Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The great John Barry is Gone!

First thing I see when I get into work on Monday: John Barry is dead. If you don't know who this person is, slap yourself now, please. Actually - go to your iPod, play the James Bond Theme (if you have it), and then slap yourself. Why? Because John Barry made that song!

That's John on the left at the Royal Albert hall.

Like many songs that I consider "timeless," the Bond theme is a track that I can't turn off after 4 seconds. Y'know - you're not in the mood for "Heard it Through the Grapevine," but even as you're reaching for the controls, you get caught up in it. Your fingers reaches towards the "skip" button, and if you don't press it in time... That's it, you've got to hear such a pretty piece of music all the way through.

For my part, if I have to look outside 007, I'd go with the score for a movie that I can't wait to review: "The Ipcress File." Made just as Ian Fleming's character was starting to dominate the world of action films, I love love love every single thing about "tIF" - especially the score. Click the youtube vid below; it's a sweet tune.

Despite a soft start, this track is so cool.

See? A little like the piece that makes Barry famous - but still its own beast. Cool, slow, brassy, and it's hard not to feel that maybe you're hoping to meet someone in a cafe by a still-operational Berlin Wall. That amazing score inspired, among others, Portishead; so for "The Ipcress File" alone, he deserved knighthood.

John is special, of course, for combining electric guitar with a full orchestra to make exciting, modern music. In particular, the Bond piece is still a runaway success and a strong example of his style at its most effective - intense, moody, and exciting. The guitar works perfectly as accompaniment to all the brass and drums. This work inspired musicians 4 decades later, as you can hear below.

In fact, since I wrote it that way: my biggest problem would be deciding whether, for that song, the guitar accompanied the orchestra or vice versa.

James Bond Theme[M.Norman, J.Barry] [100% re-recorded] [cover by airwolf one aka alberto trevisan] by Alberto Trevisan
You may prefer the original, but clearly Barry had an impact.

John Barry won multiple Oscars. People more familiar with his work point out that his best work is probably the "Born Free" score. "Midnight Cowboy" is also mentioned, as is "Body Heat." This English composer/arranger/musician is linked to both British and American classics, and he liked my country enough to spend a large portion of his life here. It's very sad to see such a talented person go.

In any case, writers more experienced than I (read: have seen more of his movies and are paid to do this) have written better eulogies by far. His credits go on a while, so it would take many weeks to review his work with a full retrospective. Check out AVClub's post on John's passing. Or the BBC's article. For a guy in his 70's, he has a surprising number of credits in the last decade. Rest in peace, John Barry, and thank you.


  1. Damnit Jim, your links don't work any more.

    1. Sorry, Bones! Tell me which ones are busted and I'll fix it.

  2. Hey, Jim- We're here in Prescott, AZ, analyzing your blog, and we noticed that one of your picture files is broken. :)
    Karen (and Class)

  3. This link might work for your youtube video in place of the old one! Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2Jw6_Xgszk


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