Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Worst To Best: James Bond Film Scores

Today, we'll be ranking the musical scores of the James Bond films.  This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart; I've been a fan of film music for most of my life, and have a special love for the music of the Bond films.
It isn't AS cut-and-dried a topic as it seems, though.  By which I mean this: in assessing and ranking the scores for this post, I had to decide whether or not to include the songs for consideration.  For example, when I assess John Barry's score to Goldfinger, do I include the Shirley Bassey song "Goldfinger" in that assessment?  Any score fan would tell you the answer is a no; anyone who doesn't fit the bill of "score fan" would probably wonder why.
It's a question I'm not sure I have the terminology to answer.  So I'm mostly not going to attempt it.  How's that for laziness?  I hope it suits you fine, because it's what we're stuck with.  Jettisoning the songs -- which, after all, have already been ranked in excruciating detail -- simply feels like the right move.  With that in mind, we will consider only the background score (which may in some instances include limited amounts of source music), and proceed from there.
Another major point of contention: do I judge the soundtrack albums themselves, or the scores as presented within the films?  Some of you may wonder what the difference is.  Here's a decent answer: soundtrack albums rarely -- and this is especially true in the case of the Bond films --  contain all of the movie's score.  In some instances, it may not even include half of it.  Conversely, the soundtrack album sometimes contains music that never appears in the film; and yet, despite this, there's no denying that such pieces are indeed part of the score as it was written.  These things being the case, I'm not sure it's possible for either a film-only or an album-only approach to adequately serve our purposes.  
Therefore, I will use a hybrid method, which, yes, means I'm going to just wing it.  In some cases, I'm sure I'll refer to specific tracks on the album; in other cases, I will likely focus more on the film itself.  We'll figure it out.
No winging it is needed to determine what score earns the bottom-most place on this list, however.  I think its legacy is secure, regardless of what approach one uses.
#27 -- Never Say Never Again (Michel Legrand, 1983)
I don't like Never Say Never Again much at all.  A few elements of it work for me; Connery is basically fine (and occasionally inspired), for example.  I even like the theme song pretty well, believe it or not.
The score by Michel Legrand, on the other hand, is a complete loser.  In 1983, the Bond sound was still almost entirely defined by John Barry, and by his reworking of Monty Norman's theme; since neither was available for the producers of Never Say Never Again to use for legal reasons (it's not a part of the Broccoli-produced film series), the composer hired for the film was always going to operate at a disadvantage.

It didn't have to be this big a disadvantage, however.  Any number of composers would have been available to write perfectly mediocre action-film music; it was not necessary to hamstring your film by letting Michel Legrand do the sort of self-damage he does here.
To be fair, it isn't all awful.  A piano-and-guitar piece called "Enter 007" (which is a slinky statement of the theme song's melody) is 007ish in a jazz-lounge kind of way.  If more of the score had been in that vein, things might have been okay.  Instead, much of it is like Legrand's theme for Fatima Blush, which sounds almost as if Mickey Mouse has been cast to play Jason in the new Friday the 13th film.  Absolutely awful.
Legrand's straightforward action music (such as "Plunder of a Nuclear Missile") sounds like he is aping Stravinsky, but not in the useful manner John Williams did for Star Wars.  Elsewhere, he uses cartoonish big-band-knockoff music, for no apparent reason, and tango music, for apparent reasons.  The tango is relatively successful, at least.
I know nothing about Legrand apart from this score, so I have no idea whether it is typical of his work.  It may be -- and this is entirely possible, given how ramshackle a production Never Say Never Again was -- that he was miscast for an already-impossible assignment, in which case he probably shoulders only some of the blame.  The producers who hired him deserve some, as well, as does director Irvin Kershner -- who directed The Empire Strikes Back, for God's sake -- for not deciding a film with no music would be preferable to a film with this music.

#26 -- GoldenEye (1995, Eric Serra)

Here's some stuff I said in 2014 while writing about the movie and the score:

There are people who hold this score in high regard.  I am not one of them.  I find it difficult to listen to when I do my listen-throughs of the Bond CDs.  There are a few decent cues, but there is also a lot of stuff that sounds like cats walking across keyboards and making random noises and inserting odd samples.
To be blunt, this was a terrible direction for the Bond series to go musically.  I can only assume that the producers tried to coax John Barry into returning, and he turned them down, but waited until the last minute to do it, so that Eric Serra was literally the only film composer left in the world who was available for the job.
Thing is, as it appears in the movie itself, it's not that bad a score.  I still don't think it's a particularly good one, but it must be said that Serra's approach creates an aural identity that is unlike that of any other Bond film.  It's got this sort of weird, vaguely industrial, vaguely Soviet feel to it that . . . well, to be honest, I think it actually works fairly well for the movie.  Could a different, more traditional approach, have worked better?  Yes, I think so, no doubt about it.
But . . . still, I don't think it wounds the movie as much as I always think it does when I'm listening to the soundtrack on its own.

And I think all of that is valid and true.  Bottom line for me is that I don't like the score.  In fact, I kind of hate the score; just not as much as I sometimes think I do.  It's certainly superior to Never Say Never Again, because it does function well in context.  And there's an entire generation for whom this music is best-known (and best appreciated) as the score to the video game.

I would be ill-served by failing to remember that.

Serra's approach is on full display in "The GoldenEye Overture," and you'll likely know how you feel about the score by the time this cue is over.  Serra plays around with the Monty Norman Bond theme a bit, and plays around with keyboards a lot.  I don't love it, but it's not bad.

THIS is bad.  It's Serra's idea of cool flirting-via-speeding-cars music, and to this day it astonishes me that a piece of music this dreadful was allowed to be in a James Bond movie and on a James Bond soundtrack.  The mid-nineties were a dark time.

The best bit of scoring comes not via Serra, but via John Altman, who was called in at the last minute to provide a different cue than what Serra had written for the tank-chase scene.  That piece has never (so far as I know) been officially released in its original format, but a rerecording can be found on a compilation called Bond Back In Action 2Serra's version appears on the soundtrack, and while I don't much care for it, I'm not sure I see why it was that particular scene that panicked the producers so much that they felt like they needed to call in a new composer to craft a replacement.  Shouldn't the whole score have made them have those sorts of fits?  If any of it, surely ALL of it, right?

Oh, well.

In any case, some people do love it.  Me?  I have no choice but to rank it near the very bottom.

#25 -- James Bond Jr (1991, Dennis C. Brown and Larry Brown)

Here's what I said about the music for James Bond Jr in the finale of my three-part exploration of the series:

The score was written by Dennis C. Brown and Larry Brown, and unless I am mistaken, they only wrote about one episode's worth of score and then used it over and over and over again.  There were probably a few scene-specific bits composed for certain episodes that included dancing scenes or whatnot; but on the whole, I believe that this series did what a lot of cartoons probably do, i.e., use stock music created for the show by its composers.

And if so, then they did a pretty good job.  I got more tired of the scores than I did of the theme song, but not to a huge extent.  For what it is, it does its job capably. 

Okay, cool, thanks, Bryant.  But that's not much to go on here, is it?

So what I'm going to do is this: watch an episode and jot down some real-time notes on the score.  I've got just the episode in mind, too.  At the time of writing that final post on the series, I'd been unable to find the final episode (#65, "Thor's Thunder").  However, early this year, the good soul who uploaded all those episodes to YouTube was able to locate his tape that had "Thor's Thunder" on it -- albeit in Swedish with English subtitles -- and put it online, more or less just so I could watch it.  Six months later, I still haven't actually watched it.

That changes now!

