What are my top 10 John Barry picks? The man had done such a variety of compositions that it’s hard to pick them out without qualifying a top 10 with genres. But for me, these stick in my mind as being the most signiﬁcant, often because they are tied to important moments in my life.
Theme from Somewhere in Time
This moved me so much that I played it at my Mum’s funeral. I wrote lyrics to it before the Michael Crawford version emerged. Barry said he received more mail about his work on Somewhere in Time than anything else. It’s not hard to see why. It was tied to the passing of his parents and the theme remains the most haunting and emotional tune he wrote in his career.
Theme from The Persuaders
You can’t divorce the feeling of running around the Riviera from the hipness of Barry’s theme—I used to bomb along the Moyenne Corniche with the theme going, reliving Danny and Brett’s adventures.
‘A Lot of Living to Do’
Not a Barry composition, but he produced an album for Annie Ross at Ember. It’s the arrangement and Johnny Spence’s orchestra’s performance that lifted this song for me, and it never fails to get me in a good mood.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
While many 007 aﬁcionados point to Goldﬁnger, for me, it was the lush orchestral arrangements in OHMSS that stand out to make it John Barry’s ﬁnest James Bond score. The theme is more Bondian than anything else he did, in my opinion, and lent the ﬁlm more richness than its lead actor, a young George Lazenby, was then able to convey. ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ nearly deserves its own entry, especially the string-heavy instrumental version played after the death of Tracy in the ﬁlm, but much of the incidental music just has vistas of Swiss mountains somehow built in. You can’t help but see those images in your head when tracks such as ‘Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway’ and ‘Attack on Piz Gloria’ are played.
The 1990s were the last active decade for Barry, if you don’t count Playing by Heart and Enigma at the turn of the century, and with Chaplin, his last collaboration with director Richard Attenborough, a mature Barry is able to reﬂect on the passing of time as well as that of Charlie’s life. The score is moving, more so in my opinion than his Oscar-winning Out of Africa or Dances with Wolves (the latter, I thought, was overrated) as it takes the action from London slums to Charlie receiving an Academy Award in 1972.
Theme from Eleanor and Franklin
This was a TV-movie about the First Family, but its theme still has a sense of occasion and “American-ness” to it. I always thought if I ever chose to get married, it would be a lovely theme to use. Unlike many of Barry’s grand themes, Eleanor and Franklin doesn’t have a sense of sorrow or melancholy to it, yet it gives any occasion a feeling of dignity.
Deserves inclusion here, not because it was one of Barry’s greatest works (he wrote it as a Disney pastiche), but because there’s no way you can be my age and not know it. It’s a song from childhood; my late mother was called Elsa (sharing her name with the lioness); and it’s incredibly singable. Like a pastiche of a Disney song.
From Russia with Love
Another non-Barry theme song, but tied to Barry because of his long involvement in the James Bond ﬁlms. He arranged and conducted the theme for the movie, and the Matt Monro vocal version remains one of my favourite Bond songs.
Bond purists hated Moonraker because it was the furthest Eon Productions took things from the novels of Ian Fleming, but it was blessed with a lush orchestral score from Barry. The Bonds, by this time, didn’t need to have a cutting-edge sound, and Barry himself, maturing as a musician, took a classical route toward the end of the 1970s. The theme was sung by Shirley Bassey and, in my opinion, remains one of the better ones; and Barry proved that you didn’t need heavy drumbeats, rapid rhythms, or Bee Gees-style synthesizers (cf. The Spy Who Loved Me) to make a Bond score work in 1979. The theme was rumoured to have originally been destined for Frank Sinatra to perform, but, according to Barry, ‘it just didn’t work out.’ The master tapes aren’t around, but good quality recordings of the full score exist, though nothing has come of them. Because of the low opinion many Bondophiles have of the movie, it’s unlikely to be re-recorded any time soon—though with Barry’s passing, it may ﬁnally be rediscovered as the gem that it is.
‘Moviola’, or ‘Flight over New York’ from Across the Sea of Time
A strange entry. It was understood that ‘Moviola’, which appeared in the album of the same name, was in fact Barry’s unused theme for Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides. Why let it go to waste? Perhaps such a great composition deserved a cinematic airing, and Barry incorporated it into his score for the IMAX ﬁlm Across the Sea of Time. I never saw the ﬁlm, but it is a classic, sweeping Barry composition that us fans love, though it would be an exception in being a number that was not written for the ﬁlm it appeared in. (There were elements of Zulu in Cry, the Beloved Country, but Barry defended this by saying it was based on an actual Zulu song.)