A Bond fan since the age of seven, the Luton-born musician composed soundtracks for five Bond films from 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies up to 2008's Quantum of Solace, and his passion for, and knowledge of, the world of 007 is infectious.
The programme — which Arnold describes as a 'labour of love' — airs on Scala at 6pm on Sundays, and covers every era of the Bond films from 1962's Dr No right up to 2020's No Time To Die.
We spoke to Arnold about his love for James Bond, the work of the legendary eleven-time 007 composer John Barry, rebooting 007, his favourite scores and his advice for the next composer to land the most coveted music job in Hollywood.
Read to the end to find David Arnold's favourite music cues from all 24 James Bond films so far.
Yahoo Movies UK: How important was the music to the early success of the James Bond films?
David Arnold: The fact that 60 years later we're talking about it lets you know how important it was.
It generated a new genre of music: spy music. John Barry's genius was the way that he voiced things and presented them musically: this is cool, and dangerous, and suave, and sophisticated and thuggish all at the same time. But ultimately, I suppose it was just really, really stylish, and I think that's what made it stand out.
And when we go right back to Dr. No, it will be John Barry's arrangement, and production of the James Bond theme [written by Monty Norman], which is the thing that started at all really. That was used so frequently in Dr No because it was so powerful.
And in a way, everything that you ever wanted from any piece of Bond music you can find in that arrangement. The brutality of the guitar sounds, the danger, the swagger of that middle section, the ‘get out of my way, or you'll regret it’ feeling that you get when these things kick in.
And the sounds, even the drum part is iconic, if you just played the little cymbal part, the little 'kitty kitty', ‘ding, diggy ding, diggy ding ding’ and the walking bass... you've got one, two elements going, and you've got James Bond on screen in your head.
It’s incredibly important [to the success]. I think, at least as important as Sean Connery’s performance, and as least as important as every other part of the iconic design in the movies and the title sequences. You know, the Maurice Binder [title designer] stuff. It was just extraordinary original work. And music was a huge part of it.
John Barry is someone that you came to know over time. What was he like? And what made him such a special composer, do you think?
Well, there was a conversation going around online the other day about ‘who can I listen to if I like John Barry?’ And there's only a handful of people. But even a handful all put together, don’t make up that idiosyncratic voice that he had. I mean, for me, I love his music. And other people's music: I admire it. There’s a difference I think.
And John... when we did his memorial concert after he’d passed away [in 2011], every single piece of music, there were two and a half hours of music in that show at the Royal Albert Hall, every single one you are familiar with. Every single one you identified in the first three or four seconds.
I was with John Powell — he's the film composer who did Ice Age, How to Train Your Dragon, he’s hugely successful composer — we came out of that concert at the end, looked at each other and said ‘we feel like we've only just started’. It's an extraordinary thing because it is style and taste. And it's one of those things that you can't teach people. And John had that.
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It was a very idiosyncratic voice: you always know when it's him. And there aren't that many composers you can say that about. I think you can about John Williams. I think you can about Ennio Morricone. You can say that about Bernard Herrman.
There are iconic film score composers who you would recognise from the sound of it, never mind the tune, and John had both. It’s a very, very special and singular voice, I think.
There's much contention over the authorship of the original James Bond theme. Did John Barry share his feelings about it with you?
They went to court over it. It the time he was given a piece of music, and he transformed it into something magical. Monty [Norman] wrote it. And in fact, if you listen to the score for Dr No that Monty wrote before John was involved, the elements are there. You can't have one without the other. In that case, Monty had the ingredients, and John was the chef. One without the other wouldn't have been as effective.
I think John bought a lot of, again, style. When you employ someone like John, he's gonna bring a lot of attitude, and a lot of style to it. And he was having success with instrumental music with The John Barry Seven anyway. But interestingly, with my relationship with John, we never really talked about music much.
Because if I had have done, I'd have been that guy. I'd have been that guy asking him about ‘how did you do that? Why did you do that?’ And I figured that would be so boring for him. So we never really talked about music, and we never really talked about Bond music.
