Welcome to our VPME James Bond extravaganza, Mark Standbrook (wearing his Omega “Planet Ocean” James Bond watch, whilst sipping Zero Zero 7 coke) investigates the fascination with Bond and its links to pop music by way of the world famous “Bond Themes”…………….
“He’s back. Still bruised and a bit knackered from all that gritty exertion in 2006’s Casino Royale, James Bond, 007, licensed to kill, will re-emerge in cinemas up and down the country at the end of the month. The 22nd in the official Bond film series, “Quantum of Solace” will pick up where Daniel Craig’s debut film left off two years ago. This kind of continuity of story may be something of a rarity in the Bond canon – these films usually work best as self-contained episodes rather than chapters in a saga – but one thing remains constant in the formula after the best part of a half-century on the silver screen.
That’s right: it has a theme song.
“Another Way To Die” By Alicia Keys & Jack White
James Bond and music have gone hand-in-hand ever since he first made that monumental leap, Walther PPK firmly in-hand, from books, comics and radio, to the glittering silver screen. John Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme, which coupled an edgy electric guitar with more traditional string and wind instruments, won universal acclaim in Dr No, the very first film in the series, in 1962. A single release made it to number thirteen in the UK chart, and that was back when such an accolade actually meant something. As a piece of music it’s shown impressive longevity; repeatedly reused, rearranged and rerecorded over the years, it remains largely true to the original when employed in even the latest films. It hasn’t really dated, doesn’t sound particularly “sixties”, and yet it slid imperceptibly into the musical landscape of the era in which it was created.
The following year’s “From Russia With Love” had its own theme song, pleasingly crooned by Matt Monro, but the theme song tradition really got underway yet another year later, in 1963, when “Goldfinger” came out. It always strikes me as interesting that perhaps the most memorable of all the songs to be associated with the 007 franchise, is, also memorably, performed by a woman. A woman whose lungs, it should be noted, could probably float an airship if the need ever arose. There’s a hardwired, ingrained, institutional sexism in these epic tales of a man doing his bit for Queen and country; bad enough we’re cheering for a hero who is quite happy to kill people for a living, we’re also somehow comfortable as an audience with his manipulative, detached and at times abusive behaviour towards the women he comes into contact with. He’s more than willing to prey on their vulnerability and to take advantage of their sexuality to achieve his own ends, and it goes without saying that the woman in his arms as the credits roll will be out of the picture by the time the next film begins. Objectified shapes of idealised femininity fill the opening credits of all but the most recent additions to the series, demonstrating the willingness of the filmmakers, as well as their protagonist, to dehumanise women in the name of a quick thrill. Yet these abstract, nameless bodies are accompanied by the forthright, empowered sound of Shirley Bassey’s uninhibited female vocal. True enough, they’re not her own words – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley came up with those – but the delivery very much is. I might well be clutching at straws here, after all the song itself does little but to announce the oncoming, male, villain, but it’s also worth pointing out that the lyrics act as a warning to potential victims of this character’s ire: “Beckons you to enter his web of sin / But don’t go in… Pretty girl, beware of his heart of gold / This heart is cold.”
“Goldfinger” By Shirley Bassey
Whether or not the possible assertion of a female perspective through the music can in any way justify the overwhelming misogyny that permeates almost everything else about James Bond films in general is probably the subject for a much longer discussion to be had elsewhere, but like it or not, in a time of free love and sexual revolution, 007 became a hero to the masses. By extension, the music became something that people cared about. And of course, something else that could be sold. “Goldfinger” set the benchmark high, and there are still those who say it has never been bettered, but plenty have done their best to give it a go: Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney & Wings, Lulu, Carly Simon, Sheena Easton, Rita Coolidge, Duran Duran, A-Ha, Gladys Knight (sans her Pips), Tina Turner (performing a tune written by U2’s Bono and the Edge), Sheryl Crow, Garbage, Madonna, Chris Cornell and now the slightly unconventional coupling of Alicia Keys and Jack White. Dame Shirley herself was even brought back on two occasions in the seventies.