Here come some notes (which I will try to keep focused on the music, although I'd be unsurprised if some notes on the episode in general creep in as well):

  • The opening scene, in which Skullcap shows up to steal a medallion from some people who have just discovered it buried in the ice, has percussive music that is more or less buried in the sound mix.  It pokes its head above the ground every once in a while, and basically just sounds like the music to a generic action/adventure cartoon show of the era to my ears.
  • After the credits, we meet up with James and IQ, who are on a ship in the ocean for some reason.  They're wearing jackets, so I'm going to assume this means they will stumble across Skullcap.  The music here is subdued and weird; sounds like the score to fucking Andei Rublev or something.
  • IQ tells us he's built a robot duplicate of himself to stay back at Warfield.  So Trevor and, uh, whatsername -- Tracy? -- wander up and are checking it out.  Trevor decides to fuck with it, of course, and the music briefly turns comically goofy.
  • I can already tell I'm going to struggle to say much of anything useful about this music.  We cut to a hideout where Skullcap turns the medallion over to Captain Walker D. Plank.  the music turns vaguely mysterious and vaguely threatening, or maybe I'm just imagining what the music ought to be doing.  I'm not sure it's actually doing either of those things.
  • Cut back to James and IQ, who discover one of the explorers from the opening scene floating on a big chunk of ice.  It's the hot-girl one.  The music turns slightly Bond-esque (by which I mean Bond Jr-esque) as James swings into action to rescue her.  But only VERY slightly.  
  • The hot chick begins explaining things, but because I am typing this, I can only hear the Swedish dialogue, and have no idea what she is saying.  Probably something about that medallion.  The music is doing very little here, but begins ramping up as we cut to the next scene, where IQ is, like, tracking the medallion or something.
  • Jesus shit a thumbtack, are we only seven minutes in?!?  Oh, I don't think I'm going to be able to keep this up.  Uh, yeah, so the bad guys are drilling into the ice with a laser and the music briefly sounds vaguely John Carpenter-y.  Or I'm imagining it.  It's definitely one or the other.  James and IQ observe the baddies at work, and are caught almost immediately by a henchman, but James whoops his damn ass, accompanied by a brief flourish of the Bond Jr theme.
  • Some generic action music swells up a bit as Skullcap uses the laser to cut off a big chunk of ice, which goes careening down a hill with our heroes stuck on it.  IQ saves them using holographic skies or some goddam thing, which is par for the course.
  • Cut to Warfield, where Trevor has mastered the intricacies of robotics in no time flat, and has turned the replicant IQ into a standin for himself.  The music here is whimsical, so as to let us know not to take any of this seriously.  I'm not sure the music is giving us the right cue; after all, Trevor is clearly the most dangerous person in all of James Bond Jr, and if he has truly cracked the code on android-human replacement, then he is a menace who must be dealt with swiftly and terminally.
  • Back in Norway, James, IQ, and the hot blonde are, like, walking someplace.  A baby polar bear begins following them, and the music turns whimsical again.  It seems more appropriate this time, but I bet you a chicken wing that a momma polar bear is going to show up and start rarrring at everyone, and thereby give the music a chance to get menacing.  Lemme go watch a little more and find out!
  • Yep.  (Although the music actually ends up being more of a heroic statement of the Bond Jr theme; and a fairly good one, too, from what I can hear of it, buried as it is in the mix.)
  • Our heroes catch up with Plank and his goons more or less as soon as the baddies discover, like, a Viking ship buried in the ice or whatever.  The music is pretty lame here.  I gave this stuff a 001/007 when I scored the series?!?
  • Plank traps Bond et al inside the ship's hold, and then sets it on fire.  Now, you'd think a damn pirate would have more respect for a recently-unearthed ancient Viking ship than than, wouldn't you?  Plank is a real fuck-ass.  There's music in this scene, but it's not doing much of note.
  • Back to Warfield, where the Trevor-Bot is picking up small buildings and tipping them over, and then blasting Gordo in the face with a water hose.  Why, God, why?
  • James uses exploding pencil-missiles to create an avalanche that catapults himself and his friends out of danger.  I mean, sure, why not?
  • Plank and Skullcap have found a statue of Thor, as well as the titular hammer, which Plank thinks will give him superhuman strength.  I find his reasoning to be fairly flawless here, actually.  And that shit totally works, because Plank begins swinging the hammer and wrecking everything in sight, including the statue of Thor.  I pray to Odin himself that Superplank's first act will be to fly to England and put an end to both the Trevorbot and its creator/usurper.  I bet I'm not that lucky.
  • Hey, have I stopped mentioning the music?
  • James takes on Superplank, partially using gymnastics, and the music -- I remembered to notice it! -- sounds like a cat walking on a Casio.
  • IQ saves the day by using his watch to reverse the polarity on the hammer.  Uh, yeah, sure.
  • James turns down some pussy, and then IQ uses his remote control to check on how his robot is doing.  It's got everyone at Warfield hiding in trees, which is stupid, because it can clearly rip them up by the roots.  Fucking Trevor.

Anyways, yeah, the music here was pretty bad.  I recognize that it is irresponsible to not rank this in last place, but I'm not going to.  I'm leavin' it rye-cheer whur it is, because as bad as it is, I'm not sure I think it hurts the episode, whereas the scores for both Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye do, in my opinion, hurt those films.

This is, I realize, shaky logic at best.  I will apologize for that in the form of screencaps of "Thor's Thunder":

You got a lot to learn, kid.

And with that, our James Bond Jr odyssey is finally complete.

Moving on...!

#24 -- Dr. No (1962, Monty Norman)

When I reviewed this movie, I awarded a 006/007 to Dr. No's musical score on the basis of it containing the first-ever appearance of the James Bond theme by Monty Norman and/or John Barry (as you see fit).  I considered doing so again in this post, but have opted not to do so here.
There's a simple reason for that: frankly, I simply didn't want this list to have a Monty Norman score near the top of the list.  With that in mind, I am eliminating the James Bond theme itself from consideration, and am strictly assessing the background score as provided by Norman himself.
I realize this is a sort of home-field-advantage book-cooking, and you're entitled not to be okay with that.
That's what's happening here, though.  And that being the case, I can't go any higher than this.  It's not a very good score.  It's very much a product of ... well, not even of its own era, really; it's arguably more of a product of an era or two before that.  It causes Dr. No to sound like an older movie than it actually is.
Here's what I remember about the score:

  • the music for the scene in which Bond beats down the fake chauffeur is decent, but, sounds like it was written for a sci-fi serial about rocket-men from Venus; it's a good opportunity to hear Norman's own treatment of the Bond theme, though
  • the music for the tarantula scenes (Dent taking possession of it and then Bond killing it) is a little cheesy, but more or less effective;
  • there is some mildly effective music in the sequence involving Bond, Quarrel, and Honey hiding from Dr. No's guards;
  • the music for the escape from Dr. No's lair is okay.  (It's less okay when it is inexplicably recycled in From Russia With Love.)

None of this is represented on the soundtrack album, which contains only source music and album-only pieces.  Some of these are fairly good; I rather like "Jamaican Rock," "Twisting with James," "Jamaican Jazz" (which is a slowed-down instrumental version of the song "Jump Up"), "Dr. No's Fantasy," and "The Island Speaks."  "Dr. No's Theme" is a villainous-sounding instrumental take on "Three Blind Mice" that is a lot of fun.  I don't mind that album at all; it isn't particularly Bond-esque in the sense that we would come to think of Bond music, but since that sound had not yet been established, I don't know that it's fair to hold that against it.
A couple of pieces of the underscore itself have been presented via rerecordings on various compilation albums, but the original score itself remains locked away.  It's no great loss, to be honest.  I'd buy it if anyone ever put it out on CD, but only out of a sense of completionism.
So all in all, even though I do like the album itself and have a certain amount of respect for the score as it appears in the film, I can't honestly say that this one doesn't deserve to be placed near the bottom of the list.

#23 -- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Marvin Hamlisch)

There are people who loved this score, and while I wish I was one of them, I'm not.  This is true of The Spy Who Loved Me in general, not just its score; I'm just not a fan.
The highlight of the score is likely "Bond 77," the disco-esque riff on the James Bond Theme that plays underneath the pre-titles sequence.  I do have a mild soft spot in my heart for this cue, which is heavy on the cowbell and synthesized laser blasts or whatever that damned sound was in the seventies.  It's a marvel of bad taste, so much so that it kind of turns the corner right back into excellence.  If somebody did this today and called it kitschy homage, they'd be hailed as a genius.  So why not enjoy the real thing, too?  I do; not as much as some folks seem to, but in my own measure.

