Monthly Archives: September 2015

Best James Bond Songs (part three)

Here is the final instalment. What will be number one? Did you predict it and will you agree? Here are what I consider the crème de la crème of Bond songs:

9. Surrender (KD Lang, from Tomorrow Never Dies)
After Play Dead with Bjork (which sounds suspiciously like it’s trying to be a Bond song) and his Bond cover album Shaken and Stirred, David Arnold seemed a natural fit to take over the composing reigns. He wrote Surrender as the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies, turning to former collaborator David McAlmont to sing the demo version (ultimately performed by KD Lang). Sadly the studio favoured a more popular artist to do the main title song (but this did make the end credits). I think most would agree that this is a far better Bond song (and David Arnold never bettered this effort).

8. You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra)
Those lush opening strings, so good Robbie Williams stole them for Millenium. Nancy Sinatra wasn’t a natural vocal fit and I believe they had a few issues honing her performance. Thankfully everything worked out okay in the end. This song was quite a change of pace for Bond songs at the time. The song has a lovely haunting quality and plays up the exotic nature of the film’s location without ever slipping into cliché.

7. We Have All The Time In The World (Louis Armstrong, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
I know, I know – I said only main-titles or end-credits would be considered. I’m going to cheat this entry being as it is the emotional heartbeat of the entire film. Technically an instrumental version of it closes the film “when that thing happens”, so it’s allowed! This tune is made all the more poignant by the fact Louis Armstrong was seriously ill and didn’t have all the time in the world when recording it. The tune didn’t make either the US or UK charts at the time, but 25 years later it was used for a Guinness advert and soared to number 3 in the UK. Clearly like a fine vintage, the song only improves with age.

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry)
Following on from the song above is this amazing instrumental from John Barry (doing his usual Bond thing). For this track (and the score) he used a Moog Synthesizer and it holds up even today (unlike most synth music). It was covered by David Arnold and breakbeat artists The Propellerheads in 1997. Their version reached number 7 in the UK charts, but it already sounds more dated which proves you just can’t top the original! I just wish the studio/producers would feel brave enough to do another instrumental track – but I suspect this will never in today’s commercially driven world!

5. Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings)
Despite the fact that Bond himself admits he isn’t a fan of the Beatles, Paul McCartney lends his talents to create this song (along with support from “Wings”). The song is a hodge-podge, which also perfectly fits in with the film’s tone. What makes this song is the amazing chorus/instrumental.  Interestingly McCartney based the song on the book (which is rather different to the film). There are a number of covers floating around including versions from Guns and Roses, Chrissie Hynde and even Geri Halliwell (not quite as shocking as I suspected it might be). The song did pretty well at the time making it to number 2 in the US Billboard chart and receiving an Academy Award nomination.

4. A View To A Kill (Duran Duran)
Who would have thought this would work? Not only that it is perhaps the best thing about the whole film. Duran Duran’s John Taylor is a huge John Barry fan (indeed he seemed to know more about John’s music than he did himself). Rumour has it that it came about when Taylor, a bit tipsy at a party, asked Bond producer Cubby Broccoli when he was going to get someone decent to do the song again. The band was on the verge of splitting up when this song was made, so it’s their last hit before they split in the 80’s. It can be argued that this one is a bit more “of its time”, but it is still a great tune. It only just missed out on the top spot in the UK (thanks n-n-n-n-nineteen!), but it went straight to the top of the US Billboard chart. Following John Barry’s death in 2011, the band paid tribute by playing the track by playing it as their encore with Simon Le Bon dressed in a tuxedo. John Taylor would tell the crowd at the 2011 Coachella Festival: “We lost a dear friend of ours this year – English composer John Barry. This is for him.”. It would be interesting to let them have another crack at a theme song in the future.

3. Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)
Own up, who thought this would be the top entry? Entirely justified being as it is the prototype and epitomises what the many Bond songs aspire to be: sexy, confident, big, bold, brash and brassy. It’s easy to forget this song is over 50 years old (it is still regularly referenced in pop culture). After those huge opening blasts, the trump card is revealed – Shirley Bassey’s incredible vocals. It seemingly references the opening of Moonriver by Barry’s composing pal Henry Mancini (you know the “Goollldfinnnnggerrraaa” part – you could equally sing “Mooonnriivvver” there). Ironically Bond producer Harry Saltzman absolutely hated the tune and wanted it replaced. Luckily there wasn’t time so it stayed in – close call!

2. Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey)
This one has it all: A dramatic tune with explosive and classy orchestrals, some wonderfully suggestive lyrics from Don Black (which producer Harry Saltzman called perverted and who once again wanted the song replaced) and  seductive/powerful vocals from the only performer who seems to get asked back. Simply wonderful, it sparkles and shimmers, I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as it plays. As a rule of thumb – if John Barry writes it, Shirley Bassey sings it and Harry Saltzman wants it replaced – you probably have a winner on your hands!

1. The James Bond Theme (The John Barry Orchestra)
We all know this one of course! Without getting all political on “who” actually wrote it (we’ll never know – although having studied it a bit I have my own thoughts) it’s clearly the orchestration which makes this (and this part definitely *was* John Barry). Most notably that twangy surf guitar and the jazzy bee-bop section, both of which are now synonymous “cool” Spy movies. This is the very first Bond song we ever here and it nails all of the confident swagger, danger and excitement of the Bond character. It has an edge to it even now and has endured the years. I suspect everyone reading this is able to hum it because it is simply brilliant!

Hope you enjoyed this countdown (click for part one and part two). If Bond songs are your thing – I also highly recommend the entertaining documentary “James Bond’s Greatest Hits“. I haven’t seen this in ages, but recall it was excellent (even if it covers much the same sort of ground).

Right, so where on earth is Sam Smith going fit in? 🙂

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Best James Bond Songs (part two)

After covering the bottom of the pile in part one, let us now turn our focus to the middle of the table. Quality is definitely improving, everything here is perfectly respectable if lacking some of the “wow” factor which seperates them from the top entries (in part three). Without further ado:

18. If The Was A Man (The Pretenders, from The Living Daylights)
Like the other Dalton film, The Living Daylights ends on a love song. This theme is integrated throughout the main score. It’s technically the last Bond song we get from John Barry and whilst its lush and romantic, it isn’t necessarily that Bondian.

To be honest, I preferred their other collaboration with The Pretenders on the film – Where Has Everybody Gone which definitely is very Bondian. In fact this song just “SCREAMS” Bond with its muted wah-wah brass. The track is technically exempt from this list being as it’s not used during any titles (I’d place it higher). That said I’m going to post it here anyway because it is one of my absolute favourites (even if it isn’t a song which is widely recognised):

17. Moonraker (Shirley Bassey)
Whilst not one of the more popular entries, it has grown on me over the years. There are two versions: the more common mellow opening titles and an upbeat disco version for the ending which isn’t anywhere near as effective (even if I do like the funky opening part). The falling string motif on the opening version is absolutely sublime. However this is clearly not a song written for Shirley Bassey’s booming vocal talents (indeed both Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis were initially considered). I suspect there is a reason you don’t see Shirley Bassey perform this one as often as her other Bond songs but it’s classy entry nonetheless.

16. Thunderball (Tom Jones)
Expecting to get some heat for the low-ish placement of this song. The track is actually a late replacement for the film’s original song (Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sung by Dionne Warrick, Shirley Bassey also recorded a version of this song). This song was dropped because it didn’t contain the title of the film in it (but you can hear it played all over the film’s score). Back to what we got: Thunderball has a masterful opening/ending and Tom Jones clearly is belting it out here. Whilst these elements are powerful and bombastic I would not consider this one of Tom’s better songs (and indeed the same applies as a Bond song). That end vocal note though is mighty impressive and you have to give Tom top marks for holding it (rumour has it he almost passed out)!

