How to Write a Bond Theme Song, According to 007 Songwriters
That’s the feat of John Barry, the York-born composer who, from the 1960s until his death in 2011, shaped what we now consider the sound of spies. (Consider how easily it is parodied.) From 1962 Dr. No Next, Barry extended Norman’s surf guitar theme with percussion, strings, and brass and jazz influences, creating a plan distinct enough for all subsequent Bond composers to follow.
“He went to dictate — establish — a musical tone and a language where you go: ‘That’s Bond,’” Hale explains. “What you should really say is, ‘It’s John Barry’.” Bond is such a cultural touchstone that he has enshrined individual musicians and even sounds, like the thundering drum that heralds “Goldfinger.” The blaring trumpet was the trademark of a player, Derek Watkins, who starred in every Bond film from Doctor No at celestial fall until his death in 2013.
For performers and songwriters, popular and classical musicians, Bond represents a small, prestigious cohort comprising some of the best living musicians – and the pressure to do them justice. “For the most part, it was John Barry’s musical voice that stood out,” says Hale. “I think every songwriter since then is very aware of the privilege and honor of continuing in that line. Of course, you will have your own style, but it is important to respect this heritage. »
For Hale, tasked with fleshing out this sparse piano melody, the question was not just which instruments to use – strings, timpani, tam-tam, bass drum, low brass, French horns, trumpets – but how. Harmony in particular is integral to the 007 sound, says Hale, as established with the iconic “James Bond chord” – technically known as EmMaj9. This creates an eerie and unsettling sound, “giving you quite a narrative”. (Harding points out that this dissonant chord figures similarly in Hitchcock’s chord. vertigo.)
Elsewhere, Hale made musical choices to support the lyrics, such as mirroring the reference to “a million shards of glass” with a cascade of high-pitched violins and flutes. “Essentially, it’s about telling stories… It’s not a pop song or a dance record; it’s a tragedy,” he said. And, while much of Bond has remained the same over the past 60 years, the stories told about him have changed, says composer David Arnold.
Arnold scored five Bond films from tomorrow never diesand co-wrote “The World is Not Enough” for Garbage and Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” (from Casino Royale) – meaning he had the biggest imprint on 007 since Barry. Barry’s themes were “slightly timeless” even in their day, says Arnold, pointing to “Diamonds Are Forever”: “If you think of contemporary music that existed in 1971, it’s nothing like that… sort of their own musical ecosystem.
Don Black, the lyricist who co-wrote Bassey’s theme and two others, once said that a Bond song should be “provocative, seductive and smell of the boudoir”. Before Daniel Craig-era Bond, Arnold says, “I think it was totally appropriate. When you listen to the lyrics of “The Man with the Golden Gun”, or “Diamonds are Forever”: “stroke it, touch it, stroke it”…