License To Thrill: The Bond Songs
“My name is Barry, John Barry.” No, it’s not Agent 005 or 009. John Barry was not retained at any time by Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Without him, though, the confident and definitive musical stylings layered behind the soundtrack of practically every James Bond film would not exist. The Bond mystique might have had to toss out its dry martinis and turned in its Walther PPKs long before it had a chance to jump off the screen and be noticed. Instead, the slinky, brassy, lush sounds from the early Bond songs enticed artists of the day to sign up and lend their crooning to spydom’s most lovable protagonist. The recent resurgence in ‘cool’ ‘60s secret agent films and their music, especially as lovingly spoofed by Austin Powers, has many a rocker claiming they grew up on the retro ‘coolness’ and were heavily influenced by it in countless modern-day interviews. While musical trends have come and gone, the melodic, action-paced, orchestral-backed Bond songs, for the most part, have remained timeless. As composer David Arnold, recent scorer for the Bond films “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “The World Is Not Enough,” said to CMS New Music Monthly, “These records just failed to recognize anything that was going on around them. They existed in their own little universe. They make no attempt at being contemporary. And the advantage to doing that is you keep one step ahead of being unfashionable, because you were never fashionable in the first place.”
So, how did it all begin? A poor kid from Long Island, New York, who once watched Charles Lindbergh in his Spirit of St. Louis plane fly over a nearby field on his historical journey across the Atlantic, dreamed of attaining those very heights someday in his own life. His name was Albert R. Broccoli, descendant of the man who originally cultivated the bushy green vegetable, and after a stint as a farmer, he eventually landed square in Hollywood in the forties, fortuitously under the watchful eye of mentor Howard Hughes. Becoming a producer, young Broccoli teamed with another man, Irving Allen, and the two stationed their company in London, churning out B-type movies in the 1950s. Reading novels about a secret agent by the name of James Bond, Broccoli was intrigued enough to track down the creative mind behind the superspy, Ian Fleming. Another producer by the name of Harry Saltzman had retained the rights to Fleming’s books but saw little value in them. Broccoli convinced Saltzman otherwise. Dropping his partner Allen, Broccoli teamed with Saltzman, and together, they launched the most successful franchise in motion picture history.
After rifling through the photos of hundreds of rugged leading men, they happened upon a lorry driver/actor from Scotland, whose one big claim to fame had been a starring role in “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.” Broccoli’s wife told Albert that this Sean Connery had all the requisite sexual charm to bowl over any female in the audience. Director Terence Young, who had been assigned to film the first Bond flick, “Dr. No,” got Connery fitted in Saville Row suits and made the unrefined actor go to fashionable restaurants and society events to help foster a more sophisticated attitude in the nervous leading man.
“Dr. No” was shot around Jamaica, featured the lovely Ursula Andress, and concerned the evil title character, who was out to foul up America’s NASA operations. (Party trivia factoid #1: Dr. No was originally scripted to be a monkey). When it came time to contract a composer for the new film, Broccoli turned to a local London songwriter by the name of Monty Norman. Norman turned in his score and his theme song for the opening titles, which he claims was a number from a musical he had previously written called “A House For Mr. Biswas,” which was never produced. For whatever reason, the producers were not satisfied that this was to be the definitive James Bond sound.
They turned to a musician/producer named John Barry. Barry was from York in the north of England and had studied piano from the age of 8. His father owned several movie theatres in town, and by age 15, when he was running the projectors, young John Barry would spend many an hour listening to the grand-scale scores of film masters like Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, and Bernard Herrmann. After a stint in the army, Barry began his own jazz outfit, The John Barry Seven. He also became a producer at EMI studios in London. When singer Adam Faith, one of the people Barry produced, got the lead in a movie called “Beat Girl,” Barry was brought on to do the soundtrack. Two more score jobs for the movies “Never Let Go” and “The Amorous Prawn” led to the Bond producers approaching Barry to help them out. Barry listened to Monty Norman’s theme, then rearranged it and orchestrated it. To this day, the James Bond Theme song is perhaps the most recognizable piece of movie music ever created. It just oozes ‘cool.’
Barry told Film Score Monthly how his learning from Bill Russo, who was an arranger, composer and trombonist for the great jazz musician Stan Kenton, lent a great influence to the overall music of James Bond. “I think the genesis of the Bond sound was most certainly that Kenton-esque sharp attack, extreme ranges, top C’s and beyond, and on the low end you’d go right down to the low F’s and below, so you’d have a wall of sound. The typical thing, that Bond thing, is very much this brass sound.” The star of the James Bond theme is undeniably a session guitarist named Vic Flick, whose lightning-quick strums of the strings are emulated by practically every guitarist fooling around during a break in recording sessions. If you listen to the “Dr. No” score, the sound of the compositions are very full, with tonally-pleasing balances. This atmospheric sound lent both the Bond scores and their songs that timeless quality. Barry said, “On all the early James Bond movies, we used to record in a place called CTS (Cine-Tele Studios), which was an old Masonic Hall. Wonderful. It had a natural sound. All the echoes you hear in the Bond movies, most of that was not artificial. The room sounded like that, all that natural reverberation, and that strange, characteristic sound was born out of that room. It would have sounded different in any other room.”
