Spotlight On: James Bond

Previously on Spotlight On, I took a look back at the music of Harry Potter and Batman, now it’s time for Bond…James Bond.

Not only is the Bond theme iconic, the overall sound and music is iconic as well.  With these scores we get solo efforts by Monty Norman, George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra and Thomas Newman.  Of course the bulk goes to David Arnold and the legendary John Barry

As Skyfall gets added to the list of films, let’s take a look back at 007 on the big screen and the music that goes with each film.

Dr. No (1962)
Music by Monty Norman
This is the score that started it all.  Featuring Norman’s James Bond Theme (as arranged by John Barry), and of course it set the standard with the gun barrel open.  The score itself isn’t much, but features a lot of Jamaican rhythms and music.  Overall a lackluster score, thankfully it gets better.  (Just listen to: James Bond Theme, The Island Speaks)  

From Russia With Love (1963)
Music by John Barry
With John Barry composing all the film’s music, the mold was set for many future scores.  This score is most prominent in first using the “007” theme.  (Just listen to: 007 Takes the Lektor, SPECTRE Island, Stalking, Girl Trouble)

Goldfinger (1964)
Music by John Barry
The Barry formula continued, with this soundtrack hitting number one on the U.S. charts.  The particularly brassy score is certainly a favorite.  (Just listen to: Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, The Laser Beam, Dawn Raid on Fort Knox)

Thunderball (1965)
Music by John Barry
Given the late title song change, the film features several renditions of the older theme “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”.  Even with the late change, Barry incorporated the new title song “Thunderball” into a few moments of the score.  The score heavily features the underwater theme, and also includes the “007” theme.  (Just listen to: Search for the Vulcan, Death of Fiona, Underwater Mayhem/Death of Largo/End Titles)

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Music by John Barry
Barry’s skill at changing motifs and themes for their locations is apparent in this film, with Bond in Japan.  The other notable theme is the Capsules in Space.  (Just listen to: Capsules in Space, Bond Averts World War Three, Aki, Tiger and Osato) 

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Music by John Barry
This film doesn’t feature “007” or much of the Bond Theme.  Instead we get the gripping new theme for the film, a personal favorite of the series.  And one of the most lyrical title songs gets some great instrumental renditions.  One of the first film scores to feature the Moog synthesizer.  (Just listen to: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, We Have All the Time in the World (instrumental), Battle at Piz Gloria)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Music by John Barry
Not quite a Barry standout score, it does feature a bevy of action music and suave lounge-like cues.  (Just listen to: Moon Buggy Ride, Slumber Inc, To Hell with Blofeld)

Live and Let Die (1973)
Music by George Martin
With John Barry on a Bond-hiatus, he handed the score to Beatle-producer George Martin.  One of the least memorable scores, it suffers from the Blaxploitation nature and 1970s style.  (Just listen to: Bond Meets Solitaire, Fillet of Soul – New Orleans/Live and Let Die/Fillet of Soul – Harlem)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Music by John Barry
One of Barry’s weaker scores (for one of the weaker films).  The score features some Asian inspired moments and the bursts of the instrumental title theme fit well into the score.  (Just listen to: Scaramanga's Fun House, Goodnight Goodnight, In Search of Scaramanga's Island)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
This time American composer Hamlisch stepped in for Barry (who was unable because of UK tax reasons).  The score is very reminiscent of past Barry’s score From Russia with Love.  Another product of its time, the film features electric instruments and is dripping with disco.  (Just listen to: Bond ’77, Nobody Does It Better)

The James Bond scores continue after the jump.

Moonraker (1979)
Music by John Barry
Barry returned with a new approach that featured more lush strings and horns than past scores.  The action cues are a bit slower, Barry’s “007” theme appears in the film.  Like the film, the score is pretty but unmemorable.  (Just listen to: Flight into Space, Bond Arrives in Rio and Boat Chase)    

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Music by Bill Conti
With Barry gone again with tax reasons, Conti was recommended.  The score is full of disco-esque sounds.  Conti use of synthesizers, electric guitars and funk beats instantly give the score a dated sound nowadays.  The score does feature some great spy material and the great title song works even better in its instrumental settings.  (Just listen to: A Drive in the Country, Take Me Home, For Your Eyes Only)

Octopussy (1983)
Music by John Barry
Barry returned with Octopussy, getting a mix of lush strings, but overall a toned down score.  The score features plenty of low woodwinds, giving it a nice suspenseful sound.  Not the score to listen to if you want big action cues.  (Just listen to: Bond Meets Octopussy, The Chase Bond Theme)