Another acceptable cue is "Ride to Atlantis," a dreamy piece that represents the wonder of Bond and Anya being underwater.  It's fine, but I'd prefer to let John Barry (or even Bill Conti) do this sort of thing; they're better at it than Marvin Hamlisch.

Elsewhere, you'll find faux-Egyptian music, a romantic theme for Anya that I forget literally while I'm listening to it, propulsive but ineffective action music representing the submarine-swallowing tanker, a cue ("Eastern Lights") that I'd swear came from a porno, and so forth.

All in all, it's one of the Bond scores that I enjoy the least; so where else would I put it?  (I'll answer that: I was tempted to put it beneath Dr. No, because I'd much rather listen to it than to this.  But I decided against doing so; don't really know why, just goin' with my gut.)

#22 -- Licence to Kill (1989, Michael Kamen)

I'm not sure it was known to anyone at the time, but 1989's Licence to Kill marked the beginning of a new era in Bond films: the post-John Barry era.  He'd composed his final 007 score for the previous film in the series, The Living Daylights.

Perhaps hungering for a new sound, the producers hired Michael Kamen, who was doing very well for himself around that time writing the music for action films.  He'd scored Highlander in 1986, Lethal Weapon in 1987, and Die Hard in 1988.  Just a few weeks after Licence to Kill, he had Lethal Weapon 2, and the next year brought Die Hard 2.  The year after THAT brought one of his triumphs, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  He remained one of the biggest names in Hollywood scoring until his death in 2003.

In other words, the guy was no chump.  Nevertheless, I think his score for Licence to Kill is a bit on the uninspired side, even if you're not judging it against John Barry's music.  He has fans, though, and so does the score.  I hope I'll join their ranks one of these days, but to my ears, this sounds like it is merely a competent and somewhat generic action-movie score.  It has flourishes that elevate it temporarily, and the Bond theme pokes its head above the waters at times; but it doesn't really sound anything like what I think of as James Bond music.

This may be as much MY fault as anything.  I haven't listened to the score as often as many of the others, or with as much attention.  Hey, it's a possibility, I guess.

#21 -- Spectre (2015, Thomas Newman)

I truly hate Spectre, which currently occupies a slot either at THE bottom of my personal ranking of Bond films or one very near the bottom.

One of the few bright spots of the movie, I'd argue, is the music.  Not so much the score, though; it's the Sam Smith theme song that I love.  Many don't, and that's okay, but since we're not here to talk about the songs, let's not dwell on it.

The score by Thomas Newman is (in my opinion) a significant step down from the first of his Bond films, Skyfall.  But the entire movie is a significant step down from that one, and I'd argue that the decline in quality from score to score is a less severe one than the decline in quality from, say, lead villain to lead villain.  What Newman does here is still basically okay.  His music for the car-chase in Rome is more exciting than the car-chase in Rome is; his music for the airplane-versus-car chase is WAY more exciting than the airplane-versus-car chase is; the music for the arrival in Tangier is solid; and so forth.

The film also puts forth a couple of highly effective instrumental versions of Smith's "Writing's on the Wall," although I'm unsure whether Newman gets that credit or Smith or both or neither.

If the score has a problem, it's that there is too much recycling of material from Skyfall.  It's entirely possible this is less Newman's fault than it is the fault of director Sam Mendes, or even the film's editor, who sometimes calls the shots when it comes to placing music in a scene.  I also don't much care for the vaguely metal-style guitar riff that begins popping up toward the end during Bond's final pursuit of Oberhauser. 

All of that results in a score that has moments I like quite a bit, but which I am on the whole ambivalent toward.  By the way, this is the final score on the list about which the word "ambivalent" can be used to describe my attitude.  From here on out, even the "worst" of the bunch is something I'd happily listen to just about any old day of the week.

#20 -- The World Is Not Enough (1999, David Arnold)

For his second Bond score, David Arnold jumped cannonball-style into the waters of percussive electronica.  It's probably possible to see this as a betrayal of the Bond-music style, but I'd argue that Arnold's approach is substantively similar to what Bill Conti and (to a lesser degree) Marvin Hamlisch did with disco in their respective scores for the series.  By which I mean that I think Arnold's experiments expand the palette of the series' music, not violate it.

It's a key distinction.  You may theoretically disagree, of course.

I myself disagreed the first few times I heard the score, which mostly seemed like noise rather than music.

But listen to those tones as the beginning of "Access Denied" and tell me that isn't Bond.  An updated Bond, yes; a Bond no longer necessarily shackled to the 1950s or the 1960s, true.  But otherwise Bond, through and through.

Arnold even tries out a Barry-esque lounge jazz cue in "Casino," which is not actually used as capably in the film as it might have been.  This was true of Barry's cues in that vein, as well, so Arnold is following the maestro's lead in more ways than one.

"Elektra's Theme" is an instrumental version of an unused end-credits song, "Only Myself to Blame."  It's a very good melody, and it recurs throughout the score (including in the aforementioned "Casino").

The score's highlight might well be "Pipeline," a propulsive and exciting cue that represents one of the movie's sillier scenes.  It's an action scene, obviously, and if you're on the movie's wavelength you may never actually take notice of how silly the action taking place is.  That's a testament to the editing and the music, in large part, which add so much spice to the scene that the story is quite secondary.

And so forth.  I personally think it's the least effective of Arnold's five Bond scores, but it's nevertheless pretty damn effective.
#19 -- Die Another Day (2002, David Arnold)

In large part, David Arnold's Die Another Day score is in the same sonic vein as his music for The World Is Not Enough.  If you're not a fan of that one, you're apt not to be a fan of this one, either.
I considered ranking this one below that one, but what ended up putting it ahead for me is that I really dig the Cuban-style cues that Arnold deploys during the scenes introducing us to that nation.  "Welcome to Cuba" is a sheer delight, for example, both in and of itself and for the degree to which it plays with the Monty Norman James Bond theme.
Here's a challenge for you: watch the movie again (a challenge indeed, I'm sure many of you feel) and pay close attention to the music.  See if you can identify places where it sounds as if Arnold is weaving in a melody he intends to be the film's dominant musical theme.  I think it's there, and I think it means that Arnold wrote a theme song that never got used (and perhaps was never even recorded).  Instead, we ended up with Madonna's out-of-place title song, which is likely a poor trade.
At press time, La-La Land Records has just issued a two-disc expanded soundtrack for the film.  Mine came in the mail literally today, and I have not had a chance to listen to it yet.  When I do, I may well write a track-by-track review for this blog.
#18 -- Octopussy (1983, John Barry)
There's no such thing as a bad John Barry score for a James Bond film.  I'm not sure there's such a thing as a bad John Barry film score; he's one of the unquestioned masters of the medium, alongside other such masters as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Bernard Herrmann.
Any of those could theoretically be questioned, I suppose, but if one were inclined to question Barry to me as regards his James Bond music, I'd be inclined to reply by simply blinking a lot.
So it is that when I say Octopussy is probably his worst score for the series, you must understand that I am in no way not enamored of the score.  It's not that it's not great, it's just that it's not AS great as most of his others.
Among its virtues:
  • fine dramatic versions of the Monty Norman theme
  • good villainous music for the knife-throwing brothers and for Gobinda, the turbaned henchman
  • several GORGEOUS instrumental versions of "All Time High," the main-title song
  • evocative music for the arrival at Octopussy's island

Among its less successful elements:

  • a mildly annoying cue for the bomb scene; not bad, but not as effective as you'd hope it would be
  • a bit too much repetition of the villainous music

As far as unsuccessful elements go, those are fairly easy to deal with.  So yeah, pretty good score.  Better ones are coming up, but still, pretty good. 
#17 -- Diamonds Are Forever (1971, John Barry)
I considered demoting this one so that it was behind Octopussy and therefore owner of the title "Barry's Worst Bond Score," but at the last moment I opted not to, almost entirely on the strength of the title song's melody.
  • "Circus, Circus," which is a lovely slow waltz that does more to make Las Vegas seem romantic than anything in the actual filming did
  • a terrific lounge-jazz instrumental of the title song
  • "Bond Smells a Rat," a tense cue that makes for a pretty good example if you ever need to demonstrate what John Barry James Bond music sounds like
  • "007 and Counting," a slow, hypnotic march piece that arguably works against the on-screen content (a countdown probably shouldn't be represented by something one might describe as slow and hypnotic) but is nevertheless great
  • the slinky theme music for Wint and Kidd (probably heard best in "Bond to Holland")


  • "Moon Buggy Ride," which is awesome at times but also includes ... uh ... well, I don't have the music vocabulary to precisely describe this, but there's a repeated section for -- what is that? flutes? let's say flutes -- flutes and light percussion than really gets on my nerves
  • a not-great rendition of Barry's "007" theme (which I tend only to love in its original guise)

The score has a kitchen-sink approach that makes one think that Barry may have had no actual clue what to do with the film, so he simply threw everything he had at it and hoped something stuck.  In my opinion, he mostly succeeded, and he's one of the few people associated with the film about whom that can be said.

