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Monty Norman R.I.P.

British composer Monty Norman has died at the age of 94. There are obituaries all over the place but I would rely on Jon Burlingame’s at Variety. Jon wrote the book about James Bond music—literally!

I believe in criticism and honesty...but right after somebody dies, I feel like, could we put a pin on the snark and just be grateful for somebody’s contribution?

Norman was pretty defensive and protective of his most famous credit, yes—but composing the James Bond theme is a pretty big contribution!

I remember as a kid seeing the credit at the end of the Bond movies, “James Bond Theme by Monty Norman,” and thinking, huh?

It seemed pretty obvious that the regular Bond composer, John Barry, was responsible for the above track—and he was, as far as the arrangement.

But Monty Norman really did write the most famous part of the melody, which everybody knows across the world. It came from an aborted musical, and sounds completely different:

There was a lot of luck involved for that discarded piece to be resurrected in one of the most famous film series in the world—and given such a totally awesome arrangement by John Barry.

But it really is the shape and style of the melody—coiled, cool, enigmatic, beguiling—that connects perfectly to 007. It doesn’t just “work,” it elevates the character into myth.

(If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of what Norman wrote vs. what Barry arranged, follow this blow-by-blow account of the 2001 British libel trial which Norman won against the Sunday Times—not against Barry personally.)

What I’d prefer to remember today is the first time I saw You Only Live Twice, on ABC—which was also the first thing our household ever recorded off-the-air on VHS tape. It might have been this airing on March 24, 1985:

Of course, John Barry scored this film—and the music swept me away along with the romantic, glamour and excitement of Bond’s Japanese adventure.

But there is a needle-drop of the original Dr. No recording of the theme in film’s helicopter chase in the second act—and I remember being so fascinated by that piece, I watched and rewatched that section of the tape, and may have even recorded it to a cassette (complete with chopper noise).

How many pieces of music are so delightful and irresistible, they’re like a magnet to the human ear? It’s like, what is that? And you just want to play it again and again.

Not many!

So R.I.P. Monty Norman—composer of the James Bond theme, one of the coolest pieces of music ever heard on Earth.

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