As one of the most successful lyricists throughout the past four decades, Don Black’s extraordinary career continues strongly to this very day. Over the past 40 years, he has become an Academy Award and Tony Award-winner, been awarded the O.B.E. for his services to musical theatre and became a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee earlier this year.
He is best known by James Bond fans for his lyricist credits on Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With The Golden Gun, Surrender, The World Is Not Enough and Only Myself To Blame.
In a brand new audio interview posted at Stage & Screen Online, Black discusses his varied career with Tommy Pearson. Recorded this month, part one (42 minutes) focuses on how he first got started, working with Matt Monroe, the ever-popular Born Free and his association with the James Bond series–with both John Barry and David Arnold.
Part two (24 minutes) takes a look at Black’s involvement in musical theatre, specifically his work on shows with Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Barry. Billy, Tell Me On A Sunday and Bombay Dreams are just a few of the shows that are discussed.
When first asked about how he came to be involved with the Bond songs, Black tells how John Barry approached him one day wondering if he wanted to do the lyrics for Thunderball, which was the upcoming James Bond film at the time.
‘The first thing I did when I wrote Thunderball was to look it up in the dictionary and it wasn’t there,’ says Black. ‘So, there isn’t a word called Thunderball and I didn’t know what to do … in the film, it’s kind of a code word, so I used the “strikes like thunderball” bit. It doesn’t bear close examination, but it has that kind of danger and law of the forbidden thing that is essential in any Bond song.’
Black also mentioned that when working, Barry would create the melody and Black would come up with the words that delicately sit on top of it. ‘God knows how many hundreds of songs I’ve written with him over the years. It’s so easy to write with John Barry…’
‘The first thing is that you have to serve the movie. And then, of course, you do have one eye on the charts. The Bond people want to get a hit; very much so now, particularly today. Whoever is the hottest person in the world’s record business, they want to hire them to sing the new Bond song.’ – Don Black
Diamonds Are Forever
For Diamonds Are Forever, Black remembered that producer Harry Saltzman was not at all keen on the Shirley Bassey tune, calling it too provocative and filthy. ‘Well, John Barry said “well, what the bloody hell do you know Harry?” and Harry went out slamming the door and that was that.’
When asked what it was like to work with Bassey, Black delightfully replied: ‘All you want to do is give her a song that she can rip to pieces.’
The Man With The Golden Gun
Speaking about his third Bond assignment, Black recalls that John Barry was never as happy with The Man With The Golden Gun musically as the others. ‘I don’t know why because I think it stands up as the right Bond song for the moment and Lulu did a great job of it,’ he adds.
‘I hate to say this really, but why not, you get to a certain stage in your life where you say what you feel, but I do think one of the best things I’ve written is Surrender from Tomorrow Never Dies that I wrote with David Arnold. It became the end-title and k.d. Lang sang it and it’s such a good piece. A lot of people have emailed me and said it should have been the title [song]. That sort of thing aggravates you because it was written for the front-title and then Sheryl Crow was brought in to write it. I mean… no hard feelings about it, but that is life.’
‘If I had my way, I think Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey should sing all the Bond songs. Don’t bother with all the Sheryl Crows and the Madonnas because, with all due respect to these people, it’s a Tom Jones or Bassey job. You need someone like that.’ – Don Black
And lastly, which of the Bond songs is Don Black’s favourite? ‘I think it would have to be Diamonds Are Forever because as soon as it starts with John Barry’s wonderful introduction–that’s another signature of Barry–you don’t have to wait for the song to start. As soon as you hear the first note or two, you’re there.’
What if Shirley Bassey performed The World Is Not Enough? What was Black’s first encounter with Steven Spielberg like? There’s much more… Head over to Stage & Screen Online to listen to this outstanding interview in it’s entirety. The interview is also available to download as an MP3 file.
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