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ANTHONY VOLPE & TYLER MALONE’S FAVORITE BOND THEMES

Dueling Lists of Favorite Bond Songs from Two Amateur Bond Enthusiasts

By Anthony Volpe and Tyler Malone

Fall 2012

“Bond, James Bond” has now been a character on the silver screen for 50 years. 23 films into the longest running Hollywood franchise–one that started in 1962 with Dr. No–and the character is still going strong. In fact, Skyfall, the newest Bond film, is probably the best the franchise has given us in decades. (You can read my review of it here.) Earlier in PMc Magazine‘s Fall Issue, I had my friend Anthony Volpe–the most knowledgeable guy that I personally know regarding the Bond cinematic universe–create a top ten list of his favorite Bond films. Soonafter, I proposed to him that we should make dueling best Bond theme lists, and he obliged.

Not only is Skyfall likely to join the ranks of best Bond films, but I predict Adele’s throwback theme song will also be remembered rather favorably. It could have certainly made my list here. It just felt too soon though to officially rate it against the others. Some of the same songs appear on both our lists, and some are unique to each, but we’ve got plenty to say about all of ‘em. So here, without further ado, are mine and Anthony’s favorite Bond theme songs from the first 22 films.

Anthony’s #10:
The Man with the Golden Gun
Lulu
[from The Man with the Golden Gun
(1974)]
Lulu’s brassy ode to the film’s villain is a brew of psychedelica, freak-out funk, blaring trumpets, stray guitars, xylophones and gongs. Throw in a dash of the Far East for extra flavor. It’s a mess (much like the film itself), but an enjoyable mess.

Tyler’s #10:
Die Another Day
Madonna
[from Die Another Day
(2002)]
Possibly the most maligned of the Bond title themes, Madonna’s odd little intrusion into the Bond cinematic universe is a sputtering tribute to a vintage Bond mantra. It certainly doesn’t harken back to the classic Shirley Bassey theme songs, but then again neither did Duran Duran’s Bond theme (which has sometimes been touted as one of the best tracks from the 23 Bond films, and which Anthony will list a little further on down). There are plenty of songs that could have taken this tenth spot–Bond has inspired more than ten great songs to be sure–but something made me want to let Madge into the top. Maybe I should have “Sigmund Freud analyze this”? Most likely I just wanted to buck conventional wisdom, and start the list off with a bang. But, despite the flack I know I’m courting with this choice, I stand by this eccentric electro-orchestral (auto-)tune and its accompanying title sequence (the only Bond title sequence to ever actually further the plot of the film).

Anthony’s #9:
We Have All the Time in the World
Louis Armstrong
[from
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)]
Satchmo sings this Bacharach-esque wedding song (Hal David wrote the lyrics) for the star-crossed Bond and Tracy. Armstrong’s weathered and froggy voice contrasts playfully against the wistful melody. It also gives the song an unintended sadness on account of the film’s tragic ending.

Tyler’s #9:
GoldenEye
Tina Turner
[from GoldenEye
(1995)]
In contrast to the “Un-Bond-ness” of the Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” when Tina Turner sang her Pierce Brosnan era Bond theme a few years earlier, she sure as hell Shirley Bassey-ed the shit out of it. Of course, that’s not at all surprising since she’s Tina motherfucking Turner and oozes sassy soul from every pore. The return to a soul-infused vocal with big, brassy instrumentation as its musical foundation was a great choice that started Brosnan’s four-film run on a high note (one it would never hit again in terms of either song quality or film quality).

Anthony’s #8:
For Your Eyes Only
Sheena Easton
[from For Your Eyes Only (1981)]

Bill Conti’s (Rocky, Karate Kid) yearning Oscar-nominated love theme was tailor made for Bond in the feathered hair era. Sheena Easton sings it onscreen during the film’s title sequence; the only time this has ever been done in a Bond movie.

Tyler’s #8:
We Have All the Time in the World
Louis Armstrong
[from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)]

Rarely in Bond films do you get a “love theme,” but in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we get just that because love plays a big role in the film: it’s here alone that we see Bond getting married. With Armstrong’s muppety vocals, this tender little love ditty feels like it could have as easily appeared on Sesame Street as in a Bond film–and yet, his oddly beautiful voice also gives the song a sort of knowing wistfulness. Which is fitting since the lyric’s hopefulness is sadly in vain: a settled-down Bond can’t last long, and so the irony of the title is that James and Tracy Bond would not have all the time in the world; they tragically had barely any time at all.

