M Is For Music
With the release of Another Way To Die, title track to ‘Bond 22’ Quantum of Solace, what better time to delve through the music of Bonds one through 21? No better, that’s what.
The Jack White/Alicia Keys track, now getting airplay after its Radio 1 debut – available here, 55 minutes in, for the next week – is getting the usual mixed reaction. People pounced on Cornell’s terrific song for Casino Royale, after all. Another Way To Die is an even harder track to like on first listen, because it’s so bloody chaotic. It starts with a great hook, then changes completely. Then changes again. It stops and starts in a Live-and-Let-Die-goes-mental style – like two or three very decent Bond themes chopped together.
After a fair few listens I’m very taken with the pieces, but not entirely with the whole thing. There’s a real insistence to the sung tune as it approaches the title line (“A drop in the water, a look in the eye…”) which works a treat. The drums are fab. The guitar stings, too. The isolated piano, the brass…but put it all together and it doesn’t cohere. It actually feels longer than it is. It never lets you settle into the groove.
It’s a song with barbs; it doesn’t want to be held. Which is undoubtedly appropriate to the character and the new movie, but it makes for a tough listen.
The idea seems to be that the duality suits the nature of Bond’s ‘who to trust?’ world. It’s even a duet, for the first time in the series’ history. The masculine, typified by tracks like Thunderball and Live and Let Die, gets mixed with the soul diva traditions of Bassey and Gladys Knight. Which, as above, is great and appropriate in theory. In practice, the distortion applied to the voices detracts from what’s being done. Plus, yeah, it’s tough to love without getting stung.
Worse yet, the lyrics are so bloody specific about being Bond. “Another ringer with the slick trigger finger for Her Majesty.” No. Wrong. Don’t do it. It didn’t work with Tomorrow Never Dies, and that was during the super-post-modern, self-aware Brosnan era. Craig’s Bond stands on his own two feet, we don’t need telling that he’s 007. “Nobody does it better” is as near as you’re supposed to ski to that particular precipice. (Bonus point for including the word ‘solace’, though.)
That said, as is so often the way, it grows on me more with every listen…
It’s sad, however, that all the best aspects of the track are unlikely to be incorporated into David Arnold’s main score – either due to being selected too late, or simply because it’s not a tune the de facto Bond musician feels comfortable working with. A shame, because Another Way To Die is incredibly well suited to this kind of adaptation. And the Bond scores always, always, always come out best when they’re able to use the title song as a backbone.
As we shall see…
Dr No. (1962)
Years of controversy were begun right here. Monty Norman delivered a series of songs that, in retrospect, seem absolutely nuts. Under The Mango Tree and Jump Up may have a flavour for the Caribbean, but they’re hardly the stuff of an exotic spy thriller.
Those songs are cycled in various instrumental versions, along with various other similar – but thankfully lyric-free – tracks, and while it creates an undeniably distinctive musical landscape, if it wasn’t for the James Bond Theme…well, it’d be a very different movie. It’s a spot-on piece of work, and now inseparable from the character. Without it, well, it just ain’t Bond – as the ‘unofficial’ movie Never Say Never Again found to its cost.
The now-accepted version of events seems to be that Norman attempted to rework a song he’d written previously – for an adaptation of A House For Mr Biswas – and when that wasn’t working, John Barry was called in. He wrangled an oddly twee piece of work into something striking and iconic…and years later authorship would become hotly contended in court. You can read a stack of detail here.
The clumsy-but-endearing music for Dr. No has its moments – ‘Mickey Mousing’ to match Bond’s actions as he beats a spider to death with his shoe (it’s tenser than it sounds) is a highlight – but overall there’s a single piece that rules the whole thing. Which explains a) why they use it so often, and b) why John Barry was the man hired for eleven future Bond scores.
From Russia With Love (1963)
The theme song performed by Matt Monro actually appears in the background of a single scene in the movie – an instrumental is used for the title sequence. Penned by Lionel Bart the song is an easy listening affair with a fairly thin lyric (“I travelled the world to learn I must return…from Russia with love”), while the orchestral version has a little more poke, suiting both the Dr. No ‘match to the location’ ethos and, more importantly, creating something a little more bold and slinky.
