Friday, April 19, 2013

Top & Bottom: James Bond Title Songs

James Bond needs no introduction, nor do the songs to the 24 films. In fact they've become a cornerstone of the franchise, giving each film the flavor of its age. While they all retain a certain charm, especially in the context of their title sequence and decade, some really are excellent, some are fun but flawed, and some are leagues away from the world of Bond in both tone and quality. Let's have a listen.

5. The Man With the Golden Gun

The swelling brass, scintillating percussion, and zippy, motivic figure give The Man With the Golden Gun an exotic vibe. The second Bond song not about the spy but his adversary-du-jour, The Man With the Golden Gun sketches a deadly assassin with his sights on Bond. And how does the song build up Bond's opponent into a fearsome rival? As far as I can tell, by a nonstop series of phallic references. Not including repetitions and variations, I count fifteen, sixteen if you include that brass figure. [YouTube]


Goldeneye was a gutsy return for Bond after a long hiatus. With those four opening notes peering out from the dark quiet, Tina Turner's sultry voice, and the dark imagery of the text, Goldeneye brings the indomitable and irresistible spy back out from the shadows. The text is also a novel woman's take on the 007 allure: raw attraction, defiantly resistant. [YouTube]

3. Goldfinger

Oh that wailing brass, classic yes, but the star here is of course Shirley Bassey, plucking those notes from nowhere and then weaving them out into seductive, sinuous lines up to a bravura finish. The text is simple but effective, mythologizing and building up a ruthless enemy who just may
spell doom for the unstoppable Bond. [YouTube]

2. Skyfall 

Here the brassy opening harkens straight back to Bond's origins, appropriate not only for Skyfall's subtle origins theme but as counterpoint to M's end painted in the text. All the vocal and instrumental leaps here paint a falling, an end shared by both M and Bond. [YouTube]

1. You Know My Name 

The vigorous and virile main theme contrasts with its sinuous partner backed up by a firm but not ponderous bass line. Subtle brass not only punches up the rhythm but brings the classic Bond vibe. Finally, Chris Cornell slides through those accentuating leaps that bring out the text which, by the way, is meaningful from three perspectives: Vesper, M, and Bond's. [YouTube]

Thoughts on the Rest

From Russia With Love [YouTube]

One guy singing about Russia like it's a former lover. Am I missing something?

Thunderball [YouTube]

Tedious crooning and cliche bravado. "He always runs when others walk." Jeeze.

You Only Live Twice [YouTube]

What a lame, indistinct song. The themes, instrumentation, and Nancy Sinatra suggest. . . nothing in particular. The title suggests a reference to Bond's apparent death, but the words don't add up to a thing.

Diamonds Are Forever [YouTube]

Songwriter: "So there are diamonds in this movie? Oh good, we'll sing about diamonds. And forget about Bond. Actually, let's sing about how diamonds are more awesome than Bond. Great."

Live and Let Die [YouTube]

A complete Jabberwocky of music and text.

Nobody Does it Better (The Spy Who Loved Me) [YouTube]

This is not the song of about 29-year-old Barbara Bach nabbing the suave super-spy. This is the song of a grateful cougar and it belongs nowhere near a Bond movie. And they employed the punchy, ballsy Bond brass for their insipid theme. The shame!

Moonraker [YouTube]

See previous, sans instrumental crimes. "You love me. Yooou Loooove Meee."

Never Say Never Again [YouTube]

Almost passable, although the text is in Moonraker territory and the opening sounds like the intro to an 80s cop drama.

All Time High (from Octopussy) [YouTube]

This is awful. According to the tone of this song, James Bond is married and his wife is singing to him about the good old days in the rec room of the retirement home.

For Your Eyes Only [YouTube]

Typifying the height of Roger Moore's lover-and-spy take on Bond, For Your Eyes Only is more teenage girl crush on the first guy who "gets her" than a strong woman's irresistible pull toward the most desirable man in the world. The opposite of Goldeneye.

A View to A Kill [YouTube]

Oh please cease this clunking and clomping. There's some sexy imagery but it's all over the place. Bond. Anyone? Bond?

The Living Daylights [YouTube]

Every time I listen I wait for the part where Sting jumps in and starts dancing and flailing around.Words are inaudible.

License to Kill [YouTube]

Passable. A sappier version of Goldeneye.

Tomorrow Never Dies [YouTube]

A brooding, middle-aged version of For Your Eyes Only.

The World is Not Enough [YouTube]

A surprisingly listenable entry from a group named Garbage. The song proper is moaning rubbish, but the main theme and refrain are Bond-esque in shape, tone, and sentiment. The songwriter must have realized this since the refrain occurs every 20 seconds or so.

Die Another Day [YouTube]

Can music induce seizures?

Another Way to Die (from Quantum of Solace) [YouTube]

There's something good in there, in the theme, rhythms and some of the text, but like the movie, it doesn't come together and it's pretty crude.

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