MI6 looks back to 1966, when John Barry's film scores
were chart topping albums and his rise in stardom
was inextricably linked to Bond Mania...
Time Tunnel: Barry On The Bondwagon
12th November 2007
Back in the early 1960's, John Barry was just
making his break in to the big league of film composers. His
with James Bond in 1962 was to set up a partnership that would
thrust him in to the spotlight, and by Thunderball in 1965, he
would have a chart-topping album surpassed only by
The Beatles. A couple of weeks after Thunderball had been released
in theatres, Time Magazine published a piece about Barry and
his rise in stardom, which was inextricably linked to Bond Mania...
Agent 007 has come to pay his last respects
to the shapely, black-veiled widow of a SPECTRE assassin.
An oboe sighs mournfully. He goes to press her hand and
bam! da-bam! bam!—a volley of brass suddenly screams
bloody murder. Agent 007 knocks the widow head over high
heels with a bone-jarring right cross to the jaw. Aha!
Just as he thought: it was not the widow but the assassin
Accompanied by thumping kettledrums, 007 methodically
works the villain over with karate punches and a well-placed
kick, then strangles him to death. A clatter of cymbals
brings on a gang of bodyguards as 007 bounds onto a balcony,
coolly dons his one-man rocket unit and goes whooshing
up, up and away to a shattering chorus of gunfire and
So begins Thunderball, the latest James Bond free-for-all,
accompanied by what English Composer John Barry calls "million-dollar
Mickey Mouse music."
At 32, Barry can afford to be
so disarmingly modest about his work. Since boarding the
Bondwagon three years ago with Dr. No, he has become one
of the most successful composers writing for films today.
In the past year, his scores have accompanied an impressive
flock of first-rate films, among them Séance on
a Wet Afternoon, King Rat, The Knack and The Ipcress File.
The LP version of Thunderball, released only a few weeks
ago, is already high on the bestseller charts, following
briskly on the heels of Barry's Goldfinger, which last
year outsold all rock-'n'-roll albums except the Beatles'.
What makes Barry distinctive is his ability to
project the mood of a film—"a certain smell that unifies," as
he says—with offbeat instrumentation that titillates without
distracting. Against a backdrop of gently swelling strings, he
punctuates the action with a rippling organ (young love), a nervous
twitter from a marimba (trouble in the streets), or perhaps the
distant, breathy wailing of a girl's voice (ecstasy). One of
his favorite instruments is the Hungarian cimbalom, which looks
like the innards of a piano and sounds like an oversexed harpsichord.
Rather than treat each scene with "big masses of symphonic
sound," he takes the opening theme and works endless variations
on it. It is not Brahms, but in the shadowy world of the movie
house it works a magic all its own; besides, who goes to films
to hear music?
Above: John Barry, circa 1965
Barry was more or less
raised in the flickering film world. As a teen-ager he
worked as a projectionist in a string of movie theaters
that his father owned in York. At 19, he played trumpet
with a regimental army band stationed in Cyprus, took a
in composition. Later,
he formed the John Barry Seven and made his calculated
entrance into the movies by playing the accompaniment for
idol named Adam Faith. Barry's first film score, Beat Girl,
led to an invitation to doctor the score for Dr. No. He
did it without ever seeing the film.
In the breakneck pace of film making, Barry is prized for
his ability to turn out a score on demand. To meet a recording
schedule, he composed the key parts of both Goldfinger and
Thunderball in just two days. A lean, supercharged man with
long sideburns, Barry is a swinger in the Bond mold—clothes
with an Edwardian flair, fashionable Chelsea apartment, Pickwick
Club, E-type Jaguar (white, XK), E-type wife (brunette actress,
"I don't take myself too seriously," he says. "I
know exactly what I want to write, and that's really as serious
as you've got to be."
Barry On The Bond Theme