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For Your Ears Only - The 10 best Bond themes


Nobody sings it better (in Shadowlocked's humble opinion)...

montage of james bond theme song artists

Goldfinger. GoldenEye. The Man with the Golden Gun. The world's most famous Martini drinker (shaken not stirred, naturally) has long been synonymous with that most precious and coveted of metals, but given his illustrious half century on the cinema screen there's one area in which gold has eluded him time and again – the Oscars.

Prior to last year's Skyfall (2012) the fifty year old, 24 movie series had garnered just nine nominations, two of which bagged 007 a statue at the 1965 Academy Awards for different films. The Best Effects, Sound Effects award was given to Norman Wanstall for Goldfinger (1964) and John Stears walked off with the Best Effects, Special Visual Effects Oscar for Thunderball (1965).

adele skyfall promo shotSince then the Bond Oscar cabinet has been as bare as the silhouetted beauties in the opening credits but 007's luck could be about to change. For the first time in 21 years the Academy has recognised a Bond movie, nominating Skyfall for no less than five Oscars including Best Original Song for the titular composition by Adele (Adkins) and Paul Edworth. Having already picked up a Golden Globe the duo are in with a shot of bagging Bond a third Oscar on 24th February with what is one of the best theme songs for a long time, a composition and performance worthy of the finest that 007's musical history has to offer.

In honour of Skyfall being up for the Best Song gong, Shadowlocked has picked its top ten Bond theme songs and with a little help from Jon Burlingame's excellent The Music of James Bond book (a fascinating read and available at all good stores) gives a little insight as to the stories behind them.

10 – Goldeneye  (Tina Turner)

GoldenEye marked the return of Bond after a six year absence and needed to re-establish its relevance. Hiring Pierce Brosnan as 007 was a good move, but signing up singing legend Tina Turner to sing a song penned by U2's Bono and The Edge (Paul Hewson and Dave Evans to their mothers) was a master stroke.

Though U2 were second choice for the job after the Rolling Stones had turned down a request to come up with a song, Bono was particularly pleased to land the gig as he'd spent his honeymoon at Ian Fleming's house in Jamaica. Hot on the heels of their well received Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me tune for Batman Forever (1995), the U2 duo delivered a song that had the requisite sass and attitude, and somehow managed to feel both fresh and vintage, just the vibe for Bond's latest (at the time) reboot.

No stranger to movie songs herself, having scored a huge hit with We Don't Need Another Hero from Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome (1983), Turner perfectly nails the Bond vibe and channels the spirit of Bond artists past, particularly fellow icon and diva Dame Shirley Bassey.


9 - License To Kill (Gladys Knight)

With Barry through with Bond due to an life-threatening oesophagus rupture in 1988 Joel Sill, who had produced the music for La Bamba (1987) and Bright Lights Big City (1988) was tasked with finding a composer for Timothy Dalton’s second and final outing as 007. He recommended Michael Kamen who had recently done Die Hard (1988) and Lethal Weapon (1987) and an initial session was arranged with Eric Clapton and original Bond guitarist Vic Flick (who turned up with the guitar that he’d played the original Bond theme on). However, Sill recalls that the session was “a disaster” and, complicated by an issue regarding Clapton's fee, the recordings have never seen the light of day

The song was then offered to the Eurythmics, who passed after Annie Lennox was put off by a shark attack sequence when the film was screened for them, before Sill drafted Narada Michael Walden and Diane Warren who had recently written the number one Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now for Starship to come up with the titular song.

After Walden convinced Gladys Knight that the song wasn't just about killing she agreed to sing it, delivering a killer vocal worthy of Bond divas past, although a decade later she confessed “I don't know if I'd do it again. I don't advocate violence. Even though it's play acting, life's just too precious to me.”


8 – Thunderball (Tom Jones)

Barry's initial thoughts on having to write a song for Thunderball was that it was “the most horrendous title.” In a flash of inspiration he remembered that the Italians referred to Bond as Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and he started work on a song with that title, even going so far as to record one version with Dionne Warwick, and another with Shirley Bassey.

Both were ultimately dropped, the former after United Artists dictated that the song should be the title of the movie and the latter because the performance was considered not to be up to Bassey's usual high standards which caused a rift between  producer Harry Saltzman and her agent (and ex-husband) Kenneth Hume who prevented her from working in the Bond world until after his death.Its legacy remains, however, in the name of one of the film's locations, the Kiss Kiss Club, thanks to director Terrence Young's intervention.

With deadlines approaching, Barry and lyricist Don Black quickly wrote a replacement song over a weekend in mid-September and approached up and coming Welsh crooner Tom Jones to sing it. The recording went well with Jones delivering a vocal performance that perfectly demonstrates why he became known as 'The Voice' but the final note, which lasts nine seconds, almost caused Jones to pass out. As he recalls “when I opened my eyes the room was spinning. I had to grab hold of the booth I was in to steady myself”


7 - The Man With The Golden Gun (Lulu)

Due to his work on Joel Schlesinger's Day of the Locust (1975) John Barry had very little time to work on the song for Roger Moore’s sophomore Bond assignment, remarking years later that “I was never happy with it. I don't think anybody was happy with it.” Lyricist Don Black is dismissive of the tune too, saying “It's all just a delicious piece of nonsense, really – a piece of cartoon hokum, if you like. Too much alluding to the man with the golden gun, you know, alluding to the male member.”

The third Bond theme to be written about a villain (if you include Thunderball, though there is some debate as whether it’s about 007 or Emilio Largo), Black asked his old friend Lulu to sing it, having previously sung his lyrics in To Sir With Love from the 1967 film of the same name. Though she is proud of her contribution to the Bond franchise, Lulu was initially hesitant, thinking “I was miscast because it was not my kind of song. The song was more Shirley Bassey than me, but in terms of profile it was huge.”

Despite the spirit of Bassey hanging over the song, Lulu brings a certain sass to the proceedings, and coupled with the bright, brash and breezy horns The Man With The Golden Gun is pure, bombastic Bond.


6 - A View To A Kill (Duran Duran)

Mindful of the fact that for the first time all five songs nominated for the 1984 Best Song Oscar were by popular music artists like Stevie Wonder, Phil Collins and man of the moment Kenny Loggins rather than established composers like Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach and John Barry, the Bond stalwart hired Birmingham pop/rock sensations Duran Duran to record the song for A View To A Kill.

The deal had been sealed after a chance meeting between Duran bassist John Taylor and Bond producer Cubby Broccolli at a party when the twentysomething heartthrob had cheekily asked when Bond might have a decent theme song again. A meeting was arranged between the then biggest band in the world and Barry, who was suitably impressed by Taylor's knowledge of 007, and the quintet took their place in Bond history.

Though there have been disputes over the years as to who wrote what in respect of the song, a situation exacerbated by the imminent implosion of the original Duran line-up, the fact remains that it's a great song that still holds up today, and is a worthy addition to the Bond canon.

What sets A View To A Kill firmly apart from other Bond themes is the video that accompanied it, an ambitious and exciting production featuring footage from the movie's opening sequence where May Day (the incomparable Grace Jones) pursues Bond (Moore. Roger Moore) up the Eiffel Tower intercut with film of the band playing at being secret agents. In fact the video is arguably more dynamic and entertaining than the film itself, even taking into account the fact that villain Max Zorin was played by the legend that is Christopher Walken.


5 – Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)

Not a lot of people know this, but Michael Caine was the first person to ever hear John Barry's theme song for Goldfinger. Temporarily lodging with his friend after being thrown out of the flat he'd been sharing with Terrence Stamp (for rent arrears according to Caine, with Barry's version citing “a little too much traffic going through there, the ladies, you know.”), Batman's future butler recalled coming down for breakfast one morning after struggling to sleep thanks to Barry's all night piano marathon and being played the song.

While the music came quickly, however, Barry struggled with the lyrics. After drawing a blank with several lyricists as to how to write a song about a villain who “painted nude bodies in gold to suffocate them,” he turned to his friend Leslie Bricusse and his writing partner Anthony Newley who found the key to the lyric in the phrase “the Midas touch.”

With the song complete, Barry chose 27 year old Shirley Bassey to sing it but the recording was something of an arduous task, with producer Eric Tomlinson demanding repeated takes from the singer in order to capture a particular long note. At the end of her wits, guitarist Vic Flick recalls that Bassey finally nailed it by resorting to desperate measures. “There was a rustling noise and suddenly this bra comes over the top of the vocal booth...and then she really let it go!” Bassey later confirmed the story, laughing “I had this restricting bustier on, and so I let it all hang out.”