If I had to pick a favourite, I’d say the track to leap out from the extensive back catalogue is Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better”. With a slightly more sophisticated touch than its predecessors (and most of those which followed), the name of the song does not match the name of the film, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” but the words are surreptitiously dropped into the chorus to keep the association alive and excite the public. It’s not an overblown, orchestral number that tries to bellow harder than Shirley Bassey; it’s understated, unassuming, and of its time. It also alludes to Bond’s vanity, to his flaws, and to the fact that he doesn’t deserve his success. At its core, it still has to admit that its in love with our hero and as a theme song, it really couldn’t do anything else. But there’s just enough denial in there to keep it interesting.
“Nobody Does It Better” By Carly Simon
In the forty five years since “Goldfinger”, the announcement of who would record the song for the next Bond film has been the subject of furious interest with the arrival of each new film. The media speculate wildly, bets are taken, favourites are mooted and most of the time, everybody gets it wrong until the official, usually anticlimactic press release finally emerges. In some cases, prospective tunes actually are recorded and rejected, most notably for Tomorrow Never Dies. Pulp, the Cardigans and St Etienne all had a go at creating a tune to played over the opening titles, but interestingly even David Arnold, who was writing the film’s orchestral score for the first time, was bumped into second place. Having drafted in David McAlmont to write the tune with him, legendary Bond lyricist Don Black came out of retirement to put words to the music. The result was performed by kd Lang, backed by a full orchestra, but in the end it was renamed “Surrender” and banished to the closing credits, in favour of the winning song, the rather unassuming affair by Sheryl Crow.
“All Time High” By Pulp
“Tomorrow Never Dies” is far from being a classic in the catalogue, but it’s notable lyrically for its perspective. It’s apparently sung from the point of view of Teri Hatcher’s character, Paris Carver, after her death: “Darling I’m killed/ I’m in a puddle on the floor/ Waiting for you to return”. The rest of the song contains allusions to Bond’s relationship with Carver, paraphrasing dialogue from their conversations and references to their situation. To say that it puts a valid female viewpoint into the film is stretching it, but to anybody actually paying attention it can be read as a relevant comment on the consequences of a lifestyle like the one led by the film’s hero. Of course, the song’s verses and their vaguely necrophilic connotations become completely irrelevant by the chorus; using the film’s title in the song makes no literal or figurative sense because it’s a terrible contrivance to sound a bit like the name of a Bond film.
Another decade on from “Tomorrow Never Dies”, and the entire franchise has been reinvented, relaunched and reinvigorated. Having finally jettisoned the use of silhouetted or atistically-lit naked women in the open credits, “Casino Royale” managed to shed a lot of the negative baggage of the past while retaining the core of the main character. Interestingly, removing the dressing which encourages the audience to adopt the same attitude as the protagonist exposes all the more the flawed, repellent nature of his personality. He may be good in a fight, but I don’t want to sit and have a drink with him. The music has been a bit of a stumbling block since this revamp. Chris Cornell, the voice of American rock band Soundgarden, recorded the sadly unmemorable theme to “Casino Royale”. Call me old-fashioned, but I was waiting for a large-lunged crooner to belt out that title in the chorus of an overblown orchestral piece. I don’t hate what we got instead, “You Know My Name”, I just can’t love it. It doesn’t feel like an old-school Bond theme, which I assume is deliberate, but it also breaks absolutely no new ground and has nothing to add to either the film or the micro-genre of Bond themes. In the end, it’s just another song for another action film soundtrack. As the release of “Quantum of Solace” looms on the horizon, the radio is busy with Jack and Alicia as they stomp their way through the loud, grimy “Another Way To Die”. I like it better than “You Know My Name” even if it has a frighteningly similar guitar riff. My preference may be down to the return of strings and horns, which make it sound much more Bond-like. It may just be down to the fact that I really like Jack White and find it difficult to find fault with anything he does. Anyway, it would seem that there’s a new rule with Bond themes: the title doesn’t get in the song. Maybe it’s sophisticated, like Carly Simon, or maybe it’s an over-cautious effort by a mammoth media corporation to avoid falling back into old clichés, but somehow it leaves me disappointed.
