Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John Barry, 1933-2011

John Barry once wrote a song called You Only Live Twice - and the great film composer who passed away Sunday kind of did just that.

Looked rather like Michael Caine, didn't he?

Justly, he is most famous for his work with the James Bond series. He may not have written the theme - that's credited to Monty Norman - but Barry made it what it was with his brassy, guitar-driven arrangement, which sounds both timeless and very 60s at once.

It's easier to list the Bond scores Barry did NOT compose. Through 1987's The Living Daylights, he contributed to all of them except Live and Let Die (George Martin), The Spy Who Loved Me (Marvin Hamlisch), and For Your Eyes Only (Bill Conti) All the Bond films scores from Tomorrow Never Dies onward were composed by David Arnold, who is very much a Barry devotee.

Of the Bond title songs Barry wrote, the most famous is probably Goldfinger, but my personal favorite is You Only Live Twice, sung by Nancy Sinatra, with its lovely string arrangement.

As for the scores, by far my favorite is On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the one with "the other fella," George Lazenby. LOVE the fuzz tone and the Alpine horns.

And if that music sounds familiar, it's because you've heard it in association with another movie, Pixar's The Incredibles. It was the teaser music. And Michael Giacchino's score for that film owes a VERY large debt to Barry.

But Barry also lived another very successful life as a composer for non-Bond films, winning Oscars for Born Free, Out of Africa, and The Lion in Winter, which I just recently saw for the first time. Barry's scores were often characterized by sharp uses of brass contrasted with lush string sections. He was one of those composers who had a very definite sound - a sound we will very definitely miss.

And besides, how can I not love the guy when he sort of has a Beatles connection? Vic Flick was a member of the John Barry Seven who played the classic guitar line in the Bond theme. He also played in the film score of A Hard Day's Night - that's him plucking out the guitar line to "This Boy" in the scenes where Ringo is wandering around without the others.

Had to do it!

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