Barry’s score does exactly what it sets out to do, it’s packed with bombast, with thunderous horns and tense strings. And if it isn’t as memorable as some that followed, that’s only because Barry was forever competing with himself, with the formula that he would establish.
This movie also introduced the ‘007’ theme, an action-oriented piece that, in retrospect, seems intended to knock Monty Norman’s original off its pedestal. It’s a nice try, there’s a Morse-code-meets-MI6 vibe to it, but while it would show up in a few more scores along the way, the original already seemed irreplaceable.
Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley and John Barry wrote the song. Shirley Bassey showed up and the definition of a Bond theme was locked forever. Huge trumpets? Check. Nonsensical lyrics? Well, not as mad as you might expect, but they’re certainly misleading – in the song Goldfinger is presented as a seductive and tempting (“Golden words he will pour in your ear”) when, in fact, he’s a crazy Teutonic blowhard with a big gut and a bigger laser. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t remotely matter.
Barry’s score, meanwhile, revels in its percussion – militaristic for when the soldiers are on, beating a fast, ticking countdown when deadlines approach. His Miami sequence may sound a little more like Vegas – the start of a bad habit of overt musical parody that seems to be encouraged by Goldfinger/Live and Let Die/Golden Gun director Guy Hamilton – but lethal villain Oddjob gets a nifty little leitmotif and the Bond theme is neatly woven with versions of the title song. It’s a score that knows exactly when to have fun and when to chill, and – like the film it supports – it’s pretty much definitive.
Don Black began a frequent on/off collaboration when he provided the lyrics for Tom Jones’ theme song. “He strikes like Thunderball” is probably as good as anyone was going to do with a title based on an MI6 codename, and it’s the first of several songs about 007. Jones gives the song nothing but welly, bringing a much-needed masculinity to the Bond song canon.
Dionne Warwick sang a version of Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it never made the film – which rather set the scene in a couple of ways. Firstly, the song was originally intended for the main titles (these days you could publish entire albums of near-miss Bond title tunes, and in fact Johnny Cash submitted one for Thunderball). And secondly, the song formed the spine of much of Barry’s score despite not technically being the ‘theme song’. Something very similar would happen thirty years later with David Arnold and K.D. Lang’s Surrender.
007 also shows up again, along with a nifty ‘tension’ tune, making for a theme-heavy score that goes for something more unsettling, and less showy, than Goldfinger, with the elegant underwater music effortlessly turning harsh and dangerous when required. The film may be overlong, but at least the too-lengthy sequences are filled with great music.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Nancy Sinatra attacks the Leslie Bricuse lyrics with a low-key elegance that’s certainly suited to the Japanese setting. It seems awkward now to talk about James Bond in terms of ‘love’ – the odd Tracy or Vesper aside – but there was a time when Fleming’s perspective of a man who, quite genuinely, falls in love frequently was more accepted. On those terms, singing about dreams and how “love is a stranger” is an appropriate, if muted, way to kick off what was undeniably the most excessive Bond film to date.
Barry introduces a new recurring theme here with his ‘Space March’. 007 is back again, too. As with the song, there’s something rather gentle and elegant about much of the score, with a range of Oriental instruments being used. Sequences are scored to match the extraordinary photography, often creating something more ‘beautiful’ than ‘dramatic’. (Watch Bond’s fleeting rooftop battle at the Kobe docks turn into poetry as we pull back to a sweeping helicopter shot for the whole thing.) Still, the military sounds turn up in force when there’s a volcano to explode.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The title song that’s not a song – OHMSS is a great rollocking adventure theme, and one you wish could appear again, alongside 007 and the Space March, if only it weren’t so utterly linked to this film, Lazenby’s Bond and his ill-fated wife, Tracy.
The film also famously featured the series’ only real ‘montage’, and its only full-blown love song to accompany it. The song, of course, was Louis Armstrong’s gorgeous We Have All The Time In The World. The Hal David title lyric takes directly from dialogue between Tracy and Bond, and is rendered painfully ironic by the tragic conclusion.