And some people think, well, that's a wasted opportunity. But, you know, it's difficult when you find yourself becoming friends with someone to be a nerdy, nosy fan at the same time. And I was very happy to have those questions unanswered, because, it’s like sausages: you shouldn't find out how they’re made.
If you had to pick like your favourite John Barry James Bond score, what would you choose?
There’s the one that I think is the best, and then there's one I think is my favourite. I think the best is probably On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But I think my favourite is You Only Live Twice. And I think, like a lot of people, it’s wedded to my first cinematic experience of James Bond. And I say cinematic, it was on a 16mm projector and a mono speaker in a children's Christmas party when I was eight, at Luton British Legion for a Christmas party.
But the film was projected and I could hear it. And that was, in a way, where all the damage was done. It had a very profound effect, I think. And so You Only Live Twice has just got such amazing soaring melodies. It's got John's 007 Theme, which is the one that starts with a timpani and the snare drum. And it's very exciting.
And it's got The Capsule In Space. You know where the big space ship eats the little one and it's got the volcano and it's got the ninjas and it's got that song [You Only Live Twice]! The strings at the start of that song. I mean, it's just chilling, really. And unforgettable. And it landed very hard on me and in me, and it's never really gone away. So that's my favourite.
But I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service might be the best.
With Sean Connery gone, you get the sense on that film that all the creatives really upped their games.
And it was a very bold move with an instrumental. In a way, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is more John Barry’s 'James Bond theme' than his 007 Theme was.
The 007 theme is the timp-led one that goes into a major key half way through. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is so dark, and so driving and so dangerous, and so full of excitement, that feels like if John was gonna write James Bond theme… well he did, and that was it for me. That was it.
And to open the movie like that, and to think when was the last time we had instrumental opening for James Bond film? It was Dr No and From Russia With Love.
But since then we'd had Goldfinger which was phenomenal. Thunderball, which was phenomenal. And You Only Live Twice: all three of those iconic films, and music and songs, all of them identifiably brilliant.
And then Sean [Connery] leaves and George Lazenby comes and it's like: ‘What do we say to our audience?’ And the editorial style on that [opening sequence] was so aggressive. It has an almost avant garde opening sequence, with the fight sequence at the start on the beach, with weird jump cuts and hyper coloured frames and movement, where George Lazenby addresses the audience and says “This didn’t happen to the other fella”.
It’s a very knowing, kind of odd thing in a way, but then you crash in with this incredibly dangerous sounding piece of music and you think ‘I've got no idea where this is going, but I don’t think it’s bad’.
And then in amongst that you had that beautiful love theme, which was We Have All The Time In The World [by Louis Armstrong], where you have a montage.
So when you think about it, in that film you've got the James Bond theme, you've OHMSS, All The Time In The World... Three, possibly, of the most famous film music — certainly in the top 20 of everything ever — in one movie.
And that was before John had done Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, and there are so many others, there are eleven. So he obviously casts a very long shadow.
You mentioned the first film you Bond film you saw at the cinema, mine was GoldenEye, and that has a very different type of score. Beyond John Barry and your own work, which Bond soundtracks really added to the canon, in your opinion?
What’s interesting about Eric Serra is that he made a huge impression with that [GoldenEye] score. There is absolutely no getting away from the fact that that is a very idiosyncratic score and completely identifiable. And a very unusual take on it. I'm all for that. I think a lot of it was brilliant.
I love George Martin’s Live and Let Die because it has that sort of mid 70s swagger. It took part of its style from the blaxploitation films, and part of that is because it’s set in New York and Harlem with a black cast.
You could hear elements of Shaft and things like that, scores that had been around since the early 70s. And George had elements of that: the funky wah wah guitars, the drums are a bit funkier.
George Martin had a very singular voice as well. If you listen to the score for Yellow Submarine, and the work that he did with the Beatles, his orchestral writing, melodic writing is really strong. And he was very British and very proper, but he had a wicked sense of humour. And that all came out in the score as well so I loved Live and Let Die.
I watched The Spy Who Loved Me again last week, and it has Marvin Hamlisch’s score, in which some cues felt like they could have been from a Broadway musical. It has great melodies and is very much in tune with Roger’s style: the nod and the wink.
