License To Trill
James Bond turned 50 this year.
Not James himself, but the series.
Dr. No came out in 1962. It was a forerunner of the British invasion in music which exploded in February of 1964. I’ve always thought the Bond series was kind of the rock and roll of movies. Not sure why….timing, maybe.
The James Bond franchise has undergone many changes over the decades, but the films’ producers have never stopped asking the biggest pop stars of the day to record theme songs. Adele is the latest member of the club, with her theme for ‘Skyfall’. Many of the Bond themes that came before her have become classics, while others were quickly forgotten. Which way will her song go? We will see. Until then, here’s a look back at some of the greatest James Bond theme songs.
“Thunderball” Tom Jones 1965
Just months after Tom Jones broke onto the charts with “It’s Not Unusual,” and singing like his life depends upon it, Jones was recruited at the very last-minute to record Thunderball after Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick and Johnny Cash, (who had all submitted songs for the film) were rejected. True to its name, this is a bold, campy recording that packs a walloping punch.
“The World Is Not Enough” — Garbage 1999
With a sweeping chorus to rival the best of 007’s themes, Shirley Manson and company’s contribution to the Bond music theme is a sexy, brooding, gorgeous marriage of electronic and orchestral. Garbage was a great choice that delivered.
“You Know My Name” — Chris Cornell from Casino Royale, 2006
This hardest rocking of Bond themes found Cornell’s energetic, growling vocal, the perfect, high-testosterone choice to capture the fresh, fiery spirit of the franchise’s best Daniel Craig-era film. Chris Cornell is best known as the lead vocalist for Soundgarden and Audioslave. It’s unique among the other themes in being a true rock song and being the first theme sung by an American male vocalist.
“Diamonds Are Forever” — Shirley Bassey 1971
Shirley Bassey returned to belt out the grandiose theme for Connery’s final official Bond picture. Producer Harry Saltzman objected to the lyrics’ sexual innuendo, but thankfully co-producer Cubby Broccoli insisted the song remain in the film. Kanye West sampled this for his “Diamonds of Sierra Leone”.
“You Only Live Twice” — Nancy Sinatra 1967
Scared to death of recording a Bond song, Sinatra was so nervous that composer John Barry said the final version used 25 different takes. The result: a lush, wistful ballad, famed for its striking (and also widely sampled) velvety opening bars of high octave violins and French horns.
“Nobody Does It Better” — Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977
A soaring love song about James, the man, and not about the movie storyline, Simon’s Oscar-nominated powerhouse ballad broke the mold. Seamlessly building from the first tinkling of a piano key to one of pop history’s most luscious layered vocal finales, Simon belts it at her heartbreaking best, and the result was a timeless, larger than life smash that stretched beyond typical Bond territory. Written by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager.
“Goldfinger” — Shirley Bassey 1964
When it comes to 007 themes, Goldfinger is the gold standard, setting the stage for every epic musical notion in the franchise to follow, and accomplishing this all in under two minutes and 50 seconds. Unlike most Bond themes, this is the bad guy’s anthem. Opening with a wall of blaring horns to the ultimate climax: six glass smashing seconds of the word “gold” as torpedoed by Shirley Bassey’s Walther PPK of a voice.
“Live and Let Die”– Paul McCartney 1973
Paul McCartney reunited with Beatles producer George Martin to record the title song for Live and Let Die, and wound up scoring one of his biggest post-Fab smashes.
He throws everything including the kitchen sink into this grand production then lightens it with a pop-reggae bridge.. This is Paul McCartney at his best, and it sounds just as good today as 30 years ago.
“Dr. No’– John Barry 1962
The first. And the best, because it has now been used in every Bond movie ever since.
This less-than-two-minute long masterpiece is simply perfect. When you hear the beginning riff or the blasting horns of the refrain, you know immediately who has just entered the room. And it’s going to be kiss kiss bang bang.
To me those are the best. There was a period when the theme songs got even sillier than some of the Roger Moore movies, with efforts from Aha, Duran Duran, and Sheena Easton which all didn’t sound much better than 80’s sitcom themes.
But the ones that last, will last. And with the new Daniel Craig inspired invigorated franchise, I’m thinking we may get more.