With Sam Smith bagging the new Bond theme, Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back and considers why Bond fans get so precious about who gets the job.
The anticipation of who gets the Bond theme gig is a curious phenomenon; the franchise has been running for so long the status of song provider for a film is ultimately a big deal. It’s going to be there from the start of the movie until eternity, so maybe the hype is justified.
Strangely, bar the odd Jack White or Chris Cornell, Bond theme artists have generally been pretty uncool, so it’s no surprise that Smith has got the job. He’s a fine singer, granted, but he’s not really Mr Exciting, is he? Perhaps we should be cautious though, we fans were not exactly thrilled when Adele was picked last time round, but what a belter of a tune Skyfall turned out to be.
The movies have been around for over 50 years now and admittedly the first few themes came from the pipe and slippers brigade with tracks like From Russia with Love playing it fairly safe. With Roger Moore’s arrival in the early 70s, things got a bit spicy. Even now Macca’s Live and Let Die sounds phenomenal and Lulu’s effort for The Man with the Golden Gun is a shocker, check those lyrics. Hoo-eeh!
More recent efforts have embraced the bombast and Jack White, Chris Cornell and Madonna have all provided spiky jolting efforts to bring Bond into the 21st century. As a result Adele’s lush Bassey-esque epic came as a shock.
Just like 007 himself, the songs often reside just outside of the arena of political correctness and remain just on the wrong side of cool. In an almost Eurovision fashion we forgive the cheesiness and pomposity of the lyrics and the overblown arrangements, simply because it’s Bond. So with the pomp and cheese filter on a very low setting, it’s time to consider which themes have stood the test of time and have become genuine classics. Madonna and Sheena Easton are not on the Getintothis radar.
- Jack White and Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die (2008)
Possibly the slickest line up for a Bond theme with the ever appealing Mr White and the more than able Miss Keys adding an interesting twist to the formula. Killer riffs and heart stopping brassy bursts ensure a very different approach which effectively reflected the feel of the movie that never quite feels like a regular Bond movie, more a gritty hard hitting violent thriller with Daniel Craig taking the role of a hired hit man rather than a gentleman spy. At the time seen as a disappointing follow up to the majestic Casino Royale, it warrants revisiting; it’s really not so bad. Shoot em up Bang Bang!!
- Garbage – The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Back in the day when Garbage where indie megastars, Shirley Manson’s dreamy vocals were the ideal choice to front Pierce Brosnan’s best Bond movie. David Arnold was midway through his campaign to topple the great John Barry from his throne as ultimate Bond music composer and his lush arrangements certainly fitted the 90s and early noughties. This collaboration between Arnold and Garbage also had the bonus feature of typical 007 lyrics from Don Black who had also worked with John Barry on Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun, many years previous. This retro Bond theme has been somewhat overlooked since the Daniel Craig era almost blanked out the Brosnan films. We have given it a place here, because it’s worth it.
- Shirley Bassey – Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Not quite as ground-breaking as Goldfinger a few years previous but still a Bassey classic that has followed her around ever since. Diamonds are just one component of the luxurious world that James Bond dominates and John Barry’s widescreen production on this timeless track adds to that world seamlessly. Bassey is given every opportunity to enthuse and breathe heavily throughout the song and it succeeds as being much better than the film itself.
- Carly Simon – The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Hard to say whether this is considered a classic on its own merits or because it will forever be connected to the breath-taking Union Jack parachute sequence at the start of arguably Roger Moore’s best Bond movie. In a strange turn of events, the sequence will forever be linked with Alan Partridge’s Bond movie marathon, ‘Stop getting Bond wrong!’ Either way this ended up being a massive hit for Carly Simon and one of the most memorable theme songs in the series. The opening sequences took massive steps in its near the knuckle images of naked ladies swinging on giant guns; memories of being seriously embarrassed as a child come flooding back.
- Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice (1967)
Nancy Sinatra is great, simple as. Daughter of Frank, collaborator of legendary Lee Hazlewood and Morrissey, and singer of one of the most luxuriant Bond themes ever. You Only Live Twice cleverly weaves in oriental phrases to reflect the Japanese setting of the film. The John Barry blossoming strings also found their way onto Robbie Williams‘ Millennium, the video of which was a shameless Bond homage. The You Only Live Twice soundtrack album is a masterclass in film scoring too. This should have been a blueprint for all Bond themes to follow. The added Getintothis bonus of Bjork’s amazing cover begs the question: why has she not been asked yet?
- Paul McCartney and Wings – Live and Let Die (1973)
McCartney’s unexpected foray into the Bond world provided him with one of his biggest post Beatles hits and remains on his live playlist, complete with fireworks, to this day. Much like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of years later, it is a song of many parts; a mini opera of sorts, taking in a ballad, a rock song and a cod reggae jam in less than three minutes. The title sequence is shocking in many ways.
- Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (1964)
Against the backdrop of Beatlemania and the Cold War, Goldfinger remains the ultimate 60s Bond Movie; Sean Connery has never looked better. Shirley Bassey’s signature tune and Alan Partridge’s chosen sing-a-long on his ramble to the petrol station remains the ultimate Bond theme in some ways, although it does feel slightly dated now. Perhaps it has just been overplayed. It is, however, impossible to deny the influence of this song on so many female vocalists and film score composers and was one of John Barry’s finest moments.
- John Barry – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
This instrumental entry into the Bond theme canon sums up everything 1960s Bond was about. George Lazenby may have had a hard job slipping into Connery’s shoes but when the opening chords of John Barry’s incredible title theme chime in, we are hooked. The melody can be heard almost subliminally in the trailer for Spectre and it is spine chilling in that context. OHMSS featured Telly Savalas as possibly the best Blofeld, so it only seems right that this most haunting of themes should re-appear now. It also acts as the score during the film’s exhilarating ski chases and works perfectly. This could easily have replaced the Monty Norman Bond theme and have reappeared in later adventures, but it will always be remembered for its connection to one of the best Bond movies in the series.
- Adele – Skyfall (2012)
It might seem petulant to put Skyfall so near the top as it is still so new but we think this is well deserved. Adele and Paul Epworth’s award-scoffing song respectfully takes in so many elements of the best of what has come before it would be churlish to ignore it and relegate it to the populist bin.
Opening with a succinct string stab in tribute to the late, great John Barry that sounds familiar from the Connery era, the vocals kick in, in true Bassey fashion. Where Goldfinger has become a little jaded over time, Skyfall steps in and injects new life into the big blousey Bond ballad, it even incorporates elements of Monty Norman’s Bond theme just as Goldfinger did, almost 50 years earlier. The movie itself was the Bond adventure fans had been waiting for forever; largely set in Britain and ending up back at his place it needed a theme to match and it got it. It has left an immense job for Sam Smith to follow.
- John Barry – The Monty Norman James Bond Theme (1962)
This has to be the ultimate Bond theme (the clues in the name). It started off as the title track to 007’s first cinematic adventure and has re-occurred in every movie since. The track features so many moods, from the creeping dang da da dang dang strumming that has led JB into many a maiden’s hotel room to the explosive Bah Dah… Bah Dah climax that has seen him blow up dozens of secret villain hideaways.
The theme written by Monty Norman, essentially a jazz track, was serviced admirably by John Barry on countless occasions and after a string of guest scorers, lovingly restored by David Arnold and Thomas Newman in more recent years. The longevity of the theme and its effectiveness make it a special component of the Bond world and its inclusion at the opening gun barrel sequence is essential. When the franchise was re-booted with Casino Royale in 2006 it was decided to ditch the gun barrel sequence until the end of the film and the theme teasingly makes subliminal appearances each time Craig makes a typical Bond move, culminating in the fully blown version at the climax of the movie when Bond finally gets his man. Monty Norman we salute you.