BOND SONGS | THE TOP 007

Here is the article written for Discrepancy Records, reproduced by kind permission.

The competition is open until 12 midnight, Thursday 18 November 2021 AEST.

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When Monty Norman took ideas from one of his earlier compositions and created the “James Bond Theme”, he could not have foreseen how the piece would take on a life of its own as the heartbeat of one of the longest running film series in cinema history. With its surf rock guitar and brassy arrangement, the “Dum di-di dum dum” piece (as Norman referred to it) is instantly identifiable as the signature music for the world’s most famous spy.

Recognisable as Monty Norman’s theme is, each Bond film also has a feature song, usually performed by a star du jour. Dating back to Matt Monroe’s “From Russia With Love” (1963, the second Bond film), a succession of renowned artists have taken on one of the most desirable and dangerous missions in cinema: writing and/or performing the new Bond song.

The bar was set high in 1964 with Shirley Bassey’s magnificent performance for “Goldfinger”. Indeed, Ms Bassey was invited back on two further occasions to deploy her powerful, velvet-gloved voice on Bond songs. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971, Sean Connery’s last official outing as 007) and “Moonraker” (1979, Roger Moore).

Along the way there has been an extraordinary range of singers. Tom Jones belted out “Thunderball”, Nancy Sinatra wistfully observed that “You Only Live Twice”, Gladys Knight made a surprising impact with “Licence To Kill” and, of course, Paul McCartney and Wings totally murdered “Live And Let Die”.

As the decades passed, performers reflected current trends in pop, with female artists tending to survive better as singers than they did in the films themselves. Rita Coolidge, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Adele… All produced memorable Bond songs, collected on the three records of The Best Of Bond… James Bond for your ears only.

Did that read “all”? Perhaps not. There have been a few disappointments. A couple of zeros. Sad though it is to report, Madonna’s effort for Die Another Day is simply lame. As for Miss Billie’s most recent addition to the set list, wake me when it’s over. Historically, wonderful as the legendary Louis Armstrong was, his ballad “We Have All The Time In The World” for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is soft-boiled, despite the irony of it accompanying George Lazenby cradling the dead body of his just-married love.

But we are not going to linger over the failed missions. We are here to celebrate all that’s best in Bond. Which songs are exciting, even when you’ve heard them many times? Which capture both the style and the suspense of a good 007 film? Which surge like a high-speed boat chase and which are dead in the water?

Here (cue pulse-raising suspense theme) is the most dangerous mission in music reviewing: the Top 7 Bond songs, shaken and stirred by the undersigned.

#007 Theme for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” — The John Barry Orchestra  [1969]

He orchestrated and performed Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” in the first film, Dr. No, then went on to compose scores for a further eleven Bond films. By any measure, John Barry has contributed more to the soundtracks of 007 adventures than anyone. His orchestral piece for George Lazenby’s only appearance as the suave spy is a classic piece of film music and earns him the opening credit in this list.

#006 “Goldfinger” — Shirley Bassey  [1964]

Ms Bassey is a legend of Bond songs, and rightly so. This was her first contribution, and set a benchmark for drama and a special kind of diva passion that many emulated but few bettered.

#005 “Goldeneye” — Tina Turner  [1995]

There are 25 songs (plus the original theme) on the three record set The Best Of Bond… James Bond. The more I listened to Tina Turner’s Goldeneye theme, the more impressed I became and the higher it climbed in the rankings. From the mysterious strings that open proceedings through the tingling build up of tension, this is a masterful performance of a fine song by U2’s Bono and The Edge.

#004 “A View To A Kill” — Duran Duran  [1985]

Crisp, powerful, memorable. There is urgency, tension and a memorable chorus. Perhaps Bond purists might argue that Duran Duran’s song sounds more like a pop single than a Bond theme, and maybe they have a point, but what a great single it is! Dance into the fire, 007 fans.

