Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tune-raker: The Best Bond Themes (Part 2)

And so, the conclusion of my Best Bond Themes countdown from 11 to 1.

If you missed the first half of the chart, click here.

On, on.

11. Matt Monro - From Russia With Love

Suitably dosed up to the hilt with John Barry strings, Turkish percussion and a mystical Eastern twist, this is way above your average croon-fest. And it is Monro's voice that is to thank, hovering above the building melody.

The only tiny quibble is that I misheard the lyrics for years and had written it off as total nonsense, so up until VERY recently, I thought the lyric:

"Still my tongue tied, young pride,
Would not let my love for you show,
In case you say no"


"Still my tongue tied, young BRIDE,
Would not let my love for you show,
In case you say no"

(Thanks for putting me straight, the internet)

Summary: I'm so glad Matt Monro stopped being a bus driver.

10. Shirley Bassey - Moonraker

OMG, as the kids say. This is the archetypal 70s John Barry Bond theme for me. All the best ingredients are there: lush strings, horns aplenty and deliciously nonsensical lyrics (how does a moonraker go in search of his dream of gold, I wonder?).

Shirl's back for her last turn and she's in fine form, giving a haunting, restrained performance. There's nothing rushed or forced from her, not even on the big, long notes.

Summary: Perfect accompaniment to driving on a country road at night. In the fog.

9. Jack White & Alicia Keys - Another Way To Die (from Quantum Of Solace)

Quite possibly the best thing about the whole Quantum Of Solace movie, which misfired more than a 1981 Triumph Dolomite, is this bizarre pairing of White & Keys.

I remember reading the text from my friend Kate telling me that White & Keys were doing the new Bond theme and thinking, "what the fuck?" and I still think that even 4 years on, but it sort of works for me.

Heavy guitars clash with staccato piano notes, as if they're playing up to - and making a feature of - the incongruous casting of its singers.

Summary: It's brash and tasteless in a sassy way. Just don't try to understand the lyrics. Your brain will die.

Although, every Bond fan I know prefers the Adam & Joe version:

8. Gladys Knight - Licence To Kill

Dalton went all mean and moody for this film (read my review here) and the first brassy bars set this up perfectly. With the opening bars sounding so similar to Goldfinger that they had to credit the original team, it is clearly pitched as 'classic Bond theme goes modern'.

Gladys Knight does an admirable job of making the ability to kill someone seem sultry, even romantic. My memories are slightly hampered by the fact that a friend once pointed out that it sounds like she's singing 'Licence To Kilt'. Listen. It really does.

Obsessions with kilts aside, it gave old Glad a boost to her career (even the 12 year-old cynic in me noticed at the time that a Gladys Knight and The Pips Greatest Hits CD just happened to come out after this), and LTK gave her her first Top 10 hit since 1977.

And ruddy well-deserved it was too.

Summary: Gladys does herself - and the Bond tradition - proud. Even if she does sing 'Kilt'.

7. Duran Duran - A View To A Kill

Well, what an 80s belter this is!

Fast-paced and bristling with crashing synths, it's the sort of Bond theme that actually makes me want to clasp my heads together, index fingers pointing forward, and run around pretending to be 007 himself.

I love that Duran Duran were obviously chosen as they were the biggest band at the time - and yet, they didn't fuck it up. I think they got it. They cared.

Now, the words. Don't even bother. They are silly. (Dance into the fire? Do the words 'health' and 'safety' mean nothing to you, Le Bon?)

Summary: Makes me drive 10mph faster when it comes on the car CD player. Pulse-raising.

6. Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger

Goldfinger set the standard for so many aspects of the Bond film series and the theme tune is no exception. You get the feeling that John Barry is really finding his feet with the whole brass and mute trumpets thing.

The background strings are just delicious and the whole 2 minutes 50 is over before you know it, building urgently to the final long 'GOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLDDDDD' from Shirley. Drum flourish to finish. Bam!

The lyrics are brilliant too; Shirley warns a pretty girl not to get mixed-up with that Goldfinger man (what my mum would call a 'rotten apple'). This sets up Goldfinger as a nasty piece of work before we've even met him, so painful character exposition dialogue is not required. Beautifully efficient filmmaking.

Summary: It's Bassey. It's brassy. It's classy.

