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The "James Bond Theme" is the main signature theme of the James Bond films and has featured in every Eon Productions Bond film since Dr. No, released in 1962. The piece has been used as an accompanying fanfare to the gun barrel sequence in almost every James Bond film.
The "James Bond Theme" has accompanied the opening titles twice, as part of the medley that opens Dr. No and then again in the opening credits of From Russia with Love (1963). It has been used as music over the end credits for Dr. No, Thunderball (1965), On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012).
The tune uses a surf rock style guitar riff. At the time of the first film's release, surf rock was a major craze.
Monty Norman has been credited with writing the "James Bond Theme", and has received royalties since 1962. Norman collected around £485,000 in royalties between the years 1976 and 1999. For Dr. No, the tune was arranged by John Barry, who would later go on to compose the soundtracks for eleven James Bond films. Courts have ruled twice that the theme was written by Monty Norman, despite claims and testimony by Barry that he had actually written the theme. Norman has consequently won two libel actions against publishers for claiming that Barry wrote the theme, most recently against The Sunday Times in 2001. It is generally acknowledged that Barry came up with the arrangement used in Dr. No.[according to whom?]
Norman describes the distinctive rhythm of the guitar in the first few bars of the "James Bond Theme" as "Dum di-di dum dum". He claims that it was inspired by the song "Good Sign Bad Sign" sung by Indian characters in A House for Mr Biswas, a musical he composed based on a novel by V.S. Naipaul set in the Indian community in Trinidad. Norman showed his manuscript music from A House for Mr Biswas in a filmed interview and sang its lyrics. In 2005, Norman released an album called Completing the Circle that features "Good Sign Bad Sign", the "James Bond Theme," and a similar sounding song titled "Dum Di-Di Dum Dum." For these songs Norman added lyrics that explain the origin and history of the "James Bond Theme".
Though the "James Bond Theme" is identified with John Barry's jazz arrangement, parts of it are heard throughout Monty Norman's score for Dr. No in non-jazzy guises. Barry's arrangement is repeated ("tracked") in various scenes of the first Bond film. This is consistent with the account given by Barry and some of the film makers, contained in supplementary material on the DVD release of Dr. No: Barry was called in to make an arrangement of Norman's motif after Norman had completed the score. There is no information about the distinctive ostinati, countermelodies, and bridges introduced by Barry that are juxtaposed with Norman's motif in order to flesh out the arrangement. These added musical figures have become as recognizable to listeners as Norman's motif, which is probably responsible for the controversy over the authorship of the "James Bond Theme" as listeners have come to know it.
The "James Bond Theme" was recorded on 21 June 1962, using five saxophones, nine brass, a solo guitar and a rhythm section. The guitar riff heard in the original recording of the theme was played by Vic Flick on a 1939 English Clifford Essex Paragon Deluxe guitar plugged into a Vox AC15 amplifier. He was paid a one-off fee of £6 for recording the famous James Bond Theme riff. John Scott played the saxophone.
Within the Bond films themselves, many different arrangements of the theme have been used, often reflecting the musical tastes of the specific times. The electric guitar version of the theme is most associated with the Sean Connery era although it was also used in some Roger Moore films, in Timothy Dalton's final film Licence to Kill and in the Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan with scores composed by David Arnold. For every Bond movie which John Barry scored, he orchestrated a slightly different version of the Bond theme, as can be heard during the gun barrel sequence. These specialised Bond themes often reflected the style and locations featured in the movie, and the actor playing Bond.
The "James Bond Theme" and its variations found in the movies are played during many different types of scenes. Early in the series, the theme provided background music to Connery's entrances. It was not until Goldfinger that John Barry began to use the theme as an action cue. Since then, the primary use of the "James Bond Theme" has been with action scenes.
The first appearance of the "James Bond Theme" was in Dr. No. There it was used as part of the actual gunbarrel and main title sequence.
In From Russia with Love, the "James Bond Theme" in not only the gunbarrel pre-title sequence, but as part of the main title theme and appears in the track "James Bond with Bongos". It is a slower, jazzier, somewhat punchier rendition than the original orchestration. The original Barry arrangement from Dr. No is heard during a check of Bond's room for listening devices.
In Goldfinger, the "James Bond Theme" can be heard on the soundtrack in "Bond Back in Action Again" (gunbarrel and pre-title sequence). The "James Bond Theme" for this movie is heavily influenced by the brassy, jazzy theme song sung by Shirley Bassey.