#16 -- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997, David Arnold)

John Barry had retired from the Bond franchise following 1987's The Living Daylights, and the next two films in the series found the producers struggling to replace him: Licence to Kill (by Michael Kamen) was a somewhat generic score reminiscent of American action films, and GoldenEye (by Eric Serra) was a random-sounding mess full of sampled weirdness.

By the time Tomorrow Never Die arrived, it had been a solid decade since there had been any great Bond music.

Here's what I said about the score when reviewing the film in late 2014:

The mission could not have been simpler, or more obvious: whatever that god damned Eric Serra did, undo it, and get back to what Bond films are supposed to sound like.

For the task, the producers hired British composer -- and big-time Bond fan -- David Arnold, who was hot off a string of hits like Stargate and Independence Day.  So he brought back the steel guitar, used the Bond theme about seventy times, and made up for whatever perceived errors Eric Serra had committed on GoldenEye.

I can distinctly recall listening to the soundtrack the day it came out (a few weeks prior to the movie) at a friend's apartment.  This was the same friend with whom I saw the movie, but on this particular day, we were getting ready to leave for Atlanta, where we were going to be seeing U2.  But we listened to this soundtrack first, and my friend indulged me in my geekiness, and even shared in a bit of it when the Moby track came up and we heard the sample of Goldfinger dialogue near the end.

Good times.
Arnold's music ("White Knight") for the pre-titles sequence is marvelous, but it's mostly buried underneath the sound effects.  It also seems to have been the victim of being edited after the score was finalized, which makes one wonder why.  A keen ear will note -- not merely here, but throughout the score -- that the melody for "Surrender (more on which briefly) is very present in this scene.

The score for the big kiss between Bond and Paris is, like, the most overly dramatic score I've ever heard.  Arnold seems to be trying to convince me that this is Out of Africa instead of Moonraker.  The music itself is good, but that's an example of really bad scoring.

An example of really good scoring: the scene in which Bond drives his BMW from the back seat.  That is without a doubt the standout scene of the entire film, and Arnold gives it a big boost.

Another favorite moment: the moment when Bond dives into the water at the end to save Wai Lin, and breathes air into her lungs in the form of a kiss.  The melody for "Surrender" plays here, but in a very lush and heroic mode that I don't possess the musical vocabulary to describe.  It's sublime, though. 

I stand by all of that, although my inclination is the score up a place or two simply because I like it so much on disc.  (Make that "discs," since there are actually two different soundtrack releases, the second of which contained a great deal of score not represented on the first.)  Since I'm trying to take the scores' presentation within the films into account here, I won't; but I am tempted, and have a much softer spot for this one than its relatively low placement might indicate.

#15 -- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974, John Barry)

At one point in time I thought of this as the nadir -- "nadir" being highly relative in this case -- of Barry's Bond-score output.  I've come around on it in recent years, though, and now think the it is an above-average score for an average film.  (My disposition toward the film has improved, as well: I used to hate it, but have upgraded to "like" and might be on the road toward "love.)

I could probably live without some of the ragtime-jazz stuff, but apart from that, there is a lot to enjoy here.  "Goodnight Goodnight" is ominously romantic, and if you didn't think that could be a thing, well, John Barry could get shit like that done.

"Let's Go Get 'em" is a great action cue that puts the awesome five-note gunshot-like blast of sound from the title song to terrific use; that's another standout for me.

My favorite track might be "In Search of Scaramanga's Island," which begins with a lush statement of the title song's melody than transitions into about thirty seconds of the most dramatic music in the entire series, a tense and foreboding bit representing Bond flying low to avoid detection in searching for the baddie's hideout.  That fades out for a while, but then comes back in an even more intense manner.  This is pure Barry gold.

#14 -- A View to a Kill (1985, John Barry)

Here's me in 2013:

I love this score's highlights, but it becomes a bit repetitive at times, which is its only real sin (apart from being the score to a somewhat substandard film).  The melody (I think it's the melody, at least) of the theme song appears in at least two excellent orchestral versions: a lush, romantic version during the scene in which Bond and Stacy and two bottles of wine have dinner; and a heroic fanfare that plays when Bond rescues Stacy from the fire at City Hall.

There's also an exciting, electric-guitar-infused secondary theme (called "He's Dangerous") that gets used at least one time too many in the course of the movie.  It's mildly reminiscent of the main theme music in On Her Majesty's Secret Service; not as good as that, but pretty good, and any time I feel like making a mix of Barry's Bond music to listen to, "He's Dangerous" makes the cut.

Personally, I wouldn't say that this is one of Barry's better Bond scores overall.  It brings a lot to the movie, though; watch the movie again and try to imagine how flat some scenes would be without it, and I think you'll agree.

Does that seem harsh?  Yeah, to me, too.  I might have been influenced by my grumpiness over the film's decision to cut in a shite cover of "California Girls" during Barry's ski-chase music (in "Snow Job").  That decision shouldn't be held against Barry's score, but it might well have knocked it down at least one peg in these rankins despite not technically being part of the score.

Them's the breaks.

#13 -- Casino Royale (1967, Burt Bacharach)

Yeah, yeah, I hear you: you think this doesn't count as a James Bond movie.  Well, it definitely does not count as an EON production, I'll grant you that.  But that is not the only means by which a movie can be officially considered to be a James Bond film, and that's just a fact, as is this one: the 1967 Casino Royale is 100% a James Bond movie.

Not a good one.  Barely (if at all) a palatable one.  So what?  It still counts, and so here it is on our list, where it has managed to land outside the top ten, despite how much I love it.

How'd that happen?  Well, the fact is that the score doesn't play as well within the film as it does on record.  If it did, it might well have made my top five -- and wouldn't that have chapped some ass?

Some of the standout cues are:

  • "Casino Royale (Main Theme)" -- which sounds absolutely nothing like James Bond music except in that it is awesome.  A bunch of horns, playing a theme which sounds very heroic, but somehow manages to suggest a world in which heroism is a thing almost entirely of the past (presumably on account of James Bond having finally defeated everyone who needed defeating).  Post-heroism?  Is that a thing?  
  • "Home James, Don't Spare the Horses" -- it's mod swinger music, but there's also a tuba in it, and if that doesn't make you smile a bit then what possibly could?
  • "Little French Boy" -- more tuba in this one, which has a great melody and seems like it probably could and should have had lyrics added to it by Hal David so that Tom Jones could have had a #1 single with it
  • "The Venerable Sir James Bond" -- a jaunty alternative James Bond theme that I'd love for David Arnold to somehow resurrect as a serious piece of music in the next Bond movie; wouldn't that be a gas?

Anyways, I can see how this one wouldn't hit the right spot for lots of Bond fans, who have minimal interest in music that sounds like it came straight out of an issue of Mad Magazine.  As Bond music, it's daffier than even GoldenEye.  But I think everyone involved in this movie deserves credit for looking at the existing Bond films -- with which they were going to be in competition -- and deciding to simply turn and run in the other direction.  Would you have actually wanted the movie to be serious and to hire somebody to do inferior action-film music?

