John Barry – the man behind the soundtrack of our lives

Many do not know the name of John Barry Prendergast who was born in York, England in 1933. More know him by his first two names, but when he died in 2011, I would wager the average person on the street would not know his name or what he did for us. He made his music our music by composing some of the most memorable movie scores. Mind you, these movies would have been good without his contribution, but the memories we have of them are significantly flavored by his contributions. So much, when we hear the beautiful music he wrote, we are transported to the movie. That is magical.

His most known piece is probably the theme from James Bond. He wrote music for eleven of the Bond movies starting with the very first one, “Dr. No.” Yet, that piece, while memorable, pales in comparison to the music he wrote for movies like “Out of Africa,” for which he won one of his five Academy Awards. The scenery, story and acting that make this movie memorable are leveraged by the, at times, exhilarating and, at times, reverent music he wrote. I cannot listen to his music without thinking of Robert Redford and Meryl Streep’s characters flying over the African tundra.

Yet, his first African score landed him two Oscars, the fantastic “Born Free.” Both the title song and movie score are as magnificent as his later “Out of Africa” work. He also won Oscars for two very different movies, “The Lion in Winter,” which starred Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and “Dances with Wolves,” with Kevin Costner. The latter movie is not unlike his Africa themes, as he is at is best when capturing beautiful vistas with a great story and time.

While he wrote many other scores, one that resonates with my wife and me is “Somewhere in Time,” with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. The story is enchanting and we fall in love with Jane Seymour just as Reeve’s character did in the movie, leading him to travel back in time. Yet, the music makes what could have been a cheesy story a classic in our view. It takes us from the present to the enchanting past, so much that the Grand Hotel, where it was filmed has “Somewhere in Time” gatherings throughout the year. One of my best Valentine’s Day presents was to give my wife the soundtrack to this movie.

If you get a chance, order these soundtracks or some compilation of his music. It is well worth the listen and, if you enjoys these movies, you will enjoy revisiting them through Barry’s music. It might make a great Valentine’s Day present.

17 thoughts on “John Barry – the man behind the soundtrack of our lives

  1. Our friend “Z” thought your piece might be about John Barry, the Author, and I was thinking of Teddy Pendergrast, a deeply soulful singer of the past. You fooled us both.

    I actually had no idea he had written so many wonderful songs and themes from movies. Dances with Wolves, and Somewhere in Time are two of my favorites.

    • The real last name threw me. I did not know he only used his first two names. Until someone suggested we get his compilation CD, we did not know him either. It is a very soothing CD.

  2. Note it Readers: I did not do justice to my wife’s love of “Somewhere in Time.” While I was and am smitten by Jane Seymour, my wife had a crush on Superman. This may have been Christopher Reeve’s first movie following his breakout role as the Man of Steel.

  3. You, the Mrs. and I knew exactly who John Barry was…is! However…didn’t know and haven’t watched SOMEWHERE IN TIME. There were a lot of us “in love” with Christopher Reeves….so smiling in remembrance.

    • Thanks for your comment. I am fortunate to have the bride I have. We also listen to “The Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack. This kind of music is thematic and inspirational. It helps us enjoy robust movies like “Out of Africa” or ‘Somewhere in Time.” I hope you enjoy the John Barry music.

  4. Note to Readers: In my note to “Life with the Top Down” I mention the “Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack as another great piece. This was done by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones and is also excellent. Another unique one is the soundtrack for “Bladerunner,” a science fiction cult classic with Harrison Ford. This was done by Vangelis and is equal parts sensual and futuristic.

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