The Living Daylights: A-has Hitler Youth feud with furious Bond composer John Barry

James Bond: Dalton stars in The Living Daylights 1987 trailer

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Back in 1985, after a record seven James Bond movies, Roger Moore retired as 007 at the ripe old age of 58-years-old with A View to a Kill. The acting legend was replaced by Timothy Dalton in 1987’s The Living Daylights, a star who producer Cubby Broccoli had considered to follow Sean Connery in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The new Bond was determined to go back to 007’s roots with Ian Fleming and the reboot would need a hot pop band to pen the track after Duran Duran completed Roger’s era.

Following the success of their debut album Hunting High and Low, a-ha were called upon to write The Living Daylights’ Bond theme

Speaking with Express.co.uk in 2018, guitarist Paul said: “We were actually in the middle of our second album then and were starting to release singles for that and heard there was a competition to try and get this next Bond song. And we were invited to submit a track for that. I was very happy when I heard the title because it immediately seemed to suggest that melody for me. The chorus came super fast.

“We did a demo and it was a lot of back and forth and waiting, but we heard that Cubby Broccoli was a fan of our song and in the end we got it.”

However, the process of producing the record, one of a-ha’s most memorable singles alongside Take On Me, wasn’t exactly easy and it wasn’t long before the band found themselves in a dispute with veteran 007 composer John Barry.

Barry had been a key member of the Bond film franchise since the very beginning, having arranged and performed the original 007 theme used for 1962’s Dr No.

The composer, who died in 2011, famously composed Goldfinger for Shirley Bassey, a tune that his housemate Michael Caine was the first to hear early one morning. However, the film music legend who worked on many of the Bond outings ended up furious with a-ha.

Paul wrote The Living Daylights but Barry is credited as co-writer and producer, having initially debuted his version of the song, but a reworking by a-ha was later released in 1988 for their third studio album Stay on These Roads. Speaking on late-night TV in 1987, the composer said he found working with the band exhausting, with their insistence on using their version of the Bond theme.

Their keyboardist Mags told Hot Rod magazine in 2007: “Our legendary fight with Barry left a rather unpleasant aftertaste. Apparently, he compared us to Hitler-jugend [Hitler Youth] in a Belgian newspaper interview. We became big in Belgium after that.”

Frontman Morten confirmed this with The Guardian in 2016 saying: “Apparently he did, yeah. He was not an easy guy to like, quite honestly.”

On what exactly happened, Paul said: “As I say we were in the middle of doing our second album so we were busy doing other stuff. I was a little bit…we had different working methods and we came across as a little too efficient. We were like, ‘Okay we’ve just got to get this done.’ And we didn’t want to cancel a show to come to the premiere, so there were certain things like that that rubbed him up the wrong way. So he got really…y’know. And we felt there was a wrong note in the string arrangements, so we fixed it, but he didn’t like that.”

The a-ha star has also said that although Barry produced The Living Daylights he didn’t contribute to the songwriting process so should have been credited as such.

Despite the feud, the guitarist doesn’t have ill feelings towards Barry and appreciates his contributions to their iconic Bond theme.

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Paul added: “But do I think he did a great job. It was a fantastic string score. We just had one chord in the middle that was important to us that was changed and, hey, stuff like that happens. To us it wasn’t that huge of a deal, so we were a little surprised he got that cheesed off by it. Maybe, I’ve dulled to it over the years, but really of most of our recordings there was some sort of argument and a lot of heated discussion, so this wasn’t really out of the ordinary for us.”

Released in the UK in the summer of 1987, The Living Daylights theme peaked at No 5 in the UK and hit No 1 in Norway. 

Along with Take On Me, the Bond theme is one of a-ha’s most played tracks at their live concerts and will often include an extended sing-a-long with the audience.

Additionally, Paul often incorporates Barry’s Bond theme into his guitar solo when performing The Living Daylights.

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