Thunderball featured a full orchestral version of the theme in the track "Chateau Flight". Another full orchestral version was intended for the end titles of the film.
You Only Live Twice featured a funereal orchestration with Bond's "burial" at sea sequence in Hong Kong harbour.
With the return of Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, the guitar made a comeback along with a full orchestral version during a hovercraft sequence. On the soundtrack this track is named "Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd/Bond to Holland."
The George Lazenby film On Her Majesty's Secret Service used a unique high-pitched arrangement with the melody played on a Moog synthesizer. The cue is called "This Never Happened to the Other Fella" and a similar recording was used over the film's end credits. The film has a downbeat ending and the explosive burst of the "James Bond Theme" at the film's very end suggests Bond will return in spite of the situation he finds himself in at the climax of this movie.
When Roger Moore came to the role, the "James Bond Theme" became a string orchestra driven piece. The brief quote of the theme in the pre-credits music of The Spy Who Loved Me, titled "Bond 77", featured a disco sound, reflecting a style of music which was very popular at the time. Likewise, in Live and Let Die, the James Bond theme was featured in a Funk-inspired version of the tune reflecting the music of Blaxploitation films popular at the time. "The Spy Who Loved Me" returned briefly to using the surf-rock guitar associated with the theme from the early days.
The tune has been inserted into many of the films' soundtracks at various places as part of an action sequence. In the last Bond films of Roger Moore, the melody of the theme was played on strings.
One unusual instance occurred in Octopussy, when Bond's contact, who is disguised as a snake charmer played a few notes of the tune for Roger Moore's James Bond, presumably as a pre-arranged identification signal; an example of diegetic music.
Timothy Dalton's first film The Living Daylights, which was the last Bond film scored by Barry, used a symphonic version with the melody played on strings. This version of the Bond theme is notable for its introduction of sequenced electronic rhythm tracks overdubbed with the orchestra - at the time, a relatively new innovation.
In Licence to Kill, the Bond theme was arranged by Michael Kamen using rock drums to symbolize a harder and more violent Bond. This gunbarrel is the first one since Dr. No not starting with the Bond theme but orchestral hits though the surf guitar makes returns soon after.
The gunbarrel of the Pierce Brosnan film GoldenEye opened with a synthesized arrangement by Éric Serra which plays the guitar riff on (almost indistinct) kettle drums. A more traditional rendition by John Altman is heard in the film during the tank chase in St. Petersburg. This version of the "James Bond Theme" is not included in the GoldenEye soundtrack.
David Arnold's gunbarrel arrangements in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough dropped the guitar melody line, jumping straight from the tune's opening to its concluding bars. An electronic rhythm was added to the gunbarrel of The World Is Not Enough. The typical Bond guitar line can be heard during some action scenes.
Craig's first James Bond film, Casino Royale, does not feature the "James Bond Theme" in its entirety until the very end of the movie during a climactic scene. In Casino Royale, the main notes of the song "You Know My Name" are played throughout the film as a substitute for the "James Bond Theme". A new recording of the classic theme, titled "The Name's Bond…James Bond", only plays during the end credits to signal the beginning of the character's new arc as the 21st century version of James Bond. Although that is the first time the theme is played in its entirety, the first bars of the song (the chord progression) appeared as a slow background music in seven moments throughout the movie: after Bond's conversation with M (during his flight), after winning the Aston Martin, when he makes his first appearance in a tuxedo (accompanied by a few bars of the bridge), after he has survived the poisoned martini, when he wins the final match at the Casino Royale, when Bond is following Vesper and one last time when Bond speaks with M on the phone.
In the end of Quantum of Solace, the theme appears with Craig's new official gunbarrel sequence, unusually shown at the end of the film. The theme here is very similar to the classic style it took in Casino Royale. The theme appears sparingly throughout the score itself, never in an immediately recognisable variation. David Arnold said in an interview on the DVD extras for Tomorrow Never Dies that hearing the "James Bond Theme" is what he expects to hear as an audience member in action scenes and yet his scores for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace only use it during the end credits.
The opening to Skyfall includes the theme as part of the harmony to Adele's vocals and is used as the chord progression, including a faint surf guitar riff. Also, similar to Quantum of Solace, the gunbarrel sequence is shown at the end of Skyfall. The theme that plays along with the sequence and into the end credits is David Arnold's Casino Royale track "The Name's Bond…James Bond". Despite this, the film's score was composed by Thomas Newman, who also incorporated the "James Bond Theme" throughout the entire film.
Over 70 cover versions of the "James Bond Theme" have been recorded by artists such as: