John Barry: Sentimental Music Man in an E-type Jaguar

There was a select number of 60s Guys who had that¬†Jag. Barry and his friends¬†made up a significant proportion of them. With¬† a romantic track record¬†as complex¬†as James Bond’s,¬†John Barry was a composer who lived the lifestyle his music¬† soundtracked.

But it all began here. Beat Girl is a delightfully¬†Bad British exploitation flick¬†about¬†beatniks in the fleshpots of Soho’s coffeebars. It had an X-certificate and delighted in¬†the lewdness it claimed to be exposing. His first soundtrack, featuring his own John Barry 7 — it has all the stylistic devices that would solidify on the Bond themes — serious twanging guitar melodies and a memorable refrain. Watch out for a very young Oliver Reed camping it up as a wild one in a checked shirt.¬†If you watch the whole film, refined, sinister¬†pre-Scaramanga Christopher Lee is acting in another class.

Beat Girl.

The Knack and How To Get It is another typical jazzy Barry score, and the best thing about a film whose 60s sensibilities have dated very badly. (Jokes about rape were very common in 60s sex comedies.) How many people would even remember this if you asked for the best films of the mid 60s? You can see from the trailer why the French loved it though. Enough to award it the 1965 Cannes Best film prize.

What intrigues me about Barry’s super tough image is how much sentimentality ¬†there is in his later soundtracks. All the Bond ones feature¬†very sweet love themes. See the Japanese wedding theme of You Only Live Twice, and the underrated soundtrack to The Living Daylights. But in Out of Africa¬† he produced something sweeping and deeply deeply sentimental. The soundtrack equivalent of what is sometimes patronisingly dismissed as “chicklit”. It was funny then to hear Knack-star Michael Crawford on The World At One today cite¬†“masculinity” in Barry’s ¬†musical style. It’s sad but appropriate that I remember a couple of years ago watching BAFTA’s roll call of the great talents who’d died in the past year , being run to this soundtrack.¬† I suspect the Oscars and the Baftas will pay John Barry just tribute.

Out of Africa

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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