The Man With The Music In His Head
He provided down-at-heel postwar Britain with a soaring soundtrack that gave us confidence and glamour. France has Michel Legrand. Italy has Ennio Morricone. America has John Williams. We had John Barry, who died yesterday aged 77.
He composed over 100 film scores including 11 Bond films, and won five Academy Awards. He bowed out on Bond after the producers insisted on letting pop bands write the title tracks, ruining the scores.
Barry put a soundtrack to my life, and I was lucky enough to see him perform live several times. Best remembered for the Bond films, much imitated but never bettered, he also wrote astonishing scores for everything from ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and ‘The Whisperers’ to ‘The Deep’ to ‘The Lion In Winter’.
It’s less well-known that he also wrote great musicals, including ‘Alice In Wonderland’, ‘Billy’, ‘Lolita My Love’, ‘The Passion Flower Hotel’ and the still-unreleased ‘Brighton Rock’. He’s one of the few composers you can identify within three chords (or in the case of ‘Goldfinger’, two). In later life his non-soundtrack albums of new works all became bestsellers.
After years of writing Bond hits for Dame Shirley Bassey, he pulled a new song out of the hat that sounds as fresh and simple as ‘Goldfinger’, called ‘Our Time Is Now’, and it’s on Bassey’s most recent album. Great key change in the middle!
In a time when soundtrack scores have become so dense that you can no longer discern individual instruments, a listen to the score of ‘Goldfinger’ is a real ear-opener. It sounds so minimal and unplugged that you can count the instruments being played and virtually place them in the room. My personal faves include his scores for ‘Walkabout’, ‘Robin & Marion’ and ‘Body Heat’. John, you left us with music that will last forever.
Oh, and the column title: anyone see what I did there?