By Charlie Brigden
At one point in time, the idea of a James Bond film without a John Barry score must have been a hard concept to grasp. Although the first film to feature the character – Dr. No – had a score by Monty Norman (arranged by Barry) the composer took hold of the spectacular spy series and defined a sound that would be influential for decades to come. Big brass strokes, lush strings, violent percussion, Barry’s music was both copied and parodied in hundreds of films, and still is to this day. He is the unmistakeable sound of 007.
But what about the others?
As Sean Connery retired (at least officially), Barry also left Bond, albeit temporarily. After making it through six films, he gave up the baton for a new composer to briefly take the mantle. And while it wouldn’t be until Pierce Brosnan’s tenure that someone other than Barry would have a regular spot as composer for the Bond series, several high-profile figures from the music world had a go at creating a new sound for Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But how did they do?
The Beatles Meet Bond: Live and Let Die (1973)
With Sean Connery gone, there was the chance for a new actor to make his name as 007. The actor chosen had already met success as Simon Templar in The Saint, but Roger Moore would go far beyond that to create his own interpretation of Fleming’s finest, even starring in more Bond movies than Connery (we don’t count Never Say Never Again, oh no). Scoring Moore’s first foray into the world of MI6 was legendary producer George Martin, known to many as “The Fifth Beatle” due to his work on the fab four’s smash hit career to date. Whilst brought in to score, Martin also pulled off a massive coup regarding the title song. Recruiting Paul McCartney – who at that point was having success with his band Wings – to write (with wife Linda) and perform, Martin gave Bond some rock star kudos and a hell of a song to boot. Furthermore, Martin was able to use the tune as a theme for his score for the new Bond, which would be a challenge in itself due to the curious decision to model the film after the current “blaxploitation” trend. Films like Superfly, Shaft, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song had a fresh and unique vibe, but also came from a completely different background culturally and socially than the Bond films, which made them all the more awkward bedfellows.
Despite this, one element of the movement that suited Martin was the music. Coming from the world of pop music, the free and loose jazz funk sound of blaxploitation was something Martin could play with alongside the traditional orchestra, allowing for a distinctly different colour at times than John Barry’s elegant tones. Martin emphasised this from the first second, with the traditional ‘Gunbarrel’ cue having a jazzier feel with trumpets accompaning a guitar that sounds almost like a bass, climaxing into a big brass fanfare that riffs on the bridge of the Bond theme. With the locations used in Live and Let Die, Martin had a big opportunity to introduce a new sound to Bond. While that didn’t always work out – the exotic rhythms used in the San Monique scenes are pretty standard – Martin got good mileage out of the visits to Harlem and New Orleans, with the expected emphasis on the wah-wah pedal and the trappings that come with lines such as ‘Get me a make on a white pimpmobile!’ Much of this colour came from the source material in the score, with the funk that came from the Fillet of Soul club (including BJ Arnau’s take on the main title theme) and the infamous jazz funeral scene. An MI6 agent stands watch outside of the club as a parade moves towards him, playing a mournful piece to score the heartbroken family walking behind the coffin. Suddenly someone sticks a knife in the agent and the coffin drops to cover him, acting as a catalyst for the band to launch into a traditional upbeat tune as everyone starts to dance like it’s mardi gras.
Surprisingly, for all its representation much of Martin’s music has the same approach and structure as Barry’s. His ability to create gorgeous romantic melodies in the same lush vein is demonstrated early on in the scene with Bond and Agent Caruso (the equally gorgeous Madeline Smith) with a splendid tune that – like much of Martin’s score – has a particular emphasis on the woodwinds. But a real surprise is the secondary theme; I’m not sure of its exact title but it seems to follow Solitaire around, appearing first in the scene where she lays her tarot cards down on an image of Bond’s plane on its way to New York. It has a mysterious quality to it and is quite versatile – it works well in counterpoint with the Bond theme, and rather like the 007 theme itself, it’s equally effective when played both fast and slow. Martin also does well with the action and suspense pieces. The assault on Bond via snake is a nifty bit of suspense music, using bits of the Bond theme and the secondary theme but never playing it full until the fanfare at the end. The famous boat chase through the bayou is interestingly score, with only the second half getting a leisurely counterpoint of the 007 theme and the secondary theme before a move into an interpolation of the main title theme. Likewise, the alligator farm sequence has a similarly laconic treatment, with a great brassy section that sounds like it’s right out of Starsky & Hutch before again counterpointing the two main themes.
There are some pretty neat tricks in the score. One scene that always stood out was when agent Baines is killed by the voodoo priest with the snake (wearing the most unconvincing dead goat headdress you’ve ever seen). Tense rising strings echo the pulse of the terrified agent, so when the snake hits with a brass punch, the strings speedily descend to signify his death, with the final note segueing into the title song. It’s a clever little moment, which sadly isn’t represented on the soundtrack album. Martin’s emphasis on woodwinds inspire some cool moments, particularly the playful descent when Bond uses his fancy magnetic watch to unzip a dress. And for those who are fans of McCartney, there are a decent amount of renditions of the title theme throughout the score. It’s actually really well-suited for usage as underscore, be it the long romantic line of its intro, the edgy main riff, or the refrain before the bridge. The underground lair sequence is full of these, the refrain used especially well for tension as Bond and Solitaire wait for Kananga’s sharks to come and get them, although the final train sequence goes back to the 007/secondary counterpoint, waiting until the final moments before bringing ‘Live and Let Die’ back as we see Baron Samedi on the back of the engine. His final and fairly creepy appearance is scored by a reprise of the massive guitar strokes from the intro, coupled with an unsurprising woodwind flourish that actually works surprisingly well, before mixing into a reprise of the actual song for the end credits.
George Martin’s score to Live and Let Die is actually one of the more popular non-Barry efforts, and one of the most successful elements of the film. It’s certainly helped along by that great title song, but with the wah-wah pedals and the flutes, Martin brought a different texture while not messing too much with the formula, and in return it doesn’t sound terribly dated. And there we have it, two British icons together for the first and last time: Bond and the Beatles. And while John Barry would return for the next effort – The Man With The Golden Gun – another composer would get their shot straight after, dividing fans and critics but still garnering an Oscar nomination.
James Bond will return with our coverage of Marvin Hamlisch’s The Spy Who Loved Me.