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The Sound Of The Spy Who Loved Me

7th August 2012

MI6 uncovers the inspiration behind the soundtrack, from disco to Mozart, and the genesis of 'Nobody Does It Better'

MI6 logo By MI6 Staff
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First published 20th July 2007

When regular series composer John Barry was not available to work in the UK for tax reasons, Marvin Hamlisch was brought in by producer Cubby Broccoli to compose the score to "The Spy Who Loved Me", his first film as sole producer following the split with Harry Saltzman.

Born in New York in 1944, the three-time Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch had pre-007 success with the popular films "The Way We Were" (1973) and "The Sting" (1973), but was best known for his work on musicals.

In the summer of 1977, two major cultural events peaked British interest - the Silver Jubilee and disco music. Neither would escape reference in the James Bond film of that year, in fact they would be celebrated as the Union Jack emblem and calypso percussion would run rampant throughout "The Spy Who Loved Me", especially its title sequence.

Hamlisch described the opening to the film in a 2006 television documentary, "the soundtrack starts off with a very hot lick, which to be honest, copped a feel of something that was on a Bee Gees record that I just loved."

Above: Composer Marvin Hamlisch

But when Bond skis off the mountain for that infamous stunt - the music stops. Only the whistling of the cold wind could be heard as cinema audiences held their breath during the onscreen free fall, until the fanfare of the Bond theme salutes the Union Jack parachute and 007's ostentatious survival.

"And out of that, after this bombastic beginning, comes the song", described Hamlisch. "There's something wonderfully blasé about James Bond, like when he throws his hat it always hits. He's a man who just knows that he's got it, no matter what. He's so cool, he's so together that ... this will be just fine. He doesn't have to come in blasting, he can just walk in and charm you to death."

Above: Original album cover art

The title and root of the song only came about by a chance remark by Hamlisch's then wife Carole Bayer Sager. She recalled, "I said to him, you know I have a great title for a James Bond film, 'Nobody Does It Better', and he said 'that's a really good title! I love that title'. So he ran over to the piano and basically started to play the melody." Hamlisch described how the song builds, "the melody was very bluesy So what's nice about that is it has a wonderful place to grow. And where it goes... you like have to make room for the drums!"

A unspecified piece of music composed by Mozart inspired the melody of the song composed by Hamlisch. Indeed, the film includes in its score a number of pieces of classical music by such composers as Johann Sebastian Bach (Air in Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068), Frédéric Chopin (Nocturne No. 8 in D-Flat, Op. 27 No. 2), Camille Saint-Saëns (The Aquarium from The Carnival of the Animals) and also by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Andante second movement of Piano Concerto No. 21 Elvira Madigan.

Above: Singer Carly Simon


The producers went for the song, but shot down its title. Carole Bayer Sager, who wrote the lyrics, had a plan. "That was one of the things they said, 'where's the title [of the film]?' So I kinda just poked it in part of the verse: like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. When I was writing the song, I was thinking I was writing a love song to James Bond." Hamlisch agreed, "for sure, this song was about James Bond. This song is his bible."

"You're So Vain" singer Carly Simon performed the track and it charted higher than any other Bond song before it, entering the US charts on 23 July 1977 and went to No. #2. It stayed there for three weeks and was in the US charts for 25 consecutive weeks. It entered the charts in the UK on 6 August 1977 and peaked at the No. #7 position. The song in the USA also achieved the classification of being a Gold Single. The soundtrack album charted in the USA on 27 August 1977 and went to the No. #40 rank.

Despite being the first Bond song that did not share its title with marketed film, it was so successful that the title "Nobody Does It Better" has become part of James Bond universe phraseology. At that time, it was also the only song in the series that was about James Bond. In 2004, the song was honoured by the American Film Institute as the 67th greatest song as part of their 100 Years Series.

The movie received Three Academy Award Nominations - the most ever received by a James Bond movie to date. These were for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration, Best Score, and Best Song - "Nobody Does It Better".

Above: Nobody does it better

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The Spy Who Loved Me - Movie Coverage
The Spy Who Loved Me - Soundtrack

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