A third song shows up, though, and it’s hard to know what to do with the same composers’ Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? It’s a background track, really, sung by Nina van Pallandt to accompany the film’s time in festive Switzerland. The ridiculously indulgent lyrics are worthy of a fuller quote:
Do you know how Santa gets around?
He needs snowflakes and reindeer,
sunshine and raindrops,
friendship and kindness
and most of all he needs love…
And that’s the chorus. All. Sung. By. Kids. Thankfully it never damages the score proper, in which Barrie is at his absolute best, reaffirming the new Bond with spot-on style – the casino sounds like a Bond casino – and a set of back references. (At one point wheeling out themes from Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball.) Wisest of all is the timing of the credits music, which allows the viewer a respectful mourning period for Tracy…before pushing hard into the Bond theme at it’s most insistent, allowing you to walk away from the cinema saddened but still quietly confident.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Barrie concludes a non-stop, six-film run with a score that rather outclasses the movie to which it’s attached. The Vegas themes – all ‘roll up, roll up’ or ‘lounge’ – are positively satirical, while hired killers Wint and Kidd get a nifty theme of their own that grants them pretty much the only real tension in the film. They’re rendered a lot more eerie than they deserve to be.
Shirley Bassey returns for the iconic theme tune and Don Black goes crazy with the innuendo (“touch it, stroke it and undress it”). It adapts better to the lounge than the battlefield – hence, no doubt, the return once again of that 007 ditty when things really kick off – but in itself works to set up this particularly indulgent Bond film’s style.
Live and Let Die (1973)
One-time Bond music producer George Martin doesn’t mess about, constructing a score that takes no prisoners. Although a little too ‘disco’ in places (the wah-wah guitar is a giveaway), it holds up extremely well – generally the ‘one time only’ composers are far more indulgent in their desire to be contemporary.
Having some fun with the voodoo and Caribbean elements, it’s when Bond’s in danger that Martin’s music is at its best. Justifiably histrionic, he goes for pitch and volume with the Bond theme at the key moments, building to fantastic, hysterical climaxes. The greatest disappointment is that the lengthy boat chase in the centre of the film is played out almost completely music-free, a trick director Guy Hamilton also pulled with a very dull car chase in Diamonds Are Forever.
The Paul McCartney theme song is, of course, legendary. A stop-start piece that echoes the style of the Bond films in general, as well as matching Live and Let Die’s more-chilling-than-normal tone. It’s also, once again, got a bit of tough masculinity, which doesn’t hurt.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1975)
Weirdest Bond theme bar none, that’s for sure. John Barry returns and Lulu screams – in a good way – Don Black’s insane lyrics. “He has a powerful weapon…It comes just before the kill…Another poor victim has come to a glittering end…Who will he bang? We shall see…” Did nobody explain that ‘double’ means ‘two’?
Ah well, the tune itself is bracing, and forms a solid enough spine for one of Barry’s lesser scores. It adapts well to broad, globe-trotting sequences, becomes a little stretched when given a Bangkok flavour, and a ragtime version played for Diamonds-style parody is probably best lest forgotten.
Strange to note that the film closes with a different, slower version of the main song with Lulu’s lyric adapted to come specifically out of the last line of the film. It’s strange, but quite likable, and a not-dissimilar trick would be used at the end of the next film.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Carly Simon sings what the world was already thinking with Nobody Does It Better, an appropriate-enough theme for a film that would require Bond to win over a Russian spy/Bond girl who’s boyfriend he’s killed. For one of the biggest and most over-the-top films it’s a sweetly understated tune by Marvin Hamlisch, who also wrote the score.
The music in general is probably the most cut-and-paste since Dr. No, with ‘Bond 77’ – a disco-tastic version of the Bond theme – featuring over and over. Elsewhere, the film certainly has a sound of its own that’s not especially behoven to Barry. It mostly belongs to its own time, but is nothing if not endearing. The attempts at local flavour in locations like Morocco and Egypt are a bit heavy-handed, but things pick up when we’re on the massive could-only-be-Bond soundstages. Big visuals, big music.
We conclude with a sailor’s chorus of the main theme song – which nothing but reinforces the film’s ‘don’t take us too seriously’ tone, coming in hard after the final bad pun – before segueing into the song proper.