He did the brilliant Bond 77, that kind of Bee Gees inspired cue, where Bond skis off the edge of the mountain, and then you see the union jack. That action cue became very iconic. And of course the piece of genius song Nobody Does It Better.Those were hugely enjoyable.
Everyone's done something which has worked and there are favourite bits from all of them. I would say if I was going to have to pick one that I really liked it would probably be George's Live and Let Die.
You're responsible for a fifth of the James Bond film music at this at this stage. Can you watch those five films and not just be zeroing in on your score?
Tomorrow Never Dies was 25 years ago. Crikey. I look back on them now and think ‘why did I do that like that?’ Or if I was doing that again, I would do it slightly different. And I think most of my responses are ‘I would have done less.’ I think when you're a bit younger and enthusiastic, you think ‘let's make this really rock, let's get loads of energy in it'.
But interestingly, having done five, by Quantum of Solace, I think I'd gotten better at leaving some air in the music, but they kind of work for them at the time.
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These things have a time and a place and you’re writing them in a time when things were happening in the world. And you feel that sometimes. In 1997 with Tomorrow Never Dies, I was halfway through it when Princess Diana died. Because I remember the funeral cortege going past the room that I was writing in and everyone went out to look at it, to watch.
And I think that was around about the time I was writing the cue for Paris and Bond — Teri Hatcher's character — and that kind of informs you. Everything that happens all around you informs what you're doing.
John Barry's music changed very much as he got older. He moved to a more lyrical slower pace of music. And if he had gone back and redone those early ones, he probably would have done them differently as well.
But we all look back and think ‘I would have done that slightly differently’. But not that much. I'm also very good at saying, ‘well, this is what it is’. And the great thing about James Bond films is that as long as it's got that thing at the end, where it says ‘James Bond will return’ I'll be happy.
If I've loved the film, or if I haven't loved the film, there's another one coming, and I'll be ready for that to be the best thing I've ever seen in my life. And that's what exciting about them.
You wrote the score for Daniel Craig's debut in Casino Royale. Do you think you would have done it differently had Pierce Brosnan returned for a fifth film?
Well, maybe if that was ever the case, that might have been true. But we knew, before I read the script for Casino Royale, that it would be a new actor. So at no point did I ever consider that film with Pierce Brosnan in it.
I love Pierce, he's one of the nicest people I've ever met, I thought he was brilliant a James Bond, and people loved him, he was hugely popular. Never mind the others, but following up from Pierce, Daniel had a hell of a job, because Pierce was very, very well liked. And the films were hugely popular with him in the role, just in terms of the box office, it just kept going up and up and up. Every film that he did make more money than the last one.
And that kind of continued actually with Daniel. But when you're stepping into that role, they’re very different people, very different characters with a very different take on it. Pierce, I suppose, there was an easier element to writing music for Pierce. And I don't mean easier, in that it was easy though, but just in terms of the characterisation, there's a more relaxed sense to it.
Daniel is much more tightly wound. You feel like he's very aware of the danger everywhere. And Pierce’s was more like, when he relaxed, you felt like he actually did switch off. And it's slightly more comedic as well. Pierce is brilliant with comedy. And there's a brilliant sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies, where he’s driving the car — the BMW — hiding in the backseat with a remote control on his phone.
He’s using all the gadgets and kind of laughing that they're doing what they're doing, in the same way that we are. We can enjoy it the same way that he can enjoy it. That's a very different reading.
So I got Casino Royale, and what was interesting is that, when I read it, we hadn't cast anyone. So for the first time, I've read a James Bond script that I was going to be writing music for, not knowing who James Bond looked like, or how he moves or what he did. And so it was just the story. And the story — albeit from an Ian Fleming original — was fabulous.
It had electrifying dialogue, the characters really well written. There seemed to be a point to everything, it wasn't trivial. It wasn't silly. It felt like even in the world of James Bond it felt like a serious piece of work.
And then the screen tests started. And when Daniel walked onto the set as James Bond and did his first screen test, you think like ‘this is is an element that I haven't really seen covered before’.
