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The Music of James Bond$

Jon Burlingame

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199863303

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199863303.001.0001

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“… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”

“… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”

Never Say Never Again

(p.164) 15 “… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”
The Music of James Bond

Jon Burlingame

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Never Say Never Again was a remake of Thunderball, produced by Kevin McClory who owned remake rights because of the deal he had made with Broccoli and Saltzman to make the original (as the result of a complex lawsuit involving Fleming and the original Thunderball novel). Sean Connery reprised his most famous role, and also served as a producer. It was Connery who called Michel Legrand, the Oscar-winning French composer (“The Windmills of Your Mind,” Summer of '42), to score the film. Legrand was reluctant, exhausted from a year of work on the Barbra Streisand film Yentl, but decided he could not resist and said yes. Connery also called old friends Alan and Marilyn Bergman — frequent Legrand collaborators, who had also just finished Yentl — for lyrics. Bonnie Tyler was approached to sing, but turned it down; Lani Hall, once part of Brasil '66 and now Herb Alpert's wife, said yes. Alpert produced the track with Sergio Mendes and even played trumpet on the end-title version. Legrand's score was stylistically quite different from most Bond scores and thus controversial both within the production and with fans later.

Keywords:   Kevin McClory, Michel Legrand, Sean Connery, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Never Say Never Again, Lani Hall, Bonnie Tyler, Sergio Mendes, Herb Alpert

Producer Kevin McClory, who gained control of Thunderball after Fleming’s 1960 movie-script debacle and who co-produced the 1965 film with Broccoli and Saltzman, owned remake rights to Thunderball. In 1976 he persuaded Sean Connery and spy novelist Len Deighton to collaborate on a screenplay that was, for a while, called Warhead. It was eventually scrapped, however, when McClory gave the option to producer Jack Schwartzman in 1981. Connery agreed to the terms, which included complete creative control over the project, and would return as 007 in Never Say Never Again (a title coined by his wife Micheline, as Connery had long said he would never again do the role).

Just as, in 1966, the “battle of the Bonds” was on with You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale in production at the same time, it was “dueling Bonds” all over again, this time in 1982 with Moore starring in Octopussy and Connery in Never Say Never Again. Musically, the Royale and Never situations were similar: the composer would be contractually barred from using the “James Bond Theme” and would need to find a fresh way to illustrate the action and illuminate the characters.

Plotwise, it was close to Thunderball: an older, more seasoned Bond (Connery) is called back into service when SPECTRE, still headed by Blofeld (Max von Sydow), masterminds the theft of American nuclear warheads and holds NATO for ransom. Mad corporate magnate Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) (p.165) supervises the operation; Bond recruits Largo’s lover Domino (Kim Basinger) for help and tangles with his evil associate Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) in both the Bahamas and the south of France.

No one seems to have given any thought to music during production of the film, despite the inclusion of an elaborate tango performed by Connery and Basinger in a Monte Carlo casino. Producer Schwartzman, director Irvin Kershner and star-producer Connery were all involved in the choice of composer during post-production in the late spring of 1983.

James Horner, then an up-and-coming young American composer who had already scored the hit films 48 Hrs. and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, was high on both Schwartzman and Kershner’s lists. He was in London for much of the year, working on such films as Krull, Brainstorm, The Dresser and Uncommon Valor. According to Kershner, a schedule conflict precluded him from doing the Bond film. Schwartzman later claimed that Connery rejected Horner, although (if true) why is not clear.

One of cinema’s leading composers happened to be in London in June 1983. Frenchman Michel Legrand was completing work on Yentl, one of his most complex projects (for which he would win his third Academy Award) in that it involved nine original songs as well as the dramatic underscore, for the notoriously demanding producer-director-star Barbra Streisand. He had already won Oscars for writing “The Windmills of Your Mind” for The Thomas Crown Affair and for the score of Summer of ’42, and he was responsible for some of the most enduring songs of the 1960s and 1970s, among them “I Will Wait for You,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and “Pieces of Dreams.” He had also scored Play Dirty, the Michael Caine World War II movie, for ex-Bond producer Harry Saltzman in 1968. But he was better known for his romantic films; Ice Station Zebra was one of his few big-action-movie credits.

Kershner and Streisand were friends; he had directed her a decade earlier in Up the Sandbox. And since both their films happened to be in postproduction, “We used to meet and have dinner all the time,” Kershner recalled. She suggested Legrand for the job.

Legrand, however, was burned out after a particularly intense year-long assignment. “I had promised myself that I would take a vacation at the completion of Yentl,” Legrand said. “I had arrived at the end of a long adventure. I was completely exhausted.” He was mixing Yentl at Olympic Studios, his favorite recording facility, when Connery himself telephoned, asked for his services and invited him to a screening of the film the next day.

