On January 30, 2021, 10 years have passed since the death of John Barry, author of 11 and most outstanding James Bond soundtracks. His “heir”, David Arnold, achieved great success, but the melodies composed by Barry are second to none.
John Barry is one of the greatest soundtrack composers of all time. He composed more than 125 themes for cinema, some of their classics, such as Born Free, Somewhere in Time, Out of Africa, and Dance with the Wolves, to name just a few. Even with 5 Oscars, he is always best remembered for being one of the authors of the James Bond theme.
The son of a classical pianist and movie theater owner, John Barry was destined to link music to movies. He played the trumpet and as a young man, like many of his generation, he was fascinated by jazz. He worked as an arranger until he created his own band, in 1957, The John Barry Seven. His first soundtrack, alone, was from the movie Beat Girl, in 1960, and he didn’t stop until his death.
When he joined the 007 universes, John Barry was not yet world famous. The James Bond theme is the result of a controversy involving Monty Norman, the author of the song. From 1962 until 1987, it was the British composer who created all the main themes and produced the English spy songs.
John Barry was like a soundtrack Puccini: melodious, popular, often using the full orchestra in soaring, grandiose arrangements. It’s easy to identify your song.
But even ahead of the classics, it was with James Bond that John Barry did the best double. It was he who chose a young and unknown Shirley Bassey to record Goldfinger, for example. The score, by the way, solidified the bond style with winds and jazzy tones. However, he was never recognized with an Oscar for this work.
The proposal that came with it was to always have a pop artist in the spotlight singing the opening theme. At first mostly British artists, but Nancy Sinatra broke tradition with You Only Live Twice.
In the 1980s, the Duran Duran collaboration for A View To A Kill dominated the charts, but the experience with the band A-ha for The Living Daylights was openly confrontational, with very public feuds. By the way, taking advantage of the fact that James’ love interest in Timothy Dalton‘s debut film is a song, John Barry makes a cameo as conductor.
Health problems kept John Barry away from the Bond universe from 1989 onwards. The fight over the authorship of the James Bond theme continued in legal proceedings until 2001, 40 years after its release.
Monty Norman insisted on being the only one credited as the author, giving Barry only acknowledgment of the arrangement. The composer claimed to have done more than the arrangements and that he only gave up the credit to receive a fixed amount because he was rightly betting that it would only be the beginning of his career. The English justice kept the authorship credits only for Monty. Until his death, John Barry was not satisfied with this.
Although he was a British citizen, John Barry spent much of his life in the United States. He died at home, aged 77, of a massive heart attack. As Arnold defined it, 50% of James Bond’s success is due to the actors who play the spy, but the other 50% is due to John Barry. The JB double that made history.