During the heady days of James Bond’s formative movie life John Barry, the composer supreme who provided Bond with pomp and swagger, was unavailable (tax reasons, work commitments, retirement) for a few films, so other composers stepped into the breach and attempted with some mixed results to replicate, or better, his work. Here is a top 10 of the winners and losers (a couple are missing, but I couldn’t do them all):
10. Die Another Day – David Arnold
A score that felt like Arnold was going through the motions and perhaps fulfilling a contractual obligation. It’s a percussive mess littered with too many instances of the Bond theme, to the point where you expect to hear it ringing out if Bond opens a fridge or wipes his nose. Much like the film, it’s one not to re-visit.
9. For Your Eyes Only – Bill Conti
Conti was best known for bring the soul to Rocky and driving him up the stairs by staying strong. However with an elderly Roger Moore and a tepid weak script, Conti’s upbeat early 80s trumpets felt a bit out of place.
8. Licence To Kill – Michael Kamen
In 1989 Bond wanted a slice of the action movie pie. So as well as writing an 80s action movie script, they hired the 80s action movie score supremo: Michael Kamen (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) and to be fair, he delivered his usual tricks, but it suits the film perfectly and is also capable of moments of delicate beauty, such as the “Pam” track.
7. Quantum of Solace – David Arnold
A nice continuation of his Casino Royale theme of abstract themes, but again not much use of the actual Bond theme until the very end. There are also some very nice moments where Arnold reverts from type and goes rogue. A solid score.
6. Goldeneye – Eric Serra
Much maligned and had to have some help from John Altman (for the tank chase sequence), but Serra’s score conjures the “death of the cold war” tone with the clanking percussion and jingling bells that sets the mind thinking of rusted hammers and blunted sickles.
5. Tomorrow Never Dies – David Arnold
After the Goldeneye score, which received pretty mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, it was great to have a “proper” Bond score again. David Arnold understands Bond and with the first scene in his first film he brings Bond’ swagger back and has the crowd applauding during the “filthy habit” moment.
4. Casino Royale – David Arnold
When Bond came back with a bang in 2006, so indeed did David Arnold. He brought his “A” game and knocked this score out of the park. This wasn’t just Barry-by-numbers like his previous efforts, this one also had its own brutish personality to match the new brutish Bond. The decision to leave the theme until the very end was a great idea and really hammers it home that Bond was seriously back.
3. Skyfall – Thomas Newman
It was like John Barry never left at times with Newman’s score. It shimmered and shattered in equal measure, the exact same way Barry’s scores used to with the creeping melodies and sweeping melancholy. A very memorable score indeed.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me – Marvin Hamlisch
Fresh off the high from bringing Scott Joplin back to the masses for The Sting, Hamlisch was a hot composer and when he was put on a Bond movie he really delivered. A score of its time, Hamlisch himself admitted that for his Bond 77 theme he was ripping off The Bee Gees song “You Should Be Dancing”. However the score is also full of delicate beauty with the instrumental rendition of “Nobody Does it Better” and the gorgeous “Ride to Atlantis”.
1. Live and Let Die – George Martin
Martin gave Bond swagger, funk, attitude and voodoo. The score is effortlessly cool as it strides from scene to scene, while at the same time feeling mildly out of place in the Bond canon. Gone are the sweeping strings, and in are the wah-wah pedal, deep bass riffs and pure funk. This is James Bond for the 1970s, can you dig it?
I interviewed him here about the whole process.