The James Bond Theme | The Music of Bond Podcast #002

Today on the Music Of Bond we look at the iconic James Bond Theme. We delve deep into the history of the tune and look at everything from the origins to the bitter battle for credit over who wrote it.

We also look at the 2001 court case between Monty Norman and The Times, with John Barry appearing as a star witness for the paper.

Think you know everything about the James Bond Theme? Bet you don’t!”

Note: The Music of Bond series is audio only and will not be available on Youtube.

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  • This is like The Da Vinci Code but with a cracked amp. 👍🏻 Really impressed! I’m so pleased all these questions have been addressed and aired in one forum all at once.

  • Langford

    Chris and Warren – completely awesome podcast! Please don’t apologize for the time (except to the mrs. of course!). The analysis, the history lesson, the production quality with all of the spliced in music snippets – amazing! I’m not a musically inclined man but I am a scientist, so when I hear you describe the “science” behind composing and orchestrating I’ve developed a new appreciation for your craft.

    Love the new format with weekly, alternating show themes. Keep up the great work.
    Langford, Station A

    • Warren Ringham

      Cheers Langford! 🙂

      Glad you enjoyed it…

  • Thank you for this brilliant podcast, Warren and Chris! I’ve previously heard just about everthing you’ve shared here, but I’m glad to hear someone who shares my same conclusions. Here are my thoughts:

    I find the discussion about the key of the James Bond Theme very interesting. Compare the You Only Live Twice gunbarrel sequence in F minor to the gunbarrel themes in E minor that came before, and the different key gives it a much different feel beyond the new orchestration. The guitar without the open string as well as the lack of reverb also do a lot to contribute to the different feel. Diamonds Are Forever’s gun barrel has a similar orchestration to You Only Live Twice but goes back to E minor and has much more of the classic feel.

    I’m not sure I ever noticed the vibraphone on the final chord of the James Bond Theme, but I agree with you that it’s there. The attack is masked by the drums. There are drums mixed in there too: cymbal, snare and bass drum. It gives it that punch, but it blends without clarity. There has to be bass in there too, otherwise you’d be hearing the bass drum clearly.

    As for the sax in the original recording, during the swing section I hear tenor saxes and probably a baritone sax playing the resopnse lines along with the trombones. There could be alto saxes playing along with the trumpets, but since there are more trumpets and trumpets are louder instruments (even with mutes), the saxes can’t be heard clearly. With 5 saxes I’d assume 2 alto, 2 tenor and 1 baritone.

    You should have noted that Barry did the bebop section straight in the Moore films and in The Living Daylights. It gives it the more regal feel that fits Moore’s more “proper” English Bond, and it fits with the drum machine in The Living Daylights. It’s interesting that when Barry does that section straight, he never includes the second part of the bebop section. I’m not sure how Norman could argue that Barry based that on the feel of Dr. No’s Fantasy, as feel doesn’t define a composition.

    Regarding the butchering in the title sequence, it fits well with the title sequence they way it was cut. I don’t mind that, and I don’t think that Barry’s arrangement uncut would have fit as well. But as a piece of music, the original arrangement is much better and makes more musical sense. Barry wrote the piece as a standalone piece that tells a story on its own, but Barry didn’t write it to fit the title sequence. And Maurice Binder also didn’t make the title sequence to fit Barry’s piece.

    Even if Barry took part of “Good Sign, Bad Sign” for the bebop section, he wrote the rest of the section. It’s like how “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ piece, even though he started with something by Tallis. Vaughan Willaims deserves and gets compositional credit for his work on this piece, just as Barry should get credit for the James Bond Theme. Monty Norman certainly wrote part of the James Bond Theme, but Barry deserves credit too.

    About the topline, Norman wrote the topline for one section. Does it not matter that Barry wrote the topline for another section of the tune?

    And Norman’s manuscript… Did Barry give that to Norman? Did Norman try to transcribe the piece after he got the record? If that manuscript was real, wouldn’t have Norman brought it up in the court case? If that was what Norman gave Barry, it’s enough to prove that Norman wrote it all. It has to be fake.

    I’ve known the “single” recording of the Bond theme, but I didn’t know all the background on it. The drums have more clarity, and the cymbal beat is different at the beginning. I like how this recording does the guitar melody twice after the bridge whilst the film recording only does it once. The Parodi-Fair version of the Bond theme from the GoldenEye trailer sampled this recording. I think that’s where I first heard it.

    I’m looking forward to more Music of Bond podcasts. With the exception of four Bond films, I’m a huge fan of Bond music.

