I know, I know: Howard the Duck was pretty much laughed off theater screens when it premiered in the summer of 1986. Over time, many of us have mellowed in our view of the film, which has a weird charm and a wonderful performance by Lea Thompson (fresh off her Back to the Future success). But what you may not know is that composer John Barry (who had just won his fourth Academy Award for Out of Africa) wrote a spectacular score, much of which was dropped during post-production. The Intrada label has just released a 3-disc set containing more than 100 minutes of John Barry’s original music — variously noirish, romantic and action-filled — plus the songs by Thomas Dolby and the replacement score by Sylvester Levay. I wrote a lengthy essay for the colorful booklet, and director Willard Huyck was kind enough to grant me an interview talking about the music.
As many of you know, one of my special interests over the years has been the music of composer John Barry. He scored just four Westerns during his career. I first met him while interviewing him about one of those, his eventual Oscar winner Dances With Wolves, for Premiere magazine. But in the early 1980s he scored another one, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, and it was a pleasure to write the liner notes for this first-ever CD release of the 1982 LP. Country legend Merle Haggard sings the ballad, “The Man in the Mask,” and lyricist Dean Pitchford contributed some eye-opening reminiscences in a new interview for my essay.
One of composer John Barry’s most prestigious assignments was the 1975 adaptation of Nathanael West’s nightmarish vision of 1930s Hollywood, The Day of the Locust, by the Midnight Cowboy team of director John Schlesinger, writer Waldo Salt and producer Jerome Hellman. I was delighted to write a 3,000-word essay on the film and its terrific score. One of the highlights of this album (considerably expanded from the original LP) is the addition of newly discovered recordings of a song based on Barry’s nostalgic theme, with three different Don Black lyrics, that went unused in the original film. I did new interviews with Hellman and Black for the essay.
It’s sad that the 1966 film Born Free seems to have fallen into obscurity. It’s really a wonderful film, based on the true story of an English couple who adopt and raise an orphaned lion cub in Kenya but then must teach her how to survive in the wild. I was delighted that the folks at Twilight Time asked me to participate in a commentary track, specifically to talk about John Barry’s music, which won Oscars for Best Song and Best Score. Prior to Born Free, Barry was primarily known as composer for the James Bond films; these were the first of five Oscars he would ultimately win for his classic film music.
I was delighted to be asked to participate in Britain’s latest TV special devoted to songs from the James Bond films. The Nation’s Favourite Bond Song aired on ITV on December 17, and I was in pretty good company — Composer David Arnold, lyricist Don Black, members of Duran Duran and a-ha, etc. Plus previously unknown footage of Louis Armstrong singing “We Have All the Time in the World” for a UK TV show in 1970. I was especially pleased to be able to discuss the importance of composer John Barry in the creation of the Bond sound.
One of my favorite year-end tasks is compiling a list of what I think were the best albums of classic film and TV music to be released during the previous 12 months. First-time-ever releases (like Leonard Bernstein’s original On the Waterfront tracks), re-recordings (John Barry’s The Betsy), reissues on CD (Jerry Goldsmith’s Our Man Flint and In Like Flint LPs), expanded classics (Michel Legrand’s The Thomas Crown Affair) and box sets of great film and TV music (Elmer Bernstein’s Ava LPs, Star Trek: Enterprise) are all included. I chose 20, and had to drop five or six more that I really liked because of limited space. Thanks to all the producers and label execs who work so hard to keep us film-music buffs happy.
The third of three films that composer John Barry did for producer/director Francis Ford Coppola, this 1986 release starred Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage in a fantasy about a stressed-out mom who seemingly travels back in time to her high-school days and faces the possibility of altering her own destiny. I love Barry’s romantic scores from the ’80s (including Somewhere in Time, Body Heat and Out of Africa) and it was a pleasure to contribute notes to this first-ever complete release of his memorable music for Peggy Sue.
This amazing player of unusual percussion instruments — especially in film scores like The Ipcress File, The Quiller Memorandum, The Man Who Would Be King and others — died recently in London. I had interviewed him in 2008 about his work with John Barry, especially the unusual sound of the theme for TV’s The Persuaders!, and wrote this appreciation of the man.