#003 “The Man With The Golden Gun” — Lulu  [1974]

Like Tina Turner’s “Goldeneye”, there is no way I would have predicted Lulu’s Bond song would end up so high. Unfairly overshadowed by its predecessor (see #002), this is a classic 007 song, with big brass, a big sassy voice and a fabulous lyric. The song is catchy, dramatic and above all FUN. Lulu delivers John Barry and lyricist Don Black’s song with million dollar skill.

#002 “Live And Let Die” — Paul McCartney and Wings  [1973]

In typical McCartney style he throws everything into this over-the-top and thrillingly entertaining song. A deserved hit around the world, it is greater than the sum of the parts (not an uncommon McCartney magic trick) and captures the tongue-in-cheek testosterone of Roger Moore’s debut in pyrotechnic colour. So air-punchingly good, even the clunky grammar doesn’t spoil it.

#001 “Skyfall” — Adele  [2012]

I came to this daunting mission as a diva skeptic and left shaken and stirred. Adele and Paul Epworth’s 2012 triumph manages to embrace the entire history of Bond theme songs and transcend them. There is real emotion in “Skyfall”; it actually feels like Adele got inside the film and transformed her insights into an exciting, moving and deeply satisfying Bond song that does justice to the film, the legacy and the singer’s consummate skill.

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As I worked through these two dozen songs, one conclusion was inescapable: there are many excellent Bond songs and very few stiffs. If you would like to see the entire list— #25 to #1—visit the Vinyl Connection blog.

Writerly struggles aside, not everyone will approve of this Top #007. One option would be to hire a SPECTRE assassin to take out the author. Alternatively—and this is the recommended approach—let your fingers do the talking and share your own top Bond song in the Comments below.

You could win a copy of the album! Read on…

THE JAMES BOND ‘SHAKEN AND STIRRED’ SONG COMPETITION

In the Comments below tell us which Bond song is your favourite and why, in 50 words or less.  We will then choose one entry to receive a free The Very Best Of Bond… James Bond 3LP set based on originality and quality of the entry.

Rules:

  • One entry per person, entering is free.
  • Your email is required to enter and for us to contact the winner.
  • Your email will not be used for any other purpose nor shared with any third party.
  • The decision will be made by Discrepancy Records based on quality and originality and is final.
  • Entries close midnight Thursday 18 November and the winner will be announced on the Discrepancy facebook page soon after.
  • You agree that your name (only) can be used on Facebook if we choose your entry.

Head for the Discrepancy Records web site if you wish to enter the competition!

© Bruce Jenkins 2021

9 comments

  1. Me, at eleven years old, the prime age for a Bond action movie. This one the most action-packed and rock-n-roll to date. The boat chase on the Bayou, punctuated by Paul McCartney and Wing’s Live and Let Die blasting over the theater sound system. Truly a childhood memory to cherish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. For sheer Bond exuberance, Live and Let Die is hard to beat!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hector E Lupuche Oviedo · · Reply

    This is a tough one as most of them are really good but I have to chose one it will be From Russia with love sung by Matt Monro, the musicians did an amazing job and the singer is great, I’m lucky to own a Japanese pressing of the album and play it loudly frequently 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The very first Bond song! Nice one.

      Like

  3. Barbara Emanuele · · Reply

    Not only does “GoldenEye” do a tremendous job telling Trevelyan’s story, it also tells the story of Pierce Brosnan’s journey to the role.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point. I think that dual journey was part of why the song got stronger for me with every listen. Plus it’s a brilliant Tina vocal. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Barbara.

      Like

  4. My entry: While I watched Bond most in the 80s, and then again with the Craig reboot, it would be natural for me to choose Duran Duran. But the Adele song gets stuck in my head and haunts me. I’ll agree with you and go with hers. (45 words)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beaut Aaron. If you’d like to be in the Discrepancy comp, nip over to their site (link at end of the post) and paste your answer into Comments there. Good luck!

      Like

      1. Right on, thanks!

        Like

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