The story of Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only score

James Bond For Your Eyes Only poster
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Bill Conti tells us all about the one and only time he got to do a James Bond score – here’s the story of his soundtrack for For Your Eyes Only. 

All the way back in 1981, American film composer Bill Conti composed the soundtrack to the 12th official James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. Conti had gained popularity in the previous decade, having a hand in producing the music for Rocky and its sequel, Rocky II. The first Rocky film saw Conti receive his first of three Oscar nominations, culminating in him picking up a golden statue in 1984 for The Right Stuff, a high point in a career spanning six decades.


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For Your Eyes Only is Conti’s only contribution to the James Bond franchise, but it’s a memorable contribution with a lasting legacy.

“Well, a Bond film is particular,” says Conti as he reminisces, sat by his piano in his Los Angeles home. “It was particular, even when I did it that long ago, because it had established itself as a brand. For some reason [long time Bond composer] John Barry couldn’t do For Your Eyes Only – and he recommended me. Let’s begin with that, that’s a rare thing.”

Barry composed 11 James Bond films, beginning with From Russia With Love in 1963, before departing the world of 007 with The Living Daylights in 1987. Conti’s participation in For Your Eyes Only came about as a result of Barry being unable to work in the UK at the time due to tax reasons, having become a tax exile in the 1970s.

As a result, he recommended Conti for composing duties to James Bond producer (Cubby) Albert R Broccoli.

“It’s not that we all want each other’s jobs, which we do,” says Conti as he grins with a glint in his eye. “I mean, you want a good movie, right? You’re all looking for movies to do and that was his account. I mean, John Barry created the James Bond musical language. So, he recommended me and that was wonderful because I was a James Bond fan.”

“Then that puts you in touch with Cubby Broccoli and his family – and of course they’re wonderful. Cubby says to me ‘Bill, I’d like you to do it in England,’ and I say ‘well, I have a family – a wife and two daughters – I’d rather not leave my family for three months.’ So he says ‘oh no… I’d like you to bring your family with you.’ So I said ‘okay, I can do that. I have no objections.”

Standing apart

Conti’s score is somewhat unique in the Bond canon as it’s distinguishable by its disco-infused sound, whilst evoking memories of previous Bond films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me, with a particularly memorable skiing action sequence.

“There was perhaps some nervousness on my part, let’s say…” recalls Conti. “It’s a bit like going into a country club and they say ‘we require a shirt with a collar’, you don’t talk about it, this is what we do, this is the set menu. The Bond people say ‘this is what we do’ and you find everything acceptable.”

Conti’s nervousness at being given such a vital role in the production of a Bond film came at a time when the movie interpretation of the character was entering a period of change in it third decade on the big screen. John Glen was a first-time director on the picture, having been both editor and second unit director for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker. 

Roger Moore had reportedly been uncertain on whether or not he would return as 007 after Moonraker in 1979, before coming back into the fold for a fifth time in a more serious and scaled-back (compared with the previous film, at least) entry.

Had Moore have not returned to play Britain’s most famous spy, Bond producers had touted Timothy Dalton – who would eventually replace Moore as 007 in 1986, after A View To A Kill – as his replacement in the 1981 film.

In For Your Eyes Only, then, James Bond is tasked with retrieving a missing weapons encryption device that was aboard a sunken British ship, to stop it falling into enemy hands. Alongside Moore in the cast, the movie features Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover, Michael Gothard and Cassandra Harris. The latter is the first wife of four-time 007 Pierce Brosnan, who was first introduced to Cubby Broccoli on the set of For Your Eyes Only – 14 years before his debut outing in 1995’s GoldenEye. 

For Your Eyes Only fell under the banner of film studio United Artists. The film is attributed with saving the company from bankruptcy with its worldwide gross of $195 million. At the time of its release, United Artists was in great financial difficulty following the $40 million flop that was Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. A sprawling Western depicting the events of the Johnson County War, the incredible story of that film is told in the excellent book Final Cut by Steve Bach.

Roger Moore as James Bond in For Your Eyes Only.

Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only, available on disc now.

Sing the right song

Though For Your Eyes Only's performance at the box office allowed for Bond movies to be made every other year for the rest of the decade before legal struggles halted Dalton’s tenure following 1989’s Licence To Kill, the main concern for Conti was producing a hit title song.

