I am saddened this morning to learn the death of composer John Barry. I’m sure to many, the name will not ring a bell but you will recognize his music. Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, King Kong (1976), Disney’s The Black Hole and Somewhere in Time are just a few examples of Barry’s film scores but John is best known as the man behind the music of James Bond. While Monte Norman is credited for the theme for James Bond it is really Barry who breathed life Bond. (Think of it in the terms of Richard Gibbs who did the score the Battlestar Galactica miniseries – great but really Bear McCreary did the remaining score the series and several BSG movies – freakin’ amazing.)
Regardless of the man who played Bond, Barry gave him the same aura of coolness every time Bond walk onto the screen. While the more recent Bond scores by David Arnold are fine, they are less classical and grandiose in the structure as with Barry’s work. This could explain about why my watching of the last several Bond films have left me feeling flat. John has way with his music that sounds lush and rich with strings and brass that makes a statement; I am Bond. James Bond. Every man who wants to be James Bond needs to have Barry’s score playing the in background. Even the more pop sounding scores with Duran Duran and a-Ha (A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights, respectively) still has the same auditory impact as you can still hear John’s brilliance as those same key themes harken to his early works. The closest non Bond sound that I come across to John’s tone and direction is Michael Giacchino‘s The Incredibles. I re-watched over the weekend and Michael really captures the essence of Barry.
Along with John Williams, Barry ranks high on my list of composers whose music goes one step beyond. Soundtracks for me allows me to re-play the movie in my head. Or better yet, when a score plays mirrors the activity that I am doing or the feelings at that moment; the same score takes on a new meaning and second life. When a score can live on its own without images but still conveys the same impact as heard in the movies, that is a worthy score in my book.
I can take comfort that John’s music will continue be a soundtrack for my life. So long, John.