What better way to kick of John Barry week within the month #Johnuary than with a breakdown of the famous James Bond Theme.

This is such a classic theme tune. And I never fully realised the history and debate around it, until now. I always thought it was just John Barry who wrote this, end of story. But I only recently learned that actually it was Monty Norman who originally wrote it. I think a misconception held by many that it was Barry, Apparently Monty Norman had been hired to write it but the producers weren’t totally happy with it so they brought in John Barry to re-arrange and re-record it. Barry made a few changes, improved it and made it more his own, but the underlying writing was still Norman’s, and the legal agreement was that Norman would retain the writing credit. Apparently there is still debate though as to who had the most influence. It’s officially credited to Norman but Barry has publicly stated, and even testified in court, that it’s his and that he wrote it. At the very least I guess it’s his influence on the track that made it work. I still obviously want to include it in this list of Barry’s work as it is a piece of music that he, at the very least, strongly influenced, and he grew to know intimately and adapt in many ways for the rest of his Bond work.

Barry was paid £250 for his work on the Bond theme which was used throughout Dr. No. Monty Norman retained the writing credit and also royalties which up until 1999 had amassed nearly half a million pounds.

There are supposedly some interesting interviews on the DVD release of Dr. No about the origin of the theme, which I will have to watch.

Originally the theme was used to indicate Sean Connery’s entrance on screen, but from Goldfinger onwards Barry started using it as an action cue. The theme has also been rearranged several times by Barry (and subsequent composers) in order to better match the different Bond actors and different settings of the movies.

I was going to compare both versions but it’s actually really confusing to find which is which. I’m pretty sure I found the original Monty Norman version on Spotify, but I can’t find it on YouTube anywhere, so I’m not able to embed it here. And on YouTube there are lots of instances where people are uploading the John Barry version and putting Monty Norman’s name in the title, so it’s very confusing. But here is the final John Barry version from Dr. No…

John Barry final version from Dr. No.

I just love how much iconicness there is in the track and how versatile it is. There are three or four separate sections which are all so identifiable that you forget they are part of the same tune. I remember them all being used in the actual film scores in different places. I’m going to utilise my incredible musical knowledge now, to describe them.

Here comes the science…

The ‘Creepy oompah-oompah’ bit
I call this creepy just because it does sound like Bond is stalking you and about to hunt you down. This is obviously accentuated by the fact that this music often accompanies the famous gun barrel sequence where Bond casually strolls onto the screen and then with no warning whatsoever proceeds to shoot the audience right in the face. The ‘oompah’ obviously comes from the sound of the instrument. This piece of music alone is hugely recognisable but it also is very much making you anticipate what is coming next.

The ‘Dum-di-di-dum-dum’ bit
So, a slight musical fact here… The ‘dum-di-di-dum-dum’ part of this actually originates from surf rock which was very popular at the time. For some people this will be the most iconic part and the part they probably hum when they’re pretending to be James Bond. The first run-through is just the dum-di-di-dum-dum bit on its own.

Then in the second run through of the ‘dum-di-di-dum-dum’ bit he also teases the first four notes of the main riff which is about to explode in a few seconds. I love how he teases it first. These are four notes that are teased in several places in the Bond film scores but also in at least two of the Bond title tracks that I’ll be reviewing this week.

The ‘Brass crash main riff’ bit.
This is the meat of the track. This is the iconic riff that most people will recognise as ‘action Bond’. And it’s just incredible. Not just the writing but the power of the arrangement. There’s so much happening here and you can just imagine Bond doing a bit of action, shooting someone, running somewhere, womanising someone, driving a tank etc whilst this music is playing.

The ‘Bah bah’ bit
For some reason this smaller section just reminds of a 50s/60s cop show or The Pink Panther movies or the 60s Batman TV show or something like that. Not quite sure why.

The ‘Upward spiral’ bit
This is just the ending that wraps everything up but even this just seems to ooze Bond, and you imagine the gun barrel circle disappearing up and revealing Bond womanising some Russian agent somewhere on a ski slope or something.

Such an iconic piece of music, and Barry had a big hand in it but of course hats off to Monty Norman for his major part in it too. Without both of them we wouldn’t have the version we know and love today,