00 Saturdays Week #30 – The Living Daylights Music Review

“Save the darkness, let it never fade away
In the living daylights.”

It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This week, we’re discussing the music to the first of two Timothy Dalton James Bond films, and the final John Barry Bond score, The Living Daylights!

Theme Song

In for one pop group performing the theme song for a James Bond film, in for two.

Initially, Chrissy Hynde and her group The Pretenders were considered to sing the theme song for the new Bond film – more on their contributions later.  However, after the great big success that was “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran, the decision was made to try another popular pop group to try to duplicate the success.  In comes A-ha to work with John Barry and complete the theme song.

A-ha’s primary songwriter, Pål Waaktaar wrote the song and John Barry would include an orchestral accompaniment for the theme.  This was not a particularly great collaboration between the two artists in 1987.  Twenty years later, Waaktaar would admit that what Barry added to the song certainly made it much more of a James Bond thing, but when the song was freshly minted, A-ha had other feelings.  They eventually released their own version of the song on one of their albums in 1988, but most know Barry’s augmented one with the full orchestral sound.

It is what it is.  Back then, it was fairly well known that if you did a Bond song, it was expected to be mostly managed (and maybe micro-managed) to fit the score, so you had to work with whoever composed that score.  In most cases up to this point, that was John Barry.  I understand artists don’t like things messed with, but this is almost more of a commission.  The song has to fit the rest of the musical composition and the film itself.  The A-ha version is okay for them, but not quite appropriate for a James Bond film in that era.

My personal take on the song is that it ranks about half way down the list of all the themes.  There are some that are better and certainly some I don’t quite have as much like for.  I think this probably comes from the fact that I was 10 years old when this came out and kind of along the same lines of what I was listening to in terms of contemporary pop rock of the time.  I think it did fit the movie nicely though.

Score

We have come to the end of John Barry’s amazing 11 film run as the composer of James Bond music.  While this probably wasn’t planned to be the final one, it’s a pretty good one.  This score has a large number of leitmotifs representing Bond’s Theme, Kara, Koskov, Necros, and the final act’s action and characters in Afghanistan.  It feels modern and new and I think it is a great score for what a late 80s action movie of the Bond scale would sound like.

What’s great, is that Barry also co-wrote two more songs for the soundtrack with the previously mentioned Chrissy Hynde for The Pretenders to perform in the movie.  This was the first time in a Bond film that different themes are used for the opening and closing of the movie.  “The Living Daylights” opens the film, but a softer, more romantic song called “If There Was a Man” closes out the movie in the end credits.  That second song is a pretty solid representation of Bond and Kara’s relationship in the movie.  It’s sweeter and from her point of view as well and featured during the leitmotif used for the Vienna scenes.

The third song, co-written by Hynde and Barry is used excellently throughout the movie.  The character of Necros is often seen with a Walkman as he goes about his killing and general goonery.  He is always listening to the song “Where Has Everybody Gone?”  Whenever you hear that song or the chorus, you know he’s nearby and about to strike.  It’s perfect.  The music part also appears often during the Necros leitmotif and many of the more precarious moments in the movie.

With Kara being a concert cellist, Barry was also able to use a lot of classical music as well.  What really stands out in the score, though, is a relatively new thing in 1987 – the use of sequenced electronic rhythm tracks that would then be overdubbed by the orchestra.  He had wanted to do this for some time prior to The Living Daylights, but was finally able to do it here with the heavy load of nearly one hour of score and three songs.  Basically, the synthesized rhythm tracks were recorded first.  Then, he’d play it back while the orchestra played along.  He felt the synthesizer beats really cut through and left a really exciting impact on the sound of the film and I happen to agree quite a bit.  It helped bring that overall new feel to the new Bond that was moving the series into the future.

The Opening Title Sequence

John Barry may be departing from the series moving forward, but Maurice Binder still has work to do.

While this film is particularly interesting and exciting, I can’t exactly say this opening is particularly great, unfortunately.  At this point, Binder had done quite a bit of interesting things with the opening credits to allow for us guys to have our eyes tricked about whether or not the ladies in the silhouettes are actually nude or not, but the combination of moodily, and even fully, lit women with a firing gun isn’t exactly as exciting as what we’ve seen before.  There’s not quite as much left to our imagination as there had been in the past, nor is there a real excellence in the composition of what we’re seeing.

I do realize this was coming toward the end of Binder’s career (and, in actuality, his life as well), but while the credits do look like nothing else released in 1987, it’s not particularly as fascinating as they had been before.  It will be the mid to late 90s before some of those really fascinating credits would return to the series.

Join me next week for a look at the second, and unfortunately final, Dalton film in the series, Licence to Kill.

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