Anthony’s #7:
Live and Let Die
Paul McCartney & Wings
[from Live and Let Die (1973)]

Macca’s frenzied, fever dream of a song (the first Bond song to be nominated for an Oscar) is perfect for this oddball film. One only wonders if in some alternative universe there is a John and Yoko version instead of the Paul and Linda classic. Many would shudder at the thought but I’d be curious to hear it. Speaking of alternative universes, listen to the Guns N’ Roses version at your own peril.

Tyler’s #7:
Nobody Does It Better
Carly Simon
[from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)]

Thom Yorke has claimed that this is “the sexiest song that was ever written,” and thus Radiohead has covered it in concert a number of times. Though I don’t know if I’d agree with Thom that it is the sexiest song ever written–I have heard any number of Prince songs as sexy as this or sexier–it is likely the sexiest of Bond themes. It doesn’t need to fill the lyric with double entendre (as “Diamonds Are Forever” explicitly did) to exude its natural sexiness. The Radiohead live versions have now overshadowed Carly’s original for me, due to Thom Yorke’s ghostly vocals, or else this would probably be higher on my list, but the Carly version is still phenomenal, even if it feels a bit more showtune-y than Bond-theme-y.

Anthony’s #6:
You Only Live Twice
Nancy Sinatra
[from You Only Live Twice (1967)]
Definitive of Bond’s “die another day” philosophy, Nancy Sinatra’s siren song, with its Eastern tinged guitars and weeping strings, has an eerie beauty to it. The song itself has “lived” more than twice in the form of various covers and samples, and was most recently featured on the season 5 finale of AMC’s Mad Men.

Tyler’s #6:
Live and Let Die
Paul McCartney & Wings
[from Live and Let Die (1973)]

Just three years after the break-up of the biggest band of all-time, one of the members of the Beatles wrote and sang this epic rock powerballad of a Bond theme–now that’s a pretty big get. And yet when Bond producer Harry Saltzman first heard the song demo, he famously said to George Martin, “Very nice record. Like the score. Now tell me, who do you think we should get to sing it? What do you think of Thelma Houston?” To which George Martin could only reply: “Well, she’s very good, but I don’t see that it’s necessary when you’ve got Paul McCartney!” Though the more funky soul version sung by B. J. Arnau in the middle of Live and Let Die is quite good as well, nothing can touch the Wings version (no matter how hard Guns N’ Roses or anyone else might try).

Anthony’s #5:
A View to a Kill
Duran Duran
[from A View to a Kill (1985)]

The only Bond song to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “A View to a Kill” captures Duran Duran in all their schmaltzy 80s glory. This epic and boisterous song deserved a better film and it remains one of AVTAK’s few highlights besides Christopher Walken’s deranged villainous turn.

Tyler’s #5:
From Russia with Love
Matt Munro
[from From Russia with Love (1963)]

Before James Bond title themes were a thing, before that was part and parcel with the Bond cinematic universe, Matt Munro sang the first real Bond theme with vocals, and knocked it out of the park. Though it wasn’t over the opening title credits of From Russia with Love, it did start the trend of having a song in each Bond film that took its lyrics from the film title. Shirley Bassey would go on in the next film, Goldfinger, to really solidify the Bond title theme as an artform, but it’s Matt Munro who deserves some credit for singing the first great Bond vocal. Though oft-overlooked, I think Munro’s lovely pop crooning really stands the test of time.

Anthony’s #4:
Nobody Does It Better
Carly Simon
[from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)]

Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line, The Way We Were) threw a little Broadway into this Oscar-nominated paean to 007’s prowess and Carly Simon helped sing it to #2 on the charts. After hearing this song again I’m convinced that the mystery man behind Simon’s previous hit “You’re So Vain” could very well be Bond. I don’t care what Warren Beatty says.

