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The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Composed by Marvin Hamlisch
  • Capitol / 2003 / 36:15

The third and probably finest of Roger Moore’s James Bond films, The Spy Who Loved Me was a definite return to form after the disappointing The Man With the Golden Gun.  Bond must investigate the disappearance of submarines carrying nuclear warheads, and teams up with an agent who is not only Russian but, would you believe, female and beautiful.  Turns out that an evil shipping magnate is behind the scheme and has developed a submarine tracking technology.  With its megalomaniac villain (complete with great henchman – Richard Kiel’s Jaws), beautiful girls, exotic locations, memorable quips, death-by-shark, glorious production design, all the classic Bond ingredients are here – well, except one…

John Barry was in tax exile from the UK at the time and had he set foot in the country would have been liable to pay an enormous amount of money, so he couldn’t score the film; for the first time, the job went to an American composer, the great Marvin Hamlisch.  One of the plus points of hiring Hamlisch was that he would more than likely deliver a belter of a title song, and he did – “Nobody Does It Better” remains amongst the finest of the Bond songs, up there with the Barry classics.  It’s an incredibly catchy melody, classic pop arrangement, and Carly Simon’s silky smooth deliver of Carole Bayer Sager’s lyric is perfect.  It became the second of three Bond songs to receive Oscar nominations (it seems an almighty, pretty inexplicable snub that not a single one of John Barry’s did); and in fact, to date it is the only Bond score to receive the same honour.

Marvin Hamlisch

Hamlisch’s score marked a real departure for the series in some ways, while retaining enough of the classic Barry sound to mean that it can certainly be considered a vintage James Bond score today.  First, the departure – this was 1977, so for the first time, James Bond went disco.  The album’s first score track, “Bond 77”, saw the composer mixing the classic Bond theme with his own new theme for the character, with a complete disco makeover.  Of course it sounds utterly dated now, but is just hugely enjoyable.  The track is a re-recorded mixture of a few different tracks from the film and was actually released as a single in its own right when the film came out.

“Ride to Atlantis” is arguably the pick of the cues, another new theme appearing, perfectly matched to Ken Adam’s glorious design of Stromberg’s aquatic lair.  “Mojave Club” is an entertaining piece of middle eastern-sounding source music before there’s a gorgeous (if slightly kitschy) instrumental version of the title theme.  “Anya” is a real treat, a romantic interlude based on a separate melody.  “The Tanker” is where the big orchestra kicks in and Hamlisch really captures the spirit of the John Barry sound in the score’s main action track.  There’s a bit more orchestral grandstanding in “The Pyramids” before the source music returns in “Eastern Lights”.  Closing out the score is the incredible dramatic “Conclusion”, complete with choir.  (Closing the film is one of Roger Moore’s finest one-liners – “Bond!  What do you think you’re doing?” / “Keeping the British end up, sir”.)

The Spy Who Loved Me has become (easily) my favourite Bond score not composed by John Barry.  Hamlisch brought his own talents to the piece but also paid enough respect to Barry’s sound to produce a score that is distinctively his, but also unmistakably a Bond score.  His song is one of the series’ finest and his score contains romance, adventure, excitement – and disco.  What more could you want?  ****

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  1. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Friday 4 October, 2013 at 15:29

    Funny…in your review of Die Another Day you say something along the lines of “Marvin Hamlisch can relax now…he’s no longer the composer of the worst Bond score”. Now here you are giving this one four stars. When and why did your opinion of it change so much?

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Monday 7 October, 2013 at 20:39

    That’s because I’m an idiot. The 18-year-old me hated The Spy Who Loved Me, couldn’t understand how it could be part of the same series as the John Barry music I loved. Now I’m older and wider (if not wiser), I love it. I guess one’s tastes just change.