This article talked about sequel music. In it, no mention was made of the longest-lasting franchise in history because it was thought to deserve an article of its own. We are of course talking about Agent 007, James Bond.
Here is an outrageously famous theme that has survived twenty-five incarnations, and been in the hands of nearly ten composers, not including video games. But intellectual property of that theme has long been debated. Monty Norman is the official composer of Dr. No, the first James Bond film. But a young John Barry was attached to the franchise even then, working to arrange and adapt the theme into the version we know today. However, Barry’s contribution on that film would go uncredited, and thus began the 40-year controversy. The fairest assessment one can make is to credit them both.
But what’s in a theme anyway? Yes, the 007 theme is the identity of James Bond, without which there’d be no thematic cohesion across the franchise, but the agent’s heart and soul comes from the other melodies and suspense riffs in his scores. And on that level, there is no denying that John Barry is indeed the uncontested master. The atmosphere he created with his paced action, his sensual title songs and their derived instrumental melodies is legendary. Not counting Dr. No, he would go on to pen eleven classic Bond scores.
Of course, rivaling studios came up with a few James Bond projects that required different composers (from Burt Bacharach to Michel Legrand), but even the official franchise needed occasional replacements for Barry, often because of schedule conflicts. First to step into his shoes was George Martin in Live and Let Die, a score that aptly stayed true to the series. Barry did two more films, but was then replaced by Marvin Hamlisch on The Spy Who Loved Me. This time there was a clear departure in style, stepping a toe into the disco side of the 70s. But it was Bill Conti who, a few years later, shoved it all the way. For Your Eyes Only is the most outrageous and inappropriate of the series, full of synth and funk. Timing didn’t help: the year was 1981 and disco was already dead. But disco fans still exist, and to them this score is manna from Heaven.
What followed was Barry’s last three Bond scores, some of his very best. He would then spend the last 15 years of his career on other projects. His next replacement was Michael Kamen, with the most underrated Bond score in the series, and most in need of an expanded release. Licence to Kill brought Kamen’s dense action colors to Bond’s world, with a touch of flamenco.
Some believe Kamen could’ve become the new “Bond Man”, but it was not to be. Éric Serra composed Goldeneye, the most disappointing score in the series. It’s not without its redeeming features, but the lengthy soporific moments hurt it greatly.
The franchise’s savior was to be David Arnold. He would go on to write the next five scores. His crisp and energetic style became essential to the new Bond generation. However, unlike Barry, he failed to give each score its own distinct theme. Therefore his efforts blend into one continuous and lengthy opus of high (if redundant) quality. Some say he overstayed his welcome.
His replacement is Thomas Newman. Though obviously a veteran composer himself, it’s his first time tackling an action-suspense project. Some say his new Skyfall score shows his lack of muscle, but perhaps this style is meant to be the new enduring soul of Bond. Maybe the agent is meant to be neither shaken nor stirred.