Music of James Bond Interview

7th August 2014

MI6 caught up with author Jon Burlingame to discuss his 'Music of James Bond' - now updated and in paperback

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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Jon Burlingame is the USA's leading writer on the subject of music for films and television. He writes regularly for Variety and has written on the topic for such other publications as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Newsday, Emmy, Premiere and The Hollywood Reporter.

What initially drew you to the study of film music, do you have a musical background yourself?
I have been a journalist for more than 40 years. As a boy, I did have musical training (both in choir and in trumpet) although I gave it up before I went to college. My training was originally as a reporter, but I began writing about films and TV in the 1970s and was always surprised at how few critics seemed to understand, appreciate, or comment on the role of music in drama. (I was stunned to later learn, when I encountered many of these people in my profession, that almost none of them had any idea how music in films was handled or how it was affecting them.) When I moved to Los Angeles in 1986, I began to interview all of my favourite composers and became a specialist in film and TV music for trades like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and mainstream publications like the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Obviously all music creates some kind of atmosphere, but what is it about film music that intrigues you?
It started when I was a kid, listening to music on TV shows I loved, especially spy shows like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "Secret Agent" [AKA "Danger Man"], "I Spy" and "Mission: Impossible". The mix of jazz and orchestral music, the sense of exotic locales, intrigue and danger, all appealed to me as expressed in the scores. That extended into my adulthood, when I found that -- although I loved all classical music -- my favourite composers where those working in films: John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, etc., all of whom were able to create a sense of drama. I'd often go to the movies based on who composed the score (and still do).

What inspired you to write the "Music of James Bond"? Is there something in particular about about the Bond music that you think makes it unique?
When John Barry - whom I'd interviewed often and with whom I'd had a friendship dating back to the late 1980s - died in 2011, I decided that the best way I could pay tribute to this great composer (who was already the subject of two biographies) would be by recounting his experiences with the Bond films. Two other factors convinced me: the fact that the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise was coming up in 2012, and the fact that no one had ever tackled this subject. Because I knew most of the composers personally (having interviewed most of them over the years for various newspaper and magazine pieces), and I had access to the kind of inside data that other writers either didn't, or wouldn't understand (musicians' contracts, studio cue sheets, recording dates, etc.), I thought it was a good idea. Oxford University Press said they wanted the book, so we made a deal and arranged for its release at the time of "Skyfall".

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The Music of James Bond updated cover art
Above: Cover art for the updated paperback.

How did you begin to research the "Music of James Bond" and how long did it take you to compile?
It was about an eight-month project, from May to December 2011, with a little spillover into 2012 for photo clearances, cover design, etc. All of the composers agreed to talk with me, and in the case of the late John Barry and the late Michael Kamen, I had discussed their work years earlier and so had material from both that I had never used in other pieces. Some things were very difficult, including tracking down recording dates for the earliest films, which are not well documented. But part of the joy of the job was discovering things no one had ever written about before, such as Shirley Bassey's legal action against Eon when her vocal was dropped from "Thunderball", the unused additional lyrics for "Diamonds Are Forever", the role that Sean Connery himself played in getting Michel Legrand for "Never Say Never Again", and other revelations.

How did you feel about rehearsing the controversial debate over who was the rightful author of the 007 Theme, how did you approach this topic, was it with any trepidation?
Yes, it's a controversial topic, but some of the most vocal fans simply do not know all the facts or appreciate how complex the real story is. Chapter 1 of the book is, in many ways, the most important -- not only because it sets up the entire franchise, but also because I had to recount the saga and reconcile, as best I could, the many points of view regarding the origins of the "James Bond Theme." Monty Norman has one point of view, parts of which can be demonstrably proven, parts of which cannot; John Barry had a different point of view, which he outlined in the 2001 court case; orchestrator Burt Rhodes, another key player, added intriguing testimony at the time; and editor Peter Hunt, who was in the middle of all of it in 1962, had his own take on things.

