‘Thunderball’, released in 1965, was a hit, reaching gold record status. But this was just the beginning, for, in John Barry, he found one of the three great writing partnerships that were to mark Don’s career, and he teamed up with Barry again for his next film. It was to make his fortune and seal his reputation.
Don accepts the Oscar for 'Born Free' from Dean Martin
‘Born Free’ won an Oscar for ‘Best Song’ in 1966. It became a song not about lions, but about freedom. It drew from Don some of his most popular verses, and together with John Barry and his easy, deep-breathing music, they created a song that seems to embrace life, nature and the joy of liberty.
To Sir With Love
“To Sir with Love” was an almost unique instance in Don’s career when the words most definitely came before the music. It is the question all songwriters are most frequently asked, and Don usually likes to have the music first. Not in this film. The producers felt that the lyric was all-important. ‘The lyric’, they told Don, ‘is everything here.’
Nothing To Lose
Don supplied two songs for the movie – a theme song, and a love song for Claudine Longet to sing called ‘Nothing To Lose’. Blake Edwards loved the Longet number. He played it to his wife, Julie Andrews, and she adored it. ‘Nothing To Lose’ became one of her favourite songs.
Score by Elmer Bernstein, lyrics by Don Black
In 1969, Don worked together with the legendary Elmer Bernstein on John Wayne’s Oscar-winning ‘True Grit’. The movie has John Wayne’s character ride in to revenge a young girl whose family has been murdered. What won Wayne his Oscar was a real tenderness in his character’s relationship with the girl. Black and Bernstein picked up on that relationship with a song that at once keeps to the conventions of the Western but also scats around with flecks of real sensitivity.
"This is the Self-Preservation Society,
The Self Preservation-Society.
Go wash your German bands,
Your boat race too,
And comb your Barnet fair,
We gotta lot to do."
In 1969, Don was asked to supply a couple of songs for a new film. He had no way of knowing what a great film ‘The Italian Job’ would turn out to be, but he would have done the movie whatever it was, because the approach had been made by one of the classiest, and coolest, of composers – Quincy Jones.
"She doesn't sing the songs, she lives them."
Performed by Shirley Bassey, ‘Diamonds are Forever’ has become a classic. Years after the Bond movie was released, Don was at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s apartment in New York working on ‘Aspects of Love’ when Steven Spielberg, whom Don had never met, popped round to see his friend. Lloyd Webber did the introductions – ‘Steven Spielberg, this is Don Black.’ Spielberg gaped. ‘You’re not the Don Black are you?’ Now it was Don’s turn to gape. Spielberg shook his hand warmly, enthusing, ‘You wrote my favourite title song of all time:”Diamonds Are Forever”!’
"Ben, the two of us need look no more,
We both found what we were looking for,
With a friend to call my own,
I'll never be alone.
And you my friend will see,
You've got a friend in me."
Don’s 1972 hit song ‘Ben’, performed by the late Michael Jackson was a great tear-jerker and consolidated Jackson’s emergence as the world’s darling. Jackson himself loved the song and has several times since said that ‘I used to say / I and me / Now it’s us / Now it’s we’ were his favourite lines from any of his songs. Although nominated for an Oscar, it was beaten by ‘The Poseidon Adventure’. Don’s reaction was characteristic. A shrug, a smile, and ‘Sod it. Put the kettle on.’
The man with the golden gun
1974 saw another date with 007 and John Barry in ‘The man with the golden gun’. Barry delivered a fast, rather intense theme – a bit of a cross between Thunderball and Goldfinger. It is chase music, but with a hint of seductiveness. Lulu supplied the vocals, and went right along with the ‘powerful weapon, seductiveness theme. There was a thrill in her voice. And, she says, there was an unexpected benefit years later. ‘When my son’s friends got to the age of about 9, they became obsessed with Bond. And when they found out that I sang “The man with the Golden Gun”, I was the coolest mum in the school!’
Maureen McGovern sang this love theme song for the 1974 disaster movie Gold, which was based on a novel by Best Selling UK Author Wilbur Smith called Gold Mine.
1974 saw Don’s fourth Oscar nomination in another Roger Moore film, ‘Gold’. Wisely, Don and Elmer Bernstein decided not to write a literal translation of the movies international gold markets theme and came up instead with a number called ‘Wherever Love Takes Me’ which took them back to the Academy Awards where they unfortunately lost out to ‘We May Never Love Like This Again’ (From the movie “The Towering Inferno”).