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  • Stefan Riedlinger

For Your Eyes Only - Bill Conti - Soundtrack Review

Another Bill Conti score on my website, this time the James Bond score for “For Your Eyes Only”. Some fans think that the song is the best James Bond song ever. Even though Sheena Easton gives a great performance, I personally like the Shirley Bassey songs more, and I am also a big fan of a-ha’s “The Living Daylights”.

The movie

"For Your Eyes Only" (1981) is the twelfth in the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions, and the fifth to star Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. It marked the directorial debut of John Glen, who had worked as editor and second unit director on three other Bond films.

The screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson takes its characters and combines elements from the plots from two short stories from Ian Fleming's "For Your Eyes Only" collection: the title story and "Risico". In the plot, Bond attempts to locate a missile command system while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen along with Melina Havelock, a woman seeking to avenge the murder of her parents. Some writing elements were inspired by the novels "Live and Let Die", "Goldfinger" and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service".

“For Your Eyes Only” is the result of a new approach in the James Bond era. “Moonraker”, the first and only James Bond score I discussed on my website so far, is great fun, but some critics and also some fans think that the movie was far over the top: too many gadgets, too many jokes and too much SF. Bond movies were getting bigger and bigger but it seems they were not as fun as the earlier movies.

Therefore, “For Your Eyes Only” undertook a more serious approach. Director Lewis Gilbert and screenplay author Christoper Wood were was not again hired, instead Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson - stepson of James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli - took over, but Roger Moore still played James Bond.

Former cutter John Glen was hired ass director, the gadgets were reduced to a minimum – Glen pointed out he wanted to show this new serious approach in the scene where the Lotus is blown up by itself -, the humor was still there as typical for the Roger Moore era, but the movie was now very realistic and had an unusually strong narrative theme of revenge. Additionally, the action scenes were not over the top and are sometimes, shocking brutal, especially the murder scene of Melina’s parents. In one scene, even Bond is really acting like a killer when he gives a bad guy in his car the final kick, so that the car is going over the cliff and killed the bad guy who murdered before one of Bond’s spy colleagues.

“For Your Eyes Only” is still not my most favorite movie, I like “Moonraker” much more, but let’s discuss the music because Bill Conti’s attribution to the franchise is one of the best soundtrack in Conti’s career and one of the best Bond soundtracks ever.

The music

Bill Conti added to his traditional composing style a lot of the typical brass elements and added furthermore synthesizers to the music. His sense for melodies and atmosphere is really amazing here. Even though “Submarine” is not one of the best parts of the score, I highly appreciate Conti’s sense for building up suspense.

In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Bill Conti explained that John Barry was not able to do the movie and so recommended him. Conti was happy about the opportunity and mentioned that Bond producer “Cubby” Broccoli invited him, his wife and his two daughters to England for three months so that Conti could write "For Your Eyes Only".

Conti wanted Barbra Streisand to write the lyrics and Donna Summer to sing it, but the studio suggested Sheena Easton. Conti was impressed when he listened to her singing because she was a terrific singer. Conti also explained that Michael Leeson who wrote the lyrics had created a fantastic ending line for the song, but title designer Maurice Binder wanted to start the song with the title For Your Eyes Only and therefore, when you see the title of the movie, the lyrics start with the main line “For Your Eyes Only”. Singer Sheena Easton was also the first singer in Bond history to appear on screen.

“A Drive in the country” is a highly enjoyable piece during the famous car chase with the 2CV. The composing style is typical 80s, but also typical Conti. “Gonzales takes a drive” starts with some Mexican music and then switches after the murder of Gonzales to typical 80s action music, I am not a big fan of the this second part or that track. Another worse track is “Ski.. Shoot … Jump”, just suspense music, nothing more. Typical for “For Your Eyes Only” is that you have really very good music but also very weak tracks like the ones I mentioned before.

“St. Cyril's Monastery” and “Run Them Down/ The Climb” are played when Bond is climbing up the way to Kristatos’ place for the final showdown. Both tracks are very good music, and you can explore again how Conti is building atmosphere, especially when 007 starts to climb. Conti even transformed the going up and down of the elevator into music. The last 20 seconds of “Run Them Down” is one of these tracks just Conti can compose: he uses the strings to build up suspense in such a great way, and then finally the percussion comes in before the track suddenly ends. These few seconds are just amazing, and one of the best reasons to buy this album.

There is also a great instrumental version of the title song. Conti uses a trumpet instead of the vocals. I found a nice video with it:

“The P.M. Gets the Bird/For Your Eyes Only” was on the first release of the soundtrack album the last track to a scene that is just childish. The extended edition ends with “Run Them Down…”

My most favorite track is “Runaway”, the music composed to underscore the ski chase in the movie. Unfortunately, one stunt man died during the filming of this scene. Even today, this action scene is still amazing. “Runaway”, in my opinion not played loud enough in the movie, is a great action track, Conti at his best!

By using the brass, the strings and the percussion (especially at the beginning), you can explore how gifted this composer is. Listen especially to the part of the music when Bond runs over the table, the music slows down a little bit, and then gets back into action again. Conti in my opinion beats in this piece even Jerry Goldsmith’s action music because Goldsmith was never able to compose such a straight forward piece of music which is so much enjoyable.

Of course, John Barry is the best composer of James Bond music, but I have to say that I like Bill Conti’s music for this movie very much, the music is in my opinion the best part of the movie. For me, from all non-John Barry soundtracks, Bill Conti is the best. David Arnold did a great job when he was taking over as regular composer, but this we will discuss in the next weeks.

Now enjoy the music to “Runaway”!

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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