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!