“Dr. No” did not utilize a song with lyrics to start off the film. Bob Simmons, Connery’s stuntman, simply walked out in front of that famous gun barrel, fired at the audience, the screen turned blood-red, and the James Bond theme kicked in. Because he had been contracted to do the score, Monty Norman received full credit for the theme song with only a ‘performance’ credit given to the John Barry Seven. This is something that has miffed Bond fanatics for decades, who think Barry got the short shrift in acknowledgement. But as Barry told Mojo magazine in 1997, “I didn’t care that Norman took the credit. I’d never read a Bond book in my life (up to that point).” But as to the speculation of whether he truly created the theme song, Barry did lay it on a little more persuasively. “If I didn’t do it, why did they (the producers) not continue to employ Mr. Norman for the following Bond movies?” The ball’s in your court, Monty.
From Russia With Love
Barry, indeed, received the call to do the next Bond film in 1963. President John F. Kennedy had sanctioned the series by this point, saying how much he loved the Bond books and was a fan of “Dr. No.” Broccoli, however, was not too convinced that a vocal version of a title theme needed to be sung. A compromise was met. Someone would sing a song over the end credits instead. Composer Lionel Bart, famous for creating the musical “Oliver!,” was brought in to write a theme song. Since the cachet of singing a Bond song had not been established, people weren’t exactly clamoring to lend their vocals to the tune. Barry and the Bond team turned to a balladeer at EMI studios who had scored a hit song, “You Keep Me Swingin’,” with Beatle producer George Martin for a Peter Sellers’ comedy album. His name was Matt Monro.
With his powerful voice, Monro was a forceful presence on the soundtrack at the end of the film. As Bond and his female companion have successfully stolen a code-breaking device from S.P.E.C.T.R.E., thrown the henchman Red Grant off a train, and strangled the evil Rosa Klebb, they are seen floating romantically away on a Venice gondala, with Monro’s lyrics, “…my running around is through, I fly to you, from Russia with Love” wafting dreamily from the soundtrack. The piece was used earlier in the film, being played from a radio, while Bond is romancing another woman on a boat. Overall, this was a strong composition, and it set the series on the course of richly-produced, highly-crafted songs. (Monro would go on to sing the title song for Barry on the 1966 film “Born Free”). The main element lacking from this title tune, however, was Barry’s heavy brass sound, and since the theme was entirely Lionel Bart’s, Barry’s total influence was not to be felt until the next feature. “From Russia With Love” was a moderate success as far as radio airplay was concerned, but the soundtrack album only rose to number 27 on the U.S. chart. The next soundtrack would go through the roof.
This is where it all came together, musically-speaking. Barry said, “From every point of view stylistically, “Goldfinger” is my favorite. That was like the blueprint.” For the first time, Barry was allowed to compose both the theme song and the score. “That was very important to me, so I could integrate the theme with the score.” He set about working feverishly on the melody of the piece. Actor Michael Caine, who was temporarily staying at John Barry’s apartment at the time, said he was kept awake one night while Barry pounded away at the keyboards in the next room. By morning, Barry played him the finished song, “Goldfinger.” “It was the craziest song ever,” Barry said. “I went to Anthony Newley to write the lyric. He said, ‘What the hell do I do with it?’ I said, ‘It’s “Mack The Knife.” It’s a song about a villain.” Songwriter Leslie Briscusse, who had worked extensively with composer Henry Mancini, and would later be renowned for the hits “The Candyman” and “What Kind of Fool Am I,” helped Newley with the lyrics. Once finished, singer Newley wanted to take a crack at recording a demo of the song. Barry, commenting on Newley’s vocal version on the classic, said, “It was never intended for use in the movie. We wanted someone with real conviction that could sing the song. Shirley Bassey had the conviction.”
Born in Wales and now having received the title of “Dame,” Bassey was a professional singer a decade before being called upon to sing her landmark single. She had a number one hit in the U.K. in 1958 with “As I Love You.” She had performed at venues in New York and Vegas, and also for JFK. Throughout her long career, she has spent more time in the U.K. charts than any other British female performer, and in a recent survey of top British acts on the continent, Mojo magazine placed her at number 15, ahead of such acts like The Rolling Stones, U2, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The Propellerheads used her magnificent vocal talents on their techno hit “History Repeating” for the 1998 film “There’s Something About Mary.”
The entire score for “Goldfinger” was recorded at CTS in four days. Bassey’s song was cut in one night. Producer Harry Saltzman thought it was the worst thing ever. But both Saltzman and his co-producer Albert Broccoli were pressed for time, and Broccoli felt it would work, so the song stayed. Bassey’s delivery was audacious and sassy. To this day, it’s a strong signature song. It not only clearly defined the “Bond” approach to a title tune for both the sixties and today, but it has, for lack of a better term, brass cajones. This woman belts out the song. With her long, drawn-out enunciation, “Gold-fingahh,” she brought an instant recognition factor to people who might not have otherwise associated music with the Bond series. (Party trivia factoid #2: The notes of “Goldfinger” can be heard whistled by a janitor, when Bond is escorted to meet his girlfriend’s father in the 1969 007 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”).
The single for “Goldfinger” went to number 8 on the U.S. chart in 1965 and number 21 in England, but the soundtrack album for the film shot straight to number one for three weeks. In six months, it had racked in two million dollars worth to the film’s producers and the United Artists record label. The Bond series was now on firm footing and everybody couldn’t wait until the next installment.
