Monday, January 31, 2011


The silver screen lost one of its titans yesterday with the passing at age 77 of composer John Barry. Barry, who appropriately enough served as a teenage projectionist in his father's cinema, will forever be remembered for his dozen James Bond pictures, whose scores combined surf guitar with lavish strings and horns for truly voluptuous effect. Monty Norman might have written the original 007 theme, but it was Barry whose archetypal arrangement transformed the piece into the stuff of cultural folklore. He also boldly incorporated synthesizers into his compositions, notably on his work for Peter R. Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and his scintillating theme for ITC Entertainment's 1971-72 teleseries, The Persuaders--the latter constituting a veritable analog bubblebath. Barry's lush orchestrations enthralled me as a lad, and I can scarcely recall my adolescence without mentally hearing those jazzy strains, along with Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western masterworks, as a soundtrack of the times. Barry made music to spy by. Other Swinging Sixties gems include his scores for Never Let Go (1960), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), and The Ipcress File (1965); a sample from this last theme was memorably integrated into the trip hop duo Mono's 1996 debut single, "Life in Mono." Barry won five Oscars, two for Born Free (1966), and one each for The Lion in Winter (1968), Out of Africa (1985), and Dances With Wolves (1990). In 1998, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the artist was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire the following year. The music of the Twentieth Century is frankly unimaginable without him. Hail and farewell!