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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