At one point in time, the idea of a James Bond film without a John Barry score must have been a hard concept to grasp. Although the first film to feature the character – Dr. No – had a score by Monty Norman (arranged by Barry) the composer took hold of the spectacular spy series and defined a sound that would be influential for decades to come. Big brass strokes, lush strings, violent percussion, Barry’s music was both copied and parodied in hundreds of films, and still is to this day. He is the unmistakeable sound of 007.
But what about the others?
As Sean Connery retired (at least officially), Barry also left Bond, albeit temporarily. After making it through six films, he gave up the baton for a new composer to briefly take the mantle. And while it wouldn’t be until Pierce Brosnan’s tenure that someone other than Barry would have a regular spot as composer for the Bond series, several high-profile figures from the music world had a go at creating a new sound for Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But how did they do?
Bond And Beyond: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
While Barry returned in 1974 to score The Man With The Golden Gun, he was again unavailable when the next adventure rolled around. The Spy Who Loved Me took its title from one of Ian Fleming’s novels, but aside from the character of Horror (renamed as Jaws), none of the material was used: instead an original screenplay was written featuring a megalomaniac wanting to turn the world into one giant ocean he can rule from his underwater world of Atlantis.
Entrusted to score the tenth James Bond adventure was American composer Marvin Hamlisch, who had previously won Oscars for The Way We Were and the adaptation of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for The Sting. An unorthodox choice perhaps, but one that would lead to one of the most well-known tunes in 007’s armoury, as well as creating a controversy of its own due to the inclusion of one of the most polarising crazes of the 1970s: disco.
But first we’ll talk about the one thing everyone remembers about The Spy Who Loved Me: ‘Nobody Does It Better’. The theme is used many times in the film as an instrumental love theme and works beautifully, but it’s the vocal version that remains one of 007’s iconic songs and you can understand why. The tune itself is a stunner, but with Carole Bayer-Sager’s lyrics celebrating the character of Bond and Carly Simon’s powerful voice added to the mix, it was destined to be embedded in pop culture. That said, the instrumental versions woven into the score add a softer texture to the music and the breaking down of Bond’s icy relationship with Russian agent Amasova, and sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and admire the music when it sounds this good.
In other parts of the score, Hamlisch also created a neat little Russian motif for the various appearances of General Gogol – the head of the KGB – which gets a fun interpolation with the classic Bond theme when 007 gets a shock as he finds Gogol in MI6’s secret Egyptian base. There’s also a nice romantic lament for the death of Amasova’s lover (who coincidentally was killed by Bond), and Hamlisch does well with providing different colours of melody throughout the film. This is especially true with the source music, with the big faux-Rozsa cues for the Pyramids sequence and the funk tunes for the nightclubs. But there’s another big piece that really is the elephant in the room, that will drive some to rage, that some believe is sheer proof that Beelzebub exists. Bond 77.
Bond 77 was Hamlisch’s own interpretation of The James Bond Theme, and it’s this piece that has led to many film score fans treating Spy as the mongrel in a line of pedigrees due to its disco elements. Saying that, to many people synthesiser equals disco, and any electronic element which is anywhere near obvious is a horrendous artifact to be ripped out like a tooth from its root, although aside from Bond 77’s appearances in the score and the ride to Atlantis, electronics are used mostly for transitions and augmentation. Bond 77 itself is not purely synth; while the electronics are admittedly dominant, the main Bond theme is played on strings while the traditional electric guitar remains, also there are action portions that include violins and brass. Despite its many detractors, the arrangement is a bit of fresh air which accompanied a well-received instalment that cemented Roger Moore as MI6’s finest.
Bond 77 appears a fair few times over the running time of the film, but is best-remembered for the score to the opening ski chase. It’s a good use in the scene for a number of reasons; It fits well with the fast rhythm of the chase, it injects a sense of danger and subsequently excitement, and it gave Bond a bit of a energiser, especially after the previous film wasn’t spectacular in both picture and score. Here we have a new sound for an actor still trying to get out of Sean Connery’s shadow, the voice of a different era that still contrasted with the classic orchestral 007 vibe. The best example of this is the end of the ski chase, where Bond skiis off the side of the mountain with the music turning to silence as he potentially tumbles to his death, only for a parachute to launch at the last minute. Of course the parachute is a giant Union Jack flag, and as it spreads out the classic arrangement of the Bond theme explodes from the speakers, reminding you that while Moore is a different interpretation of the character, at the core he’s still James Bond (and prone to ridiculously death-defying stunts).
There’s a quite a bit of traditional action and suspense music in the score, mostly in the latter half as Bond and the navy men escape from their prisons onboard the giant tanker. A lot of it fits with John Barry’s Bond sound – big and brassy and brash – but we also get a full-blown traditional rendition of the Bond theme as he rides the camera with the bomb into the control room. The Lotus chase has an interesting cue, with a harsh and jagged melody that sounds like something Barry Gray might have created for Thunderbirds or Space:1999, and there’s a lumbering low brass motif for the giant sub-swallowing tanker with a great string and trumpet horn counterpoint. One of my favourite cues is when Bond arrives at Atlantis and takes the elevator (that just happens to double as a hatch leading to the shark tank). As he walks in, we see villain Stromberg looking at his viewscreen, the sparse Bond theme segueing to a jazzy saxophone flourish that quickly swings back around to tense strings as he confronts Stromberg, having avoided being a meal by sticking to the sides of the lift. It’s a great little moment and to me is a perfect bit of 007 score.
The Spy Who Loved Me garnered an Academy Award nomination for Hamlisch’s score, and received a soundtrack LP from United Artists which unfortunately contained hardly any music from the actual film tracks. There’s an album version of Bond 77, three different versions of ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (one of which is instrumental and possibly cut together from different cues in the film), and a piece called ‘Anya’ which doesn’t appear in the film at all. There is some action music included, with score for the giant tanker, as well as the cool and synthy ‘Ride To Atlantis’, but the rest of it is source from the various clubs (‘Eastern Lights’, ‘Mojave Club’) and the pyramid scene (‘The Pyramids’, ‘Conclusion’). Sadly, it was not part of the expansion program given to certain scores over the past decade or so, although I’m hopeful that perhaps in the future the soundtracks will be given a singular approach instead of the requirement of releasing the entire canon at once.
Marvin Hamlisch’s score to The Spy Who Loved Me is still fiercely divisive against enthusiasts, but when the smoke clears it’s actually a fine score, with a surprisingly amount of Barry-esque music. Bond 77 is either a highlight or lowlight depending on who you talk to, but it’s a far more successful – and far less discofied – film score than many would have you think. And a score that may have had a far better reputation had John Barry’s name been attached to it.