Me neither.  So not only am I fine with what this is, I say that since it is an exemplary version of what it is, it can and should only be considered a triumph.

Pity the rest of the movie didn't follow suit.

#12 -- Skyfall (2012, Thomas Newman)

When the dust had settled and my You Only Blog Twice experiment ranking all the films in a faux-scientific manner had concluded, it was Skyfall standing atop the heap in the #1 spot.

It's an experiment I plan to refine and redo eventually, and I'll be surprised if Skyfall manages to remain #1.  I hated Spectre so much that it has soured me a bit on the rest of the Daniel Craig era, which is unfair but ... I mean, look, I don't make these reactions up.  I'm not inventing them; I'm having them, and then blogging about them so as to understand them better.

Regardless of what happens in the future, Skyfall will have spent several years atop my list of Bond films.

And you know what?  The score is a big part of that.

Here's what I said in 2015:

I was very worried by the hiring of Thomas Newman to write the score.  Not that I haven't loved Newman's work (such as Finding Nemo and The Shawshank Redemption) in the past; I have.  But I felt like I'd never heard anything from him that suggested the ability to write what I thought of as a "Bondian score."  Also, I fretted that the producers were continuing to marginalize David Arnold, who had done terrific work for them over the years and has not been given some of the title-song opportunities he clearly deserves.

However, as it turns out, not only is Thomas Newman very capable of doing a Bondian score, he's very capable of doing one that bears more than a passing resemblance to a David Arnold score.  This means that aurally, Skyfall is a much more apt companion to Casino Royale and Quantum than it might have turned out to be.

There are moments where the action writing is a bit on the bland side, but there are just as many moments when it isn't, and Newman provides at least one master stroke: early on, during the scene in which Mallory tells M that her retirement planning has commenced, Newman introduces a dirge-like motif.  He brings that motif back at key point during the film, including -- especially -- for M's death.  This theme ties much of the movie together, which is what film music does when it is at its best.

Skimming my way through the score while writing this, I'm still very much a fan.  It remains to be seen what will happen with Bond 25; if you give me my pick, I'd bring David Arnold back, and let him stay on a permanent basis.  However, if you told me now that Thomas Newman would be back for a third go, I'd give it a thumbs-up.  I'm not the biggest fan of what he did on Spectre, but given how shite the movie is, I can't hold that against Newman.

Some of the Skyfall highlights include:

  • "Voluntary Retirement," the aforementioned motif for M's impending, uh, retirement
  • "New Digs," a world-music-flavored cue for the new MI6 headquarters
  • "Shanghai Drive," a brief trance-like piece representing Bond's arrival in China
  • "The Chimera," a suspense cue that is probably the best example of Newman's own voice coming through while simultaneously sounding like Bond music
  • "Tennyson," a dramatic cue that represents M's brave words in front of the MPs

And so forth.  It pretty much all works.

#11 -- Quantum of Solace (2008, David Arnold)

Spake I of this score in 2015:

David Arnold's score is one of his best for the series (topped perhaps only by Casino Royale); he's only gotten better as his tenure progressed, and I wish Sam Mendes had retained him for the next two films.  Ah, well.

A few specifics: (1) that Herrmannesque anticipatory-strings section at the very beginning is exceptional; (2) I love the music that accompanies Bond's arrival at Mitchell's apartment; (3) the Santoalalla-esque music accompanying Bond and Camille walking away from the sinkhole and underground river is striking. 
There are lots of nice little grace-notes (pardon the pun) in Arnold's score.  One of my favorites comes in the scene in which Bond subdues the MI6 guards in the elevator and is walking away from the scene; Arnold punctuates the music with a recurring three-note motif that is subtle but still insistent and confident in good 007 style.  It's theoretically possible Arnold is even echoing the title song's chorus; if so, he's making more use of it than Jack White did.  (If you want to look for it, it's around the 1:19:55 mark and runs maybe ten or fifteen seconds.  Good stuff.)
As of the present moment, this stands as Arnold's final score for the series.  Let it not remain so!

  #10 -- Live and Let Die (1973, George Martin)

Here's what I said about this score when I reviewed the movie a half a decade ago:

When I first began buying all the Bond scores on CD, Live and Let Die was one of my least favorite.  As I've gotten older, though, it's really grown on me, and now I find that I like it quite a lot.  George Martin, who was a rather important musical figure, what with his producing The Beatles and all, turned in a very solid piece of work that dipped its toe into the blaxploitation waters just enough to feel funky.  It also works AS a dramatic score, though: witness how propulsive it makes the scene in which Bond is trying to steer the out-of-control car, or the tension it adds to the slacker moments during the scene in which Bond is menaced by a snake in his hotel room.

Martin was also versatile enough to completely nail the music during Baron Samedi's nightclub performance: it is alien enough to feel like source music, but kitschy enough to feel like the type of thing one would hear at a nightclub for tourists.

And I think that's still where I am with this one.

Some of the highlights:

  • "Bond Meets Solitaire," in which Martin effortlessly blends Monty Norman's Bond theme with the approach he himself is using on the score
  • "San Monique," a sprightly bit of faux-island music that sounds more than a bit like something Barry himself might have done
  • "Bond Drops In," which, if I'm not mistaken, features a harpsichord
  • "Trespassers Will Be Eaten," which is badass, but not in a way I know how to describe, hence my dancing around doing so and simply vamping until I've typed a sufficient amount of words to make it appear as if I said something substantial, when in fact I did not

Good stuff, top to bottom.

#9 -- You Only Live Twice (1967, John Barry)

Not even close to being one of my favorite Bond movies, You Only Live Twice is helped immeasurably by John Barry's score.  If somebody said it was his best, I'd be unable -- and unwilling -- to argue with them much.  I've got quite a few ranked above it, but so what?  This shit is GREAT.

Highlights include:

  • "Capsule In Space" -- dreamy and nightmarish simultaneously, this is one of tracks Barry produced for the films that most says "James Bond" to me when I listen to it.  Nobody else has ever been able to do that in the same manner; a few people have taken solid stabs at it, but nobody yet has truly done it better.
  • "Fight at Kobe Dock" -- an exciting yet oddly jaunty action-scene cue that reworks the melody of the title song to great effect.  (By the way, listen to the tone of this cue and compare it to some of Bacharach's Casino Royale score from the same year.  They are miles apart in some ways, but they also remind me of each other in their attitude.)
  • "Mountains and Sunsets" -- that same melody is now turned into an incredibly lush romantic theme
  • "The Wedding" -- speaking of incredibly lush romantic themes, boy here one is, and it is a series highpoint, not merely a highpoint of this film

To name a few.  Pretty much every track on the album is great.  And the score is used wonderfully in the film (not always a guarantee in the world of film music, although it's been the case with Bond films more often than not).

#8 -- Casino Royale (2005, David Arnold)

David Arnold's finest hour (for the Bond films, at least) came 'round in 2005, with the stone-cold triumph that is Casino Royale.  I say that as an assessment of the entire film, not merely the score, although yes, the score as well.

Among the highlights:

  • "African Rundown," which is about as good as modern action-movie scoring gets
  • "Blunt Instrument," which contains a terrific statement of the "You Know My Name" melody in what amount to a new Bond theme (and a quite credible one that I wish had returned in subsequent films)
  • "Solange," a brief but incredibly lovely piece that evokes Barry at his lushest and most romantic
  • "Miami International," a twelve-minute track that I believe to be the longest sustained piece of action-scene music in the Bond canon; it manages to remain exciting throughout without losing momentum, which is an achievement
  • "Vesper," a heartbreaking theme for the best Bond girl to ever live that again finds Arnold equaling Barry at his finest; he can't do it as often, but he CAN do it, and that's a fine compliment
  • "City of Lovers," a version of Vesper's theme that gives the lovers an all-too-temporary moment in the sunshine
  • "The Name's Bond...James Bond," the music for the film's coda; it might be the best use of Monty Norman's Bond theme since the first time it appeared in Dr. No -- it's that good
So yeah, it's a hell of a fine score, one that -- like many of the other entries on this list -- has only improved with age.