Maybe Sean Connery has an aspect of it, the physicality of it. But Daniel felt like he could do the things that James Bond does. There wouldn't be any pretending. He looked and felt like he could do the damage and see the bad things that James Bond sees and does. And that made him feel much more real in a way. And so the character became less of a fantasy kinda hero, and became much more of an earthbound character with real issues, with consequences.
The appeal of James Bond — I always found as a kid — was that he seemed to have a life without consequences. He could do what he could do what he wanted, wherever he wanted, whatever he had to do, and he would never have any real comeuppance.
Whether it was official or personal, he seemed to glide from one thing to another, and not really be changed by it. There are moments [in the films] that will prove that wrong, but with Daniel, you felt like every punch had a consequence, and every decision has a consequence. And so it was very different.
And a lot of that was what he bought to it. I mean, it was on the page as well, things that happened are on the page. So it’s definitely in the script, but I think his reading of it, and his delivery of that character, he made you feel that this is a person who can do the things that he's been charged to do, but also has to deal with the repercussions of what he's done in a physical and emotional way. And that was new.
Having rebooted Bond in Casino Royale, what advice would you give the composer on Bond 26 who has to do the same thing?
To be honest, I can't imagine anyone who would be offered the job of scoring a James Bond film is going to want advice from someone who’s already done one.
In a way the best thing to say to them would be ‘don't listen to me’. And maybe the only piece of advice would be: I've always found it useful to know what's gone before. Be familiar with what's happened before musically. Have an understanding, or at least a knowledge, of the musical journey that this character has been on, because to a certain extent, this is like the Olympics flame. And you are being handed it. And your job is to keep the flame alight, while carrying it to a new destination.
But you also have to be aware of where it's been, where the strengths and weaknesses are. So maybe it would just be something as simple as that. Rather than just ‘don’t forget to put the trumpets up’.
Maybe you could point them to your radio show?
Yeah, listen to that and here are 25 soundtrack albums!
Have you heard any of Hans Zimmer's No Time To Die score?
I’ve only heard that bits that everyone else has heard. They're keeping it under wraps. But I'm very excited for it. And when he applies itself to special things, he usually comes up with something special. So I have very high hopes for it.
I know he's been a big John Barry fan for a long time. And I know he loves Bond and I would expect him to do all the things that I would suggest to someone else. I would expect that he did that already. I'm very excited as I always am, to see the film and to listen to the score.
The Music of James Bond with David Arnold airs on Scala Radio, Sundays at 6pm.
David Arnold's 24 favourite 007 cues from Dr No to Spectre
(Watch this playlist on YouTube above)
Dr No: James Bond Theme (Monty Norman)(John Barry)
From Russia With Love: 007 Theme (John Barry)
Goldfinger: Dawn Raid on Fort Knox (John Barry)
Thunderball: Bond Below Disco Volante (John Barry)
You Only Live Twice: Capsule In Space (John Barry)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Main Title (John Barry)
Diamonds Are Forever: 007 and Counting (John Barry)
Live And Let Die: Bond Drops In (George Martin)
The Man With The Golden Gun: Getting The Bullet (John Barry)
The Spy Who Loved Me: Bond 77 (Marvin Hamlisch)
Moonraker: Flight Into Space (John Barry)
For Your Eyes Only: Ski Shoot Jump (Bill Conti)
Octopussy: Chase Bomb Theme (John Barry)
A View To A Kill: Golden Gate Fight (John Barry)
The Living Daylights: Airbase Jailbreak (John Barry)
Licence To Kill: Pam (Michael Kamen)
GoldenEye: Run Shoot Jump (Eric Serra)
Tomorrow Never Dies: White Knight (David Arnold)
The World Is Not Enough: Elektra's Theme (David Arnold)
Die Another Day: Welcome To Cuba (David Arnold)
Casino Royale: African Rundown (David Arnold)
Quantum Of Solace: Night At The Opera (David Arnold)
Skyfall: Jellyfish (Thomas Newman)
Spectre: Detonation (Thomas Newman)