With many people claiming that Skyfall is “the best James Bond film since Goldfinger“, I thought I’d revisit the Sean Connery classic this week and examine its musical merits. There are plenty.
With Goldfinger, the third in the series, John Barry, king of the Bond score, gave us not only the best song but the best (and most recognisable today) arrangement of the James Bond “theme” so far. Material from both is developed in the rest of the score, which carries punch and charm in equal measure (excuse the pun…). His trademark brass stabs, harp arpeggios, sizzling cymbals and tremulating strings are all present and correct, except that in 1964, they weren’t yet a cliché.
What of the Shirley Bassey sung title song? Everyone knows its chromatic mediant chord sequence and soaring melody. Nearly 50 years on, it retains its sexy, shiny brilliance. Every Bond song since has had Goldfinger’s shadow looming over it and while the likes of Skyfall or Diamonds Are Forever might come close, nothing really tops it. Paul McCartney had the right idea by taking the Live & Let Die tune in a slightly different direction.
Barry delivers consistently suspenseful, stylish music in his incidental cuts. This one, for example, is based on the Goldfinger theme and hints at its presence in the same taunting manner that the villain himself might. Static chords linger in the air while moody timpani lines reflect the tension on screen. When we build up to a moment of action, the brass section come out to play. For a car chase, he tends to get the drummer and guitarist riffing on variations of the Bond theme.
Another highlight is Dawn Raid On Fort Knox, more military in character, with snares and piccolos interjecting an ostinato (using those Goldfinger chords again!). The piece written for Pussy Galore’s entry takes all of the same musical material and takes it into a romantic, almost sleazy soundworld. The chunks of music that play over the establishing shots feature more original material, the Miami one being a fabulous big band jazz romp.
Today, all this might seem a bit predictable. But John Barry invented this “way of doing film scores” and the number of people that have imitated it with other serials is endless. You can’t hear a simple minor ninth chord anymore without James Bond entering your head. That’s the mark of a job well done. There’s not a lot to say about this score; it is so well known already. Consider my featuring it a gentle reminder that the ‘golden era’ of films is golden for a reason…