Due to a high level of taxation in the UK at the time, the production of James Bond XI was primarily moved to France. In addition to the construction of some of the biggest ever sets that France had seen, the relocation of Moonraker to the continent also meant that John Barry could return to the Bond team, having been unable to work in England on The Spy Who Loved Me for tax reasons.
Rather than recording the score at the CTS Studios in London, Barry’s Moonraker soundtrack was recorded at the Studio Davout in Paris. After Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra were considered to record the film’s main theme, the song was offered to Johnny Mathis who began recording the title track, written by John Barry and Hal David.
2. Space Lazer Battle
3. Miss Goodhead Meets Bond
4. Cable Car and Snake Fight
5. Bond Lured To Pyramid
6. Flight Into Space
7. Bond Arrives In Rio And Boat Chase
8. Centrifuge and Corrinne Put Down
9. Bond Smells A Rat
10. End Title – Moonraker
However, Mathis was unhappy with the project and withdrew just weeks before the film’s premiere. Barry therefore offered the song to Shirley Bassey, who returned to record her third James Bond theme. The late call-up for Bassey meant that she has never considered the song her own, and a lack of promotion or opportunity for Bassey to perform the number meant it was not a commercial success.
Indeed, it took until 2005 for Bassey to perform Moonraker (in a TV special) and she also wowed a huge audience at the Glastonbury Festival in 2007 with a medley of her three Bond themes.
Over time, the main theme for Moonraker seems to have been largely overlooked in favour of some of the more memorable efforts. The truth is, though, that the song is actually one of the most lyrical and melodic of all the Bond themes. It also works surprisingly well as a love theme, on tracks such as Miss Goodhead Meets Bond and also with a jaunty South American beat in Bond Arrives in Rio. Whether Barry was right to tip a nod to the declining disco scene with an uptempo disco backbeat for the film’s end credits, is another question.
The soundtrack itself is reasonably short – just 31 minutes – and there has never been an extended release of the album thanks to the original session masters having been lost somewhere in France.
Tracks such as Centrifuge and Corinne’s Put Down, Cable Car and Snake Fight and Bond Lured to Pyramid are classic Barry – orchestral and wonderfully melodic songs underscoring the brooding menace of Bond’s encounter with the centrifuge, Bond’s arrival at the Amazonian pyramid, Corinne Dufour’s desperate attempt to escape the hunting dogs and Bond’s underwater fight with Drax’s pet python.
Barry also brings back Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme to great effect, particularly in the pre-credit skydiving sequences and during the gondola chase through the canals of Venice. He also brings back his own stunning 007 theme (for the first time since Diamonds are Forever) to add suspense to Bond’s boat chase towards the Iguachu Falls.
In Moonraker, Barry also continued a tradition that Marvin Hamlisch had begun in The Spy Who Loved Me. Originally a joke by a film editor, a short excerpt from the Maurice Jarre’s music from Lawrence of Arabia was included by Hamlisch over a scene when Bond and Amasova were walking through the desert.
Barry continued with the inclusion of other popular film themes in Moonraker by incorporating part of the theme from The Magnificent Seven (when Bond appears on horseback dressed as a gaucho) and the haunting Strauss theme used to great effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey, played an hunting horns.
In a clever nod to the hugely successful Spielberg sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the famous five note sequence from that movie appears when Bond enters a security access code to the Venice laboratory. Indeed, Spielberg gave his permission for the note sequence to be used, and producer Cubby Broccoli repaid the favour by allowing Spielberg to use the James Bond Theme in his 1985 movie, The Goonies.
Hamlisch had also taken the step of introducing pieces of well-known classical music to the score (without them appearing on the soundtrack). Drax plays Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude no. 15 in D-flat major when Bond arrives at his chateau, a Strauss polka plays during the hovercraft scenes in Venice and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture was used for the scenes in Brazil in which Jaws meets Dolly following his accident.
The highlight of the soundtrack – and I would argue one of the finest single pieces of music that Barry ever wrote for the James Bond series – is the lengthy Flight into Space. Unlike the ‘march’ themes that Barry had previously used for space sequences (in Diamonds are Forever and You Only Live Twice), Flight into Space is a grand, soaring melody for strings and brass. The use of Barry’s track to soundtrack the slow reveal of Drax’s secret space station is truly spine-tingling, and the addition of a choir for the first time gives the music a real ‘otherworldly’ atmosphere.