I think it's likely to continue doing so.

#7 -- Thunderball (1965, John Barry)

I think one could persuasively argue that Barry's Thunderball score is a bit too repetitive for its own good.  I think one could just as persuasively argue that it's his pinnacle achievement for the series.

I'd argue neither, personally.  I'd argue that it's awesome, but just outside the realm of his peak achievements on the series.

Here are some bits that I love:

  • "At the Casino," which turns the intense melody of the title song into a hugely romantic piece; and what I kind of like about that is the suggestion that even when Bond has gone into seduction mode, he's still got the mission on his mind -- the performance may vary, but he melody remains the same, if you will
  • "Bond Below Disco Volante" -- I have no idea how to describe what I'm hearing here, except to say that it is dreamlike, haunting, terrifying, hypnotizing; Barry's Bond music at its best

Seems like I should single out more cues, but I'd probably just end up going through the entire album.

#6 -- For Your Eyes Only (1981, Bill Conti)

We once again dip into the back catalog of You Only Blog Twice for some salient commentary:

Of all the scores not written by John Barry for the Bond films, this is easily my favorite, and in fact -- blasphemy! -- I prefer it to a few of Barry's scores.  It took me years to warm up to it, though; the disco sensibilities used to put me off, but I got over that around the time the old millennium ended, or maybe a bit sooner.

Bill Conti's style is different from Barry's, but he carries over two of Barry's signatures: incorporating the theme of the title song into numerous sequences, and also creating several standalone musical setpieces.  Here, I love Conti's music for the chase through the Spanish countryside, and for the ski chase sequence, and for the scene in which Melina and Bond find the wreck of the St. Georges.  There is excellent music throughout, though, including the climbing-scene music toward the end, and the softcore-porn-style music in the scene where Bond and Lisl seduce each other.

I'd like to make mention, finally, of a couple of sequences in which the lack of score is used extremely well.  Whether Conti should get the credit for this, or director John Glen, or maybe even the editor, I don't know, but it's irrelevant, because whoever the credit goes to, it works.

One: the pre-credits sequence, in which Bond's helicopter is taken over by Blofeld.  There is no score in this while Bond is at a disadvantage, but the moment he finally gets the upper-hand Conti's disco-style horns kick in.  It's hard to imagine a modern action film using the lack of score this well.

Two: similarly, in the car chase that results when Bond and Melina escape from Gonzalez's villa, the first part of the chase involves Melina driving her own car (a dumpy yellow Citroen, much to the elitist Bond's chagrin).  Again, there is no score.  But when the car turns over onto its roof and they bail out to turn it back over, Bond takes advantage of the situation to take over the driver's seat.  Immediately, the score kicks in, the intensity of the filming and the stunts increases drastically, and we find ourselves in the middle of a James Bond car chase, rather than a mere car chase.  It's another win for everyone involved.

Yep, I agree with every word of that.  Thanks, Past Bryant!

#5 -- Moonraker (1979, John Barry)

I don't know how one manages to work on a movie as deeply silly as Moonraker and produce one of the finest scores of one's entire (very distinguished) career, but doggone if that's not exactly what John Barry did.

What's the best bit?  Is it "Space Lazer Battle," which is somehow persuasive enough in its drama to actually convey the high tension of the scenario it represents.  You listen to this and feel certain the world is going to come to an end if the British Secret Service isn't there to prevent it.

Yeah, might be that that's the best bit.  It might alternatively be "Miss Goodhead Meets Bond," a version of the title song's melody which is among the most romantic things John Barry ever wrote.  And John Barry wrote Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves.

Or it might be "Bond Lured to Pyramid," which is yet another of the most romantic things John Barry ever wrote.

There are several other options as well.  It's an exceptional score pretty much beginning to end.

#4 -- The Living Daylights (1987, John Barry)

From my 2013 review:

I feel as if I've neglected the Bond scores, in some ways.  I could probably write a separate post about each of them, and may do in time.  This is especially true of John Barry's scores.  His work on The Living Daylights was his final time scoring a Bond picture, and he went out in style, with a lush, exciting score that modernizes the Bond sound, but sacrifices not one bit of the relevance of the music.

Let's look at a few of the highpoints.  (I'm tempting to embed a shitload of videos here, too, but I'm tired as hell, and too lazy to actually do it.  Sorry!)

  • A modernized version of the James Bond theme plays during Gibraltar scene; it recurs during the chase across the ice.  There's a good bit of synthesizer in place of the steel guitar, but the tune is the same, and it works like a charm.
  • The score during the sniper scene is great; tense and foreboding.  Something is wrong, it says; all is not what it seems.
  • Necros gets his own theme music, one of the relatively few villains to have that happen.  The song you hear playing through his headphones off and on is "Where Has Every Body Gone?" by The Pretenders.  It, like "If There Was a Man," was co-written by John Barry.  Barry's uses the theme in an instrumental guise for scenes in which Necros features.  Good tune, although the Pretenders song itself is not one of my favorite Bond songs.
  • Barry uses an instrumental version of "If There Was a Man" during Kara's first meeting with Bond; it is a tentative, unsure version played on woodwind, but it is essentially the same gorgeous tune that will return later.  A few minutes later, Barry reprises it in a light, sweet piano version for the moment in which Bond gruffly allows Kara to pick up her cello; here, it indicates that Bond has already begun falling for this tender willow of a woman.
  • After Saunders is killed, Bond, enraged, begins chasing the balloons he saw earlier.  Barry brings in Necros's theme, and this helps to make the scene work; it's a fakeout, because Necros is gone, but thanks to the music, we -- like Bond -- feel like we are on the hunt.
  • When he first see Bond pursuing Pushkin, a slow, ominous instrumental version of the title song begins playing.  Several minutes later, when Bond is escaping after "killing" Pushkin, the music reprises, but in a more action-oriented mode.  It's really terrific, and dramatically it serves to link the two scenes. 
  • A cheesy sax solo plays when the two chicks in the convertible pick Bond up after the Pushkin assassination.  This is not one of the film's highpoints; it feels -- the scene and the score alike -- like it might have stepped right out of Diamonds Are Forever.
  • Barry's music for the journey into the badlands of Afghanistan is lush, gorgeous, ominous; vintage Barry.
It be lame AND inaccurate to suggest that Barry's final score sent him out on an all-time high.  However, he definitely got out while the ovations were still ringing in his ears, and while I'd have loved to see him come back for another film or two, it also pleases me that his final effort was something this great.

#3 -- Goldfinger  (1964, John Barry)

The purist in me knows that this probably deserves to be in the #1 spot.  This score is as iconic as it gets.  I don't know that there is a false note in it; maybe there is, but I'm unconvinced of it.

Here is a sample of the excellence that is John Barry's Goldfinger:

  • "Into Miami" -- a swinging, exciting piece of music that only lasts about a minute but somehow seems to express the sheer exuberance of being alive
  • "Goldfinger (Instrumental)" -- this rocks about as hard as anything can that doesn't involve Lars Ulrich but does involve a string section
  • "Dawn Raid on Fort Knox" -- one of the greatest action-scene cues ever written
  • "Golden Girl" -- this cue includes the chiming motif representing Oddjob, and is both gentle and tense, somehow
  • "The Laser Beam" -- Barry's music for the scene in which Goldfinger has Bond strapped to a table with a laser beam menacing his togetherness is flawless

What can you say?  This is great, great stuff.

#2 -- From Russia With Love (1963, John Barry)

Daniela Bianchi is so beautiful on that album cover that it almost makes me physically ill.  It's like my eyes know they are seeing something that they are not vaguely worthy of seeing, and are hollering at my stomach about it.  My stomach has no idea why all the fuss.

Does that have anything to do with this score?

No.  My ears also feel a bit unworthy when listening to it, though.  It's just imposingly great; this was Barry's first score for the series, and it almost sounds as if it's the work of a guy who wasn't merely writing a film score, but writing a score that was to serve as an audition for the rest of his career as a film-composing master.

He got the job.

