Friday, November 9, 2012

The Music of 007

Karen: Skyfall, the new Bond film, is out, and singer Adele has gotten a lot of praise for her singing on the title theme. There have been many great Bond songs over the years. Of course composer John Barry was responsible for many of the classic title songs, like "Goldfinger," "Diamonds Are Forever,"  "You Only Live Twice," and of course, the basic Bond theme. But there have been a number of other artists who have produced memorable Bond title tracks. One of my favorites is "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings. It took Bond into rock but still seems to capture the Bond spirit. Another popular Bond song from the 70s was "Nobody Does It Better" from the film The Spy Who Loved Me. This song was sung by Carly Simon but written by songsmiths Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager and was a pretty big hit. Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only" from the film of the same name also scored big , although not a favorite of mine. Personally, I liked Jack White's and Alicia Key's effort from Quantum of Solace, "Another Way to Die," but it performed anemically on the charts.

So what are your favorite Bond songs? And what ones would you like to forget?


Anonymous said...

For me, they kind of divide into the ones that are good AS Bond themes and the ones that are not. A good Bond theme is not necessarily a great song and vice versa. The ballads especially (From Russia with Love, Moonraker, The Living Daylights, License to Kill may be well crafted songs, but they ain’t great Bond). I think the key rule, as David Arnold said, it’s don’t be afraid of the obvious.

You only live Twice falls does not fall into that category because it’s so tuneful and Nancy Sinatra’s vocal is so pretty (factoid: she never actually sang it! Cubby asked Frank, Frank said ‘no, but you should get my daughter to do it’, Cubby figured that saying no to the Chairman might be inadvisable, horse-head wise, so Barry had to record Nancy’s dozens & dozens of attempts and then splice one good one together).

Diamonds are Forever is not a great song, but a good bond theme. Likewise Goldeneye, which was also wonderfully zetigeisty for the first after-the-fall-of-the-wall Bond and a welcome back after a 6 year hiatus (‘you'll never know how I watched you from the shadows as a child’ ....perfect). You Know My Name also scores lots of bonus points as a ‘welcome back to Bond’ song but it also has a great bridge ( the ‘arm yourself because no one is coming to save you’ bit).

Thunderball, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is not enough and that rubbish by Madonna are all completely forgettable.

The Adele song is a good Bond theme because it riffs on classic Bond themes, and because she’s a superb singer.

Goldfinger is a superb Bond theme. It really shouldn’t be a classic song but it is. I mean, it literally just tells you about a comic-book villain, and how many classic standards do that? But what a wonderful song. You would have thought that you couldn’t do much with a gold-obsessed man called Goldfinger, but..... “ He's the man, the man with the Midas touch, a spider's touch, such a cold finger, beckons you to enter his web of sin, but don't go in” just falls off the tongue.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a fave, and Lulu’s vocal is tremendous, but I would love to hear the Alice Cooper alternative on a Bond collection. Again, tying a song down to a title like ‘the Man With the Golden Gun’ ought to make it an impossible clunker, but with that they certainly had no fear of the obvious: they went straight for the phallic and stayed there. There is so much interesting guitar work going on in that song too, including classic 70’s funky wah-wah and lead guitar throughout.

Live & let Die is superb in both the McCartney version and the Guns & Roses. Nobody does it better also kicks ass, despite not being a rock song it still rocks like one.

OHMSS is wonderful (also the Propellerheads mash up). It does actually have lyrics, but it doesn’t need them.

So where does that leave me? Back to basics! The best bond song is the James Bond theme. A ridiculous, bombastic piece of what is is actually, if you think about it, 1950’s big band swing time music, but it is so indelibly etched on our eardrums that it now defies any box, category or genre. Even after 50 years, you can’t improve on perfection.


Chris said...

I saw Skyfall on Wednesday evening and have already forgotten Adele's theme song.

Thank goodness because as I said to my friends with was the first time I'd heard it and thought it was terrible.

I agree that the best Bond song is the theme by a County mile. It was used far too little in Skyfall in my opinion.

Edo Bosnar said...

"Kingston Calypso" from Dr. No. In fact, just the whole soundtrack from that movie has my favorite music made for any of the Bond movies: "Under the Mango Tree," "Twisting with James," "Jamaican Jazz"... Nothing like that mellow and enjoyable Calypso and proto-reggae.
Otherwise, for music specifically associated with Bond movies, I guess nothing beats the main theme music. And I like McCartney's "Live and Let Die" as well.

david_b said...

