Battle At Piz Gloria - On Her Majesty's Secret Service soundtrack review

The John Barry composed soundtrack album for arguably the best James Bond film ever made - On Her Majesty's Service. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was more grounded and Flemingesque than the Connery films because of its faithful treatment of the source novel (something that was very rare in the franchise). The element of tragic love story and the presence of George Lazenby (who was much better than he ever got any credit for at the time) as a younger more vulnerable 007 make it the most human of the James Bond films. Throw in Diana Rigg, spectacular Alpine locations, Blofeld (played by no lesser figure than Kojak), and some of the most exciting action sequences and fight scenes in the franchise and you have something of a classic.
One can see how Barry had to change his style somewhat for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and clamber over a number of obstacles. The film is less flippant and fantastical than the sixties gilt-edged Bonds it followed and doesn't have Sean Connery. It also has a title that seems impossible to work into a theme song lyric. Barry's solutions to these challenges are as ever very inspired and inventive and you could make a reasonable case for this being his best Bond score. It's lavish with that John Barry sense of sweep and grandeur but a more modern sound is laced into the score with synthesizers and a brand new instrumental action theme that is almost as brilliant as the Bond theme itself. The brassy strains of the 007 theme are discarded (presumably to avoid association with Sean Connery and previous films) for a new remix and interestingly the score also incorporates songs by other artists. On Her Majesty's Secret Service features songs by Louis Armstrong and Nina that are not only a part of the film but integral ones too. You can't imagine watching On Her Majesty's Secret Service without hearing Nina's Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? in the background as Lazenby desperately tries to evade numerous Blofeld goons out to kill him at the winter ski festival.
The album begins with Louis Armstrong and We Have All the Time in the World - one of the most famous songs ever written for a James Bond film. Strangely though this is mainly because it was "rediscovered" many years later when used for a Guinness advertising campaign. It was composed by Barry with lyrics by Hal David and was the last thing Armstrong recorded before his death a few years later. The song is a timeless and affecting one that is simultaneously uplifting and poignant and was used perfectly in the film during the montage of Bond and Rigg's Countess Tracy di Vicenzo falling in love. They ride horses, lark on the beach, wear fancy evening clothes in posh gardens etc. This is perhaps the only James Bond film that has a developed and believable love story at the heart of the picture and so consequently you care about the characters much more.
It was a genius stroke to compose We Have All the Time in the World for the film and use it for such a seminal sequence. By the way, I'm not sure why these James Bond soundtracks always present the music out of order. We Have All The Time in The World appears a good way into the actual film but for some reason kicks off the soundtrack album. The music may be out of sequence in relation to the film but at least it has been expanded here and you get some stuff that didn't feature in the picture. This is very much the widescreen version of Barry's soundtrack (if you'll pardon the somewhat clumsy conflation). This Never Happened To The Other Fella is next and music from the pre-title sequence. Bond saving Tracy di Vicenzo from drowning (in her spectacular glittering evening dress - the costumes in this film are great) and then having a punch-up with several heavies on the sand and in the water. The sequence in the film has a slight teasing quality at first because it's the introduction to a new James Bond actor so Lazenby is shown in shadow and not revealed straight away. Barry captures this mood with a somewhat mysterious piece of music that skillfully weaves the Bond theme into the mix. Only this Bond theme is more restrained and somehow less predictable than the blaring horns that would signal the suave cuff link adjusting presence of Sean Connery. It's a clever music cue and informs us that this is James Bond again - only different. We should expect the unexpected. 
"Try" is the orchestral piece of lounge music that heralds Bond's arrival at the casino where he will have another encounter with Tracy di Vicenzo. It's fairly simple but very stylish and laid back, perfectly James Bond. Neon signs shimmering as they reflect and sparkle and high rollers absorbed in their gambling. It's a great entrance when Lazenby strolls down the elegant stairs in his tuxedo. That sense of style seemed to go out of James Bond films a long time ago. Ski Chase is next and the music for the, erm, let me think, oh, the ski chase. This is Barry at his best. An orchestral blast at the start that is so crystalline and soaring it evokes silver mountain peaks emerging from clouds and perfectly frames the spectacular Alpine landscapes in the picture. Barry morphs the music into his On Her Majesty's Secret Service instrumental title theme/action beat - an immediate and brilliant piece of music that proved so enduring it was covered by the Propellerheads and even used as a remix in the Pierce Brosnan film Tomorrow Never Dies. Ski Chase is fantastic.
Now, Do You Know How Christmas Trees are grown? They need sunshine and raindrops. This is the previously mentioned song by Danish songstress Nina. It's played a few times during the Switzerland sequences and is a strangely hypnotic Julie Andrews style ditty with a chorus by children. Very rare for a James Bond film to have a genuine Christmas atmosphere but this song supplies it. I like the way this song is weirdly surreal and otherworldly too. It heightens the tension during the wintry chase sequence near the skating rink. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is next and not only the title theme but an action beat that is used throughout the film. Barry decided to do an instrumental for the main theme as he felt it would be impossible to get the film's rather long title into a lyric and this approach clearly came up trumps because the On Her Majesty's Secret Service theme is pure James Bond. It has a stirring horn blaring repeating peak and then driving synthesizers. David Arnold would probably sell his soul to come up with anything like this. The music plays over a montage of characters from the previous Bond films in the On Her Majesty's Secret Service title sequence. A nice touch. The link to the past reminds he audience that this is still James Bond despite a change of actor.

