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Soundtrack review: James Bond – Thunderball (John Barry – 1965)

Composer of the month Franchises James Bond franchise John Barry month

Soundtrack review: James Bond – Thunderball (John Barry – 1965)


Legend has it that “The voice” himself, Tom Jones, fainted in the record booth after singing the final , high note from the theme song of “Thunderball”. I actually believe that, knowing Tom Jones and how involved he is in everything he sings. I couldn’t have imagined the Bond world without his thunderous voice over John Barry’s magnificent melody. The story of this main theme is complicated, as it was written very rushed after trouble with the original versions the intended main theme “Mr Kiss kiss bang bang”. It was first recorded by Shirley Bassey, then Dionne Warwick. None of the versions worked. Johnny Cash also submitted a version. There was also a little trouble with John Barry’s score because he always incorporated the main theme in his pieces and since this one was recorded so late he had to approach it differently. The score itself, as usual, had a regular release and an expanded one years later. I am reviewing the latter as part of “John Barry month”.

The plot of “Thunderbal” revolved around two NATO bombs stolen by SPECTRE who hold the world in ransom under threat of destroying an unspecified major city in England or the US. The movie includes spectacular underwater battles; actually about a quarter of the film takes place underwater, which was an impressive and complex feat in 1965.

After the booming opening, John Barry goes for suspense in the beginning of the score. The tension is quiet at first, making us all question what will happen in “The spa” and “Switching the body”. It gets a little louder in “Crash landing / the bomb” but still “Thunderball” starts more serious than other James Bond scores. You know I am more a fan or romantic Barry but his music is still gripping even in this form and I never feel the need to skip over a cue. These more dramatic pieces make me appreciate even more the lush tango of “Dance with domino / Bond’s apartment”. It has a string motif in the middle so beautiful that it just makes me stop breathing for a second.

I recognize in some cues (“At the casino” or the cha-cha sounding “Death of Fiona”) a desire to write feel good music which would please the audience of those times. I find some of the cues from “Thunderball” to be too relaxing without necessarily fitting with the Bond image. Having said that, with these pieces, with the powerful main theme and the usual Bond extravagant big band pieces this was a very complex score for the time when I came out. It has a rich thematic content and it tells a story with laughs, cries and drama. You will also recognize the secondary James Bond theme, the “007 theme”.

The extras which were added in the expanded version are a true joy to listen to. There’s one 8 minute cue and two 10 minute long ones which are just pure, vintage Barry. Listen to those and you won’t need anything else from “Thunderball”. There’s also the alternate version of the main titles, with the “Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang theme” which is just a delight to listen to. This is John Barry, this is pure Bond goodness and another 50 years may pass and people will still guess instantly where a smooth, jazzy and vibrant theme like this came from.

“Thuderball” remains one of the most complex Bond scores and the expanded version is a welcomed upgrade.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 39 / 79

Album excellence: 49%


Thunderball [Main Title]

Chateau Flight

Dance With Domino/Bond´s Apartment

Search for Vulcan

007 (Album Version)

Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [Alternate Main Title – Instrumental]

Gunbarrel/Traction Table/Gassing The Plane/Car Chase

Street Chase

Underwater Mayhem/Death Of Largo/End Titles

Mr. Kiss Kiss Band Bang [Mono]


Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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