Forty years ago, nearly to the day, Doctor No, the first James Bond film, was about to be unleashed upon an unexpecting world. The first of many, this film was to be a trendsetter for the series; featuring elaborate sets, malevolent enemies and luscious women aplenty. But as many people, David Arnold included, note; a film does not truly feel like a Bond film until they hear the instantly recognisable sound of Bond.
Though Bond films have adapted to current music trends throughout the years, possibly the only element that has remained consistent throughout (GoldenEye potentially being an exception) is the use of the ‘James Bond Theme’. This magnificent piece of music held in a deadlock of debate as to who actually composed it, some say John Barry was drafted in to do the job that composer Monty Norman didn’t do to the satisfaction of Dr No’s producers, while others say that Barry merely re-orchestrated Norman’s groundwork. However, that being said, I shall not delve into the perplexed musical ruminations of many a Bond fan.
Quite simply put, the James Bond Theme is superb, catchy, and the archetype of 1960s spy film music, a staccato, calm, almost nonchalant riff stabs over an urgent bass line, which suddenly explodes into a burst of dirty brass over a swing beat, encapsulating the very essence of Bond’s persona; composed in the face of danger, and ready to act when all hell breaks loose around him (which, unsurprisingly after 40 years in the spy game, it often does). Understandably, the theme arises many times during this first Bond film, however, strangely, when Norman does use it, he picks the riff out in brass rather than a guitar, and also he refuses to underlay the riff with the bass line. Refer to the scene into which 007 enters his apartment before his second encounter with Sylvia Trench for an example of this. By the end of the film, the James Bond Theme is securely stamped in our minds, and when we hear the first few bars of it, we instantly associate it with our dapper secret agent. Interestingly though, the theme is always heard in its raw, Barry-arranged form, apart from in Norman’s irregular use of it, never re-orchestrated to suit the particular scene of the film in which it’s used (refer to the scene in Le Cercle, and the introduction of Bond for an example of this), thus further cementing Barry’s orchestration in the filmgoers’ minds.
Other cues in the soundtrack, however, are fairly lacklustre, which becomes disappointing with the almost non-existent use of the Bond Theme, and rather than carving his own niche in the music world as Barry did with his later soundtracks, Norman uses rather traditional film-music styles of the time that now sound shamefully dated, Bond music (as we now so originally refer to the genre) was no more than a year away with the release of the next film, and certainly was not evident in style with Doctor No.
Second from the James Bond Theme, the song “Underneath The Mango Tree” is used heavily throughout the film, most prominently during Bond’s meeting with Honey, in which Connery sings a bar of it (an action never repeated by Bond since) another great musical influence on the film is the contemporary Jamaican music, most notably “Jamaican Jump Up” performed by Byron Lee and The Dragoneers during the scene in Pussfeller’s club where Bond warns off the so-called “photographer” from The Daily Gleaner, Marguerite Lewars (Lee’s singing in this scene was badly dubbed, as was the music; the band were obviously not playing their instruments, and it’s clear Lee was told to keep his mouth as close to the large microphone as possible, so the audience couldn’t see the poor lip-sync), this sound was particularly hip during the 1960s, and Norman wanted to tap into it, so, naturally, he sought to find the most popular song in Jamaica, and “Jamaica Jump Up” was playing in all the clubs at the time.
This exotic element so prevalent in the soundtrack, coupled with the sexy, brassy Bond Theme, though not entirely setting the standard for the Bond soundtracks, that accolade arguably goes to Barry’s superior soundtrack to From Russia With Love, does hold it’s own in the series and is definitely a good place for the most successful series to find its humble musical beginnings.