Paris, France – Ever since the sonorous guitar from John Barry’s theme song first appeared in “Dr No” in 1962, music has played a pivotal role in the James Bond phenomenon.
Songs written for each title sequence have become a way to mark the evolution of pop music over the past 60 years, from the classics of Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney to Adele and Billie Eilish.
Nobody remembers Monty
Many assume the original theme was written by John Barry, in part because he became so closely associated with the Bond franchise, making up the soundtrack of 11 of the films.
In fact, Barry only arranged and performed the theme melody.
The famous dung-digger-dung-dung line was written by theater composer Monty Norman, developed from an unused Indian-themed sheet music he had written for an adaptation of “A House for Mr Biswas” by VS Naipaul.
It was Barry’s job to brighten it up, adding the horns that made it so dramatic.
While Norman received a one-time payment of just Â£ 250, Barry built a Hollywood career that has included five Oscars and soundtracks from âMidnight Cowboyâ, âOut of Africaâ and many more.
Golden Girl Shirley Bassey
Bassey became almost as closely associated with Bond as Barry – the only singer to deliver three title tracks: “Goldfinger” (1964), “Diamonds are Forever” (1971) and “Moonraker” (1979).
The first two are considered the most memorable in Bond history, the latter less – Bassey later admitted she hated the song “Moonraker” and only did it as a favor to Barry.
“Goldfinger” made her a star, but the recording sessions were grueling, Barry insisting that Bassey, then 27, hold the last belt note for a full seven seconds.
“I was holding him and holding him – I was looking at John Barry and was going blue in my face and he’s going – holding him just a second longer.” When that ended, I almost passed out, âshe later recalls.
A new start for the Beatles
The first Bond film without Barry in the wand was “Live and Let Die” in 1973.
For this, the producers turned to another famous “B” – The Beatles.
The group’s producer, George Martin, took over the songwriting duties and brought in Paul McCartney and his band Wings for the theme song.
It became another classic and spawned a famous cover of Guns’N’Roses a few years later.
From that point on, Bond’s title song became its own mini-industry, without the composer’s participation.
Big pop ties followed, ranging from the less successful (Lulu’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”) to classics like “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon and “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran.
The next generation
After a few rambling outings during the Pierce Brosnan years, the Bond genre took a shot of adrenaline with Adele’s âSkyfallâ in 2012, which was the first to win the Oscar for Best Song.
The following year, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” also won an Oscar, although it received a more mixed critical reception.
The latest incarnation is pop princess Billie Eilish with “No Time to Die”, which she co-wrote with her brother Finneas.
He’s already got a thumbs up from the dean of the Bond-themed world, with Bassey saying The Big Issue, “She did a good job.”
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