“Sean’s warmth and his enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand said. “And I told myself, to attach a Bond to my filmography, it’s not something to pass up!” Connery attended the screening with Kershner and Schwartzman but was otherwise absent during the weeks to follow. Something else occurred to Legrand at the time: “We were connected by the adventure of Robin and Marian, where [director Richard] Lester threw out my score.” (Legrand’s daring, classically (p.166) styled music for the 1976 film, which starred Connery and Audrey Hepburn, was ultimately replaced by a John Barry score.)

“Sean knew it and, for me in a certain manner, it was a way of taking revenge on Lester’s film. Robin and Marian and Never Say Never Again finally deal with the same subject: Can myths age?” It was a fascinating way to look at the new 007 film, which focused on a mature, possibly over-the-hill Bond, just as Robin and Marian dealt with the older Robin Hood and Maid Marian, who find each other again after many years.

Legrand wrote the score in Paris during June and July 1983. Well aware of the Barry imprint on the Connery years, Legrand had no intention of revisiting that. “It would have been artificial for me to re-create the Bond sound of the ’60s,” he said. “The idea of Never Say Never Again was to bring a distance, an irony, a second layer of connection to the official series, in relation to Connery’s age. Immediately there was a distinction.”

Connery’s call to Legrand wasn’t the only one the actor would make about the music. He also called lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman, who, like Legrand, were in London finishing their work on Yentl (which would earn them Oscars

“… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”Never Say Never Again

(left to right) Alan Bergman, Michel Legrand and Marilyn Bergman in the early 1980s

(p.167) too). “We had known him for years,” Alan Bergman recalled. They had met in Connery’s pre-007 days, while working on singer Jo Stafford’s television series in London in 1961. Connery asked them to pen the words to the title song, and as longtime collaborators with Legrand they immediately agreed.

“They had a title, the title of the movie,” Alan Bergman said. “Usually we don’t use [the title of the film], but they wanted a title song. That was a given.” The Bergmans added lyrics to Legrand’s sensual, jazzy melody, written about Bond from a woman’s point of view: “You walk in a room / a woman can feel the heat / One look is a guarantee / nights could be long and sweet… .”

Legrand thought of his main theme, especially “the slow version, for piano/guitar or piano/vibraphone, [as] a little disillusioned, like a portrait of an older Bond.”

The composer called the film a series of “luxurious and shimmering adventures, where everything was pulled toward the improbable and the spectacular.” He was especially fond of the tango, which appeared in Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s original script (“a tango is being played by a small orchestra … music intensifies …”). Legrand pointed out that this was the first time a tango had been heard in a Bond film. Connery and Basinger danced to a temporary playback track on the set, Legrand said, “after which I composed ‘Tango to Death’ to correspond to the movements of the choreography, and to the orchestra on the screen. I would have orchestrated my tango for a small [ensemble], with solo bandoneón, but I was a prisoner of the image.”

He also recalled writing the motorcycle chase scene, which included “a theme for big band, with a very fast tempo, curt and agitated, with horn punches that sound like razor blades.” He also referred to the “suspense sequences for symphonic orchestra, in the neo-Stravinskian style, which correspond to SPECTRE’s universe, with the atomic conspiracy.”

Legrand recorded at Olympic Studios during the first week of August 1983. He usually composed and orchestrated all his own music, but in this case, music contractor Nat Peck recalled, he didn’t orchestrate everything (occasional collaborator Armand Migiani did some cues). “Maybe he was exhausted after the tremendous effort of the Streisand film,” Peck said. “He was just too tired to take on anything with the enthusiasm he usually could generate for any project he was working on. Unfortunately, it seeped through to the higher-ups and they weren’t too thrilled with Michel’s music.”

Legrand conducted the London Symphony Orchestra one day, then freelance orchestras ranging from 88 to 93 players over three more days. “Michel is incredibly quick and English musicians are the fastest sight-readers in the world,” engineer Keith Grant said, referring to musicians who can glance at a piece of music they’ve never seen before and play it from start to finish extremely well.

Actress Talia Shire, who was married to Schwartzman and attended some of the sessions, said: “When you have someone of the caliber of Michel Legrand, he brings an elegant score with something that sounds new, and very appropriate, for our Sean Connery. I thought he did a great job.” (p.168)

“… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”Never Say Never Again

Kim Basinger and Sean Connery tango in Never Say Never Again


In the weeks after recording was finished, both Schwartzman and Kershner had concerns about what they had heard. “It wasn’t the true James Bond score that I had envisioned,” Kershner later said. “It just didn’t work for me, and of course we couldn’t redo the music, so I moved a lot of the music around. Something that was in one scene I moved to another scene.” Schwartzman went so far as to cable Legrand in Paris on August 12, stating “there are serious problems with the score” and demanding that he return to London “for a solid period of at least two weeks to rewrite and/or remake the music score.”

