John Barry’s James Bond Scores (Part 2 of 6): On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — 11 Comments

  1. What a great study, Mark! All I am missing is possibly an analysis of Barry’s Christmas music that I find very characteristic of the film (‘Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown’ and its derivatives, the ice rink waltz etc). Great work!

    • Many thanks, Daniel. I quite enjoyed going through these scores. There’s just so much there to talk about. Yes, I thought about the Christmas music, which people seem to either love or hate, but wanted to keep the post on the shorter side of long. Thanks for your comment!

      • I understand, Mark. You have to set your limits. 😉 To me the Christmas music in the film is so crucial to its very unique atmosphere – a sense of danger and threat to Bond, but at the same time it is played out during the most festive times. In that way, I think the film singles itself out from the other Bonds in the canon. Furthermore, that they had Barry write original Christmas music for the film rather than using any source music contributes even more to this perception. 🙂

  2. I have very much appreciated your analysis of this terrific score and how Barry succeeded in
    Anchoring this movie in the Bond universe despite it being so far removed from the well trodden and understood formula.
    Apart from Connery’s superman portrayal being absent so were the overblown sets, camp humour, over elaborate gagets and self parody. Instead the audience wss presented with a Bond who was flawed who fell in love had self doubt and vulnerabilty.
    You have explained extremely well how Barry adapted his traditional style to emphisise this “NEW CHARACTER” is still James Bond but you omitted some other cues such as the fight section of This never happened to the other fella that is nothing like what has gone before. I recall when i first saw the movie getting to my seat late i wasn’t sure it was a bond movie on the screen because the music sounded so un bondian.
    Also how short passages of underscore such as the drive to M’s home which reinforces the title theme yet gives a sense of melancholy that subtlely conveys that this character might not be as confident as the full main title theme would suggest.
    I would contend that not even in the Dalton TLD and the Craig movies where Bond often wears his heart on his sleeve does the audience really feel Bond is sincere in his antipathy to his job and his life without HMSS.
    It is of course Lazenby’s interpretation that should take a lot of the credit but also Barry’s contribution cannot be underestimated.
    Another example which set the tone of the movie musically is in This Never happened cue when Tracy roars away in her Cougar where the music instead of being up beat into the titles ends in a most mournful manner preluding Bond’s loss at the movie’s end.
    In many ways this score was too good and indeed maybe the whole film was too good to be a Bond movie.
    Do you agree?
    I would really like to read your opinion on the cues Try, Over and Out amd The More Things Change.

    • Hi John. Your comments are spot on and I agree entirely. As for the cues I didn’t discuss, about the beach fight I would say that it is an ostinato based on four chords, all of them minor major-seventh chords (a Barry favourite). It doesn’t represent anything specific, it’s more just intense music meant for a fight or chase. In fact, I could imagine how Barry might have used, say, the title theme score for the scenes where this music appears.

      I’ll have to look over the other cues you suggest again very soon, probably by end of week. Thanks for your very thoughtful comments.

  3. Superb article and enjoyable read; my question is simple: does anyone know what that piece of music is that is played in the background at the end of the ski-chase (first one where Bond escapes Piz Gloria) and during the chase on foot through the village? Not the song “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?” (which I also like), but the instrumental piece.

    Oh and a piece of trivia: when Bond throws one of Blofeld’s henchmen over the cliff prior to this scene and the man’s cries are heard as he is falling to his death, these same cries appear at the end of a song released by a group called Edelweiss in 1988 called “Bring Me Edelweiss.” (At least I’m 99% sure that’s correct!)

    • Hi Peter, thanks for your keen insights. I don’t know what piece that is playing behind the end of the ski-chase. It sounds like a traditional march of some kind that moves into a waltz-like theme when the scene moves into the crowds in the village. Not sure if they’re part of the same piece or are two different pieces.

      Fascinating about the “Bring Me Edelweiss” song. It seems that they simply lifted the scream from the Bond film, because the same source music (the traditional march or whatever it is) is heard behind the scream once it fades away, in exactly the same manner as in the Bond film. No idea why they’d do that, but that’s very much what it seems like.

  4. There’s an interesting quote from a late 90s interview with John Barry about Bond and Tracy’s relationship in the film:

    That was another “first time” problem—a new face! To help the audience through the change, the entire opening sequence is very tradition-heavy. It establishes everything that had gone before, everything that was very “Bondian.” The movies before it always moving away or moving ahead, but this was a giant step back, as if to say, “Listen folks, it’s okay, this is James Bond, James Bond,
    James Bond.” There were first-class action sequences in that movie, technically. Also the song was a new idea that I liked. That movie didn’t move you as it should have done when she dies at the end. The chemistry just didn’t work. I wrote what I thought was one of nicest songs I’ve ever written, “We Have All the Time in the World.” I wanted it to work like “September Song.” I wanted the irony of an old man singing around this young girl’s death—and that’s why I wanted Louis Armstrong. I could think of no one else but Louis Armstrong from the start…..
    When I went to them and asked, “How about Louis Armstrong?” they were surprised, they weren’t sure what to say and asked why. I explained my reasoning, and they said, “Great.” If that same theme had been for Sean Connery and a really great Bond broad, for want of a better term, it would been an entirely different picture! I hate to use the words, but it’s like “shovelling shit against the tide” when you feel a strong chemistry by reading the script, but on screen it’s just not working. You can play just about anything against it—you can play Rachmaninoff, you can play a Bartok piano concerto—but you’re still not going to get anywhere emotionally because it just does not work. When directors say, “This isn’t really working here, but once the music is over it . . .” I say, “Wait! No, no. It actually makes it worse.” And, in a strange way, it actually does make it worse because the audience subconsciously senses a cover-up. They know it’s not working, they know you’re attempting to cover up for what’s missing between the actors. It almost makes it laughable, it almost becomes a parody or a send-up.

    Its quite astonishing looking back at the film now and feeling this way about it, clearly he didn’t feel the performance worked between Lazenby and Rigg. But was being so close to the production and knowing the problems, swaying his thoughts?
    This makes me wonder if Barry had ever revisited the films he worked on at later dates and whether his views may have softened or whether he is recalling memories from the actual time? For many of us that have seen the films countless times, if we didn’t think much of it initially, more often than not our appreciation for them can grow.
    My feeling is, being a busy and active composer, he did not have the opportunity, or was particularly interested in going back over them so we are left with his initial thoughts.

  5. Very interesting article, and series of articles. I, too, think we underestimate the value of “Do You Know How Christmas Trees are Grown?” The song is so sickly sweet and cheery, with the vapid boys’ choir, that it takes on a sarcastic tone in the context of a man hunt, training girls to be angels of death, Blofeld’s vain and selfish aspirations…. The wowzer for me is that when Bond is being run to ground, hiding in the Christmas celebratory crowd, tired, alone, and clearly running out of options, the words, “… they need LOVE” reach a crescendo as Tracy skates up to Bond, and we have a marvelous reveal of Diana Rigg. I have a hard time thinking it’s an accident, I’m convinced that Barry and director Peter Hunt meant this to play out. It’s sometimes offensive when the score underlines the plot so boldly, but in this case, it makes it an ever greater emotional moment.

    Thanks for a great analysis of a great film score.

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