The Living Daylights soundtrack

Having become the first film series to reach its 25th anniversary, the Bond franchise had to yet again reinvent itself after Roger Moore’s decision not to return for the fifteenth 007 adventure.  Whilst Timothy Dalton became the fourth actor to take on the role of James Bond, after the series’ recent success the producers were keen to stick to the continuity of their winning formula.

Many of the crews from previous 007 adventures were retained, John Glen returned to direct his fourth Bond film and John Barry provided – as it later turned out – his final 007 soundtrack.

After the commercial success achieved by Duran Duran with their theme to A View To A Kill, the producers were keen to attract another popular, chart-topping band to provide the title track for The Living Daylights.  Apparently beating off competition from both Queen and the Pet Shop Boys, a-ha guitarist Pal Waaktaar wrote and played a demo of their Bond song to his band mates before an appearance on British music show Top Of The Pops.  The producers loved a-ha’s track and the trio were invited to work with Barry on the soundtrack of The Living Daylights.

The Living Daylights (1987)

1. Living Daylights
2. Necros Attacks
3. Sniper Was A Woman
4. Ice Chase
5. Kara Meets Bond
6. Koskov Escapes
7. Where Has Everybody Gone
8. Into Vienna
9. Hercules Takes Off
10. Mujahadin And Opium
11. Inflight Fight
12. If There Was A Man
13. Exercise At Gibraltar
14. Approaching Kara
15. Murder At The Fair
16. Assassin And Drugged
17. Airbase Jailbreak
18. Afganistan Plan
19. Air Bond
20. Final Confrontation
21. End Titles

Various sources intimate that the relationship between a-ha and Barry was less than cordial.  The band were apparently keen to use their own version of The Living Daylights in the film (it was the version included on their album Stay On These Roads) whilst Barry insisted that his more bombastic, orchestral version should be used over Maurice Binder’s credits.

However, Waaktaar disputes this and claims the band enjoyed working with Barry, saying:  “I loved the stuff he added to the track, I mean it gave it this really cool string arrangement. That’s when for me it started to sound like a Bond thing”.  Barry’s version was both released as a single and included on a-ha’s Headlines and Deadlines greatest hits album in 1991.

Barry began composing the score for The Living Daylights in May 1987 and had already written almost an hour’s worth of music by the end of the first month.  Using synthesised rhythm tracks for the first time, the score had a much more contemporary feel then previous Bond music.  As Barry himself said, “I wanted to put in these tracks and they really cut through.  We’ve used them on about eight pieces and when we got them mixed in with the orchestra it sounded really terrific with a lot of energy and impact – a slight freshness and a more up-to-date sound.”

This updating of the Bond sound can be heard most clearly on the pulsating Ice Chase – without question the most contemporary interpretation of the James Bond Theme to date.  Barry also used this technique on Hercules Takes Off – an instrumental version of a-ha’s title song.

In a slight departure from previous 007 films, Barry teamed up with lyricist and Pretenders vocalist Chrissie Hynde to write two further vocal tracks for the soundtrack.  The first, Where Has Every Body Gone? is first heard on Necros’ personal stereo, before an instrumental version of the song soundtracks Koskov’s kidnapping from the safe house.  The instrumental is then used as a personal motif for the heavy, returning later in the film when he and Bond engage in their aerial fight.

The second vocal track, If There Was A Man, was specifically written to break the policy of using a reprise version of the title theme over the film’s closing credits.  Barry believed that using a different song, which could also be used as the love theme for the film, would be more interesting.  Consequently, an instrumental version of If There Was A Man can be heard on Kara Meets Bond – where 007 encounters the cellist for the first time in her Bratislava apartment.

A charming and engaging love theme, it is a surprise that despite featuring on the original soundtrack album, the piece Into Vienna only features briefly in the film.  Similarly, an alternate, instrumental version of the end titles was only included on the album when it was repackaged for CD release in 2003.

For the soundtrack of The Living Daylights, gone were the musical in-jokes of recent Bond films and instead came a strong, classic Barry soundtrack.  A number of classical pieces were once again incorporated; indeed Barry himself made a cameo appearance in the film as an orchestra conductor in the final sequence.  For the first time since For Your Eyes Only, the repackaged CD version of the soundtrack also includes additional material; nine tracks which really enhance the quality of the score.

Whilst Barry’s soundtrack for The Living Daylights is arguably amongst his very best work, one problem remains.  Following A View To A Kill, the title track for The Living Daylights is once again composed by the band performing the song, not Barry himself (admittedly in this case a-ha benefited from Barry’s orchestration).  This means that rather than a common, consistent melodic thread throughout the soundtrack – achieved by Barry when he composed the music for the likes of Goldfinger and Moonraker – the soundtrack features two very distinct parts; the title track and Barry’s own score.  Indeed, a-ha’s theme appears only very briefly in the film and on the album.

Whilst the score is every bit as good as Barry’s other work on Bond movies over more than two decades, and whilst a-ha’s The Living Daylights is a superb pop record in its own right, a soundtrack with more melodic consistency may well have worked better.

The Living Daylights is a fitting end to Barry’s residency as 007’s main composer, and his legacy to not just the 007 franchise but to cinematic music in general is significant.  Peculiarly, Barry never won an Oscar for any of his James Bond work, although it remains some of the most memorable and iconic movie music of all time.

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2 Responses to “The Living Daylights soundtrack”

  • Ap

    It’s sad but at the same time fitting that, just a short while after you wrote this review, it makes a fine epitaph (particularly the last paragraph) for the man we must now sadly call the late, great John Barry. Thanks, M, for a top-class piece of writing.

  • M

    Thanks for the comment, but not written by me 🙂

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