“Diamonds Are Forever” By Arctic Monkeys
When I started writing this piece, I listened to all twenty two themes, back to back, one after the other. It’s worthwhile if you get the chance, although you might want to skip the Madonna one. It’s difficult to see any kind of pattern in either the tunes themselves or the artists who were selected to perform them. They are without doubt all well-known, established musicians, all people who had made their name in music well before being considered for the prestigious post of Bond-theme singer, but they often weren’t in their heyday when their number came up. Lulu was way past her “Shout” days, even her moment at the Eurovision Song Contest was but a memory by the release of “The Man With The Golden Gun”. Tina Turner hadn’t been “Simply the Best” for the better part of a decade when she sat down to smokily intone the words of “Goldeneye”. It’s not a job I’d ever want, trying to pick exactly the right artist to do the next one, but if I was asked for my recommendations, I’d say the men for the job are obvious. Neil Hannon has been crooning his way through cinematic masterpieces for years, while the only problem with the Bond music Barry Adamson makes is that nobody’s yet made a film to go with it. As is so often the case, commerce dictates that a name should be associated with such enterprise, for some reason, so I doubt my own little dream would ever come true. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy what we have, while pondering the implications of EU sexual harassment laws on a man who is frequently required to seduce beautiful women for the betterment of his country… and of course we’ll all just have to wait and see if that attempt at a tune for “Quantum of Solace” by Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson ever sees the light of day.But until that gets resolved, then I’d say Joe Cornish had it sewn up months ago:
And don’t forget… James Bond will return.”
Thanks Jaws , ahem I mean Mark, so what do our friends in the pop world and beyond think ? Is Bond still relevant? Is he a misunderstood maverick, a misogynist monster or is he as smooth as a freshly buttered banister? And of course which is their favourite Bond theme ?
Laura Trouble (Screaming Ballerinas): ummmm, all I have to say on the matter is that yes,I am a Bond fan. One day I would like to play a Bond girl/villain of some sort. I have my heart set on it. I can chop peoples heads off with 7″ records and be painted with glitter or something. I could be ‘ballerina-tron’ although that sounds more like a transformer. “Goldfinger” is the best Bond tune in my opinion; it is a gargantuan feast of splendour. I think the new Bond track is confused, messy and forgettable. But I tend to change my mind on these things so it may grow on me, I doubt it though. It doesn’t sound like a Bond track at all, it sounds like two musicians with massive egos splitting the song up into tiny sections so they both have exactly the same amount of lyrics and vocals each but forgetting to write a good song with a good tune in the process.
Nicole Atkins : My favourite Bond theme would have to be Carly Simon’s from “The Spy Who Loved Me” I like the Alicia/Jack song but I do think that only one of them should have sang the chorus. I would have probably liked it best if it was just Jack White singing it. As for Bond ?He’s kinda the shit!
Ollie Pound (Screaming Ballerinas): At the risk of being controversial,(No Ollie no! Don’t do it !!-VP) I really liked Brosnan as Bond. Why? Because to me, he was everything Bond should be. He looked like Bond, he spoke like Bond, he walked like Bond. The thing with it is, Bond is an icon – its all a fantasy, an illusion – its not real. The fact that its so far from reality at times is what makes it such a good fantasy. Bond saves the world single handed, and there’s barely a scratch on him – perfect. Why change that? its perfect escapism. On to Daniel Craig – in Casino Royal he did indeed get many things right, the mannerisms, the style – all great. I just cant ignore the fact that he walks like Vin Diesel. In a suit he looks like a rugby player at the society ball. The films more gritty, more real – it looks like Bond struggles, they want us to see that he’s just a man (albeit a very capable intelligent one). Surely though that’s not what Bond is about? Personally I cant see the point in ‘updating the Bond franchise’, it was just perfect how it was – for me anyway. These problems aside, in Casino Royale there was a far bigger problem- the plot. There wasn’t the huge finale you normally get, half way through it feels like it should end, then it limps on for another half hour or so. I seriously don’t understand why everyone absolutely raved about it. I’m not saying it was terrible, it just wasn’t that great. So, the new bond film, and new Bond theme! Surely it cant be worse than the last one? I’ve heard Jack and Alicia’s effort a few times – and in different contexts. Firstly on the radio – now as a song, it’s dreadful. You can hear all the elements shoe horned in, and clever they are – but it’s not a song. However, as a backdrop to the new Coke advert it works, so, maybe they’ve concocted a “theme”, rather than an actual song. Hey if it works I’m all for it. Just means I won’t ever be playing it, or listening to it again unless I watch the film, not like Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” which is utterly fabulous.