Producers Broccoli and Saltzman felt they’d never be able to top the sensation created by the song “Goldfinger” for their follow-up movie. And besides, writing lyrics around something called “Thunderball” would probably prove daunting. So they requested another song be created that would not be a normal title song. Leslie Bricusse came up with a tune called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” which is what James Bond was known as in Italy and Japan. The lyrics were truly insipid – “He’s tall and he’s dark/And like a shark/He looks for trouble/That’s why the zero’s double/Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” But, come to think of it, most of the Bond lyrics are silly or just plain befuddling. Shirley Bassey was brought back in to take a crack at this new tune, but her version wasn’t quite up to snuff. Dionne Warwick was then brought before the microphone for the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song. “Dionne’s was a marvelous song and she did a great arrangement for it,” Barry commented. “I had about 12 cow bells on it with different rhythms, along with a large orchestra and thought it was a very original piece. Then, at the last minute, they (the producers) got cold feet and decided to have a song called “Thunderball.”
Lyricist Don Black, who later wrote the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” musical, was brought in to make sense of words to go around Thunderball. Considering there is no such thing as a Thunderball, he did an adequate job – “He always runs while others walk/He acts while other men just talk/He looks at this world and wants it all/So he strikes like Thunderball.” Welshman Tom Jones was contracted to sing the title tune. With his brash swagger and give-it-all delivery, Jones’ version still holds up as a slightly campy, yet powerful rendition. As he was recording the final verse of the song, he held the final note, “Thunderballllllll,” for a long period of time (this is a standard trademark of most of the Bond songs). Poor Tom actually fainted from lack of oxygen. On a recent CD release of the 30th anniversary of Bond, you can make out his voice trailing off at the end. Too bad they didn’t leave in the thud of his swiveling bod smacking the floor.
With “Thunderball,” the Bond franchise was completely defined. Because not only did they have the now-pre-requisite pre-credit sequence of Bond foiling some foe in five minutes, but they had the services of Maurice Binder to design the opening titles. Up to this point, Robert Brownjohn had just used a technique of projecting images on a girl’s belly. But with Binder’s efforts, the main titles, accompanied by the hit songs, turned everything into “spy-art.” Naked girls swinging from giant guns, tumbling, flying, sailing over Bond’s head. These were images that had never been seen before in cinema. Binder’s influence can be felt to this day, whenever you see showy main title sequences in a current film. “Thunderball” drew phenomenal box-office. New York’s Paramount Theatre stayed open 24 hours to accommodate the crowds. “Thunderball,” the song, only made it to number 25 on the U.S. charts, but the producers were already concocting their next adventure.
You Only Live Twice
For this installment of the series, which centered on the theft of U.S. and Russian space capsules, John Barry keyed his score to suit the silent ambience of space and the restrained allure of the Far East in which the film took place. Therefore, the brass sound was out of the title tune. Leslie Bricusse was again called in to craft the lyrics, and overall, the song turned out to be very enduring. With its wispy, almost ghostly vocals, presented before a primarily string orchestra, the lush sounds give a retro, wistful feeling to the listening experience.
Lyricist Don Black’s sister-in-law, Julie Rogers, was a session singer in the London area, and Barry conducted her, along with a 60-piece orchestra on the title tune at CTS studios. Either she wasn’t a big enough name or Albert Broccoli wanted to do someone else a favor, remains a revelation we’ll never know, but Julie’s version went away. Barry also favored the choice of obtaining Aretha Franklin to lend her vocal chops to the title song. Instead, having been a great friend of the Sinatra family for many years, visiting them often in Palm Springs, Broccoli brought aboard Frank’s daughter, Nancy Sinatra, who had just scored a number one hit in the United States with her jumpy-jangly sensation “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Nancy later said, “That was a scary experience. The London Philharmonic played on the session. Real pressure.” Actually they were session musicians brought in by Barry, but, all the same, Nance had never had to perform on cue in front of so many fellow artisans. The recording went off without a hitch. However, “You Only Live Twice,” unfortunately, did not crack the Top 40 in America. Decades later, British recording phenom, Robbie Williams, sampled the melody to “You Only Live Twice” in his breakout hit, “Millennium.”
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
This film did not have a vocal title song. A synthesizer-driven instrumental version of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was played over Maurice Binder’s hip visual titles. (The Propellerheads’ version of this song was a huge dance hit in the U.K. in 1997). There were a couple of drawbacks to this new Bond entry. A really horrible song called “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?” was featured in the film and sung by someone named Nina while Bond and his love interest, Tracy, are avoiding Ernst Stavros Blofeld’s cronies at a skating rink. And a new Bond, Australian George Lazenby, who had previously been renowned for hawking Fry’s chocolate bars Down Under, fumbled the ball with his less-than-dashing take on the superhero. The few things that actually worked well in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” were the strong storyline, the fabulous Swiss Alps locales, and a song sung by the great Louis Armstrong.
