At 7.35am on 14th January 1962, a tired and eclectic group of British artistes assembled at London Airport for a gruelling twenty-hour flight to Jamaica. Amongst them were film producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, stuntmen, technicians and a talented young Scottish actor named Sean Connery. Also part of the group was a composer who had been handpicked by Broccoli to write the score for the new movie the team were heading to the Caribbean to film.
Monty Norman was a darling of the West End having scored several successful musicals. His work for the production of Belle or The Ballad Of Doctor Crippen had brought him to the attention of Broccoli and despite some initial reservations, the promise of several weeks on location in Jamaica and a fee of £250 convinced Norman to take the job.
What resulted has become one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of music of the last half a century as Norman’s score for James Bond’s big screen debut in Dr No opened with the iconic James Bond Theme.
Dr No (1962)
1. James Bond Theme
2. Kingston Calypso
3. Jamaican Rock
4. Jump Up
5. Audio Bongo
6. Under The Mango Tree
7. Twisting With James
8. Jamaica Jazz
9. Under The Mango Tree
10. Jump Up
11. Dr No’s Fantasy
12. Kingston Calypso
13. The Island Speaks
14. Under The Mango Tree
15. The Boy’s Chase
16. Dr No’s Theme
17. The James Bond Theme
18. Love At Last
Norman began the writing of the score for Dr No in Jamaica with the song Kingston Calypso. It is instantly recognisable in the film as the music for the first killers in a Bond movie and its light, nursery rhyme feel (using the ‘three blind mice’ lyrics) offset the drama of the initial assassination.
The song was performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, cast as the hotel band in Dr No and who also performed the song Jump Up on the soundtrack. An instrumental version of the song – Jamaica Jazz – is also featured.
Norman also wrote Under the Mango Tree specifically for the scene where a bikini-clad Ursula Andress appears out of the ocean. The voice on the track is actually Diana Coupland who was Norman’s wife at the time and who also sings a version of Kingston Calypso later on the album. Under The Mango Tree appears on the soundtrack twice more in different arrangements.
The soundtrack album features three versions of the same orchestral theme which don’t appear in the film itself. The confusingly titled James Bond Theme (track 17) was, according to Norman’s then wife Diana Coupland, his first attempt at a ‘James Bond Theme’. The soundtrack also features the songs Dr No’s Fantasy and Twisting With James which are different arrangements of the same theme.
It’s interesting to ponder quite how different the films and soundtracks would be had this arrangement been chosen as the main James Bond theme. The bossa-nova esque sound shuffles along with a sound more akin to Austin Powers than to James Bond and whilst it might have been suitable to a film set in the Caribbean, it wouldn’t have transferred very well to a Bond movie set in darkest Russia.
After experimenting with various different themes it became apparent that Saltzman and Broccoli wanted a distinctive main theme for the film. Norman recalled a song he had written some years previously for the first draft of a stage musical called The House of Mr Biswas entitled Good Sign Bad Sign. The first basic melody from this song had an instantly catchy hook and so Norman adapted the melody as an instrumental theme. The result was the memorable Bond theme we still love today.
A young, talented commercial orchestrator named John Barry was asked to arrange the Bond theme and used a ‘big band’ sound to create the powerful sound heard on the album. Barry has since suggested that he, not Norman, wrote the Bond theme and this argument has been the subject of three court cases at which Norman has conclusively proved his authorship of the iconic piece.
Instrumental versions of Kingston Calypso (Dr No’s Theme), a theme for Bond and Quarrel’s arrival on Crab Key (The Island Speaks), an electronic version of a Dr No theme (Audio Bongo) and a short piece entitled Love At Last complete the soundtrack. Interesting omissions from the album include the now famous ‘gunbarrel’ sequence at the start of the film and the music from the tarantula scene and Dr No’s death.
One of the main problems with Dr No as a soundtrack is that the music is unusually location specific, rather than character specific. The later Bond scores beautiful and dramatic orchestration could almost be interchanged from film to film, whereas Dr No’s Caribbean reggae and ska style is a very specific piece of work, credited with bringing Jamaican music to a much larger audience.
It is an interesting record as you can almost see the development of the main James Bond theme in action throughout the rest of the album but as a standalone piece of music it actually becomes rather annoying after a while, and apart from the superb main theme, you’d barely notice it was a Bond soundtrack at all.
Thankfully, the film itself was a huge success, beginning one of the most successful movie franchises in history and paving the way for some of the finest film soundtrack music to appear in the last fifty years.