The story of the music that accompanies the cinematic adventures of Ian Fleming’s intrepid Agent 007 is one of surprising real-life drama. In The Music of James Bond, author Jon Burlingame throws open studio and courtroom doors alike to reveal the full and extraordinary history of the sounds of James Bond, spicing the story with a wealth of fascinating and previously undisclosed tales.
Burlingame devotes a chapter to each Bond film, providing the backstory for the music (including a reader-friendly analysis of each score) from the last-minute creation of the now-famous “James Bond Theme” in Dr. No to John Barry’s trend-setting early scores for such films as Goldfinger and Thunderball. We learn how synthesizers, disco and modern electronica techniques played a role in subsequent scores, and how composer David Arnold reinvented the Bond sound for the 1990s and beyond.
The book brims with behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Burlingame examines the decades-long controversy over authorship of the Bond theme; how Frank Sinatra almost sang the title song for Moonraker; and how top artists like Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, and Madonna turned Bond songs into chart-topping hits. The author shares the untold stories of how Eric Clapton played guitar for Licence to Kill but saw his work shelved, and how Amy Winehouse very nearly co-wrote and sang the theme for Quantum of Solace.
Winner of the prestigious Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism, the book has been updated in paperback to include a new chapter on Skyfall, including extensive interviews with composer Thomas Newman and Adele’s producer and co-writer Paul Epworth (among others) as well as new photographs and material that has come to light since the original publication (including Lionel Bart’s newly discovered Thunderball song!).
A few reviews:
“The Bond films bounce from one locale and storyline to another, with the music serving as our constant frame of reference. And so it probably deserves a biography unto itself: a snappy, efficient and gossip-heavy one such as THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND by Jon Burlingame.” — Colin Fleming, The Washington Post
“When it comes to writing about film music, Jon Burlingame is the man with the Midas touch. Both casual fans and 007 aficionados should find this book to be enlightening, informative, and great fun to read.” — Leonard Maltin
“An often wild, frequently amusing tale of accidental connections (how Paul McCartney and Wings wound up doing Live and Let Die), MTV-inspired choices (Duran Duran for A View to a Kill) and commercially savvy but controversial ideas (Madonna’s electronica for Die Another Day). No previous book has tackled the music of Bond in such depth and detail.” — Variety
“True 007 devotees will have already dug into Jon Burlingame’s excellent The Music of James Bond.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Burlingame has written an amazing behind-the-scenes dossier, revealing the personalities, the betrayals, the egos, the lawsuits, and the untold stories behind 007’s hits and misses. Nobody does it better than Bond, and nobody knows Bond music better than Burlingame.” — John Cork, co-author, James Bond: The Legacy
“Burlingame provides the intriguing and often fascinating story behind the one heretofore neglected aspect of the James Bond phenomenon: the soundtracks, and the incredibly talented people behind them. This book manages to be exhaustively researched, yet highly entertaining.” — Lee Pfeiffer, editor, Cinema Retro
“A magnificent work… a meticulously researched history of James Bond music… James Bond fans will devour this like Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon champagne.” — Steven Jay Rubin, author, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia
“An authoritative and uniquely informative volume — the definitive examination of a major contribution in the longevity of the Bond film series… packed with memorable quotes and a sprinkling of photographic gems.” — Graham Rye, editor-publisher, 007 Magazine
“At last, a worthy historical analysis of 007 that finally puts the music in the spotlight… Burlingame’s incredibly detailed account successfully threads together the full story and, in doing so, reveals more twists and turns than an Ian Fleming novel.” — Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker, co-authors, John Barry: The Man With the Midas Touch
This was a tough one to write. I was in South Carolina, visiting my dying brother, when word came that John Barry had died of a massive heart attack. I knew the career so well — and we had been friends for over 20 years — that I was able to write it in my hotel room before getting on a plane to head home. Two days later I wrote this appreciation of the man, and five months later I wrote about his memorial concert in London.