Monday, January 31, 2011

RIP: John Barry

He wrote the music for almost all of the James Bond movies, BORN FREE, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, IPCRESS FILE, ZULU, PETULIA, THE LAST VALLEY, WALKABOUT, ROBIN & MARION, THE DEEP, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, BODY HEAT, FRANCES, JAGGED EDGE, OUT OF AFRICA, DANCES WITH WOLVES, and maybe 100 more! His scores could be lush and romantic or jazzy and cool or strange and haunting or just about anything else. One of the greats.

My favorite cut from the GOLDFINGER score...

So, there was this time when music was on vinyl... and I collected soundtracks, including everything from John Barry I could get my hands on. Here's the strange part - my parents, lower middle class folks who went to the drive in to see movies, owned a bunch of film scores. I think back then, because everything was album oriented, if you liked the theme *song* from BORN FREE you went out and bought the album and got the whole score - and my mom might put on the record while she did housework or cooked dinner and listened to the symphonic parts as well as that hit song. So "normal people" might own some sound tracks - my folks owned a bunch of Henry Mancini stuff because he did music for some of their favorite movies. I grew up listening to ELEPHANT WALK and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S and CASINO ROYALE.

Here's John Barry's OUT OF AFRICA...

The great part of searching YouTube for all of these clips is that I got to listen to the music all over again... and relive some memories. My soundtrack collection began with YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW because the Lovin' Spoonful did the music, but as a James Bond fan I probably bought GOLDFINGER next. I had the MIDNIGHT COWBOY score before ever seeing the movie, because it was rated X.


When searching for SOMEWHERE IN TIME, I came upon a clip of the big scene and it floored me all over again. This film is kind of slow for today, but a big romance with some amazing scenes that stick with you. It's one of those films that "remembers well" - it may drag a bit while you are watching it, but a couple of days later you'll still be thinking about the penny scene.

Here's the main theme for SOMEWHERE IN TIME:

One of my favorite films, one that influences my writing, is BODY HEAT... and it has a John Barry Score:

So, when I started working at the movie theater there was this guy named Dave who was a big movie fan, and we'd sometimes go to this record store in San Francisco that specialized in sound tracks. Though you could find a good selection of sound tracks in any normal record store out in the suburbs where I lived - and even in the record section of department stores like Sears and Pennys - they probably didn't have any records from 1960s movies... and this place in San Francisco had *everything*. They only carried sound tracks. And they had all kinds of "cut outs" at discount prices. I bought PETULIA there, and still have it.


Maybe once a month Dave and I would go across the bridge and dig around in the store and buy some stuff we couldn't get anywhere else. The place was run by a couple of Gay guys who were human encyclopedias of film music. You could name any film and they'd tell you who did the score plus some back story. They had a service for regular customers - they had a copy of everything in their collection, and if the music either wasn't on vinyl or was impossible to find, they'd make you a tape for $1 (or something). They also had customer cards with your wish list, and if something came in used that was on your list, they'd hold it and call you. If I'd had more money I would have had a better collection - but I ended up with maybe fifty or sixty sound tracks, including...


And here's one of my favorite movies and favorite scores, THE IPCRESS FILE...

Another movie that starred Michael Caine and had a great John Barry score, ZULU:

Here's another sound track I owned on vinyl for *years* before I was able to see the film, a british sex comedy called THE KNACK:


Another great Michael Caine movie that you've never heard of - THE LAST VALLEY - a cool epic written and directed by novelist James Clavell about the 30 Years War, and a valley that both sides decide is off limits - a place of peace in the middle of the war:

Something strange happened and department stores like Sears and Pennys cut their music departments down to only the most popular music. And even the record stores like Tower began pruning their sound track sections down to what I call the Krappy K-tel Kompilations: those collections of *songs* from some movie. Fewer soundtracks. More *songs*. The big change came with BATMAN - great score by Danny Elfman - but Warner Bros released an album of Prince music "inspired by" the movie. I think one or two songs might have been used as background, and the rest was never in the film. The Krappy K-tel Kompilation had taken over, and a movie soundtrack might just be a bunchof pop tunes that were never in the movie! The movie was just a way to sell the music. But "normal people" weren't buying soundtracks at all. The only one they'd buy from that point until now was TITANIC. Soundtracks are pretty much dead... so you may not be familiar with John Barry or his work, except for the James Bond stuff.

John Barry will be missed in a strange way: you will be watching a movie, maybe a romance, and there will be these pop tunes in the background of scenes instead of the big lush scores that added to the film experience. And you won't know why this film seems less romantic than a movie like OUT OF AFRICA, but it just doesn't feel the same. That's because John Barry wasn't here to write the music.

Let's end with one of my favorite John Barry scores... for an awful movie. The 1976 version of KING KONG:

RIP: John Barry - won 5 Oscars, was 77 years old. I'm going to miss him.

- Bill


Martin_B said...

That's an amazing list. I particularly remember Born Free and Out of Africa, and of course the James Bond theme. But I had no idea he'd done so many movies.

Jim Vines said...

Thanks for posting this tribute, Bill. (I was going to post something on my blog, but I’m pleased to see you beat me to it.) John Barry has been a favorite of mine since...well, since I can remember. Soooooo much great music. When I was a kid, I listened to the Bond scores so much that I wore out the record albums! Yes, the man was a true genius and his music will last forever.

KalliBeth said...

amazing tribute thank you

Jack Dawe said...

I agree w/ you totally about John Barry's contribution - I'll never forget those ominous, circling tenths on the horns, leading into the "GOLDFINGER" theme (genius!). And so much more, as you outlined in your tribute.

But I wdn't despair about movie music just yet. The real pace has been set, since Barry and in Barry's own time, by former rockers like Danny Elfman and Brian Eno.

Catch Eno's "MOVIE MUSIC I," which set the standard for this branch of music back in the late '70s-early '80, and you have to acknowledge that the (synthesized, granted) alternative to Barry is not just second best. Sometimes it almost comes close to being competitive w/ the Master.

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