With Adele’s Skyfall out tomorrow [edit 5/10 – today], rather than looking back on Bond numbers of the past, I thought it would be a good moment for a personal top ten(ish) songs that would have made great James Bond themes. (Hat tip to @PaleDavid.)
A couple disqualified on technicalities to get out of the way.
Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Dionne Warwick. At least lyrically superior to the Tom Jones number that was used, this was original theme written for 1965’s Thunderball nixed because the studio insisted on having the title in the theme. Both tunes are John Barry, and you end up wishing both could have made it in. Anyway, this is what the Thunderball titles could have looked and sounded like.
Surrender – KD Lang. It would also probably be cheating to include this, as although it lost out to Sheryl Crow for the main theme for Tomorrow Never Dies, it did make it onto the end credits, and its main theme permeates the soundtrack. It’s a shame it wasn’t the official number, as it was one of the strongest Bond themes in years and it ticks every box: lyrics capturing the spirit of the film, luscious strings, rasping brass, Lang doing her best to out-Bassey Bassey. If you want proof, this is the title sequence with Surrender in place.
Whatever the reason that Sam Mendes isn’t working with David Arnold for Skyfall, it’s a loss for the franchise. Arnold’s Bond tenure has been the best since Barry. After Eric Serra’s electro-misfire for Goldeneye, he was the natural choice: his career leading up to Tomorrow Never Dies listens like a prolonged audition tape for Bond, most notably his scintillating 1997 Shaken and Stirred Bond covers collection. On that album Natacha Atlas brings to life From Russian With Love in a way Matt Monroe never managed, and the B-side for that single is first on the list proper:
1. One Brief Moment – Natacha Atlas. Atlas would later turn up doing vocal on the The World is Not Enough soundtrack.
2. Play Dead – Bjork. Another collaboration involving David Arnold, written for the film The Young Americans, this is probably the most Bondish tune on the list – vocally, lyrically, orchestrationally (if that’s a word.) Epic.
3. Summer Moved On – Aha. This takes a while to warm up and it could do with a bit more brass, but when Morten Harket hits that high note and the chorus kicks in you can just imagine it over silhouetted naked ladies swinging on pistols. Aha, of course, have Bond History with 1987’s The Living Daylights.
4. The Case Continues – Ute Lemper. Another slow burner, but once the strings get going at 1.35 and then the brass goes into overdrive about a minute later, there’s no doubt. And you can just imagine Lemper belting out a Barry classic. From the album Punishing Kiss which everyone should own.
5. Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me – U2. In the vein of rockier Bond numbers like Live and Let Die and You Know My Name, this came out in the same year that Bono and the Edge teamed up with Nellee Hooper and Tina Turner for Goldeneye. Arguably, HMTMKMKM is both a better tune and more Bondish than Goldeneye. But let’s face it, Batman isn’t as cool as Bond. Certainly not Kilmer-Schumacher Batman.
6. Orange Blossom – Maldito. What you’d get if Bond was French Algerian. And it has a certain 1970s funky Roger Moore vibe.
7. Barry Adamson has to be on this list. 007, A Phantasy Bond Theme would be too easy, but choosing a single Adamson track is tough, because so much of his music has the right feel: the intro to The Big Bamboozle, the chorus for What it Means and Can’t Get Loose for that Bond-theme backing that kicks in at about two minutes. In the end, remembering that no-one should take Bond too seriously, I’ve gone for Saturn in the Summertime just because it manages to combine hints of the Monty Norman Bond theme in the intro and then turn into something from Burt Bacharach’s score for the David Niven Casino Royale, which is quite an achievement.
8. This is Hardcore – Pulp. A lower key number and a bit R-rated even for Bond, but the muted trumpet and piano rise and fall are suggestive of the chromatic Bond theme . Hard to justify? Well, just remember this is the franchise that let in Madonna’s Die Another Day.
9. Human – Goldfrapp. Alison Goldfrapp has the perfect Bond voice, and Human has the right level of espionage-tinged menace for a slightly trip-hop Bond.
10. No list is complete without an instrumental theme along the lines of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With hundreds of would-be Bonds out there in movieland, there’s quite a lot of competition for this spot (which okay, I’ve probably already fill with number 7) but I’ve gone for Jack Palmer from Alexandre Desplat’s L’enquête Corse
There were another half dozen that could have but didn’t quite make my list. If anything isn’t represented it’s the Nobody Does it Better / For Your Eyes Only / All Time High style soft ballads – if only because (controversial?) out of context I’m not sure these really sound like Bond themes anyway. But what crucial tunes are missing? What song needs Roger Moore in flared trousers on a trampoline whilst naked women in Russian hats shoots at him? What tune is crying out to be placed in the Maurice Binder?
Damn it, I’ve just remembered Kylie’s Confide In Me.