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Best of Bond...James Bond: 50 Years - 50 Tracks review

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A mixed but overall great selection of themes and other music from the Bond films so far...

Best of Bond...James Bond: 50 Years - 50 Tracks review

Ignoring the 1954 American television version of Casino Royale (and one really should), it’s been 50 years last month since James Bond first graced the silver screen and entered the world’s consciousness and collective hearts. Created by author and former secret service agent Ian Fleming, Bond was a Commander in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy who became a Double-O agent of MI6. He’s a spy who kills and loves without conscience, suave yet deadly. The classic cliché of a man who women want and men want to be. Six actors and twenty-two official movies later, and Bond is still just as popular. And now, Capitol Records and MGM Music have released a new album filled with all sorts of musical goodies from those films.

The two-disc set starts off with The John Barry Orchestra performing the now iconic “James Bond Theme”, which is just as exciting to listen to today as it must have been when Dr. No was released in 1962. It’s difficult not to imagine yourself in a tuxedo carrying a Walther PPK .38, driving an Aston Martin in some foreign land with a beautiful woman beside you (of course, when I wear a tux, I look more like Ugarte from Casablanca, but that’s neither here or there). The rest of the first disc is filled with the various theme songs from the movies, which together serve as an interesting look at how movie music has changed over the last 50 years. From Dr. No until Diamonds are Forever, the theme songs are largely orchestral with a guest vocalist, all popular singers of the time. Matt Monro belts out “From Russia with Love” from the film of the same name, with hints of Russian instruments and rhythms. “Goldfinger” sounds like it might have been born in a beatnik club, but Shirley Bassey sings it like an over-exuberant Broadway performer. She does show a little more restraint when it comes to singing “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker”. Tom Jones’ velvet voice croons “Thunderball” with a presence that only he can provide. And Nancy Sinatra proves some of her old man’s talent rubbed off on her as she sings “You Only Live Twice”.

It really isn’t until Paul McCartney and Wings performed the theme from Live and Let Die that the theme songs take on more of a pop music format, but they still try to fit within a certain style which was set with the first film. However, tracks like “All Time High” by Rita Coolidge (I just don’t know why they didn’t write a song called “Octopussy”), “A View to a Kill” by Duran Duran and “The Living Daylights” by A-Ha sound more like typical 80s radio fodder than the soundtrack for a spy. Similarly, Madonna’s “Die Another Day” is a dance club song filled with auto-tune adjusted vocals and synthesizers which sounds like a complete mess. Chris Cornell, the first male vocalist to sing a Bond theme since The Living Daylights, introduces Daniel Craig’s Bond with a rocker of a track titled “You Know My Name”. Some other tracks are definitely worth the listen, such as Garbage’s “The World is Not Enough” – which incorporates their trademark post-grunge angst with the classic Bond sound – and “Another Way to Die”, an interesting collaboration between Jack White and Alicia Keys, blending White’s bluesy vocals with Keys’ smoother tones, making for a very cool song. Also included is “We Have All the Time in the World”, a secondary theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the actual theme is orchestral) written by John Barry especially for Louis Armstrong.

The second disc is filled with incidental tracks from the films, some orchestral pieces from specific scenes, as well as songs used throughout a few of the movies. From On Her Majesty’s Secret Service we have “Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown” by Nina, which is a nice little love song, but really does little more than act as a filler. The Pretenders have two songs from The Living Daylights, “Where Has Everybody Gone” and “If There Was a Man”, both of which are very good songs and nice additions to the soundtrack. k.d. lang’s “Surrender” from Tomorrow Never Dies is a departure from her typical style, sounding more like a songstress from the Forties, and a really great tune. The real hammer to the thumb here is Moby’s remix of the “James Bond Theme”, which is an uninspired attempt to make a techno song out of the immortal theme. It lacks any real substance, much like most of Moby’s work, and can be easily skipped while listening.

This album is an essential for any Bond enthusiast, if only for the first disc. The second disc is really for the diehard Bond fan, who really wants to indulge in the music of the films. And one wouldn’t be disappointed with the music. While there are some songs that haven’t aged as well as others, or just don’t work outside of the films that they accompany, the overall presentation here is really good. Pour yourself a dry martini and sit back and give it a listen.

4 stars

Best of Bond…James Bond: 50 Years – 50 Tracks is out now on Capitol Records.


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