Bond. James Bond.
Bet you like the sound of that. And I bet you can’t hear those lines without hearing the signature James Bond theme playing immediately afterwards.
That’s one of the many on-target points made in THE SOUND OF 007 (2022), a new documentary by director Mat Whitecross that is now available on Prime Video, which chronicles the stories behind the iconic music in the James Bond movies.
The point that the music to these films is every bit as important as the James Bond character, the actors who played Bond, the action, and the overall adventures in each movie, is both true and pretty much unique to this film series. While other film series have notable and recognizable music— the STAR WARS franchise for example— more has been done with the Bond music, and it’s difficult to think of the movies and the character without the iconic theme.
THE SOUND OF 007 explains the origin of that signature theme, and tells the story how producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Monty Norman to write the music for their first Bond movie, DR. NO (1962), and Norman, who till this day still receives sole credit for the James Bond theme, wrote many of the Jamaican songs for the movie, including the catchy “Underneath the Mango Tree,” but he was struggling with the overall music score, so Broccoli and Saltzman hired John Barry, and Barry took what Norman had started and tweaked it, and thanks to the efforts of the two, an iconic theme song was born, and the rest, as they say, is history.
THE SOUND OF 007 does its best to cover the music to all the James Bond movies, but there are so many, and so the film struggles to do justice to them all, and so I’m sure there will be certain fans who will be disappointed that their favorite score wasn’t given ample time in this documentary. But the film has its heart in the right place and does a decent job in its 90-minute running time covering most of the music in the James Bond movies.
It addresses multiple fronts: the actual scores, the theme songs, which became an entity in and of itself, and the process of hiring performers to sing these theme songs, which the film explains, for the producers, became almost as important as hiring the right actor to play Bond himself.
This process really started in GOLDFINGER (1964), which really is the quintessential James Bond movie of the 1960s Sean Connery era. Everything in this movie works, including the music, and it pretty much defined James Bond for a generation. GOLDFINGER was the first Bond movie where composer John Barry was allowed to also write the theme song, and when Barry chose Shirley Bassey to sing the song, it became a huge hit. Barry also incorporated elements of the theme song into the score for the film, a first for a James Bond movie.
THE SOUND OF 007 contains a lot of fun anecdotes. When Shirley Bassey asked John Barry what the song “Goldfinger” was about, since he really didn’t know, all he could tell her was it was about the villain in the movie, so think of the villain. Other anecdotes include Tom Jones nearly passing out when singing and holding the incredibly long note on the song “Thunderball,” Barry telling Bassey to think of the male sex organ when singing “Diamonds Are Forever,” and Michael Caine, who was John Barry’s roommate in 1964, telling a story of how he was kept awake all night by Barry playing the piano, and when he awoke the next morning and asked Barry what he was playing, he answered his new song, “Goldfinger,” and he played it for Caine; so Caine said he was the first person ever to hear “Goldfinger.” And he heard it all night.
The film talks about how the Bond music changed over the years, how Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” was the first rock song to be a James Bond theme song, and how Bill Conti’s score to FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) was the first score to use disco elements. The film makes the point that the James Bond music followed the trends of the time, and so the music changed with the different periods in history, taking on different sounds in the 1960s, 70s, 80s. 90, and 2000s.
The movie spends a lot of time on the music to the latest Bond movie, NO TIME TO DIE (2021), both on the theme song by Billie Eilish, and the film’s score by Hans Zimmer. While this makes sense since this is the latest Bond movie, I found these stories the least interesting in the documentary. I mean, they were fine, but they didn’t deserve nearly a third of the screen time of this movie. There’s a lot of other James Bond movie music that was barely mentioned here and could have been covered rather than spending so much time on NO TIME TO DIE, films like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), which has a great theme song which wasn’t even mentioned, although singer Lulu, who sang the song, is interviewed, but not about her song, and Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” which also wasn’t covered.
But other than this, THE SOUND OF 007 is an excellent documentary and does a very good job covering its subject. Its coverage on composer John Barry is the film’s best part, and every James Bond movie fan needs to know the story behind the Bond movies’ most famous composer. It also does a nice job with the rationale behind the controversial scoring to Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie, CASINO ROYALE (2006), in which the James Bond theme isn’t played until just before the end credits. I enjoyed this portion of the documentary because this decision in CASINO ROYALE has always been one that I really liked, and it was fun to listen to composer David Arnold explain the reasoning and tell the story of how emotional it was to finally blast that theme song just at the right moment in the movie, and as a fan of CASINO ROYALE, I have to say I completely agree with what Arnold did with the music in that film. It works tremendously well.
All in all, I really enjoyed THE SOUND OF 007. If you’re a fan of the James Bond movies, you will enjoy this one too. And even if you’re not a fan, it’s worth a look, as its stories of how John Barry in particular used some innovative methods to create his film scores, are both interesting and informative for all movie buffs and scholars.
To tweak a famous phrase from GOLDFINGER:
Do you expect me to talk?
No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to— SING!
THE SOUND OF 007 sings, and then some.
I give it three stars.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful