Image Credit: John Glanville/AP ImagesThe maestro behind one of the most memorable themes in movie history has been silenced. John Barry won five Academy Awards during his remarkable 50-year Hollywood career, but the legendary composer will always be best remembered for the catchy surf-rock theme that introduced the dashing, debonair exploits of British superspy James Bond.
Barry was a master of many different styles and moods. He was just as comfortable working in period epics (Chaplin), sultry noirs (Body Heat), and big-studio fare (King Kong). The British-born musician’s career first took off in the early ’60s, headlining The John Barry Seven, which scored several hits in the U.K. Then Bond came calling in 1962, when Barry was hired to arrange composer Monty Norman’s score for the first big-screen 007 outing, Dr. No. Afterwards, there was some debate — both in and out of the courts — over who was exactly responsible for the groovy theme. But it was Barry who was hired for the next Bond chapter, 1963’s From Russia With Love, which fleshed out the signature theme in lush new directions, including blasting brass salvos, snaky guitar licks, and sensuous drip castles of strings.
All in all, Barry is credited with scoring 11 Bond installments (his last was 1987’s The Living Daylights). And despite winning Oscars for his work on such films as Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Out of Africa, and Dances With Wolves, it was Bond that brought him his greatest fame. Federico Fellini once cited Barry’s sumptious and sexy Goldfinger orchestration as his favorite movie theme. (It was reportedly Barry’s personal favorite, too).
In remembering the man behind the music, perhaps it’s worth recalling a lyric from that movie’s indelible theme sung by Shirley Bassey, which could just as easily serve as Barry’s epitaph: He was “the man with the Midas touch”.