Some of the highlights from this score:

  • "Opening Titles," the first eight seconds of which are as exciting as any music ever recorded, not just in film music, but in music of any genre
  • "Girl Trouble," the cue for that insane gypsy girlfight
  • "Bond Meets Tania," a brief but incredibly romantic version of the title song's melody
  • "007," the second-best piece of Bond music ever recorded (behind only the Barry-produced version of the Monty Norman James Bond theme from Dr. No)
  • "Stalking," a cue representing Red Grant dispatching the James Bond lookalike

It gets only marginally better than this.

Speaking of which...

#1 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service  (1969, John Barry)

I think a lot of Bond fans probably agree with me on this one.

There are other scores in the series that could justifiably stake a claim to being the best Bond score ever.  I'd say there might be as many as seven -- 007? (no, lame-o) -- that could argue their right to wear that champion's belt without getting laughed out of the conversation.

For me, though, it's Majesty's all the bloody way.


Well, I don't know that I'd ever stopped to ask myself that question before now.  I simply felt it instinctively.  Something to do with the dramatic sections helping to sell the drama while the escapist elements help to keep the film recognizably Bondian.

Something like that, yeah.  But I'm not super motivated to go digging and figure it out.  I'm content to simply keep feeling it, which is made easier by virtue of these tracks:

  • "This Never Happened to the Other Feller" -- a great take on the Bond theme opens this cue, which eventually turns into preposterously exciting fistfight music
  • "Try" -- not used as prominently in the film as it could have been, this lounge-jazz piece has a molten river of melancholy running through it.  Does it represent Tracy's profound sadness?  Does it represent Bond's inner turmoil, the persistent emptiness that he runs away from in places like this?  Hey, why not both?
  • "Main Theme" -- One of the few times in the series in which an instrumental is used in the opening credits, this is handily one of the best piece of music in the Bond canon.  I'd put it at #2, behind the Bond theme and "007."
  • "Journey to Blofeld's Hideaway" -- this evokes the Alpine majesty of the Piz Gloria fortress, as well as some of the jaunty sneakiness Bond is employing to get there
  • "Over & Out" -- this almost sounds like John Carpenter in the four-note motif that runs throughout ("over-and-OUT," it almost seems to be insisting), but with a slowed-down rendition of the main theme playing beneath it
  • "Battle at Piz Gloria" -- I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the way I hear the rhythm of this cue, but am kind of glad I don't; let the mystery be, my friend, and this is an awesome one
  • "Gumbold's Safe" -- the tensest music in all of Bond-dom, for my money; it's unthinkable that this was not on the original soundtrack, and that decades had to pass before Bond-score nerds could listen to it outside the film
  • "Bond Meets the Girls" -- ditto for this slinky, but somehow terrifying, piece that represents Bond's initial encounter with the unwitting angels of death
  • "Dusk at Piz Gloria" -- almost a part two for "Bond Meets the Girls," this is an insanely romantic -- but, again, surprisingly ominous -- piece of music that represents Barry at his finest (or very near it)


It's as good as scores get.  I'd stack this up against anything; Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Psycho, whatever you want to claim as being the cream of the crop, it's got On Her Majesty's Secret Service racing right alongside it, grinning at it and showing no signs of slowing down.

Will we ever see a Bond score as good?

Never say never, but just between you and me ... I wouldn't bet on it.


And there you have it: my ranking of the Bond scores.  It's an impossibly fine legacy of music even if you aren't including the songs.

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... Worst To Best: James Bond Performances.


  1. (1) I've never really ranked the scores properly, but I suspect that if I did I'd probably come up with the same bottom two.

    (2) Delighted to get another James Bond, Jr. review. Man! "Plank is a real fuck-ass." That first screencap is fantastic, as well. Glad to see the series come to a proper close.

    (3) Man I love "Bond 77" and "Ride to Atlantis." They're the music I think of when I think of this movie. "Ride to Atlantis" sounds a little underwhelming this time around, at least from my computer speakers. "Bond 77" and those synth-70s-lasers will always rule.

    (4) That Herb Alpert "Casino Royale" and "Venerable James Bond" haunted me for years. I caught this movie once on Encore way back when (1991? Somewhere around there) and had no idea of what to make of it. But these songs lodged into mind and for years afterward I could never remember where I heard them. They evoke memories of both cable-Encore-movies in 1990-1992 (where I saw so many films that left a lasting impression and widened my whole idea of cinema, even if, like "Casino Royale" their ultimate worth is more in other columns besides "film excellence" etc.) and of Snug Harbor and Jerusalem, Rhode Island, where Klum lived for awhile and where I saw this again with him once and finally had the a-ha THAT'S the song moment.

    (5) Man am I happy to see the 2 Bond soundtracks I listen to the most up here in the top 10! For some reason - certainly not planned - "Live and Let Die" and "You Only Live Twice" sat within easy reach of my work computer and I just got in the habit of throwing them on, particualrly when I couldn't find anything else to hit the spot, because they always fit anything. I've really grown to love both of these soundtracks a lot - always have, really, but now for the new experience of having listened to them both upwards of 50-60 times over the past couple of years. Anyway, "To Live and Let Die:" "San Monique" and the whole ending-sequence suite are just so phantasmal. I love them. Top to bottom - cheeky!

    (6) And here's the other one at #9! This one has such a pleasant effect on my brain. Steady release of dopamine and maybe some kind of fish paralyzer to keep it weird. As with the above, the song suite that carries the third act of the film plus all the swirling restatements of the song just work wonders on my brain waves. Dreamy and nightmarish, as you describe the first one, and lush and lusher. "Have another one, you f**king lush!" Just a great soundtrack, start to finish - guaranteed to improve any afternoon one throws it on the stereo.

    (7) Good call with "Disco Volante." Good one to isolate to show the score at its most terrifying.

    (8) Everything about "Moonraker" defies explanation. The older I get, the better that movie looks. I started off saying it ironically, but it's probably the best movie ever made goddamnit.

    (9) Your top 3 get not only no argument from me but also sustained applause.

    (10) The "Gumbold's Safe" sequence and score is top 3 moments of All Bond Ever.

    So say we all! Looking forward to the performances post.

    1. (1) If those two didn't exist, thereby giving me an easy path toward designating "worst Bond score," I don't know what I'd do. Gah, what a tough call that'd be! Well, not really, what with the "James Bond Jr."

      (2) I started this post back in May -- MAY!!! -- and had forgotten everything about that episode, so I read through my summary and kind of cracked myself up. That show, man ... I'd be so excited if a Blu-ray box set of that came out, I don't know what I'd do. What a horror.

      (3) For sure. Get me a yellow ski suit and a toboggan, stat!

      (4) That's a nice memory/association. Don't you love stuff like that? No telling how many blogs have been launched in an attempt to somehow bottle that (metaphorically speaking) feeling. I've launched three of 'em just my own self!

      (5) Those are both incredibly good listens. More so than some of the scores I ranked above them, probably; that top ten -- maybe even top fifteen -- is fucking brutal.

      (6) There's a pretty good Bond podcast called James Bond Radio; they've done some great episodes about the music, including one about "You Only Live Twice." They get so excited about most of this stuff that you imagine they are about to inflate and simply take off into the air like weird balloons. I love it! I feel that way about the music when I listen, so it makes sense that other people do, too.

      (7) It still shocks and disgusts me that there are people who don't love that movie. Especially the underwater stuff, which is almost all backed by Barry's incredible music. Some people, man...

      (8) Speaking of James Bond Radio, they did an awesome video episode that was all about the editing style of John Glen. They used the centrifuge sequence as an example of film editing at its finest, and I have zero argument with that. Watching it again from that perspective ... man, that is a HELL of a scene. And obviously, I agree with you about the movie defying explanation. It's worth me having become a blogger just for the manner in which it changed my opinion about that movie. Good on ya, Bryant! Ya done good, kid!

      (10) Oh, man, I gotta know: what are the other two? (I've got one guess I feel okay about.)

      Say, that gives me an idea: a best-Bond-moments post! That'll come after the performances post, and that might be a good way to draw a curtain on this first phase of You Only Blog Twice. I'm kind of itching to get to the novels.


