This is the John Barry soundtrack for the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights. The Living Daylights remains the last great James Bond film I think (although I like Licence To Kill and GoldenEye - the former much more than the latter). Timothy Dalton was clearly way ahead of his time, presenting a more serious minded 007 but one who was still quite debonair and certainly looked like James Bond. His first introduction during the PTS on Gibraltar remains one of the best and you accept him as James Bond almost as soon as you see him. I do anyway. It's like some sort of surreal unfunny joke that the homely and diminutive Daniel Craig has already made more films than Dalton ever did. Sigh. I love the cinematography in this film and the European locations but most of all I love the music by John Barry. This was the last James Bond film he ever scored so it truly was the end of an era and to say the franchise missed him would be something of an understatement. The album begins with the title song, performed by eighties Norwegian pop chancers A-ha. I am not terribly familiar with the (ahem) collected works of A-ha but although this isn't that well regarded in the world of Bondage, the Bondosphere, the Bond Bubble, I rather like it myself. It's a difficult one to describe other than eighties pop trio A-ha meet the great John Barry. A mixture of the old and new. The attempt to fashion a more modern theme doesn't work as well as it did with Duran Duran's A View To A Kill but it's not bad at all. A-ha and John Barry famously did not get on and by all accounts he wanted to strangle them in the end. They released their own preferred version of this on one of their albums and I did have a listen on YouTube and would have to say this Barry produced incarnation is much better. Simply put, he added all the Bondian bells and whistles and made it sound like a Bond song.
Necros Attacks is next and very representative of the sound and feel of the music that drives the film. Barry's big bold brassy James Bond sound is still wonderfully evident but he laces it with electronic beats. There is a repeating looping structure to the music that is almost hypnotic and I love the sense of tension he manages to infuse this piece of music with. I believe this was used in the film when the assassin Necros raids the MI6 country safe house disguised as as a milkman - complete with explosive milk bottles! This music also uses strains from The Pretender's Where Has Everybody Gone - which features later on and is like the unofficial theme of Necros. He's listening to it on a Walkman in the film. How very appropriate for a killer to have this as his anthem. The Sniper Was a Woman is a much more low-key piece of music but still with those trademark Barry signatures of strident chords. This is beautifully atmospheric and was used in the film when Bond is in Bratislava with his sniper rifle and refuses to kill the cellist Kara Milovy. "Stuff my orders. I only kill professionals. That girl didn't know one end of a rifle from the other. If he fires me I'll thank him for it!" That's James Bond. Not Daniel Craig running around with an earpiece doing anything Judi Dench tells him to. A really solid piece of music that reminds us of how much poorer the Brosnan films were for not having Barry's music to lift them up a few notches.
Ice Chase is fantastic and was used in the film when Bond and Kara escape to Austria in his gadget laden Aston Martin. Rockets, missiles, lasers. "I've had a few optional extras installed." A great action beat for the sequence. It has a funky bass, what sounds like a drum machine, a backdrop of orchestration and - after a typically grand but slightly restrained start - kicks into gear with what is sort of like an electronic bass sound that drives the whole thing along as Barry then adds stratospheric horns and then the chords of the James Bond theme. It does its business on the music in recent Bond films from a great height and is just brilliant. Kara Meets Bond is (yes, you guessed it) taken from the first meeting between Bond and leading lady Kara. It seems to consist of flutes and is very soft and low key. It's supposed to be romantic I suppose. It flirts with a slab of cheese and some crackers but just manages to reel itself in from the precipice. Not the sort of thing you'd listen to much though, certainly in isolation. Koskov Escapes is the backdrop for (amazingly enough) the escape of Koskov from the MI6 country safe house. It's very John Barry, with horns, strings and that gently building ominous air that he always suffused into his music. He had such an uncanny knack of doing that. Roger Moore could be dressed as a circus clown but with Barry's music it was still sort of tense because he makes you feel like something is going to happen at any minute. I suppose this is sort of like "stock" Barry music but as far as stock music goes it's great.
Where Has Everybody Gone is one of two contributions to the film by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. I believe they were considered to record the main title theme but lost out because A-ha were thought to be more commercial at the time. A similar scenario to KD Lang being stiffed on Tomorrow Never Dies in favour of Sheryl Crow. This is (as we've established I think) the Necros theme and when used sparingly in the film very Bondian indeed. In isolation with much more Chrissie Hynde it's much more generic but not bad at all if you want some eighties power pop. Into Vienna is a rather cheesy piece of music that signals the arrival of Bond and Kara in, er, Vienna. It's a backdrop for some pretty establishing shots of the city and worked ok in the film. In isolation though and extended this is a bit cheese drizzled and dated. Like an electronic orchestra. Hercules Takes Off is the action score for the big Afghanistan plane sequence. It uses the main title theme to and is absolutely brilliant with big blaring horns and an immediate and driving sense of urgency. It almost has a sense of suave as well. Very James Bond. Mujahadin and Opium is the music used for the desert sequences in Afghanistan. Heavenly strings that almost chime and echo in your head and then some horns as the music progresses. Very classy and pitched right too. When David Arnold used to try and do this it was all too obvious somehow. Too treacly and overblown. With Barry it is effortless. Inflight Flight is more action beat stuff that again fuses in Where Has Everybody Gone. It's great but you feel like you've already heard heard this one on the album before.
More from The Pretenders next with If There Was a Man. This is the song played over the end credits in the film. "You didn't think I'd miss this performance did you?" It's a bit soppy but I really like this. It's a big ballad with Chrissie Hynde giving it some welly. Love the very 1980s guitars. Exercise At Gibraltar is the music used for the PTS action sequence on the Rock. This is classic Barry. It begins (after the gunbarrel signature) full of atmosphere and mournful brass and then builds (and remember this music is designed to lead us into our introduction to the new James Bond) into a fantastic remix of the Bond theme. Great stuff. Approaching Kara is more retro with mandolins and vague strings. It's got a slightly Eastern European sound. Works ok in the film but not really something you'd listen to much in isolation. Murder at the Fair is a more haunting piece of music with those trademark Barry strings but this time more subdued. It's that Barry stock music that you feel like you've heard many times in his previous Bond films but if it's not broken why fix it? This was the backdrop for more Necros stalking capers. Whatever happened to the classic James Bond henchman? More Barry synth wonder with Assassin and Drugged. An action beat that remixes the title theme. Ok, we've practically heard this more than once already but it's just great. Airbase Jailbreak has bass and flutes and Barry on fine form. I think the key to Barry's music is the way he manages to infuse it with a majestic sweep. It's very evocative of the world of James Bond.
Some pounding percussion for Afghanistan Plan. Again the strings are great. The album is becoming a bit samey by now but you can't complain as we've heard some great stuff. Air Bond is big and brassy with a triumphant feel while Final Confrontation is a more suspenseful piece with that trademark Barry sound. This is very reminiscent of vintage Bond soundtracks he scored for the Connery and Roger Moore years and this anachronistic quality is quite charming. Finally, Alternate End Titles is essentially a Barry instrumental version of If There Was A Man. Very pretty. This is a great soundtrack and proof that one John Barry top trump will get you 57 David Arnolds and a gaggle of Bill Conti's. There are a couple of soppy interludes that haven't stood the test of time very well but the action beats are still tremendous fun. At the time of writing you can buy The Living Daylights soundtrack for under a fiver.