Since the release of Dr No in the early 1960s, the music of the Bond films has caused just as much of a stir as the infamous Bond girls and Bond villains that feature on screen. As such, a large amount of the excitement that builds around the release of a new film is directed at questioning who will sing the newest theme song and whether it will live up to past greats. Many of the best moments in the films come from an expert collaboration between fast action, clever editing and tense music that will have you sat on the edge of your seat. Here we’ll explore some of the composers and musical artists that will forever go down in history as part of the unique phenomenon of James Bond.
Even if you’ve never watched a James Bond movie in your life, chances are you’ll still be familiar with the legendary theme tune. Composed by Monty Norman for the 1962 film Dr No, the ‘James Bond Theme’ is still one of the most famous pieces of music in cinema and plays an integral part in the Bond movie brand. Throughout the many changing faces and divergent styles of each Bond era, this iconic theme has remained a constant and will forever be associated with the dapper English secret agent. Norman may not have been involved in any further productions, but he certainly made his mark at the beginning of the franchise and became a defining feature of the Bond movie legacy in the process.
Perhaps the most recognised name associated with the music of the Bond films is that of John Barry. He composed the scores for eleven of the Bond films during his lifetime, most notably contributing the ‘007 Theme’ to the Bond repertoire of incidental music. Whilst he is often attributed with writing the ‘James Bond Theme’ as well, in actual fact he simply rearranged Monty Norman’s piece in order to better fit with the film studio’s wishes. However, there can be no doubt about the fact that John Barry almost single-handedly built the sound of the Bond series as we know it today.
Barry has writing credits for eleven of the hit title songs that have become synonymous with the release of a Bond film. He worked with some of the greatest vocalists and musicians of the time in order to create enduring classics like ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and ‘A View To A Kill’. This last song remains the most commercially successful Bond theme, charting at no. 2 in the UK and hitting the top of the charts at no. 1 in the US. This just goes to show the independent popularity of the songs themselves, and how the franchise is truly a sensation across several different media outlets.
In 1971, once the Bond films had become firmly established as a cinema phenomenon and a source of national pride, Diamonds Are Forever was released. This film was to mark the true end of an era as it was the last one in which original Bond Sean Connery would play the titular character. The movie became something of an homage to the first age of Bond as it reprised Shirley Bassey’s role as theme song vocalist and Guy Hamilton as the project’s director, as well as tempting Connery back from retirement with a record-breaking $1.25 million contract. For many, Bassey’s unparalleled vocals encapsulate the essence of a Bond title song. Bold, confident and emotive, the Welsh singer’s voice has epitomised the tone of Bond films in a way that nobody else has achieved and perhaps that’s why she’s the only artist to sing three of the films’ theme songs.
The impact that the Bond films have had on popular culture and society in general cannot be underestimated. Bond’s penchant for visiting the casino and his fondness for extravagant motor cars goes some way towards the continued global popularity of such interests. You can now play Bond’s favourite pastime roulette online or drive his Aston Martin around the racetrack in order to experience what it feels like to be the world’s coolest spy. However, a polished theme tune is still the factor that ties the whole Bond experience together into one neat and easily accessed package.
The global charm of the Bond movies relies heavily on appealing to those primary human interests tied up in novelty, excitement and joyful astonishment. Accordingly, these are also the qualities that make a good Bond theme. Successful songs in recent years include Adele’s massively successful ‘Skyfall’ and Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s On the Wall’ which got to no. 1 in the UK charts. Both songs feature a powerful voice, the free expression of emotion and a grand musical backdrop, all of which are proven hits when it comes to writing songs for the Bond films. Looking forward, it can be said with absolute certainty that as long as there are Bond films, the music that accompanies them will be an essential part of their success and an aspect happily welcomed into the annals of popular culture for decades to come.