Legrand returned for one more day of recording, on August 20. In the meantime, questions arose about who would sing the title song. Schwartzman told Legrand in his August 12 cable: “I think we have Bonnie Tyler for the title song.” But that didn’t last long, because Tyler, whose “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was a number 1 hit that spring in the U.K., turned it down. “I was really, wow, a James Bond theme,” she said in 2006. “I was so excited to be a part of this. And then I listened to it and I was really deflated. There wasn’t anything you could do with that song. I really didn’t like it.”

Marilyn and Alan Bergman suggested Lani Hall for the song. Hall had once been part of Brasil ’66 (singing “The Look of Love” at the Oscars) but embarked on a solo career in the 1970s; she was married to trumpeter Herb Alpert, another Bond veteran, having turned the Casino Royale theme into a 1967 hit. “She’s a really great singer,” Alan Bergman said, “and it was another way of making it different than what had preceded.” Marilyn Bergman liked “the contrast between Lani and Shirley Bassey, who had been associated with these Bond movies.”

Alpert produced the song with Hall’s old Brasil ’66 partner Sergio Mendes. “That was the first time that we had actually worked together since I had left the group in 1971,” Hall said. “It was a lot of fun to be in the studio with Herb (p.170)

“… though I know there’s danger there, I don’t care …”Never Say Never Again

Lani Hall as she appeared in the video for “Never Say Never Again”

(p.171) and Sergio again. I remember Marilyn and Alan being there as well. It’s a complicated song, melodically. It’s not the kind of song that you could really walk away humming.”

Legrand was not present at the August 19 and 23 sessions at A&M Records in Los Angeles. Veteran arranger-keyboardist Robbie Buchanan arranged the song, and for the end-title version Alpert added his distinctive solo trumpet. “Nobody asked me to play,” Alpert said. “I kinda got inspired by that ending, and I wanted to see if I could have some fun fooling around with the trumpet. It was their choice to use it or not [in the film].” They did.

Hall also shot a video in which, attired in a classy black tuxedo, she sings in front of a giant blowup of Sean Connery as he appears in the film (intercut, of course, with scenes from the film). Hall and the Bergmans received equal treatment with the composer in newspaper ads for the film.

Legrand wrote a second song for the film, “Une Chanson d’Amour,” with famed French lyricist Jean Drejac, the co-writer of “Sous le ciel de Paris (Under the Paris Sky),” which Edith Piaf made famous nearly 30 years earlier. Bulgarian singer Sophie Della auditioned in Paris with a Piaf song (“Non, je ne regrette rien”) and won the job on condition that she sing the French lyric without an accent; she worked for a week with Drejac to perfect her pronunciation. The London recording was done in a single take. “I was living a dream,” Della later recalled.

Never Say Never Again premiered in Los Angeles on October 7, 1983, but also enjoyed a lavish European premiere in Monte Carlo on November 17, with Monaco’s entire royal family (Princes Rainier and Albert, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie) in attendance. Hall even sang the song live at the post-screening dinner. “I didn’t really think about the glamour attached to the Bond films,” she said. “I felt the excitement, getting caught up in all that energy, (p.172) when the film premiered in Monte Carlo. It was a big gala event, and that’s when I went, ‘Wow!’”

The reviews were mixed on the music. “A full-throated score by Michel Legrand,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter; “title song is unimpressive, as is Michel Legrand’s rather thin score,” declared Variety. “Michel Legrand’s French-accented ersatz jazz falls far short,” added the Hartford Courant; “rarely supports the action properly and only distracts and clashes,” complained a critic for the film-music quarterly Soundtrack!

Never Say Never became the first Bond film without a soundtrack album in the States or Europe. Alpert’s A&M label issued the title-song single, which didn’t quite make Billboard’s top 100 singles; it reached number 103 on October 22. Japan’s Seven Seas label issued a 42-minute LP of highlights in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1995 that England’s Silva Screen issued a 62-minute CD containing several tracks not heard in the final cut of the film. The song did not chart in the U.K.

“I wrote this score,” Legrand later said, “without taking into account the worldwide attention the return of Connery in the role of Bond would bring. It was only later that … I became aware of the passion, the aspiration that Never Say Never Again revived.” In 2006 the composer added a symphonic arrangement of the title song to his concert programs.