R.I.P. John Barry (1933-2011)

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 31, 2011 10:32 AM
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Sad news to start the week, as it emerged overnight that one of the great film composers, John Barry, passed away yesterday in New York, at the age of 77. The five-time Oscar winner was best known for his work on the James Bond films, for which he scored eleven of the twenty-two pictures to date, but was also behind indelible themes for "Midnight Cowboy," "Born Free" and "Dances With Wolves," as well as having a long songwriting career, which encompassed most of the great Bond themes and a number of stage musicals ( Kanye West gave him the ultimate tribute by sampling one of those themes for his hit "Diamonds From Sierra Leone").

Barry was born in York in 1933, and came to film scoring after developing an interest in composition during his National Service. He soon formed The John Barry Seven, which had a number of hits in the 1950s, as well as arranging songs from a number of the era's biggest British pop stars. His first credit as composer was on the Adam Faith vehicle "Never Let Go," in 1960, and the same year saw his big break, as he was asked to rearrange the Bond theme written for "Dr. No" by Monty Norman (the writing credits for the theme remain controversial to this day).

He then took over scoring duties for the next entry in the franchise, "From Russia With Love," from Lionel Bart, and went on to score another ten Bond movies, as well as writing or co-writing classic theme songs like Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," Louis Armstrong's "We Have All The Time In The World" and Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill." Along the way, he also composed for films like "Zulu," "The Ipcress File" and "The Lion In Winter." He won five Academy Awards, picking up both Best Score and Best Song for "Born Free" as well as Original Score awards for "The Lion In Winter," "Out of Africa" and "Dances With Wolves" (he was also nominated for "Mary Queen of Scots" and "Chaplin.")

Despite health problems, Barry worked consistently through the 1980s and 1990s, with scores for films including "The Cotton Club," "Peggy Sue Got Married," "The Living Daylights" (his last Bond work) and "Playing By Heart;" his last film work was on Michael Apted's "Enigma" in 2001, although he continued to write songs, with his musical version of Graham Greene's "Brighton Rock" premiering in 2004, and a new track, co-written with regular lyricist Don Black, on Shirley Bassey's 2009 album "The Performance."

Barry was incontestably one of the greats; his signature sound is instantly identifiable, and his influence can be keenly felt to this day, and not just in Bond movies: witness the "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"-aping strings on Hans Zimmer's "Inception" score, or Michael Giacchino's work on "The Incredibles," which is essentially one long Barry tribute. While his passing is sad news, and our thoughts are with his family, some of our favorite Barry work below demonstrates why he'll never be forgotten. [BBC]



"Midnight Cowboy"


"The Black Hole"


"Walkabout"


"The Ipcress File"


"Diamonds Are Forever" - Shirley Bassey

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