Sunday, 1 November 2015

Bond Themes

It was just the other day that Justin Jessel and a number of others suggested I do a blog on James Bond. Actually, it was... five years ago. Blimey, I can't even blame Acts of Toddler for that delay.

The Bond films are ripping yarns which have lasted fifty-three years and counting. Six actors have played James Bond, each with their own takes, nuances and fan bases. Every style of film has been invoked, from classic cold war spy flick to even horror and fighting genres.

And so, to coincide with the launch of Spectre, only a hack would produce a series of list articles. Luckily, this hack was up to the challenge.

What I was most interested in, though, and where lists came to help, was in comparing and contrasting the films. Bond has a lot of critics, and rightfully so, for certain elephants in the room, and what becomes clear is that the times these failings (the films treatment of women, to take the most obvious one) do really show up, it becomes more notable for the times that go against that. It is right we take great disdain at the portrayal of Mary Goodnight in a series which presents Anya Amasova.

But we start with the entrance themes. A Bond theme, done well, becomes more than the film it represents. They become cultural artifacts, known through popular osmosis as much as having seen the film. More people alive know the James Bond theme than have seen the films, I'd bet, and some songs has taken on a legendary status. The "made for Bond" but not officially a Bond theme, We Have All the Time in the World, by the wonderfully Louis Armstrong, for one.

So here, entirely unscientifically, is are the twenty-three Bond themes, ranked. Compared directly towards each other, which proves slightly unfair in some cases, admittedly. It's entirely based on personal bias, and whilst I try to give reasons, subjectivity in taste comes to mind.

(Note - For obvious reasons, I won't be taking Spectre on board. For one thing, I am unlikely to see it until its on TV or DVD, and for another, it's far too soon to critique in comparison. History needs to set in...)

(Note - as I like to link to the songs on Youtube, I've tried to split this into two pages, for ease of those on mobile devices... There should be a link at the bottom to link to the second half of the countdown.)

         #23   Die Another Day (Madonna)

I thought Man with the Golden Gun would be unsurpassed as the worst Bond theme tune, until I heard Madonna’s offering to the canon. It’s different, I’ll give it that. And its clearly an attempt at a genre of music I’m not keen on. Even so, it stands as a poor cousin on all the others.

           #22    Man With the Golden Gun (Lulu)

Actually, I think this song would be better with a better singer. Lulu hits every note like she’s on the verge of a hissy fit. The opening is good enough, it might even work as an instrumental. [Having listened to the instrumental version, it’s better, but still suffers from those overly jaunty strings!] Still, those opening twenty seconds are still better than Die Another Day. They could have got Christopher Lee to sing it, actually, I’m sure he’d have loved singing “I’ve got a powerful weapon...” The problem with the song is that it sets the tone for the film. The tone of the piece is all fluff and aggravating, and whilst the film itself is the weakest in the canon, it doesn’t get any help from the start.

              #21 Thunderball (Tom Jones)

Tom Jones shows up to sing for us. This song is damaged in my mind by the realisation Weird Al used it as the backing for his Spy Hard intro. And that the Johnny Cash version was better (what do you mean, Johnny Cash doesn’t fit the film series? He’s Johnny Cash! Make him!). And that the song itself isn’t that great. Sorry.

            #20  All Time High (Rita Coolidge) 

A wee bit of jazz and a quiet lounge singer are a good combination for a little nap, in my mind. It’s not quite the stirring opening for Octopussy, which is quite a dark (by Roger Moore standards) film. In fact, its probably the worst thing about the film.... It’s a fairly reasonable song if you like the style, nothing against Rita Coolidge. It’s just not really a Bond theme.

              #19 Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow)

The one Bond film I always forget the tune of when I haven’t heard it for five minutes. The most forgettable of tunes. Mandy likes it though.

The intro is cool though. Listening to it now, its not an awful song. So I have no idea why it retains no memorable nature to me. I'd rather have that stuck in my head than hours of Die Another Day and "he's got a powerful weapon, he charges a million a shot",  but that's life for you.

         #18 Another Way to Die (Jack Black and Alicia Keys)

An interesting experiment in duet, but again, it doesn’t really feel like a Bond theme.

        #17 From Russia With Love (Matt Munro)

An unmemorable tune. Matt Munro is too sedate a singer for my liking. The instrumental is reasonable enough.

Apologies, the last two fall entirely under the aesthetic/subjectivity clause.

          #16 Moonraker (Shirley Bassey)

The least of Shirley Bassey’s three Bond songs, which is still far better than other peoples best shots. Strangely, it has a mournful, longing style which is entirely at odds with the more jovial film! A complete 180 degree turn from the All Time High issue. 

This is a perfectly good song though. As are all songs from this point on. Some are just better than others.

             #15  Licence to Kill (Gladys Knight)

Ranking this so low feels like disrespect to Gladys Knight. The song, with echos of Goldfinger in its opening, is a fine one in of itself. I just prefer other songs. Like Goldfinger, which the song is heavily influenced on! This is the longest Bond theme.

Also, listening to it as I type this right now, it feels far too cheerful for the film! The best Bond themes fit the tone of the piece they accompany for me, that's what separates good songs from great themes. Your mileage may vary.

           #14  For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton)

It’s memorable, its 80s, and its heartfully sung by Sheena Easton. Actually it’s to the credit of the Bond themes, in general, that otherwise serviceable songs like this are seen as middle of the road in comparison. I’d suggest Easton was the first singer to really be of the moment and not really translate decades on, but then, we don’t know how well Adele and Garbage will be remembered in thirty years, if at all.

           #13 You Know My Name (Chris Cornell)

To a fan of indy 90s rock in his youth, Chris Cornell doing a Bond theme feels bizarre as hell. In my eyes indisposed, in diguise as no one knows... It’s alright. It fits the film, it sticks in the mind, and it helps launch the Craig era. So it works for what it is.

If you listen to the songs in order, a new found respect for Cornell will appear though, as he blows all the ingrained spiders webs away that were forming in the mind after Die Another Day...

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