Film composer John Barry, famous for his James Bond themes, has died at the age of 77. Producer Mark Ronson explains why he will be missed
John Barry is up there with the great composers of the 20th century – people like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Lennon and McCartney. He wrote songs that became standards, and they’ve become permanently etched into our shared musical language.
If you think of scores such as Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, he basically wrote a modern standard every time he wrote a Bond theme. Not to denigrate the art of soundtrack-writing, but his only job was to write music that served a film – and yet he came up with the most memorable melodies of the the modern pop era.
John Barry’s life in pictures
John Barry has influenced, not just me, but everyone from early Wu Tang Clan to Portishead. A song like ‘Glory Box’ is pure John Barry. When Amy Winehouse and I were asked to do a Bond theme, even though it didn’t happen in the end, it made me listen to Barry’s work in more depth.
What struck me was not simply the beauty of the orchestration and the chord sequences – the rhythm section is badass too. It’s mean stuff. It’s not pretty or sanitised. It sounds tough. That’s why his work has been sampled so much by hip-hop artists – those sinister horn stabs, especially. One recent example – Kanye West sampled Diamonds Are Forever on ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’.
In fact, there’s an interlude on my last album, ‘The Colour Of Crumar’, that totally lifts the chords from the Goldfinger theme. The working title originally was ‘Goldfinger’, it was that blatant.
My favourite of his film scores? I’d say View To A Kill – but not Duran Duran’s version. I mean the original orchestral arrangement, which is just the most gorgeous thing. That’s really the best you can get. For me to one day write something even half as good… you can only dream.