15. Nobody Does it Better (Carly Simon, From The Spy Who Loved Me)
Again, expect some heat for this. Never really been a favourite of mine- despite the nice piano intro. I can’t quite place why this one doesn’t work for me as it is clearly loved by so many. It was the first time a main-title song wasn’t named after the film (a sign of things to come).  The song went on to receive an Academy Award nomination.

14. Goldeneye (Tina Turner)
I wanted to like this one more. Perhaps it is the fact it isn’t woven into the score. Perhaps it’s the fact that I expected better from U2 members Bono and The Edge. To be honest their earlier effort for Batman Forever: ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me‘ was a superior song. I do love the opening strings, the piano motif and Tina’s voice however. And if nothing else it is better than The Experience Of Loving!

13. The Living Daylights (A-Ha)
John Barry and A-Ha notoriously fought during the making of this track – despite being initially excited at the prospect of working together. The end result is better than it probably should be, but is a little bit hodge-podge. It lacks the bite of the previous film’s song (A View To A Kill) and is seemingly rather mellow in some parts. Considering all the conflict involved making this record it is interesting to compare the film version with A-Ha’s album version.

12. For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton)
I think this one surprised many people. Scottish Singer Sheena Easton also has the honour of being (to date) the only Singer to actually appear in the title sequence. This was also the first Bond film I saw in the cinema, so I have a soft spot it!

11. Skyfall (Adele)
It’s getting painful now, so many good tracks remaining, only a limited number of spaces. It was nice to see Bond songs return to their former glory after the Another Way To Die/Quantum of Solace mis-step. Adele does – well – her Adele thing to good effect. The end result is good, if somewhat lacking in terms of originality. Special kudos to Epstein for his lovely arrangement in the background accompanying Adele’s sultry vocals. This was the first Bond song to win an Oscar, it also nearly won the UK chart battle.

10. You Know My Name (Chris Cornell, from Casino Royale)
Speaking of chart battles, I have no idea where things went wrong for this song. In fact I’m not even sure if a single ever even released (I remember looking at the time) and it wasn’t on the album soundtrack either . This is a real shame and wasted opportunity as now we are rocking! It is a harder edge sound for a harder edged Bond and former Soundgarden frontman gives it his all. I always love the bolder Bond songs. The lyrics are very fitting for the film and it is all woven into the main score – the way things should be for Bond!

With tomorrow drawing close, I look forward to covering my favourites (no doubt you can work out what’s still to come). Also looking forward to finally hearing the latest song for the first time. Click here to read part three (the top entries in the list).

Best James Bond Songs (part one)

Sam Smith is performing “The Writing’s on the Wall”, which is the new James Bond title song for Spectre. This week a lovely 15 second instrumental clip (presumably from the opening) was posted online. It had the lush orchestral feel of a classic Bond song (with some similarities to Thunderball’s opening).

Since the announcement there has been the usual mix of vitriol and fan-raving about the artist choice. As ever I’m on the fence until I’ve actually heard the song! The song will be available on iTunes (Friday 25th September). In the run up to this I’ve decided to do a countdown of my favourite Bond songs (and then ultimately suggest where this latest entry might sit on the list).

Before going any further I should mention only main-title and end-credit songs will be ranked. I’ll break these down into three posts (starting at rock bottom and working up). There will be some casualties along the way being as this is a subjective list. Feel free to post comments or set me straight!

28. The Experience of Loving (Eric Serra, from Goldeneye)
Perhaps the fact I haven’t considered Madonna as the worst comes as shock to some. Goldeneye has always been the Black sheep when it comes to music. Eric Serra wrote the score which includes this track on which he also sings. Whilst his electronic industrial underscore works well on mid-90’s Luc Besson movies, it doesn’t really fit with Bond. He even rehashes one of his themes from Leon into the score! This said I’ll give Serra kudos for using timpani drums to play the Bond theme with (inspired). Largely the score is understated where it should be bombastic (action scenes), bombastic where it should be understated (eg. the casino scene) and occasionally just plain wrong (the Aston Martin/Ferrari chase). He saved the worst for last, but by this point people could thankfully leave the cinema!

