Cars, watches, villains, Bond girls and the stirred martini — there are many elements of the James Bond franchise that have become cult items and details you’d expect to see on screen. One of these, and one of our favourite of these, is the James Bond music scored through and written in dedication of each film.
Ever since the twanging guitar of John Barry’s theme song in Dr No in 1962, music has been crucial to the James Bond experience.
The songs written for each title sequence have become a way of marking out the evolution of pop music through the past 60 years, from the classics of Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney to recent bops from 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, composing the soundtrack for 11 of the films.
In fact, Barry only arranged and performed the theme tune.
The famous theme was actually written by theatre composer Monty Norman, developed from an unused Indian-themed score he had written for an adaptation of VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas.
It was Barry’s job to jazz it up, adding the blaring horns that make title sequence so dramatic.
While Norman was given a one-off payment of just £250 (approx. HK$2,654), Barry built a Hollywood career that has included five Oscars and classic soundtracks to Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa and many more.
Golden girl Shirley Bassey
Bassey became almost as closely linked to 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 so. Bassey later admitted she hated the Moonraker song and only did it as a favour to Barry.
Goldfinger made her a star, but the recording sessions were gruelling, with Barry insisting that Bassey, then 27, hold the last belting note for seven full seconds.
“I was holding it and holding it — I was looking at John Barry and I was going blue in the face and he’s going: “Hold it just one more second.” When it finished, I nearly passed out,” she later recalled.
A new Beatles beginning
The first Bond film without Barry on the baton 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 composing duties and brought in Paul McCartney and his band Wings for the theme song.
It became another classic and spawned a famous cover by Guns’N’Roses in later years.
From this point on, the Bond title song became its own mini-industry, without the involvement of the composer.
Big pop tie-ins followed, ranging from the not-so-successful (Lulu’s The Man with the Golden Gun) to classics like Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better and Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill.
The next generation
After a few desultory outings during the Pierce Brosnan years, the Bond genre got a shot of adrenaline with Adele’s Skyfall in 2012, which was the first to win an Oscar for Best Original Song.
The following year’s Writing’s on the Wall by Sam Smith also won an Oscar, though it got a more mixed critical reception.
The latest incarnation is pop princess Billie Eilish’s with No Time to Die, which she co-wrote with her brother Finneas.
It already has a thumbs-up from the doyenne of the Bond theme world, with Bassey telling The Big Issue: “She did a good job.”