A side-story to the main plotline involved Bond falling in love and marrying Tracy, played by actress Diana Rigg. At the film’s conclusion, she is killed in front of Bond by Telly Savalas’ Blofeld. A song was needed for a montage sequence where the two lovebirds fall for each other. But Barry saw a problem. “That movie didn’t move you as it should have done when she dies at the end,” he said. “The chemistry just didn’t work.” (Party trivia factoid #3: Diana Rigg supposedly had such disregard for Mr. Lazenby and his acting abilities that she purposely ate garlic before their love scenes). For the montage sequence, Barry and lyricist Hal David (who had penned a slew of hit songs with Burt Bacharach) wrote the truly moving “We Have All The Time In The World.” This song would be brought up under the tragic death at the end, as an instrumental. Something needed to trigger the instrumental version in the audience’s mind back to the vocal version, in order to tie the horrible moment to the great moment in Tracy’s life. Barry explained, “I wanted the irony of an old man singing around this young girl’s death – and that’s why I wanted Louis Armstrong. I could think of no one else but Louis Armstrong from the start.”
The producers found Louis as an outpatient at a New York hospital. Armstrong was dying. As Barry told author Steven Jay Rubin, “Louis Armstrong was the sweetest man alive, but having been laid up for over a year, he had no energy left. He couldn’t even play his trumpet. And still he summoned the energy to do our song. At the end of the recording session in New York City, he came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for this job.’ He was such a marvelous man. He died soon after that.” The irony of his singing “We Have All The Time In The World” on his last legs makes this the most poignant, possibly best, Bond recording in the series’ history. As far as ballads go, there is such a gentle, glowing response to the sounds emanating from Armstrong’s bass voice that there aren’t too many singles which can come close to capturing this profound and vivid effect. The song worked so well in the movie, but failed to chart in the United States. For some strange reason, it hit the number one spot two years later in Italy.
Diamonds Are Forever
Lazenby was out. Broccoli had become fed up with his ‘star’ tantrums on the set and sent this Aussie back to filmdom obscurity. Searches for a new Bond actor brought up the idea of plugging Americans like Burt Reynolds or Paul Newman into the role. Thankfully, Sean Connery, who had dissed James Bond in the sixties, returned to the part which had given him his career for the next installment, “Diamonds Are Forever.” The story, which centered around a satellite being used for mass destruction, featured Blofeld and Bond once again at each other’s throats. (Party Trivia Factoid #3: Connery is seen dangling outside the penthouse of the Las Vegas Hilton. Broccoli friend, Howard Hughes, who owned the hotel and resided there, allowed his chum the use of the building). For this seventh installment of the Bond movies, another veteran was brought back as well, Ms. Shirley Bassey.
With the lyrical assistance of Don Black, John Barry composed a title tune which was average at best. With Bassey cooing as the spurned lover of the song, “Diamonds are forever/They’re all I need to please me/They can stimulate and tease me/They won’t leave in the night/I’ve no fear that they might…desert me,” the trademark delivery she fostered in “Goldfinger,” that of elongated enunciation, was back in full force. Using a ‘70s style ‘wah-wah’ sound on guitar along with a chiming percussive backing, Barry was moving on a bit from the heavy wall of sound approach he designed for the series a decade ago. “Diamonds Are Forever” the movie fared much better than the song, which only rose to number 57 on the U.S. chart. The Bond franchise would need a bit of an overhaul in the music department. They got it on the next picture.
Live and Let Die
The overhaul consisted of John Barry not being a part of the Bond formula for this film. He had indelibly made his mark on the franchise, but now, Barry was being utilized more and more by other filmmakers. Barry’s old EMI studios pal, George Martin, was called in to score “Live and Let Die.” And with him, he brought a Beatle. Paul McCartney had been touring with a small band named Wings for the last two years, having released an album called “Wild Life” under that group moniker. While putting together his “Red Rose Speedway” LP, Paul was contacted to compose a title song. Having scored the movie “The Family Way” in the late ‘60s, McCartney was no stranger to the world of film music. It was decided that he write the Bond song early on in production, instead of waiting towards completion (as is the case with most music production on films) because the tune “Live and Let Die” would be sung by a nightclub performer in the picture. McCartney went to work in the Abbey Road Studios and emerged with one of the best-loved main songs to a Bond picture ever.
With George Martin’s dynamic orchestrations backing him up, McCartney’s fast-paced, crashing, and urgent theme assaults the audience in such a way as to amp the adrenaline in anticipation. Arguably, it was one of the best songs he wrote in the early seventies. Guns n’ Roses covered it in a smashing version on their “Use Your Illusion 1” album in 1991. If anything, it gave the new Bond, Roger Moore, a distinctive, energetic introduction to admiring fans. The song was used to a voodoo knockout opening titles designed by Maurice Binder and, as mentioned, was sung by B.J. Arnau, in a scene where Bond enters a New Orleans nightspot on the trail of Mr. Big. (Party trivia factoid #4: the film’s many action sequences by every mode of transportation, that of train, plane, and car, were culminated in the spectacular speedboat chase, during which a boat jump set a world record). The title tune rose to number 2 in the U.S. chart during the summer of 1973 and dominated the airwaves well into autumn of that year. The following year, “Live and Let Die” received an Academy Award nomination for best song but lost to “The Way We Were.”
