Features

7 Best "James Bond" title songs

Writer: Casey Lee


Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" will be the Bond song for "Spectre".

Aside from the sexy women, the sleek Aston Martins, and shaken Martinis, one of the most identifiable hallmarks of a Bond film is usually seen and heard in the beginning; the title Bond song. Although the first accepted Bond song tradition did not start until the third installment in the franchise, but ever since then, it has been the stamp to signal how all Bond movies would begin.

Throughout the more than 50 year history of the Bond franchise, Bond songs had its fair share of triumphs and disappointments, both in the box office and music charts, but still remains as one of the most closely watched aspect of every Bond film, since it almost defines it.

With the release of Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" for the 24th Bond film "Spectre" (which should drop anytime now), we look out for the best seven Bond songs that had defined and defied the traditions of the Bond song.

"You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra

Written by Leslie Bricusse, John Barry had composed and recorded the first version of "You Only Live Twice" with Julie Rogers as the singer, which had a more oriental theme to suit the setting of the movie. But when producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman heard it, they felt that the song was lacking a sense of energy and wanted to change the vocalist. While Barry suggested the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, to be that replacement, Broccoli decided to call in a friend, the legendary Frank Sinatra, to sing the song. Sinatra refused, but suggested that they should use his daughter, Nancy Sinatra, instead, who had just made her first big hit with "These Boots Are Made for Walkin''.

So on 2 May 1967 at the CTS Studio in Bayswater, London, a panic-stricken 26-year-old Nancy Sinatra started recording "You Only Live Twice" with a 60 piece orchestra for 30 times, without one being a perfect recording. In the end, the final version of the song that was heard in the opening sequence of "You Only Live Twice" was made up of bits and pieces from 25 of those recordings.

Although "You Only Live Twice" did not go on to win any major accolades (musical or otherwise), or becoming a tremendous chart topper (its greatest achievement was only to 3rd at the Adult Contemporary chart in the US), it, like her own "Boots", became a swan song that had its own life in popular culture. Other than being covered by major artists from Coldplay to Bjork, it was used as a season finale song for the television series "Mad Men" and parodied by The Simpsons.

"A View to A Kill" by Duran Duran

Duran Duran was picked to be the singers for "A View to A Kill" when its bassist John Taylor approached producer Albert Broccoli at a party to let them make a Bond song. The song was made during troubled time for the band, when returning composer John Barry had noted of the rifts between the members. However, he was able to bring all of their arrangements together.

Injecting Barry's 60-piece orchestration with the sound of '80s pop synthesisers, "A View to A Kill" would be the biggest hit of Bond songs, becoming the only Bond song to date to reach the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and securing the second spot in the UK for weeks. However, as rifts within the band eventually widen, it was also the last song that the band had recorded together before they disbanded.

"For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton

There were many candidates to perform the song for the 12th Bond movie, "For Your Eyes Only", but it was the least expected one that turned out to be one of the best out of the rest. The first rendition of the song was written, performed and recorded by the band Blondie, but it got rejected when the producers had only wanted vocalist Debbie Harry to perform it without her band mates. New Bond composer Bill Conti had his own idea of the song being written by Barbra Streisand and performed by Donna Summer, but that proposal was shot down as well.

Conti and the producers finally agreed on a young and upcoming Scottish singer named Sheena Easton, who was suggested by United Artists, and had several hits in the U.K. by then. Although Conti admitted that he wasn't impressed with Easton's debut album, he had agreed to work with her after a meeting. Easton is also the only artist in the franchise so far to have her face appear in the title sequence, turning the sequence into a semi-music video that seduced audiences.

Released in 1981, "For Your Eyes Only" became a big hit for both Easton and the Bond franchise, reaching the top 10 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts. It was the third song from the franchise to be nominated for the Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.

"Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings

Before there was even a screenplay for "Live and Let Die", the producers had already asked former Beatles member Paul McCartney to write the theme song for the movie. So, instead of waiting for Tom Mankiewicz to finish his script, McCartney asked for a copy of Ian Fleming's novel that the movie was based on and had written up the lyrics, with his wife Linda, in one afternoon after he had finished reading it (even commenting that the book was 'pretty good').

