By the time the next instalment of the James Bond series was due to be released, much had changed. Despite the relative success of Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, 007 was in danger of being overtaken by new, spectacular summer blockbuster films including cinema’s latest phenomenon: Star Wars.
With Cubby Broccoli now in sole control of Bond affairs, the tenth film in the series suddenly had to be bigger, and better than ever in order to compete with new rivals. The result – The Spy Who Loved Me – did just that.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
1. Nobody Does It Better
2. Bond 77
3. Ride to Atlantis
4. Mojave Club
5. Nobody Does It Better (Instrumental)
7. The Tanker
8. The Pyramids
9. Eastern Lights
11. End Titles – Nobody Does It Better
Broccoli brought back experienced Bond director Lewis Gilbert to work alongside many other 007 stalwarts including production designer Ken Adam and writer Richard Maibaum. However, one notable absentee from the roster of The Spy Who Loved Me was composer John Barry. Barry had, by 1977, moved to the United States and faced tax penalties if he returned to work in England.
For only the second time in the series, a new composer was needed for Bond and Broccoli turned to the experienced American Marvin Hamlisch. Hamlisch had already won three Oscars for his work on The Sting and The Way We Were and was given the job of ushering 007 into a new era where disco music was all the rage.
As with all Bond soundtracks, the theme was a crucial part of the score and so Hamlisch turned to American lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. Sager had written many pop standards (mainly with her ex-husband Burt Bacharach) including A Groovy Kind Of Love and her own 1977 number One single You’re Moving Out Today.
Between them, Hamlisch and Sager came up with Nobody Does It Better, the first true Bond title song not to share a name with the film in which it featured (although the line ‘the spy who loved me’ can be heard in the lyrics). The crew of the film recall Hamlisch sitting at a piano and performing Nobody Does It Better in much the same way that old school musical composers tried out their songs.
The American star Carly Simon recorded Nobody Does It Better which became an instant pop hit, reaching number two in the Billboard charts and number seven in the UK. It has become one of the most recognisable and well-loved of all the Bond themes, perhaps as its title doesn’t automatically bring up a Bond connection as with many of the other title songs. In 2004, the American Film Institute voted it as their 67th best move song of all time and it became Simon’s second biggest hit (and the title of her Greatest Hits compilation).
Nobody Does It Better also became the second Bond theme to be nominated for the Academy Award for the best original song – Live and Let Die was the first – although it lost to Joseph Brooks’ You Light Up My Life from film of the same name.
Although Hamlisch and Sager’s stylish theme has become a movie theme staple, the rest of the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me has dates less well. Hamlisch has admitted that popular 70s group the Bee Gees were the main inspiration for his score and The Spy Who Loved Me features far more electronic sounds and synthesizers than any previous 007 soundtrack. His disco version of Monty Norman’s Bond theme (entitled Bond 77) sounds dated today, as do some of the other obviously 70s sequences, notable Bond and Amasova’s underwater chase in the Lotus Esprit submarine.
There are elements of Barry’s traditional Bond scores apparent – The Tanker is a particularly strong piece – although Hamlisch is also guilty of leaving some action and suspense sequences unscored. The inclusion of a strange honky-tonk version of the title song to close the film is also bizarre.
Hamlisch also took the unusual step (at least in Bond terms) of including pieces of classical music to the score (although these do not feature in the soundtrack). Bach’s Air On A G-String can be heard when Stromberg feeds his secretary to a shark, whilst he then plays the opening string section of the second movement, Andante, of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 ‘Elvira Madigan’ as Atlantis rises from the sea.
Hamlisch also started a trend for future Bond films by including a short excerpt from Maurice Jarre’s music from Lawrence of Arabia when Bond and Amasova are walking through the Egyptian desert. Originally a joke by one of the film editors, it was decided to keep this piece in as a cheeky reference to another film, and this trend continued in Moonraker (with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Magnificent Seven) and For Your Eyes Only (where music from Jaws can be heard).
Surprisingly, perhaps, The Spy Who Loved Me became the first Bond score to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Whilst John Barry had already bagged two Oscars (for Born Free and The Lion In Winter), his Bond scores had never been nominated. Hamlisch failed to add to his existing Oscar haul, however, when John Williams collected the 1977 Oscar for his superb score of the sci-fi classic Star Wars.
It’s unfair to criticise Hamlisch’s score for The Spy Who Loved Me too much as it broadly works in the context of the film. However, whereas Barry’s orchestral compositions are timeless, Hamlisch’s decision to use a very Seventies sound rather dates the whole piece. Still, the soundtrack did give us Nobody Does It Better which is rightly regarded as not only one of the best Bond themes, but also one of cinema’s great love songs.