The Man With The Golden Gun
With the “Live and Let Die” precedence, it seemed the Bond music would slant more towards rock and roll numbers and fast-paced, funky scores. For the 1974 release of “The Man With The Golden Gun,” however, Broccoli and company brought John Barry back on board. With the assistance of lyricist Don Black, for some reason, the two used a singer who wasn’t exactly a hitmaker in the ‘70s. Lulu had been a teen pop sensation in the mid-60s when she starred in and sang the title song from the film “To Sir With Love,” but her career had faded from the charts long before “The Man With The Golden Gun” began production. While not a Shirley Bassey clone, Lulu did have similar stylings in the way she belted out her lyrics to the title song, “…man with the golden guuuunn.” The new tune emulated the Bassey classic, “Goldfinger,” in that it was a song about the villain of the movie, not about Bond, and this time his name was Francesco Scaramanga, a professional, high-paid assassin, known for his remarkable accuracy and cunning. (Party trivia factoid #5: Actor Christopher Lee, who played Scaramanga, was a cousin of Bond author Ian Fleming).
A noteworthy claim was made by macabre showman Alice Cooper around this time, when he cited that the Bond producers were interested in his contributing a title song for the film. In fact, during that year, when his “Muscle of Love” LP was released, there was a track called “The Man With The Golden Gun” contained on it. Cooper insists this is the tune he was contracted to compose for the Bond score. It certainly is edgier and more rock-oriented than the Lulu cut. Neither song ever made much of a dent in the charts, however, even though, Lulu’s version received significant radio airplay in the United Kingdom.
The Spy Who Loved Me
“Like heaven above me/The spy who loved me/Baby, you’re the best!” These rather strange lyrics turned out to be part of one of the all-time favorite Bond songs ever created. This 007 film was not only Roger Moore’s favorite in which he starred as the superspy, but also most fans’ favorite of Roger Moore’s Bonds. John Barry was strapped with previous obligations, so Broccoli hired composer Marvin Hamlisch, the man behind “A Chorus Line” and winner of an Academy Award for his soundtrack to “The Sting,” to present his take on the legendary Bond sound. Together with his lyricist-writing partner, Carole Bayer Sager, Hamlisch fashioned the hit song, “Nobody Does It Better.” Both songwriters were good friends with the reclusive singer Carly Simon, and before long, a version of the title tune landed on Broccoli’s desk.
While Hamlisch’s score for “The Spy Who Loved Me” bordered on camp, with its disco Bond theme and “Lawrence of Arabia” spoofing in the scene where Bond and Major Amasova (Barbara Bach) cross an Egyptian desert, “Nobody Does It Better” was a hit. Many Bond fans cite it as their favorite, and with its lush, slinky melody and octave-splitting vocal gymnastics, the song is as fresh today as when it was released. The single dominated the music charts during the summer of 1977, holding at number 2 in the U.S. for three consecutive weeks and rising to number 7 in the U.K. The song was nominated for an Academy Award in 1978 but lost to Debby Boone’s turgid lark of a ditty “You Light Up My Life.”
1979’s “Moonraker” was the epitome of Bond in excess. The outer space theme that had made “You Only Live Twice” a classy entry was turned into folly by the smirking Roger Moore and a dubiously-Third Reichian storyline involving madman Hugo Drax plotting to kill mankind in order to repopulate the planet on his own terms. Out were the theatrical sounds of Hamlisch, back were the restrained signature score of Barry. For the title song, he worked with Hal David in fashioning a spacey-sounding theme complete with lyrics that included the lines “Just like the Moonraker goes in search of his dream of gold/I search for love, for someone to have and hold.” Never mind the fact that the Moonraker was a spaceship and gold was not a part of the storyline, Bond lyrics never made much sense anyway.
Broccoli friend, Frank Sinatra, was originally asked to record the title tune, but he politely turned them down. It was rumored that English songbird, Kate Bush, was offered the chance to record “Moonraker,” but she, too, also refused. So, when all else failed, Broccoli and Barry turned once again to Shirley Bassey. (Party trivia factoid #6: Bassey is the only person who sang on more than one Bond song throughout its motion picture history). The material wasn’t up to her usual stylings, more dreamy than brassy, and therefore, it was not a very memorable tune. It didn’t help that Barry fell prey to the disco trappings of the period and boogied-up the end credit version of the song. But not to worry, more Bond hit singles were on the way.
For Your Eyes Only
“In this corner, weighing in at 275 pounds from Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, and in the other corner, weighing a mere 173 pounds from London, James Bond!” This is not the plot of “Rocky VI,” but instead, an allusion to the composer who next took the musical reins of the Bond franchise. Bill Conti had cleaned up at the 1977 Oscars with his soaring “Gonna Fly Now” tune to “Rocky,” and was given the chance to lend a boost to Bond. Corralling the talents of lyricist Michael Leeson, the duo delivered the romantic sounds of this film’s main title song. In “For Your Eyes Only,” Broccoli wanted to pull back from the over-the-top nonsense that made “Moonraker” a satire of the series and put a more human spin on their beloved secret agent. (Bond does get to have a little fun, such as the scene where he punches in a musical identi-graph code at weaponry expert Q’s lab to the strains of “Nobody Does It Better”). Conti’s score held back from the blasting brass and introduced more strings to heighten the emotional response between Roger Moore and his relationship to Melina, played by his female co-star Carole Bouquet. (Party trivia factoid #7: Another actress who had a walk-on part in the film turned out to be Tula, a famous model from Britain and the first transsexual actress in a Bond film).