4 - We Have All The Time In The World (Louis Armstrong)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the first Bond film to use an instrumental over the title  sequence, the eponymous composition showcasing John Barry's pioneering use of the (then) new  Moog synthesiser. Despite this, and following director Peter Hunt's declaration that “A title song should have the title of the film,” Barry's We Have All The Time In The World is the better known tune.

Taking the title from the last line that Bond says in the book following his wife's death - actually “We've got all the time in the world” - Barry thought of Louis Armstrong for the vocal because he had an idea that the song should be sung from the point of view of an older man looking back. Armstrong, 69 at the time and in poor health, was honoured to have been asked and despite looking frail in the studio nailed it in three takes. Following his death in July 1971 his biographer revealed  that “the extra rawness and fragility of his health made him connect even deeper with the song's emotions.”


3 - Live And Let Die (Wings)

With John Barry stepping away from the Bond franchise, Apple Records executive Ron Kass asked his old friend Paul McCartney whether he'd like to have a go at writing the theme for the new Bond film. Thrilled to be asked, McCartney in turn called in his former Beatles producer, Oscar winning Sir George Martin, and they produced a demo at Martin's AIR studios with a full orchestra that eventually became the final version.

McCartney's theme was very different to previous songs, managing to encompass quiet piano, lush orchestration, furious musical gymnastics and even a reggae middle section in a little over three minutes without sounding in the least bit rushed. Incredibly, though, when George Martin played the song for producer Harry Saltzman he replied “Very nice record. Like the score. Now tell me, who do you think we should get to sing it?”

As history shows, Saltzman was convinced that Martin had the right man, and Live And Let Die became the first Bond song to win a major industry award when it bagged Martin a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists in 1974. An Academy Award nomination for the co-writers Paul and Linda McCartney followed for Best Song, Film but they lost out to The Way We Were from the Barbara Streisand film of the same name.


2 - Diamonds Are Forever (Shirley Bassey)

The lush orchestration of Diamonds Are Forever marked Shirley Bassey's return to the Bond fold after a six year absence following her late husband's falling out with producer Harry Slatzman. Lyricist Don Black was particularly thrilled at having her back for the second of her unprecedented three Bond songs (the others being Goldfinger and Moonraker), admitting that he had written it with Bassey's “outrageous, marvellous, provocative style” in mind.

The lyric “hold one up and then caress it / touch it, stroke it, and undress it” turned out to be a little too provocative, though, having been written by Black “as though she's thinking about a penis” at Barry's behest, and almost certainly cost the song an Oscar nomination.


1 - Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon)

Carly Simon's beautiful ode to Bond himself holds the distinction of being the first song used in the title sequence that didn't use Fleming's book title, although it does manage a reference in Carole Bayer Sager's lyrics “like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight.”  Simon (You're So Vain) was thrilled to be offered the Bond job as it fulfilled two of her ambitions, a childhood desire to be a spy as a child and a lifelong dream of singing a song for a movie.

Composed by three time Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch (Best Song and Best Score for Barbara Streisand's The Way We Were and Best Adaptation Score for The Sting, all in 1973) rather than long time Bond composer John Barry, who had become a tax exile and so couldn't return to the UK to record the music, he wanted the song to buck convention and start quietly as everything in Bond was 'bigger than life.'

Many thanks to Deborah Cosgrove for the Bond montage...


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#1 Mr Martin 2013-02-10 16:00
Hmm, your article is called 'For Your Eyes Only' and yet you don't include that actual song in your list. No way is 'Man with the Golden Gun' worth a place, much like the actual film it is decidedly second rate. Otherwise some good choices and some interesting facts.
#2 Ears :-) Richard Cosgrove 2013-02-12 07:59
Thanks for your comment, Martin and glad you enjoyed the article. The piece is actually called For Your EARS Only, though - a pun on the Bond song :-)

As for TMWTGG, it is a controversial choice, but I think that it has the requisite sass and bombast that a Bond theme of that era required, and that as such, it's still a great example of it today. That said, variety is the spice of life, and we can't all like the same things! :-)

Richard Cosgrove

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