Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) | Music

John Barry wasn't available to work on the music for The Spy Who Loved Me, apparently not for scheduling or creative reasons, but because of his tax status with the UK at the time. To replace him, Broccoli hired Marvin Hamlisch, who had already won Oscars and Grammys for his work on The Sting and The Way We Were. He was an interesting choice because he was super talented, but not known for big action movies. And his theme song reflects that.

"Nobody Does It Better" is the first Bond theme song not to be named after its movie, though the movie title is included in the lyrics. Hamlisch wrote it with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, who'd had a big hit in the '60s with "A Groovy Kind of Love." True to the styles of both artists, it's a mellow song, what we used to call Easy Listening. I'm not sure if there is a modern equivalent of Easy Listening, which was more or less comprised of pop ballads that used orchestral music.

To record it, they got Carly Simon, who had only a slightly more rocking style. The result is a gorgeous ballad that was a huge hit, especially in the US. Like so much else in The Spy Who Loved Me, it would go on to influence the theme songs for the next several movies. And it's a truly great song in every way from the way it builds musically, to the sensual - but not crass - lyrics, to Simon's sultry voice. It's sexy, but it's also classy.

To go over the song, Maurice Binder doubled down on the silhouettes that had long been a feature of his title sequences, but usually in conjunction with other images. This time, they're the focus, with the only other image being a Union Jack at one point. For the most part, the silhouettes play against a solid background of slowly changing colors and light effects. There are plenty of female silhouettes of course, all naked and mostly performing acrobatic acts like jumping on a trampoline, doing cartwheels, and going through gymnastic routines on the barrel of a giant gun.

What's different this time is how often a man shows up. We've seen that before, but it's a major element in this sequence. Playing off the idea of enemies becoming lovers, Binder has the woman repeatedly threatening Bond with a gun before making out with him. (To make sure we know who he is, we even see a black-and-white representation of Roger Moore's face.) He also has a line of naked women marching with Soviet hats and then Bond (who's always fully clothed, strangely enough) tips them over. Hooray for Britain! Snottiness aside though, I do like how minimalistic the credits sequence is compared to the busyness of previous movies.

For the rest of the soundtrack, Hamlisch uses the "Nobody Does It Better" tune as a love theme, but also comes up with a cool, stringy theme for Stromberg and Atlantis. He also uses Bach and Mozart for key Stromberg/Atlantis scenes, further supporting the villain's pretense at sophistication.

The soundtrack gets weird in a couple of places though. There's a goofy fanfare that plays as Bond and Amasova drive Jaws' ruined van across the desert, but even worse is the bombastic men's chorus that belts out "Nobody Does It Better" at the end like it's some kind of bawdy show tune. Both of those moments are the car jump slide whistles of The Spy Who Loved Me.

For the most part though, it's a great soundtrack and it uses the Bond Theme more and better than any other movie so far. Hamlisch arranged his own disco version of it that plays over lots of action sequences from the teaser's ski chase to the Lotus' battles with helicopters and underwater villains, to the good guys' taking over Stromberg's tanker. He uses the traditional version too though: when Bond drives the Lotus up onto the beach out of the water, when he's riding the camera with a bomb to blow open Stromberg's command center on the tanker, and when he's riding the WetBike to go rescue Amasova. There's also a nice orchestral version of the Bond Theme when Bond and Amasova are in the Egyptian ruins looking for Jaws. This is how the Bond Theme ought to be used. Not sparingly like Barry, but creatively.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better")
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Diamonds Are Forever
4. You Only Live Twice
5. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
6. Live and Let Die
7. Dr No
8. Thunderball
9. Goldfinger
10. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia With Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. Live and Let Die
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. You Only Live Twice

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