- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

Is there a red-blooded American male who doesn't find a smile sneaking across his face when he hears the brassy opening chords that announce the slinky, signature guitar riff at the start of a James Bond movie? Called "Gunbarrel," the theme's initial motif makes it a sort of Space-Age-bachelor-pad-pop cousin of Beethoven's Fifth.
Spy themes tend to be catchy: "Peter Gunn," "Mission Impossible" and the twangy Brit import "Secret Agent." But none is so immediately riveting as the full-blown James Bond theme with all it's swinging, swaggering brass (an effect achieved by pairing plunger-muted trumpets with French Horns shrieking at the upper limit of their register, while trombones blast away on the low end).
It was written by John Barry (with a songwriting credit also to Monty Norman, the orchestrator Mr. Barry replaced on the first Bond flick, "Dr. No.") and can be heard on a new 40th anniversary box set of James Bond soundtracks being released by EMI-Capitol.
The genius of Mr. Barry's scores is that they are not all and only about explosive brass. Yes, 007 has a penchant for action, but he also has a penchant for, well, action. He isn't called Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for nothing.
Mr. Barry captures the romantic Bond with sinuous, sensual strings and moody alto flutes. The spy game isn't just about shoot'em-ups, after all. There is intrigue, mystery, suspense, revelation, unease, betrayal (sexual and otherwise), loss, redemption. The Bond scores have all these elements.
Through some 18 Bond films, Mr. Barry's themes and their signature sonic style have remained essential to the franchise. Bonds come and go; the Aston Martin may be replaced by a BMW or Jaguar (or whatever brand is paying the producers the top product-placement dollar). Even Mr. Barry himself has been largely out of the Bond-scoring business since the '70s (the chores have been taken up by musicians as varied as George Martin and Marvin Hamlisch), but through all the Bond permutations, the theme is there, like a musical logo, branding the enterprise and holding it together.
Frankly, once Sean Connery threw in the towel, the franchise might not have survived if not for the music: Mr. Barry's themes convinced us that we were watching James Bond even when it was just some puffy, paunchy, blown-dry lightweight named Roger Moore up on the screen.
Soundtracks rarely make for interesting listening. Incidental music can be forgiven for being incidental, but the Bond discs are an unalloyed delight. For starters, there are those sexy, over-the-top theme songs here sung by Nancy Sinatra ("You Only Live Twice"), Tom Jones ("Thunderball") and the essential Bond girl, Shirley Bassey ("Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever"). Don't forget one of Louis Armstrong's last recorded performances, "We Have All the Time in the World," the theme from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
Then there is the incidental music itself, which is inventive and evocative. The titles (used to describe the scenes to which the music was written) alone are worth the price of admission: "Bond Smells a Rat" or "Bond Averts World War III."
What one will not find in the 40th anniversary collection of Bond music is anything from the one 007 flick not associated with the official franchise, 1983's "Never Say Never Again."
That movie, in which Mr. Connery donned toupee to do a remake of "Thunderball," is a far sight better than anything done by the official franchise in the years since he left it, but it is a measure of the hold Mr. Barry's music has on the imagination that even with the real James Bond on the screen, the missing theme renders the film incomplete.
That isn't to say that Michel Legrand's music is subpar the racing big band track that accompanies Bond as he chases Fatima Blush's supercharged Renault is inspired but it's still not the real thing.
To be a true Bond, James Bond movie, it has got to have a score by Barry, John Barry.

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