27. Die Another Day (Madonna)
Sigmund Freud, analyse this! Oh my – where to begin? By far the biggest title-song travesty! Incidentally the mix during the end credits is arguably worse – if that is possible! The intro starts promisingly with nifty orchestrals. Then everything goes electric/glitchy and Madonna starts singing. It falls apart in spectacular style. I get what you were trying to do Madge – be edgy – it just doesn’t work! The music video is fun, but there is very little redeeming about Die Another Day so let’s move quickly on!

26. Another Way to Die (Jack White and Alicia Keys, from Quantum of Solace)
Odd this one. This is the only Bond duet to date (ignoring backing singers). Like the previous entry it has a strong intro with some nice punchy guitars and great drumming. Yet again it fails as soon as the singing begins. The biggest issue I have with this song is not that it doesn’t sound Bondian, it’s the terrible lyrics – including such gems as “I know the playa wit da slick trigger finga fo’ her majesty” and “shoot ’em up – bang bang”. It’s not quite the travesty of the previous two but these vocals don’t really belong in a Bond song. Moving on…

25. If You Asked Me To (Patti-LaBelle From Licence to Kill)
This one plays over the end credits of Licence to Kill. There is nothing particularly irritating nor memorable as a Bond song regarding it. It ends the film on a romantic note in the same way as the other Dalton movie. It has had a recent resurgence thanks to Celine Dion covering it.

24. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow)
I was quite the Sheryl Crow fan in the mid 90’s. I wouldn’t have said she was suited for Bond however (turns out my hunch was correct). Whilst I like elements in the song (most notably the Perry Mason-esque swagger), the biggest gripe I have is the fact it was vastly outclassed by a superior end-titles song (which most agree should have been the main title track to the film instead of this).

23. All Time High (Rita Coolidge from Octopussy)
Musician John Barry and Lyricist Tim Rice. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven – right? Sadly not the case! It could be argued that this song is an ugly duckling. The melody is classy (and used to good romantic effect throughout the film) and the lyrics are good. But it just doesn’t gel and feels dated/uninspired. The choice of title artist was a last-minute replacement for Laura Branigan. This song clearly has fans though, including Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker who did a cover of it.

22. From Russia With Love (Matt Monroe)
Expecting heat for the low placement of this one. Again, there is nothing wrong with this song, it’s actually a rather classy affair but it’s just never been a favourite of mine. Matt Munro has strong vocals, the tune is haunting and memorable. I have to say I much prefer the instrumental arrangement of this song which plays over the actual main-titles which sounds more exotic and exciting to my ears.

21. The World Is Not Enough (Garbage)
I was a huge Garbage fan at the time, but this one fell short and feels rather dated (in a bad way). It also feels like a sub-par version of Surrender which never really catches fire the way it should. Shirley Manson’s voice also felt like it was struggling to break through. That said, frequent lyricist Don Black writes some delicious lyrics here. This one is a bit of a pity!

20. Licence To Kill (Gladys Knight)
Much like the film, this one has grown on my over time (mostly thanks to Gladys’ wonderful voice). I remember having a few issues with it back in the day because it basically steals the opening bars from Goldfinger! I’ll forgive it because they do give a song-writing credit to John Barry for this. Interestingly the video for this song was directed by Danny Kleinmann who is the “go-to” person for those wonderful silhouetted main title sequences since Pierce Brosnan inherited the role.

19. The Man With The Golden Gun (Lulu)
Keeping with the rushed-out feel of the film, John Barry had a notoriously short schedule with which to compose the score to this film. This seemed to extend to the title song also. Part of the problem is Lulu isn’t quite firing on all cylinders (it’s documented that she wasn’t well when it was recorded). Whilst this perhaps isn’t a classic, I rather like it (particular the dodgy lyrics from Don Black and the lively swagger of the “Love is required, whenever he’s hired” part).

Phew! I’m now looking forward to covering the “middle” entries for Part two. Stay tuned!