Not really ranking 'em, but 'Live and Let Die', 'No One Does It Better', and the '60s ones like 'Goldfinger' (easily the most memorable and most-associated with Connery's stint), "Only Live Twice" (funny, never REALLY heard it until a few years back, but really like it..), and 'Diamonds'.

Anything post-'70's..? Ehh.

Mike said...

You know, the James Bond theme used to be my ringtone, so that is easily #1 for me. After that I'd say Goldfinger for exactly the reason david_b said -- I instantly think of Connery driving that Aston Martin when I hear it. That's my fav Bond movie too.

I also second OHMSS. A gem of a Bond movie all around that sometimes gets little attention.

I do like the Adele song going back to its roots a bit. I actually like how they've been handling the music in the Daniel Craig films (not counting Skyfall -- haven't seen it yet). Craig is my fav Bond after Connery so I have high hopes for this new one. I hope it doesn't disappoint.

As far as ones I don't like -- well, I can't even remember any of the music in the Dalton or Brosnan movies, so take your pick.

Paul said...

I've had the Bond themes in my head for weeks now. All of them. I guess my subconscious has been gearing up for Skyfall.
You Know My Name is one of my favorites, not only because it has a great bridge, as mentioned above, but because of the story in the song. It's from M's viewpoint, letting Bond know what's what.
Today, however, for some odd reason, the theme to For Her Majesty's Secret Service has been playing in my head.
So, I guess the answer, ultimately, is, any of them at any given time.

J.A. Morris said...

'Live And Let Die' is the best, 'Goldfinger' a close second. And I agree with Karen on the Jack White/Alicia Keys song. I don't have much use for the rest of the theme songs.
But the Bond theme is the best piece of music associated with the franchise.

Anonymous said...

A VIEW TO A KILL !!!!!!!

Bad movie, great Bond song.

humanbelly said...

I may be putting my Bronze Age guy-cred in SERIOUS jeapordy, here, but--- I have never, to the best of my memory, ever sat down and watched an entire Bond film. . . ever. They used to sort of be network television movie "events", you may recall-- but between commercials, edited scenes, and an early-ish bedtime, I'm pretty darned sure I never saw one from beginning to end.

As far as the music goes, though, that original Barry theme, w/ its knife-edge brass and the percussive "surfer" electric guitar plucking really wins in my book, as it effectively created the Spy Movie Music genre' right there on the spot. Think about how often that sound was borrowed/homaged/spoofed/referenced from that point on. From HELP to the INCREDIBLES, and everything in-between.

Of the pop-song contingent-- pfft, "Live and Let Die"-- hands-down. "Goldfinger" is probably second, just 'cause I like the vocalist's distinctive sound so much. I wasn't fond of this latest Adele entry at first (feel like it's a step down from her previous work)-- but it's definitely growing on me. And I really do like the background use of the minor-key Bond Theme riff that supports it. That's actually how I first identified it as being a Bond song a few days ago.


Garett said...

I'll go with Edo, love the Calypso music from Dr. No. I can hear Under The Mango Tree right now, and it brings back images of Ursula Andress! Also agree with Live and Let Die--great as a theme and radio song.

Anonymous said...

It's a crowded market here, but I have to go with the 007 theme too. Not only is it the quintessential piece of Bond music, not only did it start the spy music genre singlehandedly (as Humanbelly remarked), not only does it always quicken my pulse when it appears halfway through a Bond chase scene,'s darn fun to play on guitar, too. Want to pick up a guitar at a party and immediately become the center of attention? Or get a crowd on your side at a so-so bar gig? Pluck that riff. And don't forget the chord cluster at the end. Your coolness factor will be insured forever.

I like all the Bond themes up until Moonraker, which was weak, like the film. I hated the song, and the entire score for For Your Eyes Only. A shame, as it's one of Roger Moore's better Bond films otherwise. Hit and miss since then. Die Another Day is the absolute worst Bond theme.

We're going to see Skyfall on iMax tonight. I'm psyched. I think the Adele theme is a return to the classic Bond themes (and, my wife loves it).

The Living Daylights: Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders did two great songs with John Barry for this one that were buried on favor of that stupid Aha theme. Go figure.

Special coolness points for Goldfinger: Jimmy Page was one of the session musicians on it.

James Chatterton

Dougie said...

The Bond theme in a minor key is what appeals to me most about Skyfall. Plus the fact that it references the action of the plot. I also think Adele brings a touch of Bassey to the phrasing but I know it's not to everyone's taste.

As a song, From Russia... is a favourite but as a Bond theme, I'd have to go with Diamonds ( for the fantastic bass); Live and Let Die for bombast; and OHMSS for drama.

