John Barry composed the soundtrack to many of the better parts of Agent Triple P's life. He had been unwell for some time and had ceased to conduct or compose but he is still an enormous loss to the world of music and not just film music.
Rather than re-hash his life, as the many obituaries are doing at present, Triple P would just like to present his favourite pieces from his recorded output, starting, of course, with the Bond films.
Probably no-one will ever no now how much of the James Bond theme was Barry and how much was Monty Norman. Certainly the part played by Vic Flick on the guitar was Norman as it was based on a song he wrote for a musical but it is of course, all about the arrangement and that, at the minimum, was Barry.
From Russia with Love is first real Bond soundtrack and still one of the best although in many ways atypical, partly because he was still finding the formula. Nevertheless, there is some wonderfully atmospheric music here. The title song was entirely composed by Lionel Bart as Barry didn't feel confident to write a big song at that point. Barry's arrangement of Bart's song in Guitar lament is quite haunting and then leads into Man overboard with its single timpani note and soaring strings over a pizzicato background. James Bond with bongos is also one of the better versions of the theme used in the films. Agent Triple P was in Istanbul last week and had this soundtrack on his iPod a lot!
With Goldfinger Barry found his stride and this was the composer's own favourite Bond score. This time he did compose the music to the classic Main title. Actually, more of a favourite of Triple P's is the swaggering big band Into Miami tune which depicts the aerial opening shots of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Triple P had this playing when he arrived at the Fontainebleau a couple of years ago! Alpine drive is a cool and glossy rendition of the main theme which some fifteen years or so we had on our walkman as we drove up the very mountain pass in Switzerland which Bond and Goldfinger drive up. The final Triple P pick from this score is Bond back in action again; the very best use of the theme in the whole series of films.
Thunderball is, we have to confess, our least favourite of the early Barry Bond scores as there is far too much tedious music to accompany all the equally tedious underwater action. However, it does introduce the first piece of slinky Barry Bond cocktail music in the superbly lush Cafe Martinique; a Henry Mancini-type arrangement of Barry's Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang theme. This piece has a permanent place on Triple P's cocktail playlist which he plays in hotels around the world whilst getting ready for dinner; hopefully whilst accompanied by an attractive companion sipping Champagne, as we manged last week in the Pera Palace. Another even more Mancini like piece is the slinky arrangement of Thunderball that follows on the album. A final favourite on this soundtrack is Death of Fiona; another arrangement of Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang, Bang with groovy bongos, muted brass and a nice simple bass underpinning building to a frantic crescendo as the unfortunate Fiona is dealt with and then returning to its initial sound to indicate that no-one has noticed anything untoward.
You Only Live Twice contains some marvellous music not least the title track You Only Live Twice with its cascading strings and Nancy Sinatra providing one of the best title themes of the series. The instrumental version Mountains and Sunsets is a standout too. Capsule in Space is another highlight and, indeed, Barry would use the same approach for another space theme in Diamonds are Forever. Finally for this soundtrack Fight at Kobe Dock shows how different Barry's approach to scoring action cues was from his contemporaries.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service saw a new approach for a new Bond with On Her Majesty's Secret Service being a successful and unusual orchestral title track. Journey to Blofeld's hideaway introduces an appropriately Alpine vibe; maybe its all the Richard Strauss like brass. The cocktail highlight of the score is the utterly gorgeous Try. Indeed it is the best cocktail piece Barry ever wrote, beginning with bass and twinned piano and vibraphone before introducing some of the slinkiest strings he ever produced (which is saying something). This album also includes the worst Barry Bond track Do you know how Chistmas trees are Grown? It has bells and a kiddie choir. Far too much exposure to Lionel Bart! Horrendous!
Next we have Diamonds are Forever which is Triple P's all time favourite Bond score. Again this is rather atypical and Barry uses some musical effects that were unique to this soundtrack; in particular the use of flutes and piccolos. Diamonds are Forever itself is one of the strongest title songs in the series. Death at the Whyte House is probably the best sustained slow action piece that Barry wrote; with a ground bass backing flutes and brass. Tiffany Case is the soundtrack's big cocktail piece. Another Triple P pre-dinner favourite! 007 and Counting is a good re-working of the space theme from You Only Live Twice. Airport Source is a tenor saxophone led piece that makes far more impact than its short appearance in the film would normally allow. The Whyte House is a Triple P favourite when tooling about Las Vegas and sounds like the theme tune to a seventies TV show. Nearly every piece in this soundtrack is worth listening to.
Probably the last reasonable Barry Bond score was for Moonraker, with a good Main Title and the rather effective Bond lured to pyramid. Flight into space adds to the trio of good "space" pieces Barry produced for Bond films. The Man with the Golden Gun wasn't really classic Barry and nor were Octopussy, A View to a Kill or The Living Daylights.
In part two we will look at the best bits from his non-Bond music.