung by Shirley Bassey of Goldfinger fame and has a pretty nice tune, with a sparkling rhythm underscoring it. This sparkling rhythm always pleases when it backs up one of the themes in the soundtrack. It adds a haunting, mysterious atmosphere, which is odd because the movie isn’t like that at all. The main tune from the song isn’t too bad itself, and has a neat lounge-style instrumental appearance in track 6. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Composed and COonducted by: John Barry

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is unique among James Bond movies. It was the first to try to give 007 actual emotional depth. It has the only appearance of George Lazenby (whose performance is earnest but never gets as good as any of the other Bond actors) in the starring role. It does have many awesome chase sequences in a winter resort. With a new Bond, John Barry tried some new things with this score, mainly in adding electronics. The James Bond theme itself gets an electronic do-over in “This Never Happened to the Other Feller”.

Aside from Dr. No and From Russia with Love, OHMSS is the only Bond movie to not have a song during the opening credits. Instead there is the exciting and famous “Main Theme-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. This theme leads most of the action cues and receives a slower treatment in “Over and Out”. On a list of greatest Bond themes, this is definitely up there and even those “Best of Bond” song compilations include it. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: You Only Live Twice

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Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

You Only Live Twice showed heavy signs of the future spectacle-over-story Bond films. However, it is pretty restrained compared to the Moore offerings and offers what is considered be the most chilling representation of arch-villain Blofeld. John Barry ignored the silly elements of the movie in his music, as he would do with many of his 007 scores. His fourth score for the franchise shows a shift towards the romantic, and he would use this style in nearly all of his work afterwards.

The well-regarded and lovely title song is sung by Nancy Sinatra. It’s tune provides one of those themes that stays romantic in almost every way it is used, even when loud and fast-paced. Some interesting variations include a somber take in “Death of Aki” and a villainous slant in “Countdown for Blofeld”, but the one to single out as the best is “Mountains and Sunsets”, a straightforward sweeping romantic cue. You Only Live Twice also introduces one of John Barry’s most famous themes for the franchise, the Space March. It’s an ominous piece which builds on piano, bringing in a villainous motif that ends perilously. The most cited version of this theme is “Capsule in Space”, and it’s style, with ominous cadence and a fanfare, would be emulated by Barry himself in other space-related Bond films. Continue reading