Riding the top-five charts with her “Morning Train” single, Sheena Easton was Broccoli’s prime candidate to belt out the smoldering main title song. She also was the first and only singer to be featured in Maurice Binder’s hip main title credits amongst the female silhouettes and flashy guns. Out of all the ‘romantic’ Bond songs created, “For Your Eyes Only” holds up extremely well over the test of time. Without disco or new wave leanings, which were prevalent during this period, Conti’s lush and cool orchestral arrangement makes for a transcendent tune. “For Your Eyes Only” rose to number 4 on the U.S. chart and number 8 on the U.K. chart and was nominated for Best Song at the 1982 Academy Awards but lost to Christopher Cross’ “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).”
From the very start, the Bond production team knew they were going to have a tough time with that title. They had encountered similar problems back in 1964 with Honor Blackman’s character in “Goldfinger,” Pussy Galore. (Controversy over her name cooled a bit after the media blared headlines concerning a Royal charity screening of the film at which Prince Phillip was in attendance, thus yielding the caption “Pussy and the Prince”). Certainly a theme song was going to be ridiculed. (Incidentally, the title “Octopussy” was the name of one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond short stories in which Bond is sent to assassinate a rogue military man on a remote island). John Barry came back to, once again, score a Bond film, and both he and lyricist Tim Rice, veteran of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, took the tact that they would avoid the word ‘Octopussy’ altogether in their title song. Interestingly enough, in 1996, when composer David Arnold was working with renowned lesbian singer k.d. lang on a tune for “Tomorrow Never Dies,” she indicated that she would’ve liked to have had a go at belting out a tune called “Octopussy.”
Instead, Barry and Rice wrote “All Time High.” For some reason, as a pick for singer, they contracted Rita Coolidge to croon their song. With all respect to Ms. Coolidge’s talents, she wasn’t exactly a ‘hot’ artist at the time the film was in production (1982). Nevertheless, she did an adequate job of rendering Bondian enunciation to her singing, but the song itself is a bit of a dud. Not the worst Bond song (that would be a toss-up between “The Man With The Golden Gun” and “The Living Daylights”), but close to it. The next Bond title song would set them back on course.
A View To A Kill
By the time “A View To A Kill” went into production, it was evident Roger Moore’s days were numbered. He was getting on in years (Maurice Binder used youthful shots of him in “The Spy Who Loved Me” for ‘Kill’s’ main titles), and the Bond series’ tongue-in-cheek approach to characterization was becoming tired. Fans cringed when The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” (sung by Gidea Park) was used as background music for a Siberian Bond snowboarding getaway in the pre-title sequence. The one element that rang dramatically true was the rocking main title song by new wave sensations Duran Duran. Not since Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” had the Bond series experienced a straight-out rock song to propel the audience into a movie. Although John Barry was the film’s composer, he did not have anything to do with the writing of “A View To A Kill.”
Even though singer Grace Jones had a sizable part as villainess May Day in the film and her music was recognizable to the youth market of the era, she was not chosen to provide a song. Duran Duran had just scored a number one hit off their “Arena” album with “Reflex,” they were tired from the rigorous shoot of their “Wild Boys” video, and had lent their vocal services to the “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” single, when they were contacted to compose a Bond song. The group’s members were eager to start side solo projects, namely The Power Station and Arcadia, but they whipped up a solid, percussive, bass-heavy whopper of a number before they split apart. The video for the single featured the Duranies all playing secret agents on the Eiffel Tower and was a MTV hit. “A View To A Kill” held at number one on the U.S. chart in July 1985 for two weeks and pretty much defined FM airplay for the entire summer.
The Living Daylights
Roger Moore was gone. In his place came the wolf-like visage of classically-trained Welsh actor Timothy Dalton, who had been considered for the Bond role when “Diamonds Are Forever” was being produced. Most of the humor became bone-dry with his delivery, and the overall tone of Bond spun serious. For his final turn at bat, John Barry turned in one of his most accomplished and evocative scores in the Bond series. He worked effectively with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders to concoct two songs for the film. “Where Has Everybody Gone” is a sinister-sounding track with brass ‘wah-wah’s’ answering Chrissie’s plaintive queries. It was featured playing through a villain named Necros’ Sony Walkman. It’s a bit of a non-descript, unremarkable song. The other tune, “If There Was A Man,” which played over the end credits, is a well-crafted ‘romantic’ Bond song. With its dreamy piano, steady drumbeat, and orchestral backing, Hynde’s vocals soar as she moans her yearnings for Bond. Neither song, however, received significant airplay.
For the main title, the Norwegian trio of a-ha were hired to submit a track. The band, in hindsight, was a bit of a one-hit wonder, with their “Take On Me” single having topped the U.S. chart in October 1985, but this was exactly at the moment a title song needed to be cut for the Bond film, so they were considered ‘hot.’ Together with Barry, a-ha’s lead singer, Pal Waataar, created a slinky Bryan-Ferry-style number that featured a-ha’s transparent synth sound trying valiantly to accommodate Barry’s lush orchestrations. The trio’s high note vocal range, seemingly a requirement in every Bond title tune, came across like a suppressed Pee-Wee Herman warble. Needless to say, “The Living Daylights” failed to chart as a single. The Scandinavian band subsequently complained to trade papers that Barry had muddled their title tune, and they went on to release their own seperately-mixed version of the song…again, to no success.
