You may have noticed I haven’t really been saying much about the actual theme songs for the films in these little mini-reviews. This is because I’ll likely dedicate a post later on, after the release of SPECTRE, to talking about those. Today, though, we’re looking at five more soundtracks, heading rapidly towards a point where it actually gets harder to decide where to rank them! For your convenience, most of the links lead to Youtube clips of the referenced music.
20. Goldeneye (Eric Serra)
Eric Serra is an excellent composer – his score for The Fifth Element plays under almost the entire running time of that film, and it adds perfectly to the atmosphere of the film. His style is never more apparent, except in one other film, and there it is not for good reason.
Serra’s score for Goldeneye sticks out like a sore thumb in a series where every soundtrack prior has featured loud orchestral brass and the occasional lean into disco funk. Answering the unasked rhetorical question, “What better way to celebrate the super advanced dial-up modem battlefield of 1995 than with electronic music?”, Serra presents to us the most surreal score that has been used for a Bond film. Synth orchestra hits and strange bouncy little hooks, which work perfectly in a futuristic sci-fi film, jar wildly here with the fairly well grounded grit of Pierce Brosnan’s debut in the role of 007.
Indeed, so concerned were the producers about Serra’s efforts that they hired composer John Altman to re-score the film’s major action setpiece, a tank chase through the streets of St Petersburg. Mercifully, Altman drafted in an orchestra to really bring the necessary Bond flare to proceedings.
Goldeneye is a decent listen, it must be said, but it works better considered as a concept album than an actual soundtrack. You know there’s a story behind the music, but it’s better without the visual.
19. Diamonds Are Forever (John Barry)
Sean Connery returns for his last performance in an official James Bond film, and with him comes a punchier, brassier, more emphatic, and more over-the-top John Barry.
The music is glitzy, exotic and rich, just like diamonds. It’s impossibly lush at times; John Barry perfects his sweeping strings here and it’s a style he would continue to develop for the rest of his career. Just listen to this – this is the music that underscores a space laser burning a poorly bluescreened Chinese missile technician to death amongst other unpleasant things, and yet it’s impossibly chilled out.
The first James Bond film to take 007 into a major situation in the US, Diamonds Are Forever suffers from pretty dire musical Americanisation at times. The American sequences are set largely in Las Vegas and the surrounding desert, and unfortunately this means the music through these sequences necessarily plays up the seedy and sleazy underworld of that city. It doesn’t make for great listening, and even in the film it’s a little bit much. But this is Diamonds Are Forever, where the intention was for everything to be bigger than ever before because Connery was back.
Finally, and somewhat redemptively, who doesn’t love Shirley Bassey’s theme song? Her magnificent voice, supported by some beautiful early ‘70s wah-guitar really set the tone.
18. The Spy Who Loved Me (Marvin Hamlisch)
One of the most iconic Bond films, and certainly vying for the title of The Best Roger Moore One, The Spy Who Loved Me features an ill-judged foray into the world of disco!
The late Marvin Hamlisch, in addition to penning an Academy Award-nominated theme song, turned his hand to the score and decided to use the contemporary pop sounds of 1977, and consequently the soundtrack is heavy with synth, funky bass, and because it’s Roger Moore, unnecessary comedy highlights.
Points are gained for local flavour through use of quasi-Egyptian flutes, but promptly lost because the score has just dated as badly as 007’s flares. “Bond 77” is a funky take on the James Bond Theme, but it doesn’t function nearly as well throughout an entire film.
I’m going to look like a massive hypocrite later on when I praise disco in For Your Eyes Only, but I think the mistake Hamlisch makes here is not to commit 100% to the style, instead opting for a messy blend of disco and jazz. I’ll deal with this more when I reach FYEO later in the list.
17. From Russia With Love (John Barry)
I actually rather like the score for From Russia With Love. A friend once gave me a copy of the original release on vinyl, which is pretty special. This is also the soundtrack that includes the excellent “James Bond With Bongos” – a track which is exactly what the title suggests.
But, in every list of rankings, something has to make way for other stuff, and From Russia With Love is just one of those victims of listicle circumstance.
It’s a very pleasant score, both to listen to and in the film. Beautiful strings welcome us to Venice at the end of the opening titles, before cloaking a chess tournament and its mysterious victor in, well, mystery. There’s a lot of plucked strings (pizzicato) in this score, used here to create tension through the shortness of the notes. The brass gets a workout for emphasis.
This was the first of John Barry’s 11 scores for the series, but here he hasn’t quite defined the Bond Sound for which he would become famous after Goldfinger. This score is still rather 1950s, and its sound owes many debts to the Golden Age of Hollywood. I really like it, but as an exemplar of James Bond music it isn’t a stand out choice.
16. Die Another Day (David Arnold)
Readers may recall I flirted with controversy by rating Die Another Day #9 in my film rankings last year. The ranking here for the soundtrack is probably less fury-inducing.
It’s super electronic, but if you listen to it in the film it’s not actually as over produced as it is on the album. For my part I think David Arnold was the best choice for a scoring during the Brosnan era – he had his finger right on the pulse of contemporary film music, right at a time where techno influences were really making their way into the world of cinema.
The highlight of the score is definitely the sequence played under the hovercraft chase in the pre-titles sequence, but runners up include the music for the swordfight – my favourite sequence in a classic Bond film – and the music for the car chase inside the ice palace at the end of the second act. To be honest, I even enjoy Madonna’s opening theme, which cops it from critics all the time. One thing, though – what’s with the weird pseudo-oriental leitmotif, literally a handful of notes, that identify North Korea? That’s admittedly a bit lazy.
By and large, though, a decent score for an underrated film!
For Part One, click here!
To relive the excitement of ranking the Bond films last year, start here!
You can read other things I’ve written about James Bond here!