Posted by Jeff Stafford on October 20, 2007
I’ve been a James Bond fan since I first saw DR. NO in 1963 but I don’t think I realized how important the film score was to the series’ success until I saw GOLDFINGER (1964). The dazzling opening credit sequence with Shirley Bassey belting out the title song was a revelation to me and I immediately bought the soundtrack, playing it constantly. I even took the soundtrack LP along with my small portable turntable (2 speed -33 1/3 & 45 – battery operated) on the family vacation during the summer of 1965. Holding the turntable on my lap, I drove everyone crazy as I played GOLDFINGER and other records along the back roads of Tennessee and Georgia on our annual trip to Dalton to see relatives.
For obvious reasons, my turntable playing would only last as long as everyone’s tolerance for it but whenever I could I’d stick on GOLDFINGER, particularly the theme song, which sounded very “adult” to me. It wasn’t anything like the Herman’s Hermits “Best of” album or any of the pop 45s I’d brought along.
John Barry’s arrangement was big and bold, conjuring up a world of sophistication and high class sleaze, and Shirley Bassey’s commanding vocals brought out the casual cruelty of the lyrics, enunciating words like “SUCH” with haughty delight. So there we were driving past tobacco fields over bumpy roads with my record skipping and Bassey’s voice booming “Pretty girl, beware of..(scratch)…THIS HEART IS COLD…he loves only..(scratch)..only gold….” The record was practically ruined by the time we reached our destination much to everyone’s relief.
Even today the GOLDFINGER theme song remains a personal favorite and a perfect example of Barry at his most bombastic which is completely appropriate for the Bond films. I love the THUNDERBALL theme song almost as much and Tom Jones is the only male singer I can think of that can match Shirley Bassey in terms of dramatic phrasing and power. Of course, Bassey would go on to sing two more Bond theme songs, “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker,” but neither of those theme songs sunk their hooks into me like GOLDFINGER. Part of the magic formula might have been the collaboration of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley on the GOLDFINGER lyrics.
The third Bond film was also John Barry’s first opportunity to shine as the composer for the Bond franchise. He worked uncredited on DR. NO and he was the orchestra conductor on FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE but both of those films were scored by Monty Norman, the former big band singer who penned the famous “James Bond Theme Song” used in every 007 feature. The success of GOLDFINGER also helped launch Barry’s career in Hollywood but as the years passed I found myself liking less and less of his work and preferred his golden period in the sixties – BEAT GIRL (1960), SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (1964), THE KNACK (1965), THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), BORN FREE (1966), YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), PETULIA (1968) and MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969).
GOLDFINGER, of course, is the one that made me take notice of John Barry but also made me realize that film scores and soundtrack albums were not necessarily background music and opened my ears to a whole new realm of listening pleasure.
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