5. Chris Cornell - You Know My Name (from Casino Royale)

The crashing chords at the very start of this track signal a brutal intent: James Bond is back and he's really hard.

Twangy guitars reminiscent of the original Monty Norman Bond Theme mix with menacing minor chords to create a dark anthem - the ideal way to launch a new, tougher Bond on the world.

Chris Cornell's husky grunge voice is another treat, as are the gambling and killing references in the lyrics; this Bond is going to be someone whose life - or whose enemies - could be 'gone with just the spin of a wheel'.

Summary: Edgy and brutally brilliant. Makes me want to smoke after. Then have a shower.

4. Garbage - The World Is Not Enough

Sounding more like it was written in 1969 rather than 1999, writer David Arnold revels in harps, trumpets, strings and cymbals - and the obligatory twangy guitars, natch.

The lyrics are by Don Black, who's back for his 5th Bond theme, and this is his best one.

I know it can be a bit cheesy, but I do quite like it when they manage to include key bits of dialogue into the lyrics; it just adds an extra dimension of cohesion to the whole film. In the film, the phrase 'there's no point in living if you can't feel alive' leads Bond to his real enemy, and it's great to hear it referenced in the song.

In my opinion, most of the credit goes to Shirley Manson and Garbage. Like Tom Jones in Thunderball, Shirley's voice is lingering, expressive, croony and emphatic in all the right places.

Summary: Hits the target on all fronts. Arnold's best.

3. a-ha - The Living Daylights

Okay, I admit this choice is largely sentimental as The Living Daylights was the first Bond film to see at the cinema, etc etc. But you can't deny it's a corker.

It's SO 80s it hurts, with the marriage of John Barry's orchestra and a-ha's synthesisers. Apparently this clash of old and new lead to quite a lot of real tension between band and composer, but I would argue that the two approaches nestle very nicely together indeed.

Not even the sleazy saxophone in the instrumental break can dampen my enthusiasm for this track. Nor can the nonsensical lyrics (What did you just say? 'The living's in the way we die'?)

Summary: Pacy and racy, it instantly transports me to 1987. And that's a good thing.

2. Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better (from The Spy Who Loved Me)

"Glang. Glang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang-a-lang. Glang-a-lang. Lang-a-lang-a-lang" - Alan Partridge

Simplicity is the key to the success of this song, and it being so high on my all-time great list.

A simple piano kicks it all off, followed by Carly Simon doing her best haunting voice almost acapella. Sprinkle in a few twiddly bits before a gently bombastic second verse hits you in the ears. Sublime.

From then on in, you just float along with the loungy drum line, swooping violins and Carly hitting and holding all the right notes. It builds nicely to its end with trumpets ago-go before fading out. And there you go, one pretty perfect Bond theme.

Carole Bayer Sager's lyrics are first-rate, acknowledging what we all know: nobody does it better than James Bond (not that his ego needs this kind of boost).

(The only down-side of this song is that a friend of mine used to have it on repeat while having sex with her boyfriend. Sorry)

Summary: A dream Bond theme: sexy, subtle, powerful. I could listen to it for days.

And here's Alan Partridge's assessment of the opening sequence. Genius.

And so to.....

1. Tina Turner - Goldeneye

The opening plucks are enough to get my heart beating a little quicker. Then it comes: Tina's voice describing some shadowy mythical character. Spine-tingling stuff in the first minute alone.

The chorus is a joy: all menacing with lots of percussion and twinkly bits, like jewels falling from the sky. End of chorus: stop down. Dum, dum, dum. Pause. Breathe. "See him move through smoke and mirrors...". Just wonderful.

Bono and The Edge wrote some colossal lyrics for this, although I'm not entirely convinced by: "Goldeneye, not lace or leather..." Bit kinky.

But Tina steals the show here. When I found out she was going to sing the theme, I suspected they were just trying to copy Bassey, but she stamps her own authority on this. She's like a lioness, growling, stalking some hapless zebra to chase and devour (do lions hunt zebras?).

Summary: A real 'gold and honey trap' of a Bond theme. Seductive and commanding, it all heads to a big finish that leaves you breathless.


So what do you think of my choices? Agree? Disagree?

Did I upset anyone by thinking Live And Let Die is shit?

Should Tina have triumphed, or should Carly come first? Or surely Shirley?

Let me know below or tweet me.

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