Journey To Blofeld's Hideaway is a soaringly epic and beautiful orchestral piece that accompanies the helicopter ride to Blofeld's Alpine base high in the mountains. This is a fantastic piece of music and perfect for capturing the lavish sense of scope that these snow crusted sequences in the film generate. Listening to things like this it is absolutely astonishing that John Barry was largely ignored by the Oscars and yet Thomas Newman gets an Oscar nomination for Skyfall. Bizarre. Next is an instrumental version of We Have All The Time In The World. It's done in a lounge style fashion, more restrained and whimsical. Perfect for those casino interludes. Over & Out (I think) signals the intro to the helicopter assault on Piz Gloria. It begins with electronic sounding beeps (surprisingly modern for a sixties soundtrack and slightly reminiscent of Roy Budd's Get Carter). Barry weaves in the lavish OHMSS theme to superb effect. I love the tentative opening bars that heighten tension. A prelude to a very lavish and exciting composition. Battle At Piz Gloria features the OHMSS theme again - this time in action form. We've heard this piece of music several times now but it's fascinating and very clever the way Barry uses different arrangements of it for different sequences in the film.
Another version of We Have All The Time In The World - this time the "romantic" string laden version. Absolutely beautiful and perfect for the scenes to convey Bond and Tracey falling in love. Journey To Draco's Hideaway is next and the music played when Bond is kidnapped for a mysterious meeting with (it turns out) Marc-Ange Draco, Tracey's crime boss father. This is moodier than much of the album to stress uncertainty and tension. It's quite good though. Bond and Draco deploys the OHMSS theme again but in a very restrained soft focus fashion. Very string heavy and pretty. This is from when Draco and Bond discuss Tracey and Draco asks Bond to marry her in return for supplying information about the whereabouts of Blofeld. Gumbold's Safe is the music from the safe cracking sequence (criminally absent from British television prints of the film for many years). Lazenby is very cool as he flips through a copy of Playboy and then leaves in a very laid back almost Connery like manner. Think of the music in those Harry Palmer films with Michael Caine. Tense and paranoid. Bond Settles In is an electronic sounding piece of music (again very Ipcress File) that sounds very modern and is absolutely rife with tension and intrigue.
Bond Meets The Girls scores the scene where 007 is introduced to the bevy of beauties (look fast for a young Joanna Lumley) at Blofeld's Alpine lair. Blofeld has set up a clinical research institute at Piz Gloria where a number of young women are being treated for allergies and phobias. In reality the girls have been brainwashed and can be used as Blofeld's agents to spread his (Infertility) Virus Omega into the world. This section of the film has a few double entendres and the music is appropriately lighter and more suggestive. Wah wah and Jason Kingesque. This part of the soundtrack is one of the few that has dated somewhat. Dusk at Piz Gloria is rather self-explanatory and a more pastoral composition by Barry. Very atmospheric. Sir Hillary's Night Out is a wonderfully atmospheric piece of background mood music for the scenes where Bond (disguised as Sir Hillary Bray from the College Of Arms in London) is sneaking around having a nose and seducing patients to get information.
Blofeld's Plot has moody strings and big drums. The brassy element makes it sound more reminiscent of the music in the Connery films. Love the way a few chimes of Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? are incorporated by Barry. A stirring rendition of the OHMSS theme. Love the slightly psychedelic intro. A fantastic frantic obstreperous frazzled action beat for "Bobsled Chase" ends the soundtrack album. Great stuff. This is a great soundtrack album to a great film and well worth a listen now it has been expanded. John Barry's majestic James Bond scores only grow in stature with the passage of time.
- Jake


c 2014 Alternative 007

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