Favourite John Barry Score?

One of the most famous of all film composers, John Barry, died of a heart attack at the age of 77. He hadn’t done a score in some time, but from the ’60s through the ’90s, he built up one of the great bodies of work in film scores; even if you took out his work on the James Bond series, you’d still have a lot of exceptional scores. Sometimes his music was the best thing about a movie, whether it was an Oscar winner like Out of Africa or a Star Wars ripoff cheesefest like Starcrash (or Moonraker for that matter).

The U.S. composer he resembles in a lot of ways is John Williams, and not only because they were associated with incredibly successful franchises. Like Williams, Barry’s sound changed over the years from one that reflected a background in jazz and pop (the James Bond theme was based on melodies by Dr. No‘s composer, Monty Norman, but it was Barry’s big-band sound that made it a classic) to a more lush, symphonic, stately approach. You can hear the change reflected in his Bond scores, from the electric guitars and whooping horns of the ’60s to the almost classical style of some of the later Bond scores.

Also like Williams, he was more of a chameleon when he was younger; by the ’80s and ’90s his sound would be more similar from film to film, whereas if you look at his amazing run in the late ’60s — with exceptional scores for classic films from Petulia to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — there are similarities in style but also a different approach each time. The Lion In Winter certainly sounds like passages from Barry’s Bond scores, but cleverly adapts his “voice” as a composer to the setting and period of the film.


And in Petulia, one of the best movies he scored, he created a subtle, restrained score that he described as “cold and icy” to match the mood of the picture.


Among his string-heavy, romantic scores, I’m particularly fond of his work on the 1974 thriller The Tamarind Seed by Blake Edwards. It’s a creepy-beautiful, doom-laden score (maybe a little bit of Prokofiev influence, but that can be said of hundreds of movie scores) that more than makes up for the fact that the Bond title designer, Maurice Binder, is also on this film and completely rehashing his old ideas.


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