From the Vaults: Composer John Barry with David Garland

Early '90s specials offer in-depth look at "Bond" composer's music

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John Barry, the five-time Oscar-winning composer of films such as "Born Free" and "Out of Africa," and who wrote the signature music for nearly a dozen James Bond films, including "You Only Live Twice" and "Goldfinger," died on Sunday in New York. He was 77. David Garland sat down with him for two hour-long specials in the early 1990s, as he recalls:

"My eclectic WNYC-FM radio show Spinning On Air has been on the air since 1987, and sometime back in 1992 I broadcast some of the wonderful film music of John Barry. To my surprise I received a letter (back in those pre-email days) from John Barry's wife. It turned out that the Barrys were living on Long Island and had listened to the program.

I was thrilled to invite John Barry onto Spinning On Air so we could listen to a lot of his music and talk about it in depth. The result was two hour-long shows which aired in December of 1992 and January of 1993. We cover his early fascination with film, his love for creating dramatic music, his pop group The John Barry Seven, his innovative use of orchestration and the recording process, and much more – including his story about who really composed the famous James Bond theme. John Barry was a wonderful, generous guest who had insightful, entertaining things to say about his creative work. In the world of film scoring, his music was unique and innovative, and helped shape the movie-going experiences of generations." -- David Garland

John Barry: Part One:

John Barry: Part Two:


More in:

Comments [9]

ejp from New Jersey

I respect and admire Barry tremendously but I have to say in all honesty that his attempt to claim sole authorship of the Bond theme was not his finest moment. Monty Norman has never attempted to claim the final version of the Bond theme as his own and has always been gracious enough to give Barry credit for making the Bond theme a success, but he nonetheless still is entitled to the legal credit and the money he's received since it did originate with one of his compositions which Barry them took to a new level. I would add that a number of Bond authors like Steven Jay Rubin had for years tried to peddle the story that nothing of Norman's was used and that only a contractual obligation required Norman to take credit and supposedly unjustly and that *that* is where the controversy came in when Barry, sadly started to echo this line of thinking in interviews like this.

Oct. 27 2015 07:51 PM

There is no doubt that, Monty Norman, particularly from a legal standpoint, is the original composer of the James Bond Theme - One only has to listen to segments of his abysmal "Mr. Bizwas" musical to understand that.

It was however, John Barry who restructured the tune, out of (almost) all recognition from Norman's original offering.

The problem lies in determining at which point a revamped tune becomes a seperate entity under it's own right.

I believe that this is what JB was able to do.

So, legally, the rights to the theme may belong to Monty Norman, but from a moral standpoint, the tune is Barry through and through.

One can understand however, Norman's reluctance to let this one go. By his own admission, at his libel case against the Sunday Times back in 2001, (or was it 1991 - I forget), he agreed that the royalties he receives from this one song, accounts for more than half his wealth. I suspect that this percentage is significantly higher today.

So keep your money Monty, it really does not make any difference now. The money can buy you many things, but it will never buy you dignity or a conscience. Those of us who follow these things, know who the true composer of the James Bond theme is.

Feb. 23 2011 07:26 AM

Barry's story behind the James Bond Theme is just that—a story. Listen to the Monty Norman song Bad Sign, Good Sign:

and then ask yourself if John Barry wrote the entire James Bond Theme. Here's Monty Norman's version of the story:

And here is a youtube that breaks down the theme with the contributions from both composers:

In all probability, Barry wrote the bridge to the James Bond Theme (and obviously wrote the arrangement and intro). But to claim that Monty Norman had no contribution to the James Bond Theme is dishonest. Perhaps that's why Norman sued Barry and won.

Feb. 07 2011 01:12 AM
Rich from The Bronx

The 3 "historical" scores are among my many favorites of his. "The Lion in Winter" with its brilliant choral scoring."The Last Valley" whose theme for the valley is sheer beauty. "Mary Queen of Scots " whose "Not Through My Realm" makes you want to saddle up and ride the English country side.
Barry also wrote an extensive work for guitar and orchestra for the film "Dead Fall" (Michael Caine and justly forgotten).As a mansion is broken into the owners are at a concert. The film goes back and forth between the two scenes. The music is Barry's Romance for Guitar and Orchestra. It really is more of a concerto and is brilliant.The beauty is that it walks a fine line. It has to be a concert work but must also comment on the film's action.
My own guilty pressure , "The Ipcress File " (recently reissued). Barry's jazz roots to the fore.

Feb. 04 2011 01:35 PM
Gregg from Astoria Queens

And indeed so was I regarding his passing. It happens I've known all along that he's the one who created the theme for James Bond that opens all of the movies. And of course I was aware of his work for those films.

Feb. 03 2011 03:29 PM
Victor Goodstone from Brooklyn, New York

With apologies to Elmer Bernstein, in mentioning the theme to "The Magnificent Seven", I had incorrectly attributed it to, Franz Waxman, in my comments about John Barry's beautiful film scores.

Feb. 03 2011 11:17 AM
Ruud Rozemeijer from Beverwijk - Netherlands

Hi, Thanks very much for making the interview available. We have embedded the two clips on our website .

If that's not ok, we will remove them of course.

Feb. 03 2011 09:23 AM
Victor Goodstone from Brooklyn, New York

Thanks so much for this window into a composer, many of us considered a giant. While at its' core, music connects with all of us individually, for me outside his brilliant repetoire in the James Bond series, and other works, three of his compositions continually hold sway. Uniquely, from the Bond series his theme to "You Only Live Twice", while ironic, speaks eloquently to a romantic yearning melody. His theme to the score of "Born Free" is a testament to what melody and lyrics can achieve. Finally, in all my fifty plus years of hearing movie soundtracks, outside of Waxman's theme to the "Magnificent Seven" never did I walk into a movie house and feel on first hearing, that I was listening to brilliance, more, than my first hearing of the music to "Dances With Wolves." From the shear sentimentality and yearnings for long, long, ago of the "John Dunbar Theme" to the exilhirating buildup with counterpoint in the "Buffalo Hunt" the whole score was an immediate masterpiece to this ear. Listening to all of Mr. Barry's music has always enriched my life, as it will continue to do so. He will be missed.

Feb. 03 2011 01:42 AM
Guy Jones from NYC

I was saddened to hear of the death of John Barry, a truly great composer. His sweeping, romantic film scores deftly balanced moments of epic grandeur, and also quiet romance.

I think these qualities are best exemplified by his scores for "Dances with Wolves" and "Out of Africa," for which he deservedly won two Oscars. The soundtrack for the film "Indecent Proposal," while a rather forgettable movie, contains a 15-minute instrumental suite by Barry that is exquisite.

And, of course, his electric guitar-based James Bond theme is unforgettable.

Thank you for all the great music, John Barry.

Feb. 02 2011 02:05 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Follow WQXR