    2. Not sure how that rogue "(2)" got in there. Whoops!

    3. I'm not sure what the other Best-Bond-moments would be off the top of my head! But I'll get to work on it.

      I'll have to check out James Bond Radio. I just can't concentrate on podcasts. I've tried multiple times across a variety of topics. But yeah even the ones that sound cool or are for topics I love, I try for a little bit and then find myself doing something else. I really honestly don't know what it is.

    4. PDS, podcast deficiency syndrome. I just made that up.

      You might enjoy James Bond Radio, unless their persistent love for "Spectre" turned you off. (You can hear them softening on that in recent episodes, though; it's like they secretly know it's shite and are finally beginning to reveal the secret to themselves.)

    5. The James Bond Theme is identical to the sound track of the 1947 movie "the Unfaithful" at about 25 minutes into the movie. As soon as I heard the familiar audio I new it was a match. Les Cole

    6. Do you think it is plagiarism? Les Cole

    7. Interesting.

      I'm going to be skeptical until I hear it with my own ears. Even if it is a match, though, what John Barry did with Monty Norman's version is sublime.

    8. As regards plagiarism, I tend to doubt it. Accidental quotation, perhaps; that happens with music pretty frequently. Maybe Monty Norman saw the movie and subconsciously stored that moment in his brain, and it eventually worked its way into his "Mr. Biswas" musical, and then worked its way into "Dr. No" as well. For it to be literal plagiarism, Norman would have had to intentionally do it.

      Impossible to say for sure, but it seems unlikely to me.

    9. I am sure you are correct. It replays at about the 1 hour mark also. Just interesting the likeness.

    10. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! If I ever see the movie, I will check it out.

  2. I was so tempted to scroll to the bottom to make sure you had OHMSS ranked #1 before I even started reading the entire post but I'm glad I didn't!

    1. Hah! Yeah, I'd have been tempted to do the same thing. Glad I didn't disappoint in that regard.

  3. Been getting more into film scores these days. Particularly the work of Trevor Rabin (he was in Yes in the 80s and wrote Owner Of A lonely Heart etc...) -I went to see him in concert recently with Jon Anderson & Rick Wakeman and thought he was an excellent guitarist so decided to look into his work...picked up cheap CD copies of his soundtracks...Armageddon, Snakes On A Plane, Con-Air, National Treasure 1 & 2, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Deep Blue Sea, Enemy Of The State, The Sixth Day, The One and Season 1 of Twelve get the idea! Great guitar work and lots of bombast!

    1. Boy, you just named a lot of movies I really do not like at all. Not Rabin's fault, of course; he's quite good at what he does. And his music for "Twelve Monkeys" is excellent. So I remember it from the series, at least; I never listened to it on its own.

      Glad you got to see those guys live! That must have been a blast for you. I didn't know Rabin was in Yes!

  4. One more thing, the reason why Barry didn't return for GE was because the producers wouldn't allow him to compose the main theme for the film.

    1. In what universe would anybody tell John Barry he couldn't compose a Bond song? That's insane to even consider. And I say that as somebody who likes the song they went with, but ... man, if you have an opportunity to get John Barry, YOU GET JOHN BARRY.

    2. I can see why the main theme would be a point of contention. Ever simce the 1980's, the producers have been pandering to a music video generation and Barry wasn't interested. He didn't care for the rock bands he was saddled with for his penultimate and ultimate Bond films.

    3. Yeah, true. I like both of those songs, granted; but I can see how from his perspective, that would have been a downer.

    4. There's a funny interview with Andy Taylor about that. He idolized Barry and was eager to show off around him, but Barry was politely dismissive in that very English way. Very understandable - in both directions - but that's too bad. That Taylor Brothers were probably at Peak Ego/ Influence in the mid-80s but were like tourists on Mt. Rushmore, so to speak. What can ya do? John freaking Barry.

      Still, to meet your idol and be dismissed as of-no-consequence/ a poofter, has got to be rough. Happens a lot, though. Different generations sometimes mix uneasily around the "popular music" bonfire.

    5. Bryant, I enjoyed Duran Duran's song and it's one of my favorite Bond titles. Never cares of A-Ha's song, pretty "meh".

      B McMolo, ouch. Like you said, it's just a matter of a generation gap.

    6. Though I revere his talents, there's plenty of evidence to suggest Barry was a bit of a prick, especially when it came to these two specific collaborations. In both cases, it smacks of Barry being uninterested in working with the bands in question, and I'd guess he approached it from a holier-than-thou perspective rather than a hallo-nice-to-meet-you perspective.

      I love both songs, though, so from my perspective everything worked out just fine.

    7. His attitude was sort of like Sinatra's on his DUETS album. (Just finished a Frank bio, so I've got plenty of Sinatra anecdotes/ comparisons to give!)

      "Wow, it's so great to meet and work with you, Frabnk. HUGE fan. I have all your Capitol and all your Reprise -"
      "That's great, cupcake! 'Lady is a Tramp' on 3...2...1..."
      (40 seconds later)
      "That'll do, thanks for coming in."

      Funny how these sorts of collaborations can result in such mega-hits. But: these guys were professionals.

    8. I'm sure a guy like Sinatra experiences all sort of day-in/day-out annoyances associated with that level of fame that most people would have no way of even imagining. So I'm sure things like that come into play. But you'd hope to think that under almost any circumstance, they'd play nice with collaborators.

  5. By the way, I was just scrolling up through this post and read the GOLDENEYE bit and clicked on "Ladies First" by Eric Serra. Wow! The weird thing is, if this was, say, on the FLETCH soundtrack, I'd feel pretty warmly to it. But put it in context of a Bond film and nooooooooooooooo, sir. No thank you.

    1. Nothing makes you appreciate a really good score like a really bad score. And you're probably right that it's less bad music than it is inappropriate music.

  6. The producers HATED Serra's score for Goldeneye. After Alton finished composing the music for the tank chase, Michael G. Wilson said "If I knew you worked the fast, I would have given you the entire film".

    Personally, I think Eric's work was effective at certain times but it often working against the film. For example, the music when Bond arrives at the casino and the encounter with Xenia was too melancholy and swarthy. "Run, Shoot, Jump" was another one. The music has a sense of urgency but it seems out of place for large scale action sequences. Also, as you made quite clear Bryant, the less said about "Ladies First" the better.

    1. I don't dislike the entirety of it. I actually like the casino-entrance music, and most of the rest of the more romantic material. And I can cope with some of the sample-sound stuff.

      Dear Michael G. Wilson: it's still not too late to replace that score, you know...

    2. "That's What Keeps You Alone" was impressive. Serra did better during the more subtle moments.

    3. Looks like I forgot to answer that last comment. Apologies!

      And I totally agree. Serra did provide some great moments, and that cue is one of them.

  7. I enjoy your reviews of Bond related stuff, but labeling 'Casino Royale James Bond 007!' a "100 % James Bond film' when it obviously is a comedy spoof, a parody, of the Bond films (See the imdb link: when reviewing its soundtrack among the scores to the real Bond films, seems a bit unfair to me. This approach to 1967's Bond parody is very common and frankly it starts to irritate me since I strongly feel it's time the film and its music should be judged for what it is and not for what it isn't.
    Nice reads all the same.

    1. It is a spoof, definitely. And yet, it is also 100% a James Bond movie. Both of these things are true. It's not the same kind of Bond movie as the others on this list, but it is demonstrably a James Bond movie in the legal sense of the phrase.

      I'm not sure I understand where you're getting the idea that I'm judging the music for what it isn't as opposed to what it is. I plead not guilty! In my defense, I'd direct you to these words from this very post on the subject of Bacharach's score: "So not only am I fine with what this is, I say that since it is an exemplary version of what it is, it can and should only be considered a triumph."

      Bacharach's original soundtrack for the film is one of my personal favorite Bond scores of all. I ranked it relatively low here because I don't think the movie itself presents the score as well as it could have; but if I were ranking the albums themselves, it might be in my top five.