With Spectre just arriving in UK cinemas, we asked some of our friends to write about their favourite 007 soundtracks…
“I am, probably somewhat controversially given the nature of this article, not a huge Bond score fan; they’ve just never really clicked with me. What I do love, however, is a good Bond theme and so I shall proceed to wax lyrical on how Garbage’s barnstorming ‘The World Is Not Enough’ is quite possibly the best Bond theme not sung by Dame Shirley Bassey. No, there’s another Shirley at the front of this one (who I also think should be a dame, but that’s for a different time). Why ‘The World Is Not Enough’ succeeds is it manages to be both classic and contemporary at the same time, bringing a new grunge sensibility into what largely functions as a traditional Bond ballad. Manson’s vocals are the strongest element of the song, strikingly dark and atmospheric, whilst the musical arrangement behind is suitably powerful. It’s easily one of the best Bond themes ever, certainly so in recent years. It also happens to be an excellent song to bellow out as you’re driving along, as all Bond themes should be.”
“With its seamless blend of disco-inspired synths and lush, sweeping melodies, Marvin Hamlisch’s score for The Spy Who Loved Me strikes a perfect balance between John Barry-esque grandeur and self-aware, tongue-in-cheek joviality. Complimenting Moore’s Bond better than any soundtrack has since, it’s supported by Carly Simon’s blistering theme song, which needs little introduction. Frequently imitated though never bettered, Thom Yorke is on record as deeming it “the sexiest song that was ever written,” and even Alan Partridge’s infamous mauling of Simon’s dulcet tones can’t detract from the fact that ‘Nobody Does It Better’ remains a defining Bond anthem nearly four decades later. It’s no mistake that Carole Bayer-Sager titled it so. It’s perfect on every conceivable level.”
“When Sean Connery left the 007 franchise after You Only Live Twice, Eon Productions put a lot of effort into selling the notion that the ROLE was bigger than the actor. They took great pains to assure ticket-buying audiences that this was in fact the same character they loved, despite a new face playing the role. This was the franchise on a precipice, and they were choosing their strategy carefully. Given that playing out in the background, what composer John Barry did with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was kind of brilliant, and wholly subversive: he kind of gave George Lazenby’s 007 a new piece of theme music. In the instant after director Peter Hunt ribs producers’ efforts by having Lazenby look directly into the camera and say “This never happened to the other fella,” Barry’s title theme kicks in, and it’s a purposeful, driven piece of music that is absolutely announcing the arrival of a new 007. Aside from the classic James Bond theme, it’s perhaps the only Bond title music that can double as an action cue (as evidenced by its effective use in OHMSS’ ski chase). And I daresay it’s a more versatile, evergreen piece of music than the series’ iconic theme (as evidenced by its appearance in the latest SPECTRE trailer). Subtly giving the new 007 his own unofficial signature theme was such a great idea that David Arnold did much the same thing in Casino Royale, swapping out a rather OHMSS-esque cue in place of the Bond theme for the duration of the film.”
“I also have a soft spot for Live And Let Die if we’re talking songs, as it’s the first Bond I was able to watch over and over, courtesy of it being the one my dad taped off ITV. But when it comes to the Bond scores, I guess the first I played to death was Eric Serra’s GoldenEye. I can’t, in hindsight, declare it to be the best Bond score, but it was one I had access to. Furthermore, it came at a turning point, I think, for film scores, where orchestrals were more important than shoehorning in a song. That’s why I always have a soft spot for it.”
“Favourite Bond score…. now there’s a tough one. Having grown up with Sir Roger as the 007 of my generation I, naturally, have quite an affinity with the music from those pictures; as a result, several cues from Moonraker, A View to a Kill, and Live and Let Die instantly spring to mind when I recall the music of James Bond (this being said, I also have a great fondness for the work that David Arnold produced during his tenure as the ‘go to’ Bond composer). However, if I was only allowed one Bond soundtrack on my playlist, it would have to be The Living Daylights – for me, this music has everything we’d expect from a Bond score; a wonderfully memorable ‘love theme’, sassy and dynamic music for the action sequences (as opposed to the slightly more ‘urbane’ and laid-back approach of the previous few years), screaming trumpet lines, music which enhances the scope of the spectacular locations and photography, and a beautiful, pin-drop, recording by Dick Lewzey. In addition, it also marked a return to prior form for John Barry, who successfully retained the broad sweep of his more ‘romantic’ Bond scores while simultaneously tapping into the very DNA of his Music from the Connery era. A new approach for a new Bond.”