Although producer Harry Saltzman wanted to have Bond singer Shirley Bassey or R&B singer Thelma Houston to perform the song, but McCartney would only allow "Live and Let Die" to be used in the movie on the condition that it would be sung by Paul's new rock band, Wings. The song was recorded in October 1972, while the band was making another album.

"Live and Let Die" would turn out to be one of Bond and the band's most successful hits, reaching 2nd place in the U.S. charts and 9th in the U.K., before going Gold at 2 million copies sold. It also became the first Bond song to be nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards.

"Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon

Despite being the Bond song to break away from some of its traditions, "Nobody Does It Better" yielded very strong results compared to many Bond songs, both critically and commercially. Composed by Marvin Hamlisch, and written by his then wife Carole Bayer Sager, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" is one of the few Bond songs that did not share the same name with the movie that it was featured in 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me". It is also the only Bond song that is referring to James Bond (as 'the spy who loved' in the lyrics), rather than the villain in the movie, which had been the case since the first Bond song "Goldfinger".

"Nobody Does It Better" enjoyed massive success in the worldwide charts, sharing the same spot of being second at the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart with Wings' "Live and Let Die", but slightly edging it in the U.K. Singles Chart at being 7th over 9th. It was the second Bond song to receive a nomination at the Academy for Best Original Song, and had also received nominations at the Golden Globe and the Grammy.

"Skyfall" by Adele

Being the film that would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, "Skyfall" was more than just a movie, but a milestone that needed to celebrate how far the franchise has come. For the theme song, British powerhouse Adele was put up to the task, after being suggested by Sony Pictures. She was at first hesitant because she had never written a song based on a set of guidelines before, but was finally convinced after reading the script.

After writing the lyrics with her producer Paul Epworth, Adele recorded a demo of the song and sent it to director Sam Mendes, who had already begun production. When Mendes played it to producer Barbra Broccoli and Daniel Crag, they were moved to shed a tear. According to Adele, although the lyrics only took 10 minutes to write, the whole process of performing, recording and mixing the song took 18 months since they met with the film makers.

Taking inspirations from Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" and with vocal capabilities to match with Shirley Bassey, "Skyfall" was heard on the airwaves for the first time at 0:07am on 5 October 2012 (the day "Dr. No" was released) and the sky came down. It became the first and only Bond song to debut straight into the top 10 of the U.S. chart, and sold 200,000 copies in the first three days alone. But that was not the end of it as "Skyfall" would go on to be the only Bond song to win a Golden Globe, a Brit Award, and the much coveted of them all, the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In the music industry, "Skyfall" also came away with the Grammy for the Best Song Written for the Visual Media, in the following year.

"Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey

In 1964, when John Barry was given complete control of the music for the first time in the third Bond film "Goldfinger", he had set out to create a harmony that would fit the song and the soundtrack together perfectly for the movie. Written without any reference from the script or film footage, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly derived the entire lyrics of "Goldfinger" from the words 'the Midas touch', and Barry's first choice for the vocals was established Welsh diva Shirley Bassey. The song was recorded on August 1964, and in order to last for the final note, Bassey had to remove her undergarments. Even so, she almost fainted by the end of it.

In many ways as the first Bond song, "Goldfinger" is the gold standard by which all Bond songs henceforth would be measured by. The orchestration, the style, the voice and the odd tradition that all James Bond songs are supposed to be about the villain (this tradition was arguably only broken once in "The Spy Who Loved Me"). Although the Bond song tradition only began in the third film, John Barry's composition and Shirley Bassey's voice had defined it, and by which any lifelong fan of the franchise would remember it by. A benchmark that almost never happened when producer Harry Saltzman notoriously rubbished the song (who would do so again for "Diamonds are Forever", also sung by Shirley Bassey), but was only forced to keep it in the final cut because they were mere weeks away from release.

"Goldfinger" would go on to be Bassey's most successful single to reach the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, and made her a household name, not just as a singer but also to the Bond franchise. Bassey remains the only artist to have sung more than one Bond song, following "Goldfinger" with "Diamonds are Forever" in 1974 and "Moonraker" in 1979.

"James Bond: Spectre" comes to cinemas this 5 November in Malaysia and 6 November in Singapore.

Cinema Online, 25 September 2015


Related Movies:
Skyfall (01 Nov 2012)
QUANTUM OF SOLACE (05 Nov 2008)

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