The Man With The Music In His Head

The Arts

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?

8 comments on “The Man With The Music In His Head”

  1. Andy says:

    I am also very sorry to see John Go, although his music, with that charateristic use of minor keys that made it so melancholy and atmospheric, will stay with us. You didn’t mention his classical pieces The Beyondness Of Things and Eternal Echoes, such good chillout music when I get in from work of an evening. There’s an unreleased album provisionally called “The Seasons” which John described as his life in music, I hope that somebody will see it released in memory of this great composer.

    Oh, and film scores? You missed out Howard the Duck, great soundtrack to a much-maligned movie.

  2. admin says:

    That’s right, tantalise me with a couple of scores that DON’T EVEN EXIST! (I worked on ‘Howard The Duck’ and even I don’t own one). But I DO have the bootleg score to ‘Lolita My Love’, which is great.

  3. Andy says:

    Eh? Of course it exists. I had a cassette version but was thinking of getting the cd, they’re not THAT hard to find.

    http://www.ioffer.com/i/howard-the-duck-cd-soundtrack-rare-sealed-thomas-dolby-24726297?source=eisi

    Lol. Internet.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    That is a lovely song you’ve posted there and a beautiful performance. When the CBC announced Mr. Barry’s death it was “Goldfinger” they played and that is the Bond theme that sticks in my head. It’s too bad that John Barry didn’t write the title song for Howard the Duck because that’s what I hear in my head from that film (on which you worked?!!)

  5. Salian says:

    Call me odd, but when I hear the name John Barry, the first thing to pop into my mind is the Theme from The Persuaders

  6. I.A.M. says:

    The one that sticks with me is the score for Thunderball which some bright soul included on the 2-CD version of the “James Bond 30th Anniversary” album. It’s go something like eight movements to it, and underscores the entire ocean battle from Bond’s entering of the ocean through the approach of the ‘bad guys’, right to the very end of the blood-filled conflict. It’s musical clarity of story-telling is something I enjoy every6 time I play it. When it’s on, everything else stops as the images flash through the mind. Damned gifted fella, and a shame his talent hasn’t been matched.

    It will, however, even if in a different style. Skill always rises.

  7. careena says:

    I am looking for a copy of the score to “Lolita, My Love.” Our tiny theater company would like to do an informal, free admission, staging/sing through of a few of the songs, and we can’t find the material.

    Ummm . . .I can offer a PayPal donation to the charity of your choice?

  8. admin says:

    Sadly my copy has developed some kind of horrible skippy thing, so I need to find another one myself…

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