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Monday, January 31, 2011

R.I.P. John Barry: Appreciating the Composer's Widespread Legacy

Posted By on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Good evening, Mr. Bond
  • Good evening, Mr. Bond

British composer John Barry has died at age 77 of a heart attack, leaving behind three ex-wives and a widow, four Grammys, a few Oscars, an Order of the British Empire, and -- most importantly -- a wealth of lush, evocative film scores. You'd surely recognize his work from the Bond theme, but perhaps you have also seen Out of Africa? Or Body Heat? Or Peggy Sue Got Married? (Or the end of the Simpsons "Whacking Day" episode, where the theme from Born Free plays as the snakes slither into the sunset?) Or, perhaps more likely, you have listened to a pop song that samples some of Barry's work?

To begin with the obvious, his theme to the Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever, sung by Shirley Bassey, is the basis for the Kanye West/Jay-Z joint "Diamonds From Sierra Leone":

Another memorable poaching: Mono's "Life In Mono," the modishly moody single from the Great Expectations soundtrack, wraps itself around the title theme from the Michael Caine thriller The IPCRESS File.

And what about the sinister undertow in the Sneaker Pimps' beloved proto-tronica single "Six Underground"? From a tune on Barry's soundtrack to Goldfinger.

And so on in this fashion. That steely surf guitar in Fatboy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank"? Barry. That chord progression halfway through Snoop Dogg's wow-this-is-awkward engagement anthem "Wet"? Bond. The chiming melody in The Prodigy's "Mindifields"? Barry again. Dr. Dre's "Big Egos"? Check. Robbie Williams's "You Know Me"? Indeed.

You get the idea. And if you think about it, this is a pretty neat kind of success for a composer: to be outlived by your sounds, embedded so deep in all kinds of places that even if your name is eventually forgotten your fingerprints will never be completely erased from the culture.

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