Also hear Dogwoods views in crystal clear mono below
What my take on the great Bond debate ? Well, there’s “Bond the bruiser” – which I like, it has a certain northern-ness about it – and then there’s “Bond the gadabout” – which I don’t like on the general basis that gadding about is a southern trait. Craig and Connery are in the former school, as is Dalton. Lazenby straddles both and Moore and the other oily plank of wood were firmly in the gadabout camp. Let’s dismiss the claims of Moore and smarmy feller, Brosnan , first. ‘Live and Let Die’ had its moment (the one with Jane Seymour) and the follow-up with Christopher Dracula and side-kick Diego Maradona sort of made sense but matters after that went downhill rapidly. Moore ’s propensity for slapstick and knowing eyebrow action defied credibility in the face KGB agents and SPECTRE henchmen. Whereas Connery could handle the sour faced Russian peasant come vengeful harridan Rosa Klebb by deftly dodging the knife in the toe of her sensible brogues, Moore would have gadded and gurned and made a right show of himself. By the time he was attempting to bed that Jamaican he-she, Jones up the Eiffel Tower ,with Duran Duran, things had gone beyond reason.
“A View To A Kill” By Duran Duran
The plank of wood aka Brosnan, is a non-descript identikit smarm bucket whose Bond efforts leave a palpable slime trail that are tacky to the touch and sickly to behold. Dressing an MDF cut-out in tuxedo and bow tie is a bit too obvious and the least said about the Brosnan era, the better. So I won’t. It was crap.So what about Dalton ? I felt sorry for Dalton , he gets a bad press but his tenure coincided with two of the weaker plot-lines, I liked his latent brutality. Poor feller deserved more of a chance but the stupid sods turned to a lump of wood instead. But I have spoken enough of Brosnan already. Lazenby-based on the slim evidence – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Lazenby showed his gadabout quality by playing Heraldry expert Sir Hilary and dressed up as a gormless twit in a kilt who nonetheless still managed to bed a bevy of global beauties on the top of a Swiss mountain. His brutality was evident in the ski shots and his bedding of what Dogwood considers top Bond crumpet, Diana Rigg. So I would have liked to have seen more of Lazenby.
On to Connery, my favourite Bond film is ‘You Only Live Twice’ where you have to admire Connery’s pluck as he allowed himself to be ‘transformed’ into a Japanese fisherman but ended up looking like Spock’s long lost cousin. I like ‘Twice’ because Miki Berenyi’s mum is in it and that is reason enough. It also has Donald Pleasance who although not as thuggish as Telly Savalas has that creepy factor that puts other Bond Grand Dame villains in the shade.
I also like ‘Twice’ because it’s the last Bond film (up to Casino Royale) where the gadgets are kept in reasonable check. ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ was the bridge between the hardened torso of “Connery Bond” and Arched nancy boy eyebrows of “Moore Bond.” Chuck in a load of submersible balloons and a watch that can shoot 88mm hi-explosive shells, throw in an aerosol that can ignite Paris, a biro that qualifies as an WMD, a pack of mints that contain bubonic plague and a Kerry Katona Iceland spy kit that includes pizza slices, spring rolls and you have “Moore- Bond”. Ridiculous.
I save the best till last. Craig. Any Bond that sits with his knackers hanging loose from a bottomless wicker chair only to have them thoroughly thrashed by a bit of flex and can laugh has to be the sort of chap that we need to see more of in MI5. Craig spits on the slimy grease ball that was “Brosnan- Bond” and makes a grudging nod towards “Connery Bond”. He is his own Bond with not a hint of gadding about. Just unabashed, barely suppressed violence that will have any clinically insane multi-Billionaire cat stroking Industrialist who is constructing a massive laser on a space station in Earth’s orbit ready to take out Milton Keynes, think twice.
