Nostalgia Jukebox: Bond themes

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

A regular series delving into my musical archives to look back at tracks which are at least 20 years old.

It’s a busy anniversary day today. 50 years ago this day – 5th October 1962 – the Beatles released Love Me Do, their first single on EMI. On the exact same day in 1962 the first ‘official’ James Bond film, Dr No, hit our cinema screens. And it was also a year ago today that Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple and the spiritual father of the iPod, died.

With the latter two in mind, what better time than now to go trawling back through the contents of my iPod to dig out my favourite Bond themes from years gone by?

So strap on your Walther PPK, fire up the Aston Martin and join me in a nostalgic stroll through 50 years of soundtrack history. In chronological order:

1. From Russia With Love – Matt Monro (1963)

In the days before all Bond-related product became big business, Matt Monro’s eponymous title track (penned by Oliver!‘s Lionel Bart) from 007’s second cinematic outing – the first scored by the legendary John Barry – performed modestly with the British record-buying public. Monro had five UK top ten hits in all, but this ballad reached only a modest number 20.

Unusually, the track is played over the closing rather than opening titles. It’s the most haunting of all the Bond themes, reflecting a surprisingly intimate and claustrophobic Cold War thriller where a significant portion of the story takes place on the Orient Express.

2. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

This was the first of three Bond themes performed by Shirley Bassey (who also provided the vocals for Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). However, although the song met an underwhelming response in the UK charts, peaking at 21, Bassey’s booming dramatic vocals laid down the template for the majority of subsequent Bond themes. Listen to Gladys Knight‘s Licence to Kill, Tina Turner’s GoldenEye or even Adele‘s Skyfall and the origin back to both this song and Diamonds is obvious.

3. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

Often overlooked by the bigger, more bombastic entries in the Bond canon, You Only Live Twice is possibly my favourite of all the Bond themes, in part because it was the first Bond film I ever saw and it formed part of my childhood musical education with my father. (In my eyes, it’s certainly part of the strongest soundtrack of any of the films.) Composed by John Barry with lyrics by Goldfinger co-writer Leslie Bricusse, it’s instantly recognisable from Barry’s soaring string intro and its distinctive Oriental overtones (the film’s story is based primarily in Japan), and Nancy Sinatra‘s seductive tones are a perfect fit.

Notable artists who have covered the track include Coldplay and Bjork, and it was recently used as the soundtrack for the fifth season finale of Mad Men.

4. Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)

A collaboration between Paul McCartney and the Beatles’ former producer George Martin, Live and Let Die is held by many fans to be the ultimate Bond theme. Much more of a rock arrangement than previous songs, it has twice charted in the UK top ten, both on its original 1973 release and as a 1991 cover version by Guns ‘N’ Roses. It is also one of the many classic songs parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, under the title Chicken Pot Pie, which is slightly ironic given that both McCartney and Yankovic are vegetarians.

It was also the theme for the first film of the Roger Moore era. In common with many of the other Bond debuts, it’s also the best song of all his films during his tenure as 007.

5. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (1977)

From The Spy Who Loved Me, this Carly Simon ballad had lyrics by renowned songwriter Carole Bayer Sager (whose CV includes A Groovy Kind of Love and hits for Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Rod Stewart and Frank Sinatra) and charted in the top ten in both the UK and US.

It is also (I think) the only theme to make an appearance in two separate Bond films, with a brief excerpt appearing in For Your Eyes Only.

6. The Living Daylights – a-ha (1987)

Whisper it quietly: I quite like this. Performed by the Norwegian boy band a-ha, this much maligned entry from the vastly underrated film of the same name – the first of two starring Timothy Dalton – was a more contemporary pop track that continued a trend started by Duran Duran‘s contribution to its immediate predecessor, A View to a Kill. By then, a-ha had already scored six UK top ten singles – including the number one The Sun Always Shines on TV and their memorable debut, Take On Me – and were at the peak of their popularity. Daylights made the top five – none of their subsequent singles ever topped that.

The production of this song did not go smoothly, however. Creative tensions between the band and Barry over the arrangement – the band recorded a different version of the song to the one used on the soundtrack – meant that neither party was subsequently overly complimentary about the other.

By my own rules for the Nostalgia Jukebox, I’m not permitted any entries beyond 1992. Not that I would have been in any hurry to include Garbage‘s The World Is Not Enough, Madonna‘s Die Another Day or the abomination that was Jack White and Alicia Keys‘ paint-it-by-target-demographics Another Way to Die. However, I would have happily included Tina Turner‘s GoldenEye (1995) and Chris Cornell‘s You Know My Name from Casino Royale (2006). Continuing my earlier theme, these were also the Bond debuts of Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

So there you have it – half a dozen of my favourite Bond themes. Adele’s Skyfall was released this morning to coincide with the 50th birthday and has already shot to the top of the download charts. Where does it sit in the overall ranking of Bond themes? Based on my initial impression I’d say somewhere above halfway, maybe just scraping into my top ten.

So, do you agree with my choices, or have I missed out a personal favourite of yours? Let me know in the comments.

The Nostalgia Jukebox

Introducing the Nostalgia Jukebox

Christmas number ones

Written by the Bee Gees

Whitney Houston

Eighties soundtracks