Analysis of the provable facts clearly indicate that it is not a simple "Monty wrote it" or "John wrote it" scenario. Norman contends that it all derives from his original material; Rhodes claimed that he added material before John saw it; Barry maintained that he wrote most of it; a highly respected musicologist called it an "extreme" case of arrangement of original material; and Norman concedes that the Barry "orchestration" made the theme the success that it was then and is today. I reported all this in Chapter 1, utilising as many legitimate, solid sources as could be found and believed.

Do you have a favourite Bond film score (or two)? What are the characteristics you look for in a superb 007 soundtrack?
That's a tough one. I'm very fond of "Goldfinger" and agree with Barry that it's the score where "it all came together": the song, the score, the style. I have a soft spot for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" as the first 007 movie I ever saw in the theatre and I still love Barry's use of synthesisers in it. A great Bond soundtrack should have a memorable song, chart the romantic and thrilling sides of the story equally well, use the Bond theme appropriately, and have something of the timeless quality that the use of an orchestra always brings.

Aside from an embracing of technological assistance and improvement, how would you describe the evolution of 007 music over the 50 year period?
That's a great question. Bond songs, especially, have tended to reflect the changes in popular music over the decades. You have the pop sounds of "Goldfinger," "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice" of the '60s, the more rock-oriented "Live and Let Die" of the '70s, the MTV-influenced Duran Duran and a-ha tracks of the '80s, the electronica of "GoldenEye" in the '90s and the more contemporary pop/rock sounds of Garbage, Chris Cornell and Adele in our time.

Jon Burlingame author of the Music of James Bond
Above: Jon Burlingame.

Is there one "might-have-been" of Bond music that you most regret, and why?
That's an interesting question, and there are multiple answers. In the case of "Moonraker", I wish that Paul Williams' original lyrics for the song had been retained (we reproduce some of them in the book, at least all that Paul could remember). I wish that David Arnold and Don Black's "Surrender" had been the main-title song for "Tomorrow Never Dies", and I wish that their "Only Myself to Blame" song had found a place in "The World Is Not Enough". But these are decisions sometimes made "in the heat of battle," so to speak, and they are always made with an eye toward commercial potential and commercial success. If "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" had been retained as the theme for "Thunderball", and if the Dionne Warwick vocal had been in the movie, would it have been as successful? Who can say? I can say this: I'm glad they didn't use Bassey's rendition of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" over the end titles, because her decision to file suit against Eon makes for a great story in the "Thunderball" chapter!

Some have commented that the GoldenEye score is a bit out of an outlier in the canon? How do you view the GoldenEye soundtrack, and how did come to pass that Eric Serra was chosen as composer?
Another really interesting question. It's not my favourite Bond score, a bit too radical in its mostly electronic approach - but I had a fascinating interview with Eric Serra in which he discussed the circumstances of his employment, how he approached the job, and what he might have done differently under other circumstances. The "GoldenEye" music saga is unique, and there was considerable panic about the score during post-production because it was so different from anything that had come before, as I explain in that chapter.

What can readers of the original edition of your Bond book expect to find in the extended edition?
In order for the hardcover to be in stores at the time of the 50th anniversary in October 2012, it had to be finished and edited long before the Adele song was revealed or the Newman score completed for "Skyfall". So I was very pleased when the publisher asked for a "Skyfall" chapter for a revised, augmented paperback edition. I did long and detailed interviews with composer Thomas Newman, Adele's songwriter-producer Paul Epworth, orchestrator J.A.C. Redford, studio executives, musicians and others for the most comprehensive overview of the music of "Skyfall" ever presented (along with previously unseen photographs of the principals at work). In addition, I have made a couple of minor corrections in other chapters; written about the recently discovered "Thunderball" demo by Lionel Bart; and added a photo to the "Dr. No" chapter that may surprise, or even infuriate, those who continue to debate the vexing issue of who really wrote the "Bond Theme."

Many thanks to Jon Burlingame.

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