Nobody Does it Better: Fifty Years of James Bond Music

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of solace know you’ll judge me—but it’s true. There was a Heineken ad recently, and whereas 99.98% of you might see it and think, “Oh, they just played the James Bond theme”, I thought, “Oh, they played the David Arnold arrangement of the James Bond theme from the end of Casino Royale (which played over the scene where nattily-waistcoated Daniel Craig tries his rifle out on Mr White’s leg, to be pedantically precise)”.

To be fair, I have a slight advantage—if you can call it that—owning, as I do, no fewer than four of the Bond movie soundtrack CDs and a further three Best of Bond compilations. Someone really should put a warning on those boxes—I had no idea how habit-forming they were. Out of their natural habitat—playing alongside Maurice Binder’s endearingly tacky opening credits—the music’s power is further enhanced.

So many people have grown up with these songs, that we all need a minute to ponder the strangeness of many of them, and indeed the whole idea. It’s a very ‘60s idea of multi-media coverage—one whose success cannily meant that the title of the latest Connery-starring epic played regularly over radios internationally without Albert R. Broccoli or Harry Saltzman paying a cent.

The surreal pay-off to this means that there’s a ‘70s reggae song written by George Martin and Paul McCartney, named after a twenty-year-old spy novel. But Live and Let Die works; so much so that it is actually a decent Wings song. Incredible, right?

Christopher Lee and Roger Moore in The Man With The Golden GunNow, every songwriter in the Double-O section were immeasurably lucky to have Ian Fleming’s wonderful titles to start from: A View to a Kill, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice … the world-weary romance, the hints of danger, and the sheer pulpy punch that make these epigrams so good on paperback covers and movie posters also lend them the class of an Aston Martin DB5 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra blaring trumpets behind them.

There’s a musical ring to even The Man With the Golden Gun that, say, E.M. Forster (to pick another author with a knack for memorable titles) lacks. Although I’d love to hear Nancy Sinatra belt out A Room With a View (“Meeting you, in a room with a view”… oh wait, that’s Bond again).

Even the least initiated, least Bond-soundtrack-savvy (‘luckiest’, my dad would say as he ejects the Living Daylights soundtrack from the car) could identify the halcyon days of the 007 ballads. It would be the moment John Barry’s coolly parodic jazz-meets-strings lushness collided with the lyrics of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, and the strident tones of Dame Shirley Bassey, to create that pop phenomenon, “GOLD-FING-AHHH” (if you’ve heard the song, you know that’s the only way to write it).

Barry recalled the song was torture to write, strung around a particularly ludicrous Fleming villain name but forbidden to reveal any story details. Barry, Newley, and Bricusse duly devised a chilling and thrilling ode to the abstract terrors of Mister Goldfinger (“the man with the Midas touch/ A spider’s touch!”).

Like the movie, it was a runaway success, high on the Billboard chart and everything—a measure of the extent of Bondmania. It led to the equally brilliant, and even more successful, Thunderball sang by Tom Jones, which was the first Bond song to focus on the secret agent himself (“They call him the winner who takes all … so he strikes …like Thunderball!”).

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