MI6 looks back at the curious history of the famous
James Bond Theme, composed by Monty Norman and arranged
by John Barry...
The Origins of the James Bond Theme
2nd March 2010
In 1961, acclaimed theatre
musical composer Monty Norman was commissioned to write
a score for the stage adaptation of V. S. Naipaul's "A
House for Mr Biswas". One such piece from the never-completed
musical would go on to a bright future and become known
as the James Bond Theme, now recognised by cinema goers
the world over.
Norman described the would-be Bond theme as "Indian feeling", as the book, and subsequently musical, was to be set in the Indian part of Trinidad.
The lyrics for the lost musical were also composed by Norman, and survive only by rare recordings of the composer humming or singing his 'lost' tune. This musical cue would have been called "Bad Sign, Good Sign".
Norman realised this theme was not punchy enough as it was originally scored, so adapted the tune to syncopate the early bars.
Right: A young Monty
Norman composes with David Heneker at the piano.
"Bad Sign, Good Sign" Surviving
I was born with this unlucky sneeze,
And what is worse I came into the wrong way round.
Pundits all agree that I'm the reason why,
My father fell into the village pond,
I was born... un-der a bad sign!
Everybody worries 'bout my sneeze.
The successful front-man of the John Barry Seven was brought in by the producers to orchestrate Monty Norman's Bond theme midway through the production of "Dr. No".
Barry explained that he had no idea about the Bond film before he was set to work on Norman's piece. "I never saw the movie, all I remember was one of the newspapers carried this strip cartoon. It was Bond and the villain and the girls, and that's all I went on. I didn't read the script, didn't know anything about it."
Above: The John Barry Seven perform.
Nevertheless Barry saw great potential in Norman's
work and made an inspired choice inviting the old friend and
guitarist from his big band, Vic Flick, to work his magic on
arranging the Bond theme. Barry and Flick successfully combined
big-band background with the progressively popular genre of 1960s
to breathe new life to Norman's once Ethnic-sounding theme. Many
critics have since said that it was not the notes themselves
(Norman's contribution) but the arrangement by Barry that was
the masterstroke behind the immense popularity of the theme.
On the success of the Bond theme and the early 007 adventures, anything Barry touched turned to gold, whilst the official composer of the theme, Monty Norman, was largely forgotten by both casual viewers and fans. "I don't take myself too seriously," Barry said of his rising stardom. "I know exactly what I want to write, and that's really as serious as you've got to be."
The world-famous James Bond Theme made the charts in
Britain around the release of the debut 007 film, "Dr. No",
placed at #13. The Bond theme would be used over the opening
credits a second time as "From Russia With Love" hit
the screens in 1963. But despite dropping the Bond tune from
the opening credits in favour of a popular Shirley Bassey ballad,
Barry and Norman's work was far from forgotten. The James Bond
theme continued to be incorporated into the scores of 17 Bond
films between '62 and '95, with John Barry scoring 11 of these
cinema adventures. By the mid-1990s, with the arrangement of
Bond's famed them largely unchanged, MGM made a bold decision.
The Bond distributors turned to popular Ambient artist Moby to
remix the 007 theme.
Above: The popular '90s artist, Moby.
"It did feel a little strange redoing something
that was perfect in its original state," says Moby, "but
they asked me, so I did it. And I still think that the original
is miles better than the version I did." The remix theme
that Moby contributed to the sound of Bond blended in with the
high-octane adventure, "Tomorrow
Never Dies", that was its on-screen debut. It was subsequently
used in other Bond movie trailers and TV spots.
Above: (left) Norman has his day in court, c. 2001 and (right) John Barry in the recording studio.
Some years later, prior to the release of "Die Another Day", The Sunday Times insinuated that it was not Monty Norman that originally wrote the Bond theme, but Barry - who by this time was synonymous with the series at large. Monty Norman took the media outlet to court over the incorrect accreditation. The jury awarded £30,000 in damages to Norman over the libel case but in September 2006 Barry explained to the BBC that his side of the story was somewhat different.
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"I wrote the song with Don Black, but we couldn't get credit because of the legal thing - [Norman] was signed to do the movie," explained Barry. "I think I got £125 and I think Don got the same. We recorded the first Bond theme and Lionel Bart went to see the movie and he said 'ere! Monty Norman never wrote that!' and I said 'he was signed to do the movie, I came in at the last minute', I know he never wrote it but I said 'if they continue, if this is a success, and we go on then I'll do the rest of the movies, that's my shot.'"
Vic Flick sees the humour in it all, saying that "Monty Norman has probably made about a million pounds over the years and John Barry many millions, but when I recorded it, it was seven pounds fifty pence! I've spent that now."
Despite Barry's perspective, to this day Norman is credited with the composition of the James Bond Theme, first within the credits of "Dr. No" and on every film and OST since. Both composers contributed to the magic of 007 and were duly rewarded for their respective efforts.
Left: Cover artwork for the recent autobiography of Vic Flick.
Time Tunnel: Barry on the Bondwagon
Barry on the Bond Theme