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R.I.P. John Barry (1933 – 2011)

by on 2011/01/31

Earlier today, English composer John Barry passed away.

His contributions to cinema have been significant . . . his effect on the James Bond series, incalculable.

His work includes The Black Hole, Born Free, Dances with Wolves, King Kong (1976), The Lion in WinterMidnight Cowboy, The Specialist, and Starcrash, among many others.

However, I first recognized his appeal in the Bond movies.  He’s responsible for some of my very favourite scores:  Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and The Living Daylights.  Of the 22 entries in the past 49 years, he was responsible for eleven…

…and twelve depending on how you count the much-contested Dr. No.  His controversial collaboration with Monty Norman has resulted in decades of debate and court cases, doing little to clarify the true identity of the James Bond theme’s creator.

If I may be so bold, listen to the theme.  Then listen to the remainder of Norman’s Dr. No score, good though it is.  Furthermore, ask yourself about the likelihood that Barry would not have had at least significant input into it . . . and then been asked back again to compose so many future Bonds.

Regardless of your conclusion, Barry’s influence is undeniable.  His work is the touchstone against which all the other scores are compared and the most successful ones — like those of David Arnold — honour his legacy even as they update the approach.

John Barry’s music can be heard everywhere.  I hear it nearly daily, in its original form, in the movies I love, influencing — or even sampled in — the music I routinely listen to, including (but hardly limited to):

Whether you’re familiar with his lyrical jazz or not, it’s worth giving him a listen, from his Oscar-winning soundtracks to his more obscure efforts.  I strongly recommend Beat Girl, The Ipcress File, and Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

It’s a truly sad day for movie and music fans alike.

Rest easy, Mr. Barry.  You truly had the knack.

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