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Film

How Monty Norman created the James Bond theme tune

James Bond films are known for their incredible soundtracks among various other attractive elements, including the handsome suit-clad spy, his various leggy muses, notorious villains as well as insane action sequences. However, the timeless 007 theme tune that featured in Terence Young’s 1962 hit Dr. No remains one of the greatest film soundtracks of all time, giving us a glorious cinematic experience. 

Every time we hear that iconic beginning, we can almost envision the iconic opening sequence where, amidst much anticipation, the suave and bold British spy, James Bond, is shown through the barrel of a gun. He confidently struts in and suddenly turns to shoot an invisible assassin, most likely the one holding the weapon. The music that accompanies this scene is perfectly in sync because it produces the desired effect on the audience. Not only does it induce excitement and thrill, but it also sets the mood for a rollercoaster of suspense, danger and madness. 

The 007 theme was one of its kind. Not only has it never aged, but it also remained a testimony to having been one of the sexiest and edgiest soundtracks ever created, evoking appropriate emotions and setting the sultry and stealthy mood of this espionage film which the audience experiences with bated breath.

The truth, of course, is that the creation is a relatively simple tune. It was recorded using a unique technique in the legendary CTS Studios, Bayswater, London, in 1962. The elegant and simplistic chords received the legendary twang after being recorded in a compatible stereo. Since the orchestra would only record on one take, the guitar would “bleed” into the orchestral microphone, which added a polished tone to the final sound. 

However, there was much debate surrounding the composition of this theme tune which also led to legal battles. Monty Norman is credited to be the first man to have written the signature ‘James Bond Theme’. However, the producers of the film were not initially happy with Norman’s creation and entrusted the young up-and-coming composer John Barry to rearrange the theme. The latter went on to say that the music was his personal composition which Norman vehemently denied. Norman also won two libel actions against publishers who accused Norman of falsely claiming to have composed the tune; the latest legal win for Norman was in 2001 against The Sunday Times. 

When Monty had bagged the opportunity to compose the theme tune for Dr. No, he was already a well-established figure in the musical sector, having received a Tony Award nomination as well. Wolf Mankowitz’s Belle, which was way ahead of its time and failed to resonate with the public, had Norman’s composition which caught Cubby Broccoli’s eye; the latter arranged a meeting between Norman and Harry Saltzman, his partner, as they had just acquired the rights to adapt Ian Flemming famous spy novels on James BondThey offered to fly out Norman and his then-wife, Diana, to Jamaica to compose the music, paying all his expenses. 

As a part of Bond’s theme, the previous composer Count Basie had recorded an earlier version which was not suitable as Cubby, Saltzman and Norman all felt that it lacked the “sinisterness” in the “character of James Bond”. It was then that Norman had a breakthrough. In his earlier days, he had composed the first draft music for V.S. Naipaul’s novel-based musical A House For Mr Biswas, directed by the iconic Peter Brook, which was based in the East Indian community of Trinidad. However, the project was shelved due to the massive costs as well as the impossibility of casting Asians and West Indians in the 1950s and ’60s. As Norman himself said, “That’s the end of the ’50s beginning of the ’60s, so we abandoned it.” Norman’s tune, called Good Sign Bad Sign, was heavily derived from Asian influences, featuring their instruments and themes. Although the project fell apart, Monty’s musical instinct recognised the potential and genius of the tune and was sent to rest in his “bottom drawer” before possible incarnation. 

Dr. No was all about launching the suave British spy James Bond, played by the devilishly charming Scottish actor Sean Connery, in the mainstream media. Bond was pitted against a mysterious Dr. No, whose scientific calibre was inclined to thwart a US space mission. This prompted Bond to go to Jamaica, where he encountered Honey Ryder as well as a daunting adversary who remained shielded in his headquarters. 

In accordance with the theme, an idea clicked inside Norman’s head. As he split the notes in his composition and replaced the sitar with a guitar for the initial riff, he knew his job was done. “And the moment I did Dum diddy dum dum dum, I thought my God that’s it,” said Norman. “His sexiness, his mystery, his ruthlessness- it’s all there in a few notes“. 

The music resonated well with the director as well as the producer, as did Sean Connery. The 007 theme tune, which has been re-created by several people and well-known bands over the years, has been the most influential part of Monty Norman’s legacy, leaving an indelible mark on people’s minds. James Bond is synonymous with the 007 theme tune, as is his iconic catchphrase “Bond, James Bond”. 

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