Bond will always win. Why? Because the villains are invariably too inefficient in their methods of dispatching Bond! Having gotten Bond in a tight spot, instead of disposing of him with a quick shot to the head they concoct a ludicrously convoluted method of death involving Piranhas or snakes or a non-deadly bird eating spider. If Bond is continually thwarting you Blofeld, why insist on the most theatrical method of murder? Just kill him and be done with it. And so I conclude my views on Bond. As for the new song, I wasn’t convinced until I saw the video which features a healthy glimpse of Alicia Keys’ thighs. Now I can listen to it happily, so long as the video’s playing.
Marcella Puppini ( the Puppini Sisters ): I am not a massive Bond fan. It’s a bit like the Beatles and Bjork: I can see what they’re doing, but it doesn’t rock my boat. Having said that, I really do love some of the Bond tunes. I, rather embarrassingly, have a bit of a soft spot for Wings (it must have been Linda’s keyboard skills), so I love Live and Let Die. Of course I also love “Goldfinger”, but that’s less of a dark secret.
“Live And Let Die” By Paul McCartney and Wings
Ragz: I’m afraid I too am rather neutral on the Bond theme issue…”Goldfinger” is the one tune that left me shaken and stirred and I love it, but not much else has affected me much 007 wise. Mind you, Ursula Andress still has me spinning after emerging from the sea in that white bikini of hers ;-)The tune that was Tina Turners turn turned my stomach slightly, tho I suppose I have to admit she did a smashing job singing it.
Emmy The Great : I did hear the new Bond theme and even I know it totally sucks. Did Sheryl Crow do one? If she did, even her one was better. My best friend the obsessive played it to me and all I could think was SHIRLEY BASSEY. Like if you knew that your song would be held up against Shirley Bassey singing Goldfinger, would you really allow it to suck that hard from beginning to end? I thought Alicia Keys was cooler than that. And how come they didn’t let Amy Winehouse do it? It clearly would have been amazing. Is it because they thought her image would be dangerous to the James Bond brand? I thought James Bond was supposed to be dangerous. They played “Live And Let Die” at the cinema today and I thought that was pretty good. Wow i just looked up Bond music and found out that Chris Cornell did one. Bet that was a good one.
Matt Geary (The Lieutenant’s Mistress); For me, Bond is a wonderful, classical, institution borne of paradoxes and contradiction. He is deemed the pinnacle of gentlemanly conduct despite bedding a different woman in every film – many of which end up dead. His choice of beverage is refined, with a recipe known throughout the world, but one which draws scorn from cocktail connoisseurs. He is thought of as the classic Englishman but has been played by a Scotsman, an Australian, a Welshmen, an Irishman and a piece of wood (before Daniel Craig’s spell). He is a negative, alcohol sodden, sexist, existential manifestation of the author that created him who later wrote the saccharin-tinged children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The greatest paradox however is the concept of the “Bond theme”. The actual “John Barry” theme is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in the world. Whilst it has been incarnated many times and in different ways it’s presence, like the Aston Martin, gadgetry and a sexually liberal temptress, is crucial and raises a smile upon its incidence. Likewise, the single that precedes the release of the latest film, and the montage as the movie starts are all crucial to the mystique of Bond.
It seems that the key to a good Bond theme is to regurgitate the title or a line from the film in the song, pick a powerful female vocal, have a big name involvement with heavy orchestration and add as much drama as possible into a song which is otherwise a cash-in and an extension of “the franchise”. This brings us to “Another Way To Die”. In potentially the greatest mismatch since Peter Crouch and Abby Clancy, David Arnold granted the honour of writing the Bond theme to a man known for raw and raucous guitar led pop songs upon the suggestion of his collaborating with a vocal gymnast. The hope for this, I imagine being that, in lieu of the predicted Winehouse/Ronson partnership, the combination of another musician cum producer and a big name screecher would work as well as it had for previous Bond themes.
