Soundtracks of Significance: “The Living Daylights”

30 Mar

“As a director, what could one say to John Barry about the music for a James Bond film? His contribution to the success of the series has been enormous. His needs were always simple; a piano, a Moviola and not very much time.” – John Glen, quoted in The Living Daylights soundtrack CD liner notes, from an interview published in From Silents to Satellite. 

In 1987, it had become fashionable for the typical movie soundtrack to emphasize rock and pop music – or at least, to approximate those sounds. Not 007. John Barry saw to it that the sound of Bond remained rooted in a blend of classical film scores and something not quite mainstream but certainly modern. Play any two Bond scores by Barry and you’ll find evidence of his continued tinkering. Like the film’s producers, directors, writers and stars, Barry understood that the key to longevity was to strike the balance between retaining the elements that worked best while still creating something original each time out.

Barry's sophisticated score befits a film that uses a boombox as a gag.

John Barry scored eleven Bond films, and while Monty Norman scored the first film, Dr. No, it was Barry’s arrangement of “The James Bond Theme” that established the musical tone of the franchise. Barry so made his mark with that one arrangement that he was brought in to score the next six pictures. His work on the franchise was spotty in the 1970s, but he returned in the 1980s with three consecutive scores including 1985’s A View to a Kill, Roger Moore’s final outing in the role, and 1987’s The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton’s debut. The Living Daylights was the 15th Bond film, released for the franchise’s silver anniversary. It was John Barry’s 11th and final James Bond score.

It was also one of the finest in the entire Bond soundtrack library.

The primary function of a film score is to serve the story on screen, but for soundtrack enthusiasts, its secondary purpose is to be a body of work enjoyable to listen to by itself out of context. The Living Daylights soundtrack album is one of the strongest in the 50 year history of Bond music. Barry juggles four key themes expertly to create a cohesive, driven album that, if I’m being honest, made more than a few commutes to class and work a little more enjoyable.

a-ha single

The Living Daylights is a curiosity in the Bond soundtrack library in part because it features three different vocal recordings. The main title song, “The Living Daylights,” was performed by the Norwegian band, a-Ha (who insist that Barry’s songwriting credit was undeserved). Barry and a-Ha clashed over the recording; the venerable composer’s vision and the upstart band’s not quite meshing. Barry had final say, however, and it is his mix that appears in the film and on the soundtrack albums. a-Ha’s mix appears on their third album, 1988’s Stay on These Roads. A single release of the Barry mix contained an extended mix backed with the album version and an instrumental version of the song.

“Where Has Everybody Gone” and “If There Was a Man” were both composed by Barry with Chrissie Hynde and performed by The Pretenders. The former plays as the theme for henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) on his Walkman as he goes about dispatching his victims. The latter serves as the love theme for the film, highlighting the romance between Bond and Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) and it also closes out the film by playing over the end credits. There was a single release containing both songs, and it included “Into Vienna,” the only track on the soundtrack album to not appear in the film itself. (It’s an instrumental arrangement of “If There Was a Man.”)

The original album release contained twelve songs, nine of them from Barry’s energetic and lush score. The prevalence of strings serves the film well. Not only does it punctuate that Kara is a world-class cellist, but it is a striking reminder to the audience what has always set Bond apart from his cinematic competitors: sophistication.

In 1998, Rykodisc issued a deluxe edition CD version of the album that includes an additional nine tracks of Barry’s score, including “Exercise at Gibraltar,” which begins with the iconic gunbarrel opening and follows through the film’s opening teaser sequence as we meet Timothy Dalton for the first time as 007. Closing out the album is “Alternate End Titles,” a sweeping instrumental arrangement of “If There Was a Man.” As gorgeous as it is, it just can’t top hearing Chrissie Hynde’s vulnerable vocal performance. This bonus material was included in a subsequent 2003 CD reissue from Capitol Records.

That’s actually John Barry himself on screen in the finale of The Living Daylights as the conductor of the orchestra in which Kara performs. It was never intended to be his final outing as the composer of Bond music but somehow it seems appropriate that the man who defined how we hear James Bond would appear on screen as part of his franchise swan song.

“The Living Daylights” – failed to chart in U.S./#5 in the U.K.

“Where Has Everybody Gone” – #26 in the U.S./failed to chart in the U.K.

“If There Was a Man” – failed to chart in the U.S./#49 in the U.K.


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