Moonraker is probably one of the least recognisable of all of Barry’s Bond themes, which is a shame as it is a beautifully crafted and performed song. The soundtrack itself is absolutely superb, and loses nothing from Barry’s decision to dispense with much of the brass that had defined many of his previous efforts in favour of a strings-based sound. If there is such a thing as a hidden gem in Bond soundtrack terms, this is certainly it.
More on James Bond soundtracks
Free monthly newsletter
Get the latest on Bond 26 and other James Bond news by email.
No thanks, I'm not interested in news about 007
September 7th, 2010 at 12:02
Thanks so much for giving the Moonraker soundtrack and, in particular, the title theme, some of the credit that it deserves. I have always thought that Moonraker is one of the most beautiful of all the Bond title themes, an exquisite little song. Without doubt it is one of the least known and most under-rated. I have always wondered why, and your thorough outline of its recording history helps to explain why at last. I wasn’t aware of the Mathis stuff, but I had heard the story about Sinatra being considered and I’ve often tried to imagine him singing it. I can just hear him, in fact.. “where the moo-ooon-raker goes….” … and I think it would have been tailor-made for the great man at his most wistful. Funnily enough, when I think about it, the song sounds very much in the Mathis style too (inevitably, I suppose, as he was actively involved in the project – I guess there must be touches in the song where Barry was influenced by the knowledge that Mathis was signed up to record it and fashioned things around him), and yet I don’t think Mathis would have put the same pathos into it which Shirley Bassey did when called back to arms at the last minute.
The other singer who I’ve always thought would have done amazing things with the song is Sarah Vaughan. That says it all about how good the song is.
I just have one slight departure of opinion from yours, because I have to confess that I quite like the disco arrangement at the end of the film. Yes, I know it’s cheesy and dated, but I think the arrangement is very well-structured and the synth counter-melody is really quite catchy. There, I’ve said it!!
September 7th, 2010 at 12:42
Thanks for the comment Ap – you’re not expected to agree with everything!
September 7th, 2010 at 17:56
Moonraker was my first true Bond experience. I had seen Thunderball on TV but only because it was the first Bond title song that I was ever aware of due the original Tom Jones album, “A-TOM-ic Jones”, having the dubious distinction of being the first pre-recorded cassette to ever be bought by my family. That film was not easily to follow for a 10-year-old. It is still one of my least favorite Bond films and I’m not thrilled with its soundtrack either, but that’s another issue.
Anyways, back to Moonraker. It was easily going to be a film that I would see because I was, and am, a science-fiction fan. From there I was hooked on the Bond series. Not too long afterwards Moonraker was shown as a double feature with The Spy Who Loved Me. Since then I saw every Bond film as it premiered in the theatre until the last two.
I was, and am, also a lover of music and, at least at the time, a lover of soundtrack music. So this album is one I’ve been familiar with for a long time, indeed.
I was always disappointed there was no (Norman) Bond theme on it.
I would agree that Flight Into Space is the highlight of the album and that the Title song is the most lyrical and melodic and, indeed, the most elegant of all of them. I won’t say it’s my favorite as I prefer tracks that are more “fun”, but I appreciate it for what it is. NO collection of Bond theme songs would be complete without it. It certainly would get higher marks than that Madonna piece of… never mind.
I am curious, however. Certainly the multitracks for the film itself still exist, those tapes that have the isolated music, sound effects and dialogue that would be mixed to produce the final film’s stereo sound mix. Would it not be possible to construct an expanded soundtrack album drawn from those tapes? They would exist in stereo there, maybe even multichannel. Granted they wouldn’t be of studio master tape quality, but it would be better than nothing. It happens all the time that films are remixed into 5.1 so one would hope that those tapes would still exist. Then again one would hope that the studio master would also exist…
I suppose what might have been recorded with Johnny Mathis also does not survive. Finished satisfactorily or not, that would provide an interesting bonus.