James Bond: A tuneful 50-year overview from the movie academy

Oct. 04, 2012 | 7:00 a.m.
Sean Connery as James bond in"Goldfinger." (MGM)

Sean Connery as James bond in”Goldfinger.” (MGM)

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Over the last half-century, the actors who have played James Bond have come and gone, and so have the type of villains that the sexy, martini-drinking 007 thwarts before the final credits. But there’s been one constant in the Bond films: “The James Bond Theme,” penned by British songwriter Monty Norman and arranged by composer John Barry for the first Bond film, 1962’s “Dr. No.”

And during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “The Music of Bond: The First 50 Years” celebration Friday evening — which also will mark the 50th anniversary of “Dr. No” opening in England — at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, guitarist Vic Flick, who supplied the famous guitar lick for the jazzy theme, will be playing that music on his original guitar. Flick had been a member of Barry’s instrumental rock group, the John Barry Seven.

“Barry knew he would bring the kind of dangerous sound he wanted with his guitar,” said Jon Burlingame, who, as film music historian and author of the new book “The Music of James Bond,” will host the academy evening.

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Sean Connery as agent James Bond in "From Russia with Love."

Sean Connery as agent James Bond in “From Russia with Love.” (Archive / MGM)

After “Dr. No,” which made a superstar out of Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s spy, Barry became the composer for the Bond movies from 1963’s “From Russia With Love” through 1987’s “The Living Daylights.” In 1973’s “Live and Let Die,” which introduced Roger Moore as Bond, the title song was composed by Paul and Linda McCartney.

“I wouldn’t say that Bond music changed the face of music, but Barry created a new style of action-adventure scoring for films,” said Burlingame. “It was something we had not heard before in movies because it was partly pop influenced, partly jazz influenced and partly traditional orchestral music. He brought together this unique hybrid style of music in a very effective way for a kind of hero we had never seen before — dangerous yet sexy, and the theme reflected that.”

Beginning with Lionel Bart’s song performed by Matt Munro for 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” the Bond song has been crucial in the marketing success of the films. So over the years, the producers have sought out popular singers and composers — Bono and the Edge composed the tune sung by Tina Turner for 1995’s “GoldenEye” — which would guarantee airplay on radio and later MTV.

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Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney and Wings, Sheena Easton, Carly Simon, Madonna, Duran Duran and A-Ha have sung Bond theme songs, with McCartney earning an Oscar nomination for “Live and Let Die” and the late Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager picking up a nomination for “Nobody Does It Better” from 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Earlier this week, “Skyfall” — the latest Bond film starring Daniel Craig, opening Nov. 9 — became a hot trending topic on the Internet when an excerpt from the theme song performed by Grammy-winner Adele was leaked on the Web. (Adele is also the co-writer of the song).

One of the Bond song lyricists, Don Black — who penned three title tunes with Barry, for 1965’s “Thunderball,” 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun,” as well as 1999’s “The World Is Not Enough” with composer David Arnold — will be on hand Friday night at the Goldwyn.

“With John Barry, I always wrote the lyrics second,” Black said. “You never wrote in the same room with him.”

[For the Record, 8:14 a.m. Oct. 5:  In the Oct. 4 Calendar section, an article about music in the James Bond films said that John Barry was the composer for the Bond movies made between 1963 and 1987. Barry composed most of the scores during those years, but not all of them. The article also mentioned two songs from Bond films that had been nominated for Academy Awards. There was a third Oscar-nominated song: “For Your Eyes Only,” from the 1981 film of the same name.]

— Susan King


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