“Goldfinger is the quintessential 007 movie and score. Coming on the heels of From Russia With Love, Goldfinger defined much of the style and attitude of the James Bond movies that would follow. The same is true of John Barry’s score. Goldfinger was the first 007 movie in which Barry developed his own title theme, which grounds both film and score in its provocative melodic and harmonic architecture (Barry did compose his own James Bond theme (“007”) for the previous film, but it is not used in Goldfinger). The “Goldfinger” Theme, so provocatively sung by Shirley Bassey over the main titles, is heard throughout the score in diverse arrangements, as is Barry’s secondary action theme, the wonderfully rolling two-note low brass rhythm introduced in “Into Miami” and reprised elsewhere – most effectively in in the spectacular “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox,” the score’s (and one of the series’) most potent and luxurious action/adventure cues, introduced by a fine swirling violin counterpoint and featuring with some beautiful stabbing trumpet blasts and a percussion-beaten driving tempo unique to this sequence. The two motifs interact frequently, the latter often deftly used as a counterpoint to the title theme (as in the “Goldfinger Instrumental Version” exclusive to the original US soundtrack LP). Barry makes the most of these two primary themes – his brilliant arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” is put to good use, albeit sparingly. The soundtrack as a whole makes for a splendid listening experience on its own – the 2003 Capitol reissue includes those tracks exclusive to the UK and US vinyl releases and thus the most thorough presentation of the score.”
“While Bond has a rich and interesting musical history, I never quite got into the older scores. I feel rather ashamed. Diamonds Are Forever is probably the one that sticks out the most for me, as well as the space passages of Moonraker. One of my favourite Bond scores, however, is from the recent times. And from a rather disliked film… Quantum of Solace. Now, David Arnold has established himself as an heir to John Barry’s tradition. And while his other scores are certainly enjoyable, it is Marc Forster’s film that brings out the most interesting writing in his career. The director wasn’t very keen on using the iconic theme too much and that forced the composer to be more sublime and clever in his variations. As a result, the score is probably more motivic and textural than ever before. Many small ideas are introduced and developed over the course of the soundtrack album. Subtle and unnerving electronics seem to represent Bond’s missing “quantum of solace” after the loss of Vesper Lynd (something that will only make sense if you read the short story). The arrangements and orchestrations are also different. The iconic sleazy and bright brass section is used here in much lower registers, which gives Bond a certain edge that matches Daniel Craig’s more intense and darker performance. Perhaps it all feels all too reminiscent of Jason Bourne and other modern thrillers at time, but it works extremely well here. It might not be Arnold’s most enjoyable contribution to this franchise, sure. But it remains his most interesting and intelligent. None of the previous four films gave him an opportunity to actually go deeper into the character.”
You Only Live Twice, the fifth chapter in the Bond series, is a spectacle of the imagination and real-life influences. It was a film of firsts, too. We see the face of villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the first time. You Only Live Twice is also the first Bond film that bears little resemblance to the plot in Ian Fleming’s novel — author Roald Dahl was hired to rewrite the script — and it’s the first movie in which 007 doesn’t visit Britain and MI6 headquarters. We see Bond in his Royal Navy uniform, casting a previously unrealized mortality on the spy Commander, evoked in the movie’s pre-credit sequence. And the movie’s title theme features the series’ first non-British vocalist.
While Sean Connery’s interest in the franchise was publicly waning, producers were at the ready with a budget bigger than ever. The elaborate volcano set constructed inside Pinewood Studios almost exceeded the entire budget for Dr. No. Thanks to the massive success of Thunderball, Bond maestro John Barry was back on board with the series after releasing his own successful compilation album that showcased his range and talent for memorable hooks.
Western fascination with Eastern culture was a preoccupation of the ‘60s. Bond’s new adventures were set in Japan with support from the esteemed Toho Studios, which provided the sound stages, as well as some cast and crew. The film’s exoticism is reflected in the title theme for You Only Live Twice, which uses a marimba to mimic traditional Japanese music. This beat opens the track before a sweeping string arrangement and Nancy Sinatra’s cool, almost downcast, smooth tones: “You only live twice or so it seems/ One life for yourself and one for your dreams.” An alternate version of the track released by Lee Hazlewood — Sinatra’s producer, friend, and collaborator — uses the duo’s familiar fuzz guitar and rich reverbs, adding vocal overdubbing. It reads like a pun on the film’s theme of duality.
Initially, British singer Julie Rogers recorded the title theme with a 50-piece orchestra, but it went unused and was later released as an extra for the film’s 30th Anniversary. Frank Sinatra, Nancy’s famous father, was a friend of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. He was offered the gig, but turned it down and recommended his daughter. Producer Harry Saltzman was set to hire then up-and-comer Aretha Franklin, but Barry felt Nancy Sinatra captured the lyricism of the piece. It took a young and intimidated Sinatra over two dozen takes to nail it. Barry edited together multiple excerpts to achieve the final cut.
While the Barry/Sinatra theme is by far the most memorable song on the album, the soundtrack is full of gems. “Capsule in Space” has a dark otherworldly quality, building drama through Barry’s signature brass. It captures the world’s fear and fascination with space travel at that time. “Countdown for Blofeld” intensifies in a similar manner, worthy of the feline-loving Bond adversary. “The Death of Aki” offers moments of quiet and dignity, despite the film’s penchant for bombast, while “Mountains and Sunsets” plays on the title theme with a more romantic and, later in the track, mysterious sound.
Bond’s overseas adventures gave Barry the freedom to play with his orchestral backdrops. The strings, brass, and frantic percussion are vintage Bond and Barry, but You Only Live Twice is an international album that adds an air of refinement to Sean Connery’s roguish spy. It has more staying power than the film itself, with its cringeworthy Asian stereotypes, and a gorgeous theme that’s endlessly listenable all on its own.”