Every year we try and assess who has the best shot at a nomination for the original-score Oscar. Eight of the 12 profiles in this year’s Variety Oscar-music section are mine: Marco Beltrami, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Jonny Greenwood, Henry Jackman, Clint Mansell, Thomas Newman and Steven Price. (Colleague Tim Greiving penned the other four: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Gary Yershon, Mark Mothersbaugh.) Tim and I also collaborated on this year’s overview of Best Song possibilities.
The Academy’s musical choices were all fine in its first staged concert of Academy Award-nominated music. The problems were the host and the interviewer, neither of whom came off well. My editors chose to leave out my recitation of the more ludicrous moments. This is what didn’t make it into the Variety story:
Film critic Elvis Mitchell, enlisted to interview the composers between segments, was hit-and-miss, getting one of the Arcade Fire composers’ names wrong (“William Phillips”? It’s William Butler) and drawing head-scratching and irrelevant parallels with his favorite Western scores (Ennio Morricone for Gravity, Williams’ obscure The Missouri Breaks for The Book Thief, which could not be farther afield from one another).
Thomas Newman, one of today’s brightest and most talented composers, has been the subject of many stories over the years. Most recently there was his score for the James Bond film Skyfall, which was Oscar-nominated and won a BAFTA. (Read more about it in my Bond book!) Before that, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Prior to that, the contrasting styles of The Help and The Iron Lady. Here’s one about Brothers, and another on Revolutionary Road and WALL-E. This one goes all the way back to American Beauty and The Green Mile.
Veteran U.K. broadcaster Tommy Pearson asked me to join his two-hour Classic FM radio broadcast on the music of James Bond. The catch: he would be in London with Skyfall composer Thomas Newman and five-film Bond composer David Arnold, while I was in L.A. at the studios of KUSC-FM. It was all done live over two hours, with classic 007 music bits interspersed with the conversation. Amusingly, there was a camera in the L.A. studio (no one told me, or I’d have donned something other than an old T-shirt) so that the live audience in London could see me. Anyway, it was all great fun. Here’s an overview of the show; and more photos are here.
The story of the music that accompanies the cinematic adventures of Ian Fleming’s intrepid Agent 007 is one of surprising real-life drama. In The Music of James Bond, author Jon Burlingame throws open studio and courtroom doors alike to reveal the full and extraordinary history of the sounds of James Bond, spicing the story with a wealth of fascinating and previously undisclosed tales.
Burlingame devotes a chapter to each Bond film, providing the backstory for the music (including a reader-friendly analysis of each score) from the last-minute creation of the now-famous “James Bond Theme” in Dr. No to John Barry’s trend-setting early scores for such films as Goldfinger and Thunderball. We learn how synthesizers, disco and modern electronica techniques played a role in subsequent scores, and how composer David Arnold reinvented the Bond sound for the 1990s and beyond.
The book brims with behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Burlingame examines the decades-long controversy over authorship of the Bond theme; how Frank Sinatra almost sang the title song for Moonraker; and how top artists like Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner, and Madonna turned Bond songs into chart-topping hits. The author shares the untold stories of how Eric Clapton played guitar for Licence to Kill but saw his work shelved, and how Amy Winehouse very nearly co-wrote and sang the theme for Quantum of Solace.
Winner of the prestigious Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism, the book has been updated in paperback to include a new chapter on Skyfall, including extensive interviews with composer Thomas Newman and Adele’s producer and co-writer Paul Epworth (among others) as well as new photographs and material that has come to light since the original publication (including Lionel Bart’s newly discovered Thunderball song!).
A few reviews:
“The Bond films bounce from one locale and storyline to another, with the music serving as our constant frame of reference. And so it probably deserves a biography unto itself: a snappy, efficient and gossip-heavy one such as THE MUSIC OF JAMES BOND by Jon Burlingame.” — Colin Fleming, The Washington Post
“When it comes to writing about film music, Jon Burlingame is the man with the Midas touch. Both casual fans and 007 aficionados should find this book to be enlightening, informative, and great fun to read.” — Leonard Maltin
“An often wild, frequently amusing tale of accidental connections (how Paul McCartney and Wings wound up doing Live and Let Die), MTV-inspired choices (Duran Duran for A View to a Kill) and commercially savvy but controversial ideas (Madonna’s electronica for Die Another Day). No previous book has tackled the music of Bond in such depth and detail.” — Variety
“True 007 devotees will have already dug into Jon Burlingame’s excellent The Music of James Bond.” — The Wall Street Journal
“Burlingame has written an amazing behind-the-scenes dossier, revealing the personalities, the betrayals, the egos, the lawsuits, and the untold stories behind 007’s hits and misses. Nobody does it better than Bond, and nobody knows Bond music better than Burlingame.” — John Cork, co-author, James Bond: The Legacy
“Burlingame provides the intriguing and often fascinating story behind the one heretofore neglected aspect of the James Bond phenomenon: the soundtracks, and the incredibly talented people behind them. This book manages to be exhaustively researched, yet highly entertaining.” — Lee Pfeiffer, editor, Cinema Retro
“A magnificent work… a meticulously researched history of James Bond music… James Bond fans will devour this like Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon champagne.” — Steven Jay Rubin, author, The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia
“An authoritative and uniquely informative volume — the definitive examination of a major contribution in the longevity of the Bond film series… packed with memorable quotes and a sprinkling of photographic gems.” — Graham Rye, editor-publisher, 007 Magazine
“At last, a worthy historical analysis of 007 that finally puts the music in the spotlight… Burlingame’s incredibly detailed account successfully threads together the full story and, in doing so, reveals more twists and turns than an Ian Fleming novel.” — Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker, co-authors, John Barry: The Man With the Midas Touch
Here’s a New York Times piece I wrote about composer John Williams, who was about to tie Alfred Newman’s long-standing record of 45 Oscar nominations for the scores of Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich.
Here’s an interesting story about how technology has changed the entire film-music business. I talked to Thomas Newman, John Debney, Michael Giacchino, Mychael Danna, Alexandre Desplat and John Powell — none of whom use paper and pencil anymore.
Thomas Newman accepted BMI’s highest honor, the Richard Kirk Award, in 2000. It was the perfect time to revisit a number of career highlights, and to quote several of his collaborators including Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Frank Darabont (The Green Mile), Gillian Armstrong (Little Women) and Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) — and to talk with Tom about the famous Newman legacy and his own circuitous path to film-music success.