In the "modern" era, I like Goldeneye although Tina Turner was a decade late. I also like Die Another Day! The video references Moonraker and Goldfinger among others. " Sigmund Freud, analyse this" makes me cringe however.

Actually, my favourite from David Arnold's cover collection from the mid-90s (Shaken and Stirred) is All Time High. After Jarvis Cocker's rather sinister intimacy, it goes completely bonkers at the end. Again the minor key Bond theme runs below the crashing guitars.

Inkstained Wretch said...

The consensus seems to lean towards Goldfinger and Live & Let Die as the best. I cannot argue with that so I won't.

I'd like to throw in a vote for Sheena Easton's For Your Eyes Only, which really is superb, easily the best thing she ever did. It just soars and its romantic too.

And although it is not very Bond-like, I also gotta give a shout-out to to We've Got All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty's Secret Service by the great Satchmo. It was one of the last things he ever recorded (if not the last) and, man, songs just don't get any more poignant than that...

Redartz said...

Have to share the love for Goldfinger. Shirley Bassey belted it out with gusto, creating a classic in the process.

You Only Live Twice is another fine Bond tune, it sticks in your head for days after watching the film.

Duran Duran's theme for View to a Kill, I felt, was the best thing about that movie.

I love the current offering by Adele; classy, dramatic and wonderfully performed.

May I give notice to some of the incidental Bond music? John Barry's Bond theme is unforgettable, but his "007" is also a pulse-quickener. Think of the scene in "From Russia With Love" when the Gypsy camp is attacked; the chaotic melee is all the more exciting from that musical theme.

Unknown said...

Just saw Skyfalll. It's epic! Catch it in IMAX if you can. I'm willing to bet a few scenes were shot w/ I max cameras.

James Chatterton

Anonymous said...

My favorites are easily:

#1 - Spy Who Loved Me

#2 - For Your Eyes Only

I'm excited to catch Skyfall.


ChrisPV said...

I have little to add to the discussion other than to say that Madonna's Die Another Day should be classified as a war crime.

As for favorite? I really like Live and Let Die and Nobody Does It Better. And the classic Monty Norman piece, of course.

david_b said...

Quiet sidenote.. From Macca's Wingspan DVD, he details the story about presenting his theme the producers on location..

He played the finished tune for them, then they reply, 'this is nice, but when will you have the finished product to us..??'

Yes, even Macca was struggling to be a contender back then.

Comicsfan said...

I found myself over time playing "Moonraker" more than the others, but lately I've become a big fan of Tina Turner's more vibrant song from Goldeneye. I think it might be the consensus everywhere, though, that "Goldfinger" reigns supreme.

Tony said...

1. Live and Let Die
2. The Man With the Golden Gun
3. A View to a Kill
4. The Spy who loved me.
5. For Your Eyes Only

Vintage Bob said...

It would be hard to put them in any definitive ranking order, but my top five are:

1. You Know My Name (Casino Royale)
2. A View To A Kill (A View To A Kill)
3. Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)
4. Live and Let Die (Live and Let Die)
5. Skyfall (Skyfall)

I've always been a Connery fan, although I grew up with and liked Moore too. But Casino Royale has done the impossible and become my all time favorite Bond movie, and the song my favorite song. I think I gotta rank it #1.

View To A Kill was a great song, and the movie also gave us one of my all time lines from a Bond movie:

Max Shreck: "Intuitive improvisation is the secret of genius".

Hated all the Brosnan movies, songs, etc.

Matthew Bradley said...

Hate to go all academic on you guys, but as I believe only ChrisPV acknowledged (and obliquely at that), John Barry did not compose "The James Bond Theme." He did, however, arrange and perform it for DR. NO with his band, the John Barry Seven. As such, he was sufficiently responsible for its sound as we know it today that years of legal wrangling ensued, in which he unsuccessfully sought to share credit with Monty Norman, who scored DR. NO. The courts disagreed, which is why every subsequent film credits the Bond theme to Norman.

Matt Monro's vocal for FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a pretty imposing edifice of fromage, but the version heard over the titles--one of the few instrumentals in the series, along with Barry's superb ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE--kicks ass. It's a significant point, because the producers still weren't willing to entrust an entire score to Barry on RUSSIA, so they hired Lionel (OLIVER!) Bart to compose the title theme. Barry wrote the rest of the score, which introduced his enduring "007" theme, and his skill at arranging Bart's theme to suit so many moods is impressive.

They finally gave Barry complete control on GOLDFINGER, and the results speak for themselves. He delivered with what is probably the definitive Bond theme song, plus one of the best scores in the series, although he dominated the musical end of Bond for so many years that there's ample competition.

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