Soundtrack Review: Licence to Kill

Composed and Conducted by: Michael Kamen

After cold war thrillers and super-weapon plots, James Bond took a break to battle criminals in Licence to Kill. After drug lord Sanchez (played by Robert Davi), feeds Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter to the sharks, 007 goes on a hunt for revenge. A radical, dark departure, the movie did not necessarily bomb, but underperformed in America. Not helping was some tough summer competition from Batman and the latest installments of Star Trek and Indiana Jones. The James Bond series would go hiatus for six years, the longest break between entries it would ever experience, while the producers at Eon tried to take a step back and figure out a way to rejuvenate the franchise.

John Barry was going to score Licence to Kill, but had to step out due to throat surgery. Stepping in was Michael Kamen, who had scored many of the latest big-hit action films such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. The result is far from satisfying. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: The Living Daylights

Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

When Roger Moore finally left the 007 series, a confusing search ensued for the new James Bond. Timothy Dalton was chosen first, but a television series he was working on prevented him from accepting the role. Pierce Brosnan was then hired, but the producers of the TV show he was on decided that they could attract higher ratings now that he had been announced as James Bond. By the time Brosnan was forced from the film, Timothy Dalton was easily available. The Living Daylights presented a more realistic and less comedic Bond, with less one-liners and no super-weapons. However, the villains are still use the oft-repeated plot of starting a world war, this time through the Russian-Mujaheddin War in Afghanistan.

This would be John Barry’s last 007 film, and it’s a fitting exit for him. This time there are no less than three songs that provide themes for the film. “The Living Daylights”, sung by the Swedish band a-ha, is a very exciting opener, trying to emulate the success of Duran Duran’s “View to a Kill”. I think I like Duran Duran’s song better, but this is still a cool piece. Although the main tune was provided by John Barry, he only uses it three times throughout the entire score, its most well known appearance being “Hercules Takes Off”. Continue reading

Soundtrack Review: A View to a Kill

Composed and Conducted by: John Barry

A View to a Kill marks the last appearance of Roger Moore as James Bond and is considered his worst film by many. Personally, I think it’s an alright movie. Roger Moore was definitely too old, but it’s no worse or sillier than Moonraker or Man with the Golden Gun. Christopher Walken and Grace Jones play weird, entertaining villains Max Zorin and May Day and the plot and many of the action scenes are enjoyable.

After being forced to use more of the James Bond theme and play to general expectations in Octopussy, John Barry was able to do more of what he wanted, creating another unique musical entry. The title song this time around is “View to a Kill”, an energetic 80s pop number by Duran Duran. After a string of love ballads it’s a nice, refreshing change of pace. Despite its high energy and electronic blasts, Barry prefers to use it in a softer, romantic manner when using its tune in the score. Despite numerous references, only two of them make it onto album, the tracks “Bond Meets Stacy” and “Wine with Stacy”. These tracks virtually play out the same, with the latter being a little deeper in sound. One of the most frustrating aspects of the album, which never got an extended release thanks to unavailable tapes, is that many interesting variations of the themes are missing. The most egregious example is a dramatic version often known as “Fanfare”. Also missing is a variation where a saxophone comes in to play a few notes. Continue reading

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)