The Music of James Bond – Jon Burlingame

Posted on December 3, 2012


Bond steps out and shoots the viewer – blood drizzles down the screen to perhaps the most famous opening notes of any film franchise. The music of James Bond helped to define a generation of spy thrillers. Jon Burlingame’s exhaustive new book examines this legacy in lively detail.

You would be forgiven for thinking that a book about the music of Bond might be a bit dry, but Burlingame tells a compelling story spanning five decades. There are exclusive behind the scenes snippets from John Barry, David Arnold, Cubby Brocolli and many others involved in shaping the sound of Bond. Meticulously researched, every Bond film up to Quantum of Solace, including the two ‘spin-offs’ Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again are covered in detail including sections that look at the score highlights for each film.

What will be of most interest to Bond fans is the stories of tracks that weren’t, and the stars who nearly sang those defining tunes. Some fascinating anecdotes are revealed within, you can find out how and why Eric Clapton wasn’t used for Licence to Kill, or what Frank Sinatra’s involvement was in Moonraker for instance. These are the tales of innovators at the forefront of their craft, pushing and tweaking to create this distinctive new sound – and their struggles to realise their vision. Burlingame’s lively analysis hints at what worked and didn’t in sometimes frank detail.

The story itself is worthy of any Bond movie, such are the twists and turns. From the accidental story of how the famous ‘James Bond Theme’ came to be and then became the subject of a lawsuit, through to the evolution of the title song of the and beyond. Burlingame sheds light on this previously ignored aspect of the Bond franchise in an engaging way. He doesn’t engage in tittle-tattle, but rather presents different sides of the same story allowing the reader to read between the lines where, and this is pretty frequent over the years, there is disagreement over a particular issue.

Amongst this weaving story of chance encounters and accidents, it becomes clear that although many have tried, few are able to produce that definitive sound associated with Bond. In the end, the story comes full circle as David Arnold, the current composer, cites John Barry, the most iconic, as a major influence. Arnold’s style, fusing the orchestral dance of Barry with modern day electronica continues to thrill modern audiences.

Indeed, this is not just a history of the Bond movies, but commentary on changing production values as composers embrace new technology and film-makers and composers begin to clash. Certainly by time we reach GoldenEye, composer Eric Serra is clashing with film-makers whilst trying to be ahead of his time – with sadly disastrous results.

A fascinating journey through an often overlooked aspect of the films, The Music of James Bond might well just make you go back and revisit the movies with a new appreciation, and is a must read for Bond fans and music scholars alike. Certainly as far as a record of the music of Bond has been written, no-one has done it better.

The Fiction Stroker gives The Music of James Bond four strokes out of five:


The Music of James Bond is available now from Oxford University Press. You can get a copy through Amazon or your local bookseller.

Posted in: Non-Fiction