John Barry’s back, and – as with most of his Moore scores – he’s less interesting than he used to be, though it beats Golden Gun by epic scale alone. Both 007 and the Space March return for the last time to date, though 007 is curiously slowed down, making a once-frantic piece feel adjusted for the film’s already-aging leading man.
There are some flashes of greatness, though, as when two vicious dogs chase Sacrificial Bond Girl Number 1 into the woods – the score takes the whole thing seriously (hard to do with Moonraker) and plays up the horror of the situation.
Shirley Bassey gets her hat trick as Hal David ‘pulls a Thunderball’ with the lyrics, personifying the title as a man who “knows”, erm, something. It’s a likable enough ballad, and it suits the film’s few genuinely romantic scenes, but it speaks volumes that the version heard over the closing credits is a disco remix. Something had to be done to pace things up…even for a movie that holds its final battle in sluggish zero-gravity.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Sheena Easton holds the peculiar honour of being the only theme singer to appear in the opening titles, though you’d be hard-pressed to know why this happened. The 80s were Marice Binder’s least-inspired years as title designer, so maybe he was just looking for something, anything, new. The song does its job just fine, though once again an MI6 term has to be ‘adjusted’. It’s a down-the-line track with pleasingly little innuendo in Michael Leeson’s lyric.
It turns out all the smut got piled into the dreadful poolside background song Make It Last All Night performed by Rage. Shelby Conti and Chris West’s words are a string of filth…and so well worth quoting, despite the song being sluggish and wholly unsexy:
Try to keep it up, and ease it in
To get that good vibration
If you come too late, you’ll have to wait
To get that good sensation
Ooh, ooh, ooh, can you feel it moving smooth and slow?
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ease on back and let the loving flow
Rocky composer Bill Conti goes for a ‘histrionic TV movie’ vibe with his music. It’s not without its charm, actually – the chases get a likable, breezy rhythm going that really encourages you to bounce along – but it’s more hideously trapped by its era than any other Bond score in the history. You feel like the orchestra were all wearing brightly-coloured leggings.
Rita Coolidge takes another not-bad Bond ballad and makes it basically acceptable. Tim Rice gives up trying to rhyme anything with Octopussy and calls the song All Time High, an ‘isn’t James brilliant?’ trick which worked for Thunderball and Nobody Does It Better…though that did at least have the courtesy to put the film title in amongst the lyrics.
John Barry returns for the ‘one on’ part of his apparent back-and-forth Bond plan, and while he struggles to do much with the themes it does at least have the requisite feel. Like the film, it all feels a little empty, lacking a strong hook. All Time High really doesn’t lend itself to action sequences, and there’s no 007 or Space March to compensate. There’s also no real attempt to capture the setting in the music – a risky thing to be sure, given that the main locations are India and the Soviet Union, but by holding back the remaining score is just kinda ‘there’.
A View To A Kill (1985)
John Barry sticks around – and he seems cursed to work only on the lesser films of the Moore era. (The highlights being Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.) But actually, the score’s very good.
Duran Duran’s song goes for a lyric that feels like it’s been translated into Portuguese and then back again, creating bizarrely pidgin lines that are as meaningless as they are fun. “A sacred why, a mystery gaping inside/The weekends why, until we/Dance into the fire…” The track itself is great, though – a strong hook and a hard beat. Absolutely perfect for adaptation, and Barry makes the very best of it.
Grandiose sweep, proper tension, sweet romanticism and some haunting cruelty – the music does well even when the film totters. The parodies in Barry’s 70s scores have gone, despite this being a pretty daft film (Moore is, like, 600 years old at this point), and the battle on the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn’t be the same without the music.
The Living Daylights (1987)
One of the best. Sure, a-ha are just another 80s punchline these days, but once again in the collaboration there’s an odd combination of pidgin lyrics (“Comes the morning and the headlights fade away”), a strong hook and a more masculine tune and voice. It works.
Better yet, The Pretenders contribute a pair of songs (also co-written by Barry) – the sinister Where Has Everybody Gone and If There Was a Man, another bit of ‘Bond rules’ balladyness, sensibly consigned to the closing titles rather than the opening.