I have to be honest; I was expecting to hate the song. I couldn’t imagine the artists working together, I was disappointed that the song had a different title to the film (although in fairness, this one was never going to scan that well and they did manage to shoehorn the word “Solace” into the lyrics), White’s production has traditionally proved far from grand and the last minute appointment boded badly. However, the things that I had feared were not in fact to prove the problem with the track. The song is hideously forgettable (at the moment I actually can’t even remember anything but the riff that’s on the Coke advert), Alicia Keys’ anxious, histrionic caterwauling duel is unnecessary, adds nothing to the track and the first duet in Bond history proves to be an experiment that should probably be buried to confines of history. Saying that, the track isn’t entirely bad. The production is more in keeping with Bond themes than I had first given it credit for and the track has at the very least shown a smeered foothold on the slippery slope that Bond themes had been cruising down. In fact, when placed against its recent peers (Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” and Madonna’s “Die Another Day”) it appears to be the closest thing to a sympathetic Bond theme that we’ve had in years. Unfortunately the niggle still appears to be that, although fundamentally not an offensive track and in spite of any Bond affiliations, as a song it still isn’t very good.
Ross ( Screaming Ballerinas) ; Thought Pierce Brosnan was a good Bond but not a massive fan of the films. The best bond for me was Roger Moore, with these also being the best Bond films. My favourite has to be either ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ or “For Your Eyes Only’, although pretty much all of them were better than the all the others . I think he did 7 in all. As for the Bond theme, don’t really have an opinion on the new one, don’t think its all that though, best theme is probably ‘Live And Let Die’ its a good song, although I also like ‘Nobody Does It Better’ New film looks pretty good though so might have to check it out.
Vote Show Pony: The reason I love Bond films so much is because they are so ridiculously over the top, fun and camp in fact it’s no wonder I love them so much as I think Bond films are Vote Show Pony in film form! What with the double entendres & the way Bond can jump off a cliff straight into the helm of a plane, what is not to love? Unfortunately since hunky Daniel Craig morphed into Bond, the sense of fun has faded & this makes me feel slightly annoyed quite frankly! I don’t want my Bond moody & macho. I bet Daniel Craig as Bond would never reply to Pussy Galore’s announcement of her outrageous name with the famous line “I must be dreaming.” Who decided messing with the formula was a good idea I ask you? OK, so Daniel Craig coming out of the sea in those tiny blue shorts was a fabulous moment of posing. Which admittedly made me think perhaps there was potential for fun, but that was about it for me. So I say bring back names like Pussy Galore & ladies painted in gold, but most of all bring back that good old fashioned fun that made Bond films so brilliant. Rant over!
Von Pip: I haven’t been a big Bond fan since Moore minced and preened his way on to the screen, with his annoying mole and his eye-brows acting as dual circonflexe’s over both eyes. “Live and Let Die” was ok but the whole franchise quickly descended into an uber-camp pantomime. And Moore popularised the ludicrous “safari suit”, which are all well and good when on safari, but it was extremely disconcerting to be walking into Birkenhead town centre only to come across the lads from the local Kwik-fit on a day off, dressed as Stuart Grainger in big game hunter mode ala “King Solomon’s Mines”. After “The Man With the Golden Gun” things got worse and Kenneth Williams shouting “Oooh , Oooooh Seven, Matron” would have made a less ludicrous Bond. Moore’s performances spiraled ever downward and contained more ham then a butcher’s window in Parma. I prefer Connery, he had a cheeky sense of tongue in cheek (oo-er) fun, without resorting to OTT camp panto mode ala Moore. As for the new “gritty Bond” well why not leave that “realisim” to Bourne and the like? Bond was always larger than life and not rooted in reality, I mean I never really took his incessant “nobbing” seriously, t’was all a bit OTT male fantasy really. As for the new “theme” it really is dire, a horrible, contrived mess, you almost hear them thinking, “hmmm not Bond enough”as they crowbar in some “classic Bond elements” . I feel like one of the few people on gods green earth who just doesn’t “get” Jack White at all, what on earth is all the fuss about? He plays guitar from the Black Sabbeth school of “raaawk” and howls at the moon like a castarted cat. Best bond theme ? Well it has to be between Shirley, Carly and Louis. Mind you I am quite interested in how Daniel Craig fares as he went to the local school in my area in t’Wirral. I also recall him as a rent boy come porn baron in “Our Friends In the North” (that’s a TV show not real life for southern readers ;) ) and rather good he was too, despite the dodgy wig. Maybe the last word should go to a family friend who went to school with Mr.Craig. “Daniel was a small, sickly child, with weak, watery eyes and a constant runny nose, if somebody had of told me he’d grow up to become James Bond I would have laughed in their face”.
“We Have All the Time In The World” By Louis Armstrong