A View to a Kill (1985)
Music by John Barry
Speaking of excitement, A View to a Kill's action music is the best feature of the film.  The brass and electric guitars come out more in the score, giving the action cues a punch.  (Just listen to: Snow Job, May Day Jumps, He's Dangerous, Golden Gate Fight)

The Living Daylights (1987)
Music by John Barry
Barry's last score is a highlight of the 80's Bond scores.  Barry blended popular 80's electronics to compliment the full orchestras, but doesn't rely on them.  Kara's theme gets nice flute renditions in the second half of the score.  One of the better scores from the era.  (Just listen to Ice Chase, Kara Meets Bond, Hercules Takes Off, Air Bond)

Licence to Kill (1989)
Music by Michael Kamen
Becoming the master of 80's action films, it was no surprise Kamen met Bond.  There are plenty of Barry-eque moments, with Kamen also bringing his own style.  Certainly the addition of Latin guitar in the score one such difference.  Not a top score, but not bad.  (Just listen to: Pam, Licence Revoked)

GoldenEye (1995)
Music by Eric Serra
As Bond moved to the 90's with a new face, the score got a face lift   Unfortunately, this electronic mess didn't pan out.  Also included is a pretty terrible version of the Bond theme.  Some melodic Barry-esque stuff rises to the top of the electronic percussion mess.  One of the score's best moments was written by arranger/conductor John Altman.  Of course Serra's version is on the album.  (Just listen to: The GoldenEye Overture, The Severnaya Suite, A Pleasant Drive in St. Petersburg (Serra's version for comparison))

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Music by David Arnold
After the Eric Serra disaster, producers got David Arnold.  The score is the boldest and brassiest since Barry's heyday.  The score is certainly spiced up with great orchestral arrangements, great renditions of the Bond theme as well as techno elements that work.  David Arnold's introduction is a hit.  (Just listen to: White Knight, Company Car, Paris and Bond, Backseat Driver, Bike Chase)    

The World is Not Enough (1999)
Music by David Arnold
Other than John Barry, Arnold became the first repeating composer in the series.  This score packs a punch as well, with more reliable brass arrangements and techno elements.  Hints of exotic instruments fill out the score.  (Just listen to: Come in 007, Your Time Is Up, Elektra's Theme, Body Double)

Die Another Day (2002)
Music by David Arnold
After the horrific title song, Arnold's scoring of the film's opening is some of the best in the movie.  Paul Oakenfold was brought in for the Bond theme remix.  Arnold's score does include more techno than past scores, which get in the way of the orchestra sometimes.  The score isn't bad, but the movie sure is.  (Just listen to: On the Beach, Hovercraft Chase, Jinx & James, Going Down Together)     

Casino Royale (2006)
Music by David Arnold
As Bond gets another face, Arnold stayed with the franchise.  The reboot nature of the film, gave Arnold a fresh start.  The score blends the traditional Bond theme with the new theme for Vesper as well as the title song.  The score is certainly Arnold's best and one of the best recent scores.  (Just listen to: African Rundown, Blunt Instrument, Miami International, City of Lovers, The Name's Bond....James Bond)  

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Music by David Arnold
Arnold's understated score isn't as punchy as previous scores, and doesn't have standout moments, but it works well with the film.  The music shifts locales and moods quickly.  And let's be thankful the score doesn't feature the terrible title song.  (Just listen to: Time to Get Out, Pursuit at Port au Prince, Night at the Opera, Camille's Story)

Skyfall (2012)
Music by Thomas Newman
Thomas Newman was at first an interesting choice for the film, but his style worked for the film.  The score gets by adding tension to the scenes and a lift to the action scenes.  The Bond theme is incorporated really well, with new material working to advance the suspense in several moments.  The Oscar winning title song is a great (and a highlight of the score when used.  (Just listen to: Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, The Bloody Shot, Komodo Dragon, Breadcrumbs)

Spectre (2015)
Music by Thomas Newman
Newman returns with more confidence in his Bond writing, but this score doesn't fully take off.  The long album has a tendency to drag, and the score just feels like copy and pasted sections from Skyfall.  There is a new romantic theme with hints of Barry, and a few interpolations of the Oscar winning title song.  You probably already forgot that song, didn't you?  (Just listen to: Safe House, Backfire, Donna Lucia, Madeline)

Check out the others!

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  1. Sigh..another David Arnold kiss ass.

  2. How do you mean? I really only praise Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale. I am more of a John Barry fan by far.