All three songs are perfectly wrangled into the music of the film, and along with the main Bond theme it gives Barry acres of good stuff to work with. Where Has Everybody Gone plays endlessly on the Walkman of Russian killer Necros, but it also becomes his non-diegetic theme, signifying danger nearby and pumping up the score during hand-to-hand battles (for more vehicular activity, it’s The Living Daylights proper). If There Was a Man, inevitably, gets romantic duties. Great stuff – and a great swansong for Barry’s Bond work.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Gladys Knight brings back a bit of diva, and actually the injection of a tad more soul doesn’t hurt at all. The lyrics may have been arrived at to avoid harming the singer’s Christian sensibilities, but using ‘kill’ as a metaphor for “going straight to your heart” is in keeping with the For Your Eyes Only tradition. And it’s sung with utter conviction, which is as it should be.
The film’s music is by Die Hard’s Michael Kamen, and it’s…fine. It hasn’t particularly dated, and it turns up at the right times and does the right things. Which, obviously, is damning with faint praise. The film doesn’t travel far, so a few South American quirks are all the variety you get. Oh, and Benico del Toro’s sadistic killer Dario gets a nice little walk-into-the-room guitar-sting motif, an effective trick that worked for Necros and Wint and Kidd.
Elsewhere, the accompanying songs are all fairly ‘meh’. Dirty Love by Tim Feehan is just what you’d expect to find playing in a crappy bar in an 80s action movie…so that’s just where you find it. Patti Labelle’s If You Asked Me To will be forgotten even as you walk out of the cinema while it plays over the credits. Wedding Party by Ivory, though, totally taps into those Caribbean Dr. No songs, equally inappropriate but now with an added level of homage.
Say what you like, Bono and the Edge wrote a bloody great tune for Tina Turner – one step past her best, but belting it out like she knows it’ll be the track that gets recycled forever. More lyrical nonsense replacing meaning – the GoldenEye is an earth-orbiting EMP system – with metaphor about having watched Bond for years, and now she’s luring him in…or something.
It’s a shame the song wasn’t incorporated into Eric Serra’s score, though, because the Leon musician needed a stronger hook for his music. Seemingly afraid to over-indulge in the Bond theme, he goes the other way – at one point causing his music to be replaced by John Altman (during the tank chase) in order to get something at least slightly more appropriate. Though a couple of the motifs are interesting, it does feel like the producers made a mistake in separating the title song and the film’s main musician. (Something that also happens with Die Another Day, Quantum of Solace and, sort of, with Tomorrow Never Dies. Though we’ll reserve judgement on QoS until it’s released.)
So we get the Bond theme beaten out on great big drums. The regular Barry instruments are eschewed and instead we get something more string- and percussion-based. A decade on, it’s dating okay – not great, not dreadful, a bit trendy – but, a few areas of tension aside, it certainly feels wrong. It may be the only Bond score where I’d happily pay again for a DVD with an alternate audio track featuring new David Arnold music.
Serra writes and sings the closing song, The Experience of Love, and it’s another poor fit. A balled sung by a man just doesn’t work for Bond, especially when it’s wetter than the Atlantic. Interestingly, you can hear the opening notes from the song towards the end of Serra’s previous score for Leon, suggesting that the track was intended for the closing credits of that film…where it would have felt a great deal more appropriate. (Sting’s lovely Shape of My Heart was used instead.)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Sheryl Crowe contributes a decent number, though she never seems comfortable going for the full-on, bombastic tone. The lyrics about “martinis, girls and guns” and being “not the only spy out there” are definitely too much, though – we know it’s a Bond film, already.
In truth, the better song was K.D. Lang’s – a track that was hastily re-titled Surrender and then smacked onto the closing credits. It would have been more typical to throw it out completely – hell, the whole world pitches songs for these things, even Jarvis Cocker’s got one for this film – but Lang’s track was co-written by David Arnold…who built his entire damn score around it.
