Film Music Friday: The Summer Of Spy-Fi

In my last Film Music Friday post, I included a cue from Daniel Pemberton’s rather fantastic score for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That time, I was using it as an example of a score and a composer that excel at bringing contemporary musical language into the more traditional forms of film music.

But that’s always been typical of the kind of score we’re talking about today. Since Monty Norman’s James Bond theme (as arranged by John Barry) first shot up the screen in 1962, spy scores have always drawn on pop, jazz, and other “modern” forms.

And this summer has seen them come back in a very big way.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. SoundtrackLike Guy Ritchie’s terrific film, and the series that inspired it, Daniel Pemberton’s music for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is very much of its time. And its time is very much the 60s.

Early on, Pemberton and Ritchie agreed that the music should feel like something composed in the 60s, to the point that only instruments available at the time would be used.

And it worked. The Music From U.N.C.L.E. is no mere pastiche of the ’60s. It doesn’t imitate the time, but becomes it, with guitars and flutes and all the little flourishes that made spy-fi music so much fun. Throw in some perfectly placed songs of the era (from the likes of Roberta Flack, Solomon Burke, and the legendary Ennio Morricone), and you have one of the most entertaining soundtracks of the year. Again, I give you “His Name Is Napoleon Solo”:


Much like Pemberton and Ritchie did with The Soundtrack From U.N.C.L.E., Joe Kraemer and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie went back to the source for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The entire score is built on the foundation of Lalo Schifrin’s two iconic themes: the series’ main title, and the classic “The Plot.”

Kraemer makes great use of those themes, breaking them down and reassembling their components to fit the needs of the scene, much as Ethan Hunt and his team assemble their plans. The result is a score that feels both fresh and familiar, and one of the many reasons Rogue Nation is the purest M:I film to date.


It blows my mind how each composer in the M:I franchise – from Danny Elfman to Michael Giacchino to Kraemer – has managed to channel Schifrin while creating something unique unto itself. So of course I’m thrilled that now we can also go back to the source and enjoy the scores that inspired them all.

La-La Land Records has released a massive (6-disc!) box set of music  from the TV series Mission: Impossible. Produced by Jon Burlingame, whose expertise in spy-fi music is second to none (he literally wrote the book on The Music of James Bond), this set encompasses the entire run of the series, including composers like Gerald Fried, Jerry Fielding, Robert Drasnin, so many more, and of course, Lalo Schifrin.

This set is a time capsule in the best possible way. Listen to it all the way through, and you’ll hear the evolution of television scoring from the 60s through the early 70s. You’ll hear the history of spy-fi, note by note by note. And you’ll hear some damn good music, by some of the best in the business.

If you’re a fan of spy-fi – more than that, if you’re a fan of music, period – this is well worth saving up for (I’m glad I did). But it’ll go fast. Longer than five seconds, I grant you, but still fast. So order ASAP.

And that’s it for Film Music Friday. Thanks as always for listening…

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