He started out with his own jazz combo, "The John Barry Seven", in the late 1950s before getting into film composing when asked to arrange Monty Norman's theme for the first Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962; the piece, titled "The James Bond Theme" and recorded by Barry's combo, subsequently became the iconic Theme Tune for the entire film series. Barry would compose scores for twelve Bond films in total, and those became a prominent part of the series' trademark style, to the point of being emulated by his successor David Arnold.
Stylistically, Barry's music tends toward the moody side, with extremely limited use of Fanfare (all but eliminating the brighter instruments in the orchestra in favor of deep undertones and rich, dark melodies). His most popular pieces consist of a lyrical theme accompanied by broken chords with a French horn countermelody. Because his non-Bond music typically does not include iconic themes, some have accused his various film scores of being "interchangeable". Nonetheless, Barry earned five Academy Awards and four Grammys in his career. He also wrote musicals, scoring a big hit in the West End with his 1974 adaptation of Billy Liar with Michael Crawford.
Barry was briefly married in the '60s to actress Jane Birkin, with whom he had one daughter, the late photographer Kate Barry. He passed away on January 30, 2011 in New York from a heart attack.
Has a page dedicated to his beautiful music.
Barry created music for:
- James Bond films:
- Dr. No (1962) note
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Thunderball (1965)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Octopussy (1983)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- The Living Daylights (1987) note
- Zulu (1964)
- The Ipcress File (1965)
- Born Free (1966) note
- The Wrong Box (1966)
- The Lion in Winter (1968) note
- Petulia (1968)
- Midnight Cowboy (1969)
- The Last Valley (1971)
- They Might Be Giants (1971)
- Walkabout (1971)
- Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) (1971)
- Game of Death (1972) note
- The Day of the Locust (1975)
- King Kong (1976)
- Robin and Marian (1976)
- The Deep (1977)
- The Black Hole (1979)
- Starcrash (1979)
- Raise the Titanic! (1980)
- Somewhere in Time (1980)
- Body Heat (1981)
- Out of Africa (1985) note
- The Golden Child (1986) note
- Howard the Duck (1986)
- Dances with Wolves (1990) note
- Chaplin (1992)
Tropes associated with this composer:
- Bleached Underpants: A frequently used theme song for children's TV shows in The '70s was Barry's "Florida Fantasy", from the decidedly family-unfriendly Midnight Cowboy.
- Cult Soundtrack: Raise the Titanic! was a critical miss, to say the least. But the film also features a score that many of Barry's fans consider among his very best work.
- End of an Era: The Living Daylights was the last James Bond film to feature Barry's music, as he retired from the series after its release.
- Fanfare: His James Bond scores are practically made of fanfare. Hell, there's a track on the A View to a Kill score that's actually called "Fanfare".
- Instrumental Theme Tune: There are only three James Bond films where Barry employed this: Dr. No, From Russia with Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's believed the last case was so because Barry couldn't figure out how to put in all nine syllables into a coherent song.
- Self-Plagiarism: He re-used the main chord progression from his theme song for You Only Live Twice in the Midnight Cowboy theme song. There are also some obvious similarities in his scores for Walkabout and Out of Africa.