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Blog – Episode 08: Composer John Barry

Johnny August 19, 2019

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On this episode we reviewed films scored by my favorite composer, John Barry. The films and scores selected were my choices. And, I made the selections so that we could illustrate the differences in the musical styles Barry employed depending upon the subject of the films. 

Eddie knew this day was coming since Mr. Barry’s name had already come up during our discussion of films – particularly during our James Bond program – on previous episodes. Barry literally owes his start in the film career because of his involvement with music for the initial Bond film, Dr. No (1962). A story I continue a bit later in this blog.

John Barry was born John Barry Prendergast on November 3, 1933 in York, England. His mother was English and was a classical pianist, so you can see where some of his talent originated. His father was Irish and was a movie projectionist during the silent film era. He later owned several theaters in Northern England and young John worked in them. Thus, the early connection between music and film was formed.

John served in the army but spent his time playing the trumpet. After the army, he became interested in jazz and formed his own group. During those early years he began arranging music for other musicians and earning commissions. It was this talent that brought him to the attention of the Bond producers and literally changed the course of his career.

The producers brought him in to re-arrange the theme that was written by Monty Norman for the first Bond film. His arrangement is the one now considered the Bond theme although Norman is legally considered the author. His outstanding arrangement earned Barry the opportunity to score a total of 11 Bond films over the course of 25 years.

In addition to the Bond films, Barry had an outstanding career winning acclaim and producing a body of work that makes him one of the finest film composer of all time. During his career he spent time in the UK and the US. During the final years of his life he was living in the state of New York. Mr. Barry died on January 30, 2011 at his home in Oyster Bay, New York.

To illustrate what a difference Barry’s version made, Eddied played the rather tinny, simplistic piano portion of Norman’s original. Then, he played the iconic Barry version and it was quite easy to see which fits the Bond character.

I commented that I have many of Barry’s film scores on CDs and I listen to them often. I believe Barry’s music often elevates the movies he scores and that many of his compositions are so beautiful that they stand alone and you can simply enjoy by listening to them. 

Eddie paid attention to my comments and toward the end of our conversation he played a song from a movie that I was unaware that Barry had scored. If you want to know what my reaction was, then I encourage you to go back and listen to this episode. As I said at the time, “I didn’t see that coming.” What I heard literally undermined many of the comments I had made. Eddie certainly got one over on me. 

The following are the John Barry songs and scores we discussed on this episode and contain some comments regarding the films involved.

Bond Movies

  1. Bond Theme (Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s composition) first heard for Dr. No (1962) – Download: Film / Score
  2. Goldfinger (1964)  – Download: Film / Score
  3. You Only Live Twice (1967) – Download: Film / Score
  4. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Download: Film / Score
  5. All Time High (1983) – from the film, Octopussy, and only Bond theme song that does not contain film title in the song title – Download: Film / Score
  6. The Living Daylights (1987) – Download: Film / Score

Zulu (1964) – Download: Film / Score – Dramatic portrayal of standoff between outnumbered British forces and an army of Zulu tribesmen in colonial Africa in 1876. This film marked the first major screen role for Michael Caine. Barry’s score emphasizes militaristic overtones.

Born Free (1966) – Download: Film / Score – Main theme song became a major hit song. Movie describes efforts of British conservationists to preserve lion habitats in Africa. Barry won for Best Song and Best Score.

The Lion in Winter (1968) – Download: Film / score – Critically acclaimed film version of James Goldman’s stage play illustrating the conflict between King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn). Squabbles include discussions of which of their children will replace Henry upon his death. Anthony Hopkins as Richard in first major role and Timothy Dalton makes his debut. Barry uses choral background and a somewhat jarring blend of horns in key sequences. It is a track that is likely fitting for a film based in 1183. Film won 3 Oscars, including Best Actress for Hepburn. Barry won Oscar for Best Score.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) – Download: Film / Score – A rather depressing and culturally significant film for its coverage of a male prostitute and of the “underbelly” of New York society and the two disparate and desperate characters: Ratso Rizzo – Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as Joe Buck. The song, “Everbody’s Talkin”, used in the film was a cover of a song written earlier by another artist. It became a hit song when it was recorded bythe singer, Nilsson. The film won 3 Academy 

Awards including Best Picture. Hoffman was nominated for Best Actor. Barry’s score, especially with the use of the harmonica, provides a haunting, sorrowful accompaniment for two characters in troubling circumstances. 

