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Soundtrack review: James Bond – You only live twice (John Barry – 1967)

Composer of the month Franchises James Bond franchise John Barry month

Soundtrack review: James Bond – You only live twice (John Barry – 1967)


“You only live twice” is the fifth James Bond movie and the first to almost completely discard Ian Fleming’s source novel for a completely new story. It also marks the first appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and was thought to be at the time Sean Connery’s final outing as our favorite secret agent. The story finds Bond dispatched to Japan after American and Soviet manned spacecraft disappear mysteriously in orbit. With each nation blaming the other amidst the Cold War, Bond travels secretly to a remote Japanese island in order to find the perpetrators. This review is part of “John Barry month” and I am reviewing the original, shorter release.

The theme song is performed by Nancy Sinatra and it’s melodic line has been brought back to the world’s attention by Robbie Williams who used it some 15 years ago in the beginning of his “Millennium” single. The main theme is pretty and gentle and one of the dreamier Bond theme songs. Nancy Sinatra’s voice is a welcomed change from the more aggressive voice of Shirley Bassey.

Sharp suspense is the key word for the beginning of this score. The music feels a bit rushed in “Capsule in space” but romantic Barry sets my ears at ease in “Fight at Kobe Dock-Helga”. This is a cue I would always be able to identify as part of Bond history. The big band sound, the plucked strings and the brass section are vintage Bond.

Even if a lot of the action takes place in Japan there is no trace of traditional Japanese instruments or sounds as this score progresses. The first half of “You only live twice” is like a prelude to something. I keep waiting for the music to take off but it stays in warm up territory. It could be a nice start to something but it doesn’t go beyond that.

Then “The death of Aki” comes. This cue seems lost among the others with its more sensitive and innocent sound. Usually John Barry disregards the cue titles when he writes and sometimes his death motifs sound just as romantic as his love ones. Here though he gives this death proper attention and respect. The cue is quiet and beautiful, not overly dramatic or pathetic. It is my favorite piece from “You only live twice” and it could find its place on scores for a love story.

Did I mention that starting motif of the main theme? It comes back and explodes gorgeously in “Mountains and sunsets”. John Barry exaggerates those few notes for a special effect and those first few seconds made me dream of a perfect sunset in the mountains. The glow disappears as the cue turns into action but the memory of that beginning will be long lasting. Cues like this one are what make Barry’s music so great… It is playful and it smiles at me while playing hide and seek. Its mood swings are gentle and appealing and I am just in love with this piece of music. It reminded me a little of the effect the Mujahedeen theme from “The living daylights” had on me.

“You only live twice” has enough moments to make it a satisfying listen. It sits low in my personal Bond rankings but that’s only because other scores are so exceptionally good.

Cue rating: 77 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 11 / 37

Album excellence: 30%


The Death of Aki

Mountains and Sunsets

You Only Live Twice – End Title



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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  1. Paul Grossman 27th October 2018

    You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger are generally considered by knowledgeable fans of film scores to be the among the two best Bond scores. The Main Title sung by Nancy Sinatra is a gorgeous piece of music, as is Mountains and Sunsets as you note. The Main Title to me sounds like a complete work of music and don’t detect it missing a finishing touch or it being a prelude to anything. It is gorgeous


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