License To Kill
With John Barry taking fewer movie scoring jobs, Albert R. Broccoli turned to fresh blood in composer Michael Kamen, who had scored the sci-fi fantasy “Highlander” and the high-octane action of “Lethal Weapon.” Part of Kamen’s appeal was his use of rock musicians as session players to front an orchestral backdrop. He had teamed with acclaimed virtuoso Eric Clapton for a BBC-TV movie called “Edge Of Darkness,” and the duo had also played together for some of the Lethal Weapons scores. Clapton became involved with the “License To Kill” score early on, but prior commitments eventually forced him to bow out.
The dead serious tone of the Timothy Dalton Bond reached a pinnacle with this story about 007 out to stop a Latin American drug kingpin named Sanchez, played by actor Robert Davi. (Party trivia factoid #8: When Sanchez fires an automatic weapon at Bond, who’s fleeing in an oil tanker, the ricocheting bullets ring out the “James Bond Theme”). For the title song, Narada Michael Walden, a successful producer for Whitney Houston, along with partners Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff, crafted a very strong entry in Bond signature tunes. As sung by Gladys Knight, “License To Kill” is perhaps little-known outside avid fan circles, but it truly is a standout song. Knight’s strong voice perfectly captures the bravado and glamour of an opening theme, and Walden’s orchestral backing has perfect pop sensibilities. The song only fared average as a single in the United States, rising to number 79 on the charts, but in Britain it reached number 6. When it came to the end credits song, another R&B legend, Patti Labelle was hired to coo the romantic “If You Asked Me To,” written by hitmaker Diane Warren. While Labelle’s version of the song did not receive too much attention, French-Canadian diva Celine Dion resurrected the single in her own inimitable style in 1992, making it a heavy-rotation radio staple.
Six years passed, while the Bond franchise experienced a myriad of legal tangles, before this film went into production in the mid-‘90s. Gone was the masterful visual eye-candy of Maurice Binder, who passed away in 1991. Producer Albert R. Broccoli was on his final Bond outing, for he too was to permanently turn in his license to thrill shortly after “Goldeneye’”s completion. And somber Dalton was replaced by debonair Irishman Pierce Brosnan as the titular 007. John Barry was asked to do the score for this new Bond, but he was committed to another project. He did, however, suggest a French composer by the name of Eric Serra to lend his composition services to the film. Serra worked almost exclusively with director Luc Besson (whose most recent films “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element,” and “The Messenger” received widespread American release), and Barry mentioned he had enjoyed one of Serra’s earlier scores (more than likely his soundtrack to either “The Big Blue” or “La Femme Nikita”). Serra was brought aboard, and Bond fanatics soon found one of their biggest scapegoats in 007 history. His score was an embarrassment, nothing but spare, humming keyboards, and techno-clinking percussion. Hardly evocative of anything James Bond. Serra also foisted his own song “The Experience of Love” over the end credits, and unfortunately, he didn’t turn out to be the most masterful of singers. The song was sleep-inducing. Bond films should end with something romantic or something high energy. Serra’s hoarse, choked delivery sounded like Michael Bolton trying to dislodge a lozenge from the back of his throat. Barry sheepishly later told author Michael Schelle, that Serra “didn’t do anything close to what I had heard in his earlier score, the score that prompted me to make my recommendation in the first place. He just went off on another tangent.”
Fortunately, Serra had nothing to do with the film’s title song. U2’s Bono and The Edge were hired to compose and record the tune. When the producers heard their effort, they were not exactly won over. Bono and The Edge decided that somebody else, preferably a female, should sing their composition. They sent a demo of it to their friend Tina Turner. She, too, was not really enamored of the tune. She told The Toronto Sun, “I just couldn’t feel it at the time. Then I got a handwritten letter from Bono saying, ‘Tina, trust me, it’s rough at the moment, but it’s going to be great.’ I had to believe him. We live very near each other in the south of France, so he and Edge came up and finished it with me…All of a sudden the song came. It was a matter of communicating and believing in each other. I’m looking forward to working with them again.” Indeed, Ms. Turner’s rendition of “Goldeneye” is soulful and brassy, very much in the vein of Shirley Bassey’s take on “Goldfinger.” (Party trivia factoid #9: Goldeneye was the name of author Ian Fleming’s Jamaican estate in which he wrote many of the Bond novels). “Goldeneye” reached number 10 on the U.K. chart, however, it was not released as a single in the United States.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Even though he’d made a mistake by offering up Eric Serra’s name for “Goldeneye,” Bond producers listened again to John Barry when he introduced them to a promising composer named David Arnold in 1996. Arnold had tackled the scores for “Stargate,” “A Life Less Ordinary,” and had won a Grammy for the movie “Independence Day,” and he was chomping at the bit to score a James Bond film. He was in the midst of putting together artists covering Bond songs for his “Shaken Not Stirred” CD. (The CD features tracks like Iggy Pop singing “We Have All The Time In The World,” Chrissie Hynde’s “Live and Let Die,” Aimee Mann crooning “Nobody Does It Better,” and Pulp tackling “All Time High.”). Arnold was a huge fan of John Barry’s work, and out of all the various composers for the series, he truly captures the spirit and verve of Barry’s wall of sound approach.
