RIP John Barry, great British composer of “Born Free”

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    31st January 2011

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    Yesterday John Barry, English-born composer of immense repute and amazing legacy (over 80 films) died suddenly at aged 77 of a heart attack.


    Famous for his numerous memorable James Bond films compositions, such as “Goldfinger”, there is one work I consider outstanding, perhaps above all others. With few comparisons for subtlety of meaning and breadth of impact I believe his composition “Born Free” written for the film of the same name about the king of beasts and people who cared for them, close to incomparable.

    Simply brilliant. Brilliantly simple. Simply noble.

    Written in 1966 in collaboration with equally able British lyricist Don Black, it is a masterpiece. As someone who has dabbled with lyrics in collaboration with A N Other, my question is – which came first – the lyrics or the music? Clearly the title of the film shaped the thoughts of both men.

    To take nothing away from this music, nothing at all – I consider it extremely powerful as a composition even in its own right – can you imagine if the words were different from this?  Written by today’s “lyricists”? If they had summoned up the pc-correct anthropomorphic “thoughts” of lions? These are the original lyrics and below how I imagine today’s pc anthropomorphs might tackle it:



    Original Lyrics

    Born free, as free as the wind blows
    As free as the grass grows
    Born free to follow your heart

    Live free, and beauty surrounds you
    The world still astounds you
    Each time you look at a star

    Stay free, where no walls divide you
    You’re free as a roaring tide
    So there’s no need to hide

    Born free, and life is worth living
    But only worth living
    Cause you’re born free


    Today’s PC/Anthropomorphic Lyrics?

    Born Free, as free as a lion roams,
    So free in her own home,
    Where men are strangers to fear.

    Live free, on plains that can hold you,
    Where no man enfolds you
    You gaze on him from afar.

    Stay free, where people can’t get you,
    You’re free as a roaring tide
    Except you need to hide.

    Born free, your life is worth living
    But only worth living
    Cause I’m not there.


    John Barry “Born Free”

    Born Free information – From the days when composers composed for popular music and lyricists wrote powerful lyrics. Today’s junk is frankly embarrassing.  The music of ‘Born Free’ was written by John Barry, and the lyrics by Don Black.  The film ‘Born Free’ was written by Lester Cole, and was released in 1966.

    Another Englishman, the late Matt Monro, an amazingly talented British singer on the same plane as Sinatra (Sinatra thought so too) gave the song its popular appeal.

    As though it’s written in my DNA I am always moved by lyrics and even spoken words more than by music.  That is not to say that some musical compositions do not move me.    There is a position widely held among those who understand better than I, that music is of the soul, touching parts nothing else can.

    I have seen this on several occasions.  I recall sitting with a cellist friend once as we listened to a piece of classical music. It was moving for me. Not the music, but the fact that she had tears rolling down her face. I seldom  feel that with music, but I do, often, with words. Perhaps that explains, at least partly, this blog.

    Born Free is a rare combination of inspired music AND lyrics.

    Not that this is a place for praising British musical talent only. Another of my top-rate modern composers is American John Williams. This piece needs no words – Schindler’s List.

    So just to prove myself wrong, on not being moved easily by music, I just listened to (and watched) this –

    Schindler’s List – Theme Itzhak Perlman

    [This video will open in a new window at the YouTube site]

    As soon as it started I felt shivers run down my legs. When the tiny girl crawled away to some sort of temporary safety [1:50] I wanted to pick her up and take her away from that murderous regime. Perhaps my reaction is because we share a collective memory of the holocaust or even of the inspired filming and acting of Schindler’s List. The last minute or so of this video shows some real-life survivors and relatives of the holocaust, who personally were saved or aided by Oskar Schindler, laying stones on his grave.

    So, in conclusion, I’d like to thank all the film-makers, composers, musicians, artistes, actors and noble artistic minds with whom it is my privilege to share this earth. The truth-tellers, not the re-writers of history. For them, if there is a hell, I presume there will be a special place in reserve.


    If you were moved by this excerpt of Schindler’s List, and if not why not, you’re not alone. Tony Blair and his wife found it immensely powerful as he mentions in his memoirs. Here at FT Blogs is a perfect example of the tunnel vision of some in our commentariat regarding Blair and Iraq.  I describe it as choosing to learn the wrong lessons:

    “At one point Blair launches into a rather long description of a scene in Schindler’s List in which a Nazi camp guard’s girlfriend is a passive observer while he shoots a prisoner. He finishes the story by saying:

    She didn’t shoot anyone; she was a bystander. Except she wasn’t. There were no bystanders in that situation. You participate, like it or not…You take sides by inaction as much as by action.

    He then goes on:

    Not very practical, is it, as a reaction? The trouble is it’s how I feel.

    And then, 10 years later, Iraq happened. Should we blame Steven Spielberg?”

    And the RIGHT lesson? In the simple terms some seem limited to coping with? We should THANK Steven Spielberg.


    RIP, John Barry.



    John Barry, Wikipedia



    • Listen to Mid-East envoy Tony Blair, BBC, on the need for ‘orderly change’ in Egypt, today
    • Watch Tony Blair on Skyprocess towards change in Egypt is inevitable but “must be managed”. Immediate howls of protest, of course, from the usual suspects. Keep telling it like it is, Mr Blair. Today’s political “leaders” and still many in the commentariat have no idea, or more likely not enough nous or guts to join the dots. The fence-sitting from Obama, Cameron and even EU leaders is particularly telling. Again Blair has to step into the vacuum, to warn of others stepping into a vacuum. There will be no true democracy tomorrow in Egypt, even if most of us wish there could be.  It is a process, not a rabbit we can pull out of a hat, while magically changing nothing around.

    Egyptian government, Wikipedia – excerpt:
    The government of Egypt consists of a semi-presidential republic whereby the president is both head of state and head of government, and of a system dominated by the National Democratic Party. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the People’s Assembly.

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    4 Responses to “RIP John Barry, great British composer of “Born Free””

    1. Stan Says:

      A great tribute to Barry and Williams, brilliantly expressed.

      The Schindler’s List video moved me to tears and encapsulated what fighting true tyranny is all about.

      • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

        Stan, I added an addendum to the post. As Blair says there was an alternative to dealing with Saddam, and it too had consequences.

        Of course, proving that one has helped to AVOID an even greater catastrophe is impossible. So even suggesting it doesn’t get any brownie points. It falls into the “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” category.

    2. Shena Says:

      Oh, really bad news for today :/ Another really talented man died…five Oscars speak for themselves…

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