Robin and Marian (1976) – Download: Film / Score – Richard Lester’s bittersweet, romantic take on the Robin Hood legend. An aged Robin (Sean Connery) returns from Crusades to learn Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) has become a nun. The resurrection of their earlier romance and climactic battle with Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) form arc of the film. Barry’s main theme is both an uplifting and romantic undercurrent to the romance.

Somewhere inTime (1980) – Download: Film / Score – Another romantic theme that struck many movie goers to such a degree the main theme was used in weddings. I attended a couple during this period. The film deals with a young man’s attempts to reconnect with lost love and his travel through time to earlier in the 20th Century to accomplish it. Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour are the lovers. She is an actress and her career is guided by a disapproving Christopher Plummer. Movie filmed entirely on location at The Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island, Michigan.

Note: Apparently Barry wrote this score shortly after his mother’s death and it inspired the depth of the music. Some might say the music is better than the film.

Body Heat (1981) – Download: Film / Score – Barry returns to his jazz roots with this evocative score that undergirds the “nourish” elements of this murder drama. The use of saxophones literally resonates to the literal heat of its Southern location and the steamy intrigue of the murder plot. Stars William Hurt, a literally steamy Kathleen Turner and Richard Crenna as the doomed husband. Ted Danson has a turn as friend of Hurt. 

Out of Africa (1985) – Download: Film / Score – A soaring, romantic score to match the scale of the African location. This is Sidney Pollack’s Best Picture presentation of Danish writer, Karen Blixen, (she wrote under her pseudonym Isak Dinensen) and the tale of her ownership of a coffee farm in Africa. Winner of 7 Academy Award, including Best Picture. Barry won for Best Score.  

Jagged Edge (1989) – Download: Film / Score – Very good crime drama set in San Francisco. Here Barry returns to less romantic elements and moves toward edgy (no pun intended) and erotic to meet the circumstances. Film revolves around publisher (Jeff Bridges) accused of murdering his wife. Defended by Glen Close, he is acquitted and a love affair with Close evolves. The mystery of who is the killer will evoke some aspects of a later film, Basic Instinct, starring Sharon Stone that was also set in San Francisco. Robert Loggia, as a private detective, earned a Supporting Actor nomination. And, Peter Coyote, plays key role as prosecutor.

Dances with Wolves (1990) – Download: Film / Score – Barry again comes up with a score and main theme that matches the scale of the western prairie yet meets the human elements as John Dunbar becomes to respect and love the Indian culture. Best Picture and Director for Kevin Costner and Barry won for Best Score. Film acquired a total of 7 Oscars.

Chaplin (1992) – Download: Film / Score – An early star turn for Robert Downey, Jr. in his portrayal of the iconic film persona, Charlie Chaplin. Barry’s main theme carries an element of sadness as if to reflect the comic / tragedy aspect of the dramatic arts and the life that unfolded for Chaplin. Directed by Richard Attenborough, Barry was nominated for Best Score. 

Indecent Proposal (1993) – Download: Film / Score – Here is a film, directed by Adrian Lyne, where, from my perspective, Barry’s the score elevates a film whose story to many viewers might be repugnant. I included this only because I think it deserves listening to and appreciating as a stand-alone example of Barry’s music composition. Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson are a married couple down on their luck in Las Vegas. They are challenged to decide whether or not the solution to their problems is in an offer made by a wealthy Robert Redford. He offers a million dollars to sleep with Demi. The angst of making the decision is the core of the film.

Note: Though not included for listening on this episode, Barry was also nominated one other time for Best Score for the film Mary, Queen of Scots at the 1972 Academy Awards ceremony.

Until next time.

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