As I wrote recently in my Wall Street Journal article on the James Bond Theme, men of a certain age love the song with the machine-gun guitar solo. It makes them feel extra guy-ly. But so do some women, according to Louann Brizendine, professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of The Male Brain and The Female Brain. Something about nostalgia for guys who sweep women off their feet and the short supply of such chaps today. [Photo above of Jon Burlingame by Valerie Macon/Getty Images North America]
For me, I suspect my own fondness for Bond music stems from an incident that occurred when I was 9 years old. In 1965, my father took me to see Thunderball. I think he wanted to see what all the fuss was about and took me along as a rite of passage. But when things on the screen got a little steamy, out we went. So I suppose, doctor, that through the music I'm constantly trying to get back into that theater.
During my interviews for the article, I spoke at length with Jon Burlingame, a film-music historian at the University of Southern California and author of The Music of James Bond (Oxford) a spectacular new book that looks at each Bond theme, film by film. It's must reading for anyone who wants to know the back-story to each movie theme. In some cases, that story has as many twists and turns and close calls as the films.
In Part 1 of my two-part interview with Jon, he talks about his own parental Bond-film denial, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice and the Stan Kenton-James Bond connection...
JazzWax: Did you see James Bond films as a kid?
Jon Burlingame: Not really, as I came from a fairly religious family that was opposed to the kind of sex-and-violence image that the Bond films had in the popular media. The first 007 film I saw in a movie theater was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) when I was 16. Then I started to catch up, seeing double bills of the earlier films—mostly at drive-ins.
JW: Did you like detective and spy shows on television?
JB: Yes, I was a huge fan, especially The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and British imports like Secret Agent. But I was particularly struck by the music, particularly the James Bond scores. They’ve stayed with me my whole life.
JW: Did James Bond pave the way for the Beatles or did they invade our culture simultaneously?
JB: There's no way to link them, really, except to say that they were both part of the massive cultural upheaval that took place during that decade. Ian Fleming's books were already famous. President Kennedy revealed that From Russia With Love was one of his favorite books. The movies, of course, then catapulted Bond into the American popular consciousness.
JW: And the Beatles?
JB: It is interesting to note that the Beatles' explosion in America in 1964 coincided with the release of the films From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which really began the 007 craze and the entire spy genre of films and television.
JW: Why is the James Bond Theme from Dr. No still so catchy?
JB: It's a unique combination of elements: an unusual melodic line created by composer Monty Norman, a dynamic arrangement by John Barry, and a strong performance by guitarist Vic Flick, who had been a key part of Barry's rock group The John Barry Seven in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Monty Norman has always given massive credit to Barry's “definitive orchestration," which combined rock and jazz with a compelling stealth-meets-explosive quality throughout.
JW: The Bond films from Dr. No on set a new standard for action films. Did the music establish a new genre as well?
JB: Yes. The success of the James Bond Theme—both in Dr. No and as a commercial hit on records, led the producers to hire Barry, the theme's arranger, to score From Russia With Love. He had an assist from popular British songwriter Lionel Bart, who wrote the title tune. Barry added his already patented orchestral sound to that second 007 film.
JW: What about Goldfinger?
JB: When Barry was given the opportunity to write both the song and score for the third film you mentioned, the Bond musical style was set. What we now think of as "spy music" originated there. Just as Peter Gunn was the prototype for all cop and detective show themes on TV from 1959 onward, so did The Bond Theme and those early Barry-Bond scores become the mold for subsequent spy adventures on TV and in film.
JW: Did early Bond music make orchestral pop more appealing—particularly the music of Burt Bacharach?
JB: That's hard to say. You have to transport yourself back 45 years or so and try and remember what you were listening to and why. The commercial success of Bond music was pretty much limited to the title themes, although the soundtrack album for Goldfinger did go to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in March 1965.
JW: But the orchestral value is paramount.
JB: Absolutely. For the most successful Bond themes of the era—Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice—you're also hearing the powerful, thrilling arrangements of John Barry, the man most responsible for the Bond sound. So that stealthy and explosive combo I was talking about earlier is present in all of them—plus the romantic, exotic sound of You Only Live Twice.
JW: And Burt Bacharach?
JB: Personally, I found Burt Bacharach's orchestral pop sound attractive from the first time I heard it and did not associate it with the Bond films at all—unless you count his wonderful score for the 1967 Casino Royale, which included his classic The Look of Love.
JW: How did John Barry make his Bond themes so singular? What was the secret recipe?
JB: John Barry [pictured above] wrote like no other composer. He was already in his 30s when he co-composed Goldfinger. He was very confident in his musical abilities, which helps. His melodic and harmonic sense were singular, the result of having studied classical music as a child, playing in military bands during the early 1950s, studying with Stan Kenton arranger Bill Russo, forming his own rock band in the late 1950s and becoming a record-label executive in the early 1960s.
JW: His father’s occupation didn’t hurt either.
JB: Yes, Barry loved film music because he grew up with a father who had a chain of movie theaters in northern England. That unique combination of circumstances produced the John Barry sound. He was a smart composer and the Bond producers were immensely lucky to connect with him early on.
JW: Was Goldfinger difficult to record?
JB: I would say "demanding" rather than "difficult." Several musicians who were on the date recalled vocalist Shirley Bassey [pictured above] feeling "constricted" by her brassiere as conductor Barry pleaded for her to belt and hold that last note for several seconds. She apparently removed her bra in the privacy of her recording booth in order to comply. Bassey herself confirmed the story.
JW: How did Nancy Sinatra come to record You Only Live Twice?
JB: Bond producer Cubby Broccoli had been friends with Frank Sinatra for many years, and the family connection—plus Nancy's chart hits like These Boots Are Made for Walkin'—led to the suggestion that she sing the song that Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse had written for the new Bond adventure. This was in 1967.
JW: What is it about Nancy Sinatra’s voice that seems to make it impossible for other artists to cover the song well?
JB: Nancy herself had trouble singing it. It's not an easy tune to negotiate. Many Barry songs are deceptively difficult. Barry (and others present for the recording) said that the final version was actually assembled from more than two dozen takes, a piece here and a piece there. Nancy was very nervous at the time, and this was a major undertaking both musically and in terms of the pressure of the film. I think it's a sensational song, and I sometimes wonder if it's so closely associated with a single artist that other artists would prefer to keep their distance. [Pictured above, Nancy Sinatra with John Barry]
More Bond talk tomorrow in Part 2.
JazzWax pages: Jon Burlingame's The Music of James Bond (Oxford) can be found here. It's exactly what you want—the stories behind each theme's development and sidebars that provide even deeper drill-downs.
Jazzwax tracks: Here's Tom Jones singing the Thunderball theme. Just hover your cursor to the left of the song title in the gray bar and click the "play" triangle.
Dig how the James Bond Theme is folded into the orchestration by John Barry. It's from the new Best of Bond: James Bond 50 Years—50 Tracks (Capitol) two-CD set.