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David Arnold's Ultimate Playlist

Personal, touching, terrific - the film composer's picked a hell of a list

David Arnold's Ultimate Playlist

 If you had a childhood in the nineties, David Arnold probably soundtracked it.

The British composer, arguably best known for scoring five James Bond films and Danny Boyle's London's 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, is responsible for more blockbuster scores in that decade than most, heightening our thrills in Stargate, Godzilla and – of course - Independence Day.

Now two decades on and fans of the 1996 sci-fi - affectionately known as ID4 - can enjoy it like never before: on 22 September, it will be screened at the Royal Albert Hall accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Tickets for which can be found here.
Conducted by Gavin Greenaway, this 20th anniversary event will kick off with a talk from Arnold himself, fresh from scoring the new series of BBC’s Sherlock, and no doubt keen to relive those heady, landmark obliterating memories.
We asked Arnold to give us his Ultimate Playlist, and he didn't let us down. Personal, touching and full of great songs, it's a heck of a list.


"We Have All the Time in the World from OHMSS. There’s probably no better writer than John Barry when it comes to achingly beautiful melodies. This isn't the easiest of songs to sing but none of John’s songs were. They were deceptively complicated, they sounded effortless. It’s also the only Bond film to have an actual montage to a song. The Louis Armstrong vocal makes it extra special and the lyric, by Hal David, is elegant, moving and timeless."


"When I climb the stairs and turn the key, oh please be there, still in love with me." Another drop dead piece of genius from songwriter Hal David - it's difficult to pick a favourite as I was going to have a Don Black lyric from a song I wrote with him but didn't think that'd be appropriate... so Hal is my second - he manages to grab that little piece of desperation and tacks it onto the end of a piece of optimism. A sting in the tail of the tale; from a singer’s point of view it’s a gift of a lyric."


"I find Karen Carpenter’s voice incredible. Who doesn’t? But I never expected this song from her. It’s an exceptionally depressing lyric but somehow finds great beauty in its misery. I have never heard a more nihilistic lyric: "I’ll say goodbye to one ever cared if I should live or die". Crikey. Oh and how about that guitar solo? Madness."


"I watched The Jungle Book in Dublin with my family back before I was in double figures age-wise. The Sherman Brothers songs in that film were obviously genius, although this one, The Bear Necessities, was the only one in the film not written by them; it was by Terry Gilkyson who had written a previous song score for the film that subsequently was re-written by the Shermans. This song survived, and as a child of course you love Baloo and it’s joyful."


"I'm going with Still Water by Daniel Lanois. People will obviously have heard this but I’m hoping not too many, so I don't look stupid. I got into Daniel’s album Acadie through his work with [Brian] Eno – it’s a masterpiece of atmosphere. I love the sound of this song as much as I love the song itself, I’m always singing the first line for some reason when going about my daily business. The whole album is like a sort of voodoo Cajun dreamscape with some fantastic instrumental pieces and some other more standard song structures. A rare case of a producer being an artist as interesting as the people he'd normally produce."


"I don't go clubbing so I have no idea...but I really enjoyed God is a DJ by Faithless when I saw them do it at Glastonbury. I’m not into club music as much as I was too old for the rave thing when it happened, so it washed over me. Then I saw Faithless do this live, and for the first time I think I got what it was all about."


"A bit left-field but a bit special: Never Let Her Slip Away by Andrew Gold. Such a simple and sweet lyric (“I know it’s going to make me happy to never let her slip away”). The endless bass drum clap thing that intros and outros the song. On the vinyl copy I had, it kept going round until you took the needle off. And bacon was cheaper too, right kids?!"


"Wow. That vocal, that production, that writing - Human's Rag 'n' BoneMan reminds me of those essential political records of the seventies coming out of the US, be it Stevie Wonder, Temptations or Gil Scott Heron. But no, he's a white guy from Uckfield."


"Black’s Wonderful Life is another one of those records which catches my ear before the music does. Then you hear that calm, sincere and beautiful vocal, like someone holding your hand as the lights go out. I was so sad when I heard Colin [Vearncombe] had passed away. When records get to you personally, you feel a connection with the author and the performer, so even though you may never have met them, it still feels like a sting."


"Play Dead. Only because it started a lot of things off. People began to take me seriously as a writer, producer and film composer all in one go after this one. I had scored my first film and this was the song from the soundtrack. Bjork was, as you'd expect: a raw and inspirational talent. Jah Wobble's bass was full of everything I’d hoped it would be and Tim Simenon's mix managed to get every element in its place. It had a certain urgency to it and, in a way, was the culmination of everything I'd been trying to do up to that point.

"We only had time for one take of this on the session as we had left it until the score had been recorded first. Faced with three minutes left on the clock and a three minute song, we made it count. This is the only time the orchestra had even seen the parts, so what you're hearing is actually a read through. Hats off to our continually brilliant studio musicians. Essential and largely unsung."

Buy your tickets to the Royal Albert Hall's live screening of Independence Day here