After all, that’s something synonymous with James Bond that follows on from the pre-title sequence of every film – with the exception of the very first movie in the series, Dr No. 

“I wanted a hit song,” recounts Conti, thrusting his hands towards the air. “You’d be really stupid not to see this as a huge opportunity for a film composer to have a hit song that you’re connected with. I was adamant about having a Shirley Bassey type. I spoke to Barbara Streisand in the hope she would write the lyrics and sing the theme. She said that she wanted to do it, but that she was making Yentl [released in 1983] so she wasn’t available because she was really busy. I wanted to cover my back because I wanted the biggest singer with the best chance of getting the biggest hit.”

Conti recalls that “there was some talk of Donna Summer, then we were put in touch with Sheena Easton. Now she did have a hit song at the time, but I thought it was a little middle of the road. It might have been a great song, but I didn’t think that it displayed her abilities in a Shirley Bassey kind of way, because that was what I wanted.”

“But then we sat at the piano together and she started singing: she had these great lows and these great highs. So then I knew that I could write a song specifically for her using these great big lows and these great high notes; she was brilliant – it was great for me really – and of course she’s the only singer to feature physically in the main titles at the at the start of a Bond film.”

Conti pauses for thought as he searches his mind for the name of the legendary title designer, known for his work in 16 Bond film… “Maurice Binder!” He exclaims as he nearly jumps out of his seat.

“Maurice Binder – Maurice was a little guy, just brilliant, and Sheena was a little lady – and when he saw her, he just fell in love. He saw something in her, her face, her look, and came to me and he said ‘Bill, do you think that she would want to be in the main titles?’ I said ‘are you kidding? She’d kill to be in the titles – and we spoke to her and agreed with her and her people that she would appear in the main titles.”

When it came to shooting Easton in the title sequence of For Your Eyes Only, it proved problematic. Binder was using a soft light focus and a high-resolution film stock. Filming the close-ups of Easton’s face, the smallest of head movements would blur her image on the film. In the end, Binder resorted to putting Easton’s head in a steel clamp that was hidden behind her hair and behind her back, therefore being able to keep her head perfectly still without the faintest of movement. Easton would later say “it was the most painful thing that I’ve ever worn, but it got my face in 70 millimetre!”


Conti received the second Oscar nomination of his career for his work on For Your Eyes Only – being nominated in the Best Music, Original Song category in 1982. In turn, he cemented his place in the pantheon of Bond composers.

“Only once or twice, apologetically, Cubby said ‘you know, when James goes into action, we’d like to use his theme, I hope you don’t mind?’ Now as a fan of Bond, I said ‘Cubby – I wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.’ It was wonderful,” Conti remembers.

“It was a great experience. I got to do whatever I wanted in addition to whatever Cubby wanted!”

Also on Film Stories:
James Bond at 60 – where does 007 go from here?
No Time To Die, one year on – a James Bond finale
James Bond, Spectre, and the trouble with a retcon
Skyfall – resurrecting and retro-fitting James Bond
Quantum Of Solace – revisiting Daniel Craig’s difficult second James Bond film
Casino Royale, and the art of disarming and reloading James Bond
Die Another Day, and James Bond as his own worst enemy
The World Is Not Enough and the “Bond girls” of the 1990s
Tomorrow Never Dies – a James Bond film ahead of its time?
GoldenEye and the “Now That’s What I Call James Bond” package
Licence To Kill and James Bond’s special relationship with America
The Living Daylights, and what Timothy Dalton brings to James Bond
A View To A Kill – what really makes a good James Bond movie?
Octopussy, Never Say Never Again, and 1983’s battle of the Bonds
Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and James Bond’s maddest mission
The Spy Who Loved Me – celebrating James Bond’s workplace romantic comedy
The Man With The Golden Gun – a James Bond film as good as its villain?
Live And Let Die and the making of Roger Moore’s James Bond
Diamonds Are Forever and the deal that brought Sean Connery back to James Bond
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the curious case of George Lazenby’s James Bond 
You Only Live Twice and the rise of the James Bond parody
Thunderball and the battles behind its film adaptations
Goldfinger – how James Bond found his gadgets, girls, and groove
From Russia With Love and its 2005 videogame remake
Dr No, and James Bond’s long road to the big screen

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