For the title song, Arnold and lyricist Don Black crafted a big, brassy number, lashing out in its first musical sting and then settling into a lush orchestral bed. Arnold wanted k.d. lang to sing the tune because she “completely understands the genre. She knows what it is we’re dealing with when we’re doing a Bond song, which is so classic in the approach.” As with most Bond songs, the lyrics can be relatively obscure and baffling. Arnold’s and Black’s tune was no exception. Arnold told The Sunday Times that k.d. started singing with gusto when “halfway through, she suddenly stopped and asked, ‘What does “Tomorrow Never Dies” mean?” Arnold was at a loss for words. “Everything had been going great until that moment.”
As the demand for drawing a more youthful market becomes more of a primary objective to filmmakers these days, the Bond producers are constantly on the hunt for the next big act. It looked, at one point, that Jon Bon Jovi would be making a splashy return to the charts, so he was contacted to submit a song. He did not make the cut. The British group Pulp, with its boisterous frontman, Jarvis Cocker, seemed, for a time, to be on the verge of international stardom. Pulp was asked to record a theme song for the film. When “Tomorrow Never Dies” began pre-production, it was titled “Tomorrow Never Lies.” Therefore, this is the song and its title Pulp quickly wrote and performed for the Bond team in two days’ flat. It was not accepted for the movie. Pulp subsequently released it as the B-side to their single “Help The Aged.”
One of the biggest up-‘n’-comer names on the charts, circa 1996, was Sheryl Crow. The producers contacted her. Crow told Sessions at West 54th, “They approached me, (saying) ‘So, we really love “Every Day Is A Winding Road.” And I kind of scratched my head and thought, well, that’s odd. But when I had the final meeting with them, they said those dreaded words: big, sexy, suspenseful, James Bond. And I thought, I’m the wrong person for the job. But did it anyway, just for the fun of it, and brought in this really loungy song to Mitchell (Froom, her co-writer), and you could see the wheels turning. And within 2 days it was done, it was cut.” Her song was called “Until That Day.” When the Bond producers heard her track they did a little switcheroo. David Arnold’s track with k.d. lang, which was titled “Tomorrow Never Dies,” was now called “Surrender” and was tacked on over the end credits. Sheryl Crow’s song became the main title theme and was renamed “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
While k.d. lang’s song is very Goldfinger-esque, with brassy instrumentals and sex- kitten delivery, Crow’s title tune is strangely non-Bond. With high piano chords striking in repetitive sixes on the chorus, the tune seems to come out of a Perry Mason drama or ’60s medical show. Crow mumbles her words, sounding as if her chin is resting on the microphone, aping Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews with a wispy laid-back phrasing. It’s unfortunate that lang’s song did not go up front in the film. Crow’s title song did not make a dent in the music charts on either side of the Atlantic.
The World Is Not Enough
David Arnold was asked back for this 19th installment of the successful Bond series. Since much of his score for “Tomorrow Never Dies” was modeled around the “Surrender” song, it was great news for him to find that he would be involved in writing the true title song to this next Bond film, thus, allowing his score to tie–in with the central theme. Again, with lyricist Don Black, the two crafted a classic-style Bond song, with extremely full orchestral sounds coupled with a programmed drum and sequencer bed, giving it a techno undertone.
At first, there was early speculation that Lauryn Hill would be approached to do the song, since she was the Grammy darling during the year 1998. Then the British press spread rumors that Spice Girl Melanie C, who had just branched out on her own with the solo album “Northern Star,” was going to be asked to perform the title cut. But, the Bond team finally settled on the rock band Garbage with their charismatic lead singer Shirley Manson. Manson made no bones about the fact that she was a 007 fan. She related to Kerrang! Magazine, “I think they (the Bond movies) forged some of my ideas about men and sexuality, and mystery and danger. A bikini and stilettos are a lethal combination even to this day.” As to the honor of being asked to perform their title tune, Manson said, “One of the biggest attractions in doing a Bond song is that you know it’s going down in movie history. I was very self-conscious at first, but I put it out of my mind. And anyway, I was secure in the knowledge that the mantle for being the worst Bond theme ever had already been taken by a-ha.”
No need to worry, Ms. Manson. Her and her bandmates’ rendition of “The World Is Not Enough” is permeated with Bondian nuance. (Final party trivia factoid: ‘The world is not enough’ is the translation of Bond’s family motto, a piece of information he finds out when he visits a genealogical expert in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”). The main title song’s guitar that accompanies the opening orchestral assault alludes to original Vic Flick stylings. The ‘rise and fall’ sway to this piece, in fact, almost mirrors k.d. lang’s “Surrender.” Asked to describe what it was like to be performing with a full orchestra, nervous Manson said it felt “like someone had shoved a rocket up my arse.” But in a good way.
With a concerted effort and attention to detail, the Bond series should endure and entice its audiences for years to come. The standards set by 007 music should continue to engage and enthrall new fans to the series. There have been more than 500 versions of Bond film theme songs recorded over the years. Broccoli once wrote, “The compelling nature of this music has been an essential ingredient in the makeup of the 007 movies.” Indeed, a James Bond film without a special song especially crafted for the movie would not truly be Bond, James Bond.
© 2000 Ned Truslow