Monty Norman, who composed James Bond theme song, dies at 94

Hired to write the theme song for “Dr. No,” the 1962 spy film that brought James Bond to the big screen, composer Monty Norman struggled to capture 007 in music. The song was meant to be menacing but also a bit sexy, like the gun-wielding, martini-drinking secret agent himself.

Mr. Norman wrote an early version of the theme song which was recorded by jazz pianist and bandleader Count Basie. It wasn’t bad, he later said, but it didn’t seem sinister enough, and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were pushing for something different.

Looking for inspiration, he found it under his nose, in an unused song in the bottom drawer of his desk.

The tune was called “Bad Sign, Good Sign” and had been written by Mr. Norman about a year earlier for an unproduced musical adaptation of VS Naipaul’s novel “A House for Mr. Biswas”. The song had an “Indian-style melody”, as Mr. Norman later put it, and a sniffling East Indian lead (“I was born with that unlucky sneeze,” he sings, “and what is worse, I entered the world upside down”) which seemed to have little in common with 007.

Yet the song also had a mysterious quality that Mr. Norman found he could work with. He modified the melody, breaking it up into separate notes, and moved the riff from sitar to guitar. Immediately he knew he had his theme for 007. “Its sex appeal, its mystery, its ruthlessness – it’s all there in a few notes,” he said.

With its instantly recognizable “dum dada dum dum” guitar riff, the song has become one of the most recognizable tracks in the world, a staple of the 007 series across six different Bonds, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig. Mr. Norman was listed as the sole author of the theme, although composer John Barry arranged the song for ‘Dr. No” and has been widely credited with shaping his propulsive fusion of jazz and pop.

“Asonically, it was everything you’d want from the character,” composer David Arnold, who scored five Bond films, said in a 2008 interview with Variety. “It was cocky, swaggering, confident, dark, dangerous, suggestive, sexy, unstoppable.”

Mr Norman was 94 when he died on July 11 at a hospital in Slough, England, just west of London. His wife, Rina Norman, said he died “after a short illness” but did not give a specific cause.

In a musical career that spanned more than half a century, Mr Norman sang with major British bands in the 1950s, performed on variety shows alongside comedians Benny Hill and Peter Sellers, and helped adapt the French musical “Irma la Douce” into a hit. Show in English, nominated for the Tony Awards in 1961 for co-writing his book and his lyrics.

But he remained best known for writing the Bond theme, a project he nearly turned down. He was working on two stage shows when he was asked to score Broccoli’s film, which adapted Ian Fleming’s spy novel 007 for the big screen and had been impressed with Mr Norman’s theatrical work. As Mr. Norman said, he only took the job after Broccoli and Saltzman offered to take him and his wife to Jamaica, where the film was being shot on location.

“It was the click for me,” he recalled in an interview on his website. “I thought that even if ‘Dr. No turns out to be a stench, at least we’d have sun, sea and sand to show it off.

After a 20-hour chartered flight to the Caribbean, he began writing some of the film’s calypso-influenced music, including “Underneath the Mango Tree”, which Bond’s love interest – the unlikely Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress – sings on the beach, after emerging from the water with a pair of large seashells. (His voice was dubbed by Mr. Norman’s wife at the time, singer and actress Diana Coupland.)

Filmed on a relatively modest budget of $1 million, “Dr. No” became a box office hit, grossing $60 million worldwide. Mr. Norman’s theme song played over the title sequence of opening, which showed 007 from inside a gun barrel, and was reused after Connery lit a cigarette and uttered one of the character’s signature lines for the first time: “Bond, James Jump .”

The commercial success of the film and the enduring appeal of the Bond franchise helped spark a years-long debate over Mr. Norman’s role in writing the theme. Some critics said the main credit for the song should have gone to Barry, who went on to score nearly a dozen Bond films and whose orchestra recorded the song for the film. Barry claimed authorship of the track, which Mr Norman called “absolute nonsense”.

When the Sunday Times of London suggested in a 1997 article that Barry was the real composer of the theme, Mr Norman sued the paper for libel and won. He was awarded £30,000 in damages.

“There’s an old saying in showbiz,” he later told the Scotsman newspaper, “Nobody discusses a flop.”

An only child, he was born Monty Noserovitch in London on April 4, 1928 and grew up in the city’s East End. Her father was a cabinetmaker and her mother sewed children’s dresses. The family had a musical streak – some of his uncles performed in amateur opera – and when Mr Norman was 16 his mother bought him his first guitar, a 1930s Gibson which he kept for decades .

After the family moved north from London to the town of St Albans, Mr Norman began taking guitar lessons from Bert Weedon, a versatile musician who went on to write a bestselling instruction manual ‘Play in a Day”. With Weedon’s encouragement, he began singing with jazz bands, eventually joining major bands led by Cyril Stapleton, Stanley Black and Ted Heath.

Mr Norman launched a solo career as a singer before turning to songwriting in the 1950s, building a career in London’s West End while collaborating with the likes of writer Julian More and director Peter Brook, with whom he worked on “Irma la Douce”. His other musical credits included “Expresso Bongo”, a music industry satire that was adapted into a film starring Cliff Richard, and “Make Me an Offer”, about the antique trade around Portobello Road.

He also composed music for films such as “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” (1960) and Broccoli’s “Call Me Bwana” (1963). Returning to the stage, he won Olivier Awards in 1979 and 1982 for composing the musicals “Songbook” (he also received a Tony Award nomination for the show, which debuted on Broadway as “The Moony Shapiro Songbook”) and “Poppy”, a pantomime. style comedy set during the First Opium War between Britain and China.

Her marriage to Coupland ended in divorce. In 2000, he married Rina Caesari. In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Shoshana Kitchen; two stepdaughters, Clea Griffin and Livia Griffiths; and seven grandchildren.

Mr. Norman said he had modest expectations for “Dr. No” and was surprised when one of Broccoli’s assistants pulled him aside after he signed on to the project, saying, “See if you can make a good theme, because I think we are releasing two movies and a TV series. of this one.

“It seemed like a lot,” Mr Norman told The Scotsman in 2012. “It’s impossible. It’s amazing that the franchise has been around for 50 years. And it’s amazing that I’m still here.

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