Tyler’s #4:
Diamonds Are Forever
Shirley Bassey
[from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)]

If one were to create the ultimate Bond film by stitching together requisite parts from the 23 films in the franchise, the title song of this imaginary “ultimate Bond film” would have to be sung by Shirley Bassey. She was the first singer to have her song played over the opening title sequence in a Bond film; she is the only vocalist to have performed three Bond themes; and because of these two things she pretty much embodies any Platonic ideal of what a quintessential Bond theme should sound like. This tune received a second life through Kanye West’s sampling of it in his hit song “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and though Kanye may put the sample to good use, nothing compares with the original, where the lyrics are so blatantly about sex that it’s hard to even label them sexual innuendo. “Write it as though she’s thinking about a penis,” composer John Barry told lyricist Don Black; and Black certainly did: “Hold one up and then caress it, touch it, stroke it, and undress it.” Yowza!

Anthony’s #3:
Goldfinger
Shirley Bassey
[from Goldfinger (1964)]

Shirley Bassey, the First Lady of Bond themes (she did three in total), sung the first hit Bond song for
the first hit Bond film. Bassey’s voice, if weaponized, could kill millions with its awesome power…I think I just came up with the plot for the next Bond film.

Tyler’s #3:
You Only Live Twice
Nancy Sinatra
[from You Only Live Twice (1967)]

Perhaps the reason why Adele was such a perfect choice to sing the new Bond film Skyfall‘s theme song is because she is our modern version of Nancy Sinatra, and the real Nancy Sinatra sang one of the most universally acclaimed of Bond tunes. This oft covered and sampled song remains a perfect example of what Bond themes can be at their best: both an interpretation of the movie’s thematic interests and an independent piece of pop art in their own right. As my buddy Anthony said, “You Only Live Twice” has already had more than two “lives,” and I’d guess it will continue to have many more because it simply is one of the best tunes that Bond has given us.

Anthony’s #2:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The John Barry Orchestra
[from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)]

The late, great John Barry’s music is synonymous with Bond. He scored 11 Bond films in all (From Russia With Love to The Living Daylights), and the music for songs #10, 9, 6, 5, 3, 2, 1 on this list was all written, arranged and performed by him and his orchestra (co-written in the case of #5.) Barry’s pulsing and urgent instrumental theme for OHMSS is one of his finest moments. And it makes for great running music. Try it sometime.

Tyler’s #2:
Goldfinger
Shirley Bassey
[from Goldfinger (1964)]

This song is the first theme with vocals to be played during a Bond title sequence, and because of this or in spite of it, “Goldfinger” remains, for me, the gold standard against which all Bond title themes are compared. Shirley Bassey’s vocals are absolute perfection, but it took effort to get them that way. After singing it and singing it and not quite hitting and elongating that final note to the producers’ satisfaction, she ultimately decided to unhook her bra, which she felt had been constricting her, and then she sang her heart out (with boobies out). Interesting side note: the first person to hear this song after John Barry wrote it? John Barry’s roommate, some unknown actor named Michael Caine.

Anthony’s #1:
Diamonds Are Forever
Shirley Bassey
[from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)]
Over the top doesn’t even begin to describe Shirley Bassey’s delivery of the song’s innuendo-laced lyrics. Diamonds Are Forever proved to be a harbinger of the campier direction the Bond films were to take. The film’s Vegas setting (1970s Vegas, mind you) certainly fuels the song’s devilish decadence. Considering that double entendres make up a large part of Bond’s vocabulary it’s only fitting that Bassey’s sparkly and sexy theme be number one.

Tyler’s #1:
James Bone Theme
The John Barry Orchestra
[from
Dr. No (1962)]
How could the number one spot go to any other song? James Bond’s theme is probably the only thing as famous and recognizable as the popular character himself. With that nasally surf-guitar riff that launched a thousand spy themes and the swinging horns that moderate the tension between the moody danger of the song and its rapturous bounciness, this is not just a great Bond song, but one of the most iconic instrumental film compositions in cinematic history. ‘Nuff said.

Anthony Volpe is a writer, student of history, and amateur Bond musicologist.

Tyler Malone writes for various publications, runs Reading Markson Reading, and is working on a forthcoming novel. He is the Editorial Director of PMc Magazine. He lives and works in New York City.

LINKS:

Tyler’s Skyfall Film Review

Official Site: Skyfall

IMDb: Skyfall

Written, Compiled and Edited by Anthony Volpe & Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Eon Productions

Design by Jillian Mercado

Captions:

Photography Courtesy of Eon Productions

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