For its era, it’s a spot-on piece of film music. Brosnan was the ‘best of’ Bond, so Arnold delivers a ‘best of’ score. He picks out every Barryism he can – instrument for instrument, it seems – gets comfortable, then drops in some work with The Propellerheads. It’s all massively over-reliant on the Bond theme – kicking in pretty well every time the guy does anything remotely cool or life-save-y – but it gets the blood pumping. And it acts as a total dismissal of almost everything Serra was doing.
Former Barry lyricist Don Black returned to pen Surrender’s lyrics, and nails the movie’s newspaper/media theme perfectly: “I’ll tease and tantalize with every line till you are mine…”
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Garbage sing Arnold’s song and it goes, quite rightly, at the front of the film. As with Surrender, it’s a track that combines the bombast of ‘masculine’ Bond songs with the equally-traditional diva qualities. Black once again gets the lyrics right (seems he’s lost most of his smutty bad habits), and even manages to get the film’s key thesis/catchphrase in there: “There’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive.”
Not strong or individual enough to really stick in the memory, the song does serve as an excellent backbone for the score. Arnold’s got his fanboy stuff out of his system and settles into the Brosnan run with more restraint. The opening Thames boat chase is a blast to listen to – though it also exhausts so many of the theme-based tricks that the rest of the movie often has to do without. The benefit is that much of the rest of TWINE leans on things other than the Bond theme. Aside from a crass use in the bunker sequence that, blatantly, was added in the edit (the moment’s not on the soundtrack CD), the only other big appearance is amongst the destruction of the caviar plant.
Despite going for the ‘greatest hits’, in none of his scores does Arnold employ Barry’s ‘secondary’ themes – 007 (which would have worked great here during a couple of set-pieces) or the Space March (which would have dropped into Die Another Day’s satellite reveal perfectly). He does, however, make varied use of his own song’s tunes, and also employs an unnamed ‘suspense’ motif in all four of his Bond scores to date.
TWINE also benefits from the song Only Myself To Blame. Performed (though not in the film) by Scott Walker, the song by Arnold and Black has a Matt Munro feel, attempting to present an aging Bond looking back on his life. “There is no greater fool in the fool’s Hall of Fame, and I’ve only myself to blame.” While the song itself is entirely too earnest for its own good, the tune is put to splendid use. With it, the casino music becomes more Barry than Barry.
Die Another Day (2002)
Madonna’s song is awful. Just awful. Cacophonous, inappropriate, meaningless teeny dance-floor dreck with no redeeming features whatsoever. “Sigmund Freud – analyse this.” Yeesh.
Its appearance, unfortunately, pretty much derails Arnold’s score, which struggles without a great hook on which to hang the film’s music. There’s nothing exceptionally objectionable here, but it does end up as your standard, forgettable action score. He has some fun with the Cuban sequences, but otherwise it all gets a bit pounding and electronic.
Casino Royale (2006)
Emotionally, structurally, the film has most in common with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The song, You Know My Name performed by Chris Cornell, divided audiences but harks back to Tom Jones’s Thunderball in terms of going for a hard, manly sound. And the lyrics are fantastic: “Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you…”
The score, though, is unlike anything that went before. Arguably as much an intellectual exercise as anything, we hear the Bond theme constructed in front of our ears even as we watch him form before our eyes. A little hint, a slight ripple, when certain things happen – going abroad, pulling on a tux, winning at cards – but every time you think you’re going to get the whole thing…it turns into a riff on You Know My Name.
Which is a great trick, and totally in keeping with the film’s plan to build the character as you watch, the entire audience knowing it’s coming. The film concludes with Daniel Craig finally getting to introduce himself…and that’s when we get the full blast for the first time. The Bond theme proper, segueing into the credits. (Which, in fact, is somewhat akin to the trick OHMSS pulled.)
Things We Don’t Mention
Never Say Never Again – both the (unofficial) film and Lani Grand’s reedy song. But The Look of Love from ‘67’s comedy Casino Royale is more than okay.
The Lawrence of Arabia theme being used over Bond in the desert in Spy. Then The Magnificent Seven theme recycling the same joke in Moonraker.
And fucking California Girls in View to a Kill being laid over a snowboarding sequence, killing the action totally. And it’s a soundalike – it’s not even the real Beach Boys!