    • Warren Ringham

      Hi Matt, thank you for your fabulous comments and feedback!

      Yes, I am now convinced that the final chord, as you say, Guitar, Vibes, Bass and Kit – the single version sort of confirms it. The single version is also quite useful for helping with the orchestration, I agree with you about the sax usage – but I do think there is some Flute too (doubling sax players being used there). I also now realise that the middle swing section is definitely French Horn, not Cup Muted Trumpet as I thought and mentioned on the Podcast…but there is plenty of cup mute usage in the track so I’m ok!

      I just don’t think we could pack anymore in to that one podcast, and usage of the Bond theme in other films is definitely something we will cover in future episodes. In the future, as well as a special section on each of the ST reviews about the JBT use in that film, I feel a podcast dedicated to all the Bond Theme Versions – looking at all the various arrangements, is inevitable down the line.

      I think the second part of the Bebop is so quintessentially swing, it would be odd to put it straight. You can really hear the musicians on those two original Bond theme versions go into swing groove overdrive when they lock into that section, so I wonder if that had a lasting impression on Barry and he decided to leave that bit as sacred!?

      I agree with you totally re Norman arguing the feel is taken from Dr No Fantasy – it’s hard for us to say how we really feel in such a public forum without sounding like we are either bashing anyone, or potentially opening ourselves up to legal issues.

      I’m fairly sure the reason the original Bond Theme is sitting between Em and Fm is because they sped up the recording to give it more edginess and maybe even to fit a time requirement (length)….but apparently they used to that quite a lot back in the day. I haven’t referenced the single version for pitch yet, but it is noticeably slightly quicker again, so maybe that is sped up even further!?

      Anyway, cracking feedback and interesting to hear your thoughts. Please do keep on listening…and let us know which 4 your loathe… 😉

      • Hi Warren,

        I can hear the flute and french horn, especially on the single version. It sounds like the melody in the swing section the first time coud be horn, cup-muted trumpet, flute, alto sax, vibes. Then the second time it adds unmuted trumpets.

        I agree about the second part of the bebop section being quintessentially swing. Barry didn’t always leave out it out when he did the whole tune straight. Have you heard the recording on the 1972 album The Concert John Barry? It’s the first instance of the version of the Bond theme he would use throughout the Moore films, and he includes the second part of the bebop section, played straight. It think he realised that it didn’t work so well after that experiment and only included the section if he swung it.

        The single version was played faster than the film version. It’s actually at a lower pitch!

        As for the scores I loathe, those would include Thomas Newman’s two scores. Eric Serra’s score is kind ofcool, but not for a Bond film. It ruins the feel of the movie for me. And whilst I don’t dislike Michael Kamen’s score for Licence to Kill, it doesn’t have anything special going for it either.

        An interesting podcast might be to look into the gun barrel music for each film.

  • Simon Billinton

    The one question I would ask Monty Norman is when he first heard the recorded theme, did he think, yep, that’s the music I had in my head.
    I just can’t see how he could answer yes to that.
    I just don’t see that having written down a melody line for 1 or maybe 2 parts equals changing the key, changing the tempo, making more melody lines, all the harmonies, instrumentation, changes in rhythm, the choice of which instruments and sounds, the the aggressive energised feel.
    I would just feel embarrassed to claim after hearing that recording that, yes, I wrote that.

    • Warren Ringham


  • olufsphere

    Wow … did my entire post get deleted because of the link? 😮

    Short recap: Thanks Warren. Tremolo-effect on Bond Theme Ending is 1962 Fender Vibrolux Tremolo effect as per Wikipedia and Vic Flick’s website.

  • GerardoValero

    Monty Norman has to be one of the luckiest people in the history of this planet He should have erected a statue of John Barry long ago and given thanks to him every day of his life.. How ironic that his failure to meet contractual obligations and deadlines were rewarded with Barry turning a rather ordinary piece of musice into such a a masterpiece and allowed Norman to live comfortably for the rest of his life. How ironic that not even Barry was later able to come up with another Bond theme quiet as memorable as that as his 007 composition (not bad by any means) just isn’t all that special (though personally I feel his Majesty’s theme could have well become eventually the James Bond theme).
    What an amazing episode.

  • flay

    Try to imagine a melody for this, and some sitar in the background:

    “Warren played me this annoying song
    and what is worse it’s been
    inside my head for three weeks now
    Sounds a bit
    Like the James Bond Theme but
    It makes me wa-ant to jump into a volcano
    And drown”