It's safe to say that James Bond would never have been quite the same without the legendary composer John Barry. Barry's lavish scores are instantly recognisable. You know right away it's him and that you are back in the world of James Bond. If it was Ken Adam that made us understand what a Bond film should look like then it was John Barry that taught us what it should sound like. Barry's majestic music helped to make Bond an iconic brand and he proved to be truly irreplaceable. His score for 1963's Goldfinger (remastered in 2003) is perhaps his most famous and certainly one of his best. One would be hard pressed to compile a list of the best James Bond films without including Goldfinger in the top three or four. Mint Juleps with Auric Goldfinger in the afternoon sun, burly steel bowler hatted Korean henchmen, Shirley Bassey, gold paint, Fort Knox, Operation Grandslam, rolling in the hay with Pussy Galore, the Aston Martin DB5, ejector seats, grand scale battle sequences, eye-popping production design, double entendres, quips, a cool unflappable hero who wanders around constantly amused by himself and his surroundings, safe in the knowledge that the opposition don't stand a chance. Goldfinger set the template and became the blueprint. The execution of this formula by Goldfinger probably changed the face of cinema. And what a score by Barry to provide the perfect backdrop to the images onscreen. Ominous, majestic, suspenseful, exciting, melodramatic, bold, brassy, positively shimmering with bravado. He was an impossible act to follow and - try as they might - without him they never really replicated the Bondian atmosphere, elegance, scope, and magic that he brought to the series. His Bond scores, like James Bond himself, really will be forever and stylishly transport us away to a fantasy world every time we hear them.
Goldfinger begins the album and needs no introduction. Composed by John Barry and with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and performed by Shirley Bassey. This is the most iconic and famous of the Bond themes and set a standard and formula for the rest to try and match. It's very brassy, immediate and polished with those trademark obtuse James Bond lyrics that are meaningless but effective nonetheless. Goldfinger has a web of sin but please don't go in. Ok. Shirley Bassey was obviously born to belt out Goldfinger until glass shattered into a million sparkling fragments but it was actually Anthony Newley who sang the song first before they gave it to Bassey to re-record. You can find Newley's version of Goldfinger on YouTube and it's not bad at all although a trifle 'ello guvnor evening squire chimney sweep Dick Van Dyke at times. I think they were right to hand it over to the Welsh songstress. Great work by Newley though. He had the song all in place and ready to record. Into Miami is a piece of music that plays when the main titles have ended and the camera swoops into, er, Miami from above to herald Bond's arrival in the town. It's a brassy trumpet festooned jazzy piece that has a very playful quality, perfectly capturing the mood of the images onscreen. Bond has completed his explosive PTS mission and is now relaxing in a swanky hotel by the beach and about to match wits with Auric Goldfinger for the first time. It's very evocative of the soundtrack as a whole. Cool and laid-back. The sort of thing that seems like it should be easy but obviously isn't. David Arnold must have scored half a dozen Bond films and he never came up with anything as elegantly whimsical as this.
Alpine Drive is truly sublime. A gorgeous string laden instrumental version of the title song that is played when Sean Connery scopes out Goldfinger's Swiss hideaway in the film. Just a wonderful composition and light years ahead of anything the Bond series has done lately. I'm always wondering why I dislike the new rebooted Bond films so much these days and find them such crashing bores. The list of reasons is a long one (and please don't me started on them, I feel like I managed to most of it all out of my system with my Skyfall rant)) but John Barry has something to do with it. It's just never quite the same without him. I think George Martin with Live and Let Die and Marvin Hamlisch with The Spy Who Loved Me fared the best out of all the people who have composed a Bond film in his absence. When you watch those films the scores are so much fun that you don't miss John Barry so much. But then when you watch Licence To Kill or For Your Eyes Only or any of the Brosnan films you can't avoid wondering how different an experience the film would be with a John Barry score. Imagine Licence To Kill or GoldenEye with a score composed by Barry. It would instantly make them better films. Oddjob's Pressing Engagement is next and an obstreperous version of the title song that is very loud with big booming trumpets. It's quintessential John Barry and was played during the scene when Oddjob took that bloke to the junkyard. I think. "Forgive me, Mr Bond, but I must arrange to separate my gold from the late Mr Solo." They don't write little dry quips like that anymore. Where have those witty screenwriters all gone.
Bond Back In Action Again is one of the highlights of the album. A super retro version of the James Bond theme for the gunbarrel and then trumpet flares and staccato brass. It's a great action beat that incorporates the Bond theme majestically. This part of the score was used for the PTS where 007 plants some explosives in a factory type facility to destroy a Drug lord's HQ ("At least they won't be using heroin flavored bananas to finance revolutions...") and then unzips his black jumpsuit to reveal a white tuxedo. It's James Bond with the volume turned up to eleven and no one ever did this sort of stuff quite as wonderfully as Barry. What I love about this and the Goldfinger score as a whole is that it positively reeks of suspense and intrigue. Wonderfully atmospheric. Teasing The Korean is a whimsical little piece that (if memory serves) was played when Bond was put in that cell by Goldfinger and started pulling funny faces at the guard outside in order to improve his chances of escape. It's a clever composition, playful and amusing but it also has those strident John Barry moments and some amazing strings.
Gassing the Gangsters is a short piece that accompanied the sequence where Auric Goldfinger had just asked that group of hoodlums to come in with him on his scheme to rob Fort Knox of its gold and now had to kill them in classic Bond villain fashion. A great scene in the film and the music is the perfect backdrop. Those ominous cymbal chimes at the start and big pounding drums before more trademark John Barry strings. Auric Goldfinger was such a great villain. "Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He's fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavour... except crime!" Another version of the title song next. This one is very enjoyable. It's done with funky guitars and in the style of a sixties pop group. John Barry meets Britpop. Shades of the John Barry Seven but much better. Dawn Raid On Fort Knox is brilliant. This composition is from the sequence in the film where Pussy Galore and her female pilots fly over Fort Knox to spray gas and knock all the soldiers stationed there out. The orchestration here is preposterously bold and grand and the repetitious nature of the music is quite hypnotic, the way it loops back on itself. It has big booming drums and is a great action beat. I love the way Barry builds it up to a huge crescendo and then takes slows it down and begins all over again. One of the great things about this is the way that it keeps throwing different sounds and changes in tempo at the listener so you never get bored and you never quite know what is coming next.
The Arrival Of The Bomb And Count Down is more of a moody ominous piece that is very John Barry. You can definitely detect this music in most of the Barry Bond scores, including much later films like The Living Daylights. Xylophones, strings, brass. He just had a very distinctive sound. Lush orchestral works, vibrato atmospherics. The Death Of Goldfinger is similar to the previous composition but more strident and melodramatic while Golden Girl slows things down somewhat. It still has those electric sparks of energy though that feature heavily in Barry's score here. The Laser Beam is a suitably tense piece of music to accompany the famous scene where Bond is strapped to that table and Goldfinger decides to give him a demonstration of his laser gun. It has one of the most famous lines in the history of the franchise ("Do you expect me to talk?") and is rife with suspense. Death Of Tilley must have played in the film when Bond discovered Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint and is a more sombre low-key piece for the most part but very atmospheric. Finally we have Pussy Galore's Flying Circus, a brassy ominous piece and quite superb. This is a classic film score and about as iconic as it gets. It's interesting how the non-Barry Bond scores have dated horribly (try listening to Bill Conti's disco themed music in For Your Eyes Only these days) but the old Barry ones have a timeless quality. A super retro sheen that never seems to completely date them. At the time of writing you can buy the remastered Goldfinger soundtrack for as little as three pounds.