2012 is a milestone year for Bond fans, seeing both the 50th anniversary of the first episode in the film franchise, Dr. No, and the release of the 22nd in the series, Skyfall, due this month. As a teaser, Adele’s eponymous theme song was unveiled last week – of which more later. As TGTF’s celebration of all things Bond-ian, we run through a short history of Bond movie themes.
Where better than to start than at the beginning, with Dr. No, which, strictly speaking, didn’t have a theme song of its own. The honour it did have, however, was to introduce an unsuspecting public to the sinister, bombastic delights of Monty Norman and John Barry’s title theme, the story of which is just as tortuous and thrilling as any Fleming plot. Norman had to go to court to defend his authorship of the James Bond theme three times; the latest in 2001, after a Sunday Times article alleged it was primarily a John Barry composition. Norman won all three cases, and received royalties unchallenged for years before and since. No matter its authorship (and a keen ear can hear the influence of both Norman and Barry), the song itself is a near-genius piece of composition. Expertly conjuring an orchestral breadth from its big band arrangement, and featuring a guitar riff timeless in both tone and melody from the superbly-named Vic Flick, the appearance of major sevenths in a minor key and liberal use of the ‘blue’ diminished fifth generates a macabre tension in the harmony, which Barry’s brass blasts amplify to almost unbearable levels of drama. Surely the most recognisable movie theme of all time, and amongst the finest 2 minutes’ of music ever conceived.
Monty Norman never again worked on a Bond film, in contrast with John Barry, who went on to score eleven more, including the title songs (except Lionel Bart’s competent if somewhat tame From Russia With Love). Goldfinger is where the franchise really hit its stride: Barry is at his menacing best in the opening brass fanfare and contrasting demure strings; the first of three Bond outings for Shirley Bassey matches the orchestra’s passion with a barnstorming vocal never bettered in the whole series, although Tom Jones almost achieves that high accolade with Thunderball, another tour de force performance from composer, orchestra, and singer alike, Jones famously fainting after holding the song’s final note for as long as he could manage. You Only Live Twice sees Nancy Sinatra in a more reflective mood than the bombast of the previous two episodes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is blessed with Louis Armstrong’s final recording, and Bassey returns along with Connery for Diamonds are Forever.
A Barry hiatus saw him temporarily replaced on composition duties by the wonder pairing of George Martin and Paul McCartney, whose Live And Let Die was recently, and rightly, voted the best Bond theme of all time by no less an authority than the listeners of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review. (You can watch the iconic Macca/Wings-infused title sequence below.) The first rock band theme, but no less Bond-ian for it, the McCartney/Martin effort strikes the perfect balance of lushness and aggression: an apposite way to signal the franchise’s change of tone as Moore picks his way through the mean streets of Harlem. Barry’s return, for The Man with the Golden Gun, carries more than a whiff of self-parody in its wah-wah guitar and blaxploitation overtones, and is, by Barry’s admission, his weakest ever theme, Lulu’s charms insufficient to drag it into the charts on either side of the Atlantic.
Marvin Hamlisch’s expert handling of the Barry style for The Spy Who Loved Me generated a worldwide hit for Carly Simon in ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and makes one wonder why Hamlisch never returned to the franchise. It being the late ‘70s, synthesisers and disco influences were creeping into the traditional big band style, to mixed effect. Moonraker is about as humdrum as a Barry/Bassey recording is likely to get: the tone more gentle and orchestral, presumably to reflect the yawning silence of space; the thuggish brass is sorely missed.
By the time of For Your Eyes Only (again Barryless), the rot – the 1980s – had truly set in. The truly dreadful Sheena Easton title song, seemingly played on a child’s synthesiser, is notable solely as a historical artefact, demonstrating how the 1980s FM radio sheen invaded even the most hallowed of musical institutions. Barry returned for Octopussy, but Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’ was barely better than Easton’s effort. Was this really Bond’s fate, to drown in a deluge of 1980s schmaltz?
Thankfully, to draw the Moore era to a close, Barry reached out for help, and found inspiration in a collaboration with Duran Duran. They knew how to harness the electronic sound for drama and tension rather than sickly sentiment, whilst Barry kept the orchestra bubbling underneath: The samples of ‘A View to a Kill’, its stratocaster and synth stabs add up to the finest Bond theme of the electronic era, charting higher than any Bond theme before or since on both sides of the Atlantic. [It also has a hilariously ridiculous spy-themed promo video, which you can watch below. - Ed.] Presumably, recruiting a-ha for The Living Daylights was meant to engender the same success – it didn’t, the resulting collaboration being a mostly forgettable, insipid thing. And thus ended the Barry era of Bond music. Patchy, but at its best, particularly in the early years, nothing could come close.
Licence to Kill mystifyingly chose Gladys Knight’s MOR r&b over a re-recorded version of the original theme tune by Eric Clapton and original guitarist Vic Flick. Evidence that the plot had well and truly been lost. It would be 6 years before Goldeneye released Eric Serra’s underrated avant-garde electronic minimalism on unsuspecting Bond fans. Featuring familiar themes given unfamiliar treatments (the main riff played on timpani, anyone?), anyone who spent hours playing the superb Nintendo video game will be more familiar with the nuances of Serra’s soundtrack than any other in the series.
David Arnold helmed the next five films, spanning 13 years, and failed to deliver a true classic theme for any one. Which brings us to Adele’s effort. Thomas Newman appears to be adopting the David Arnold “no surprises” approach – no blast of horns, no sneering vocal, just a gentle piano intro, developing strings, smooth, diva-ish vocal, choir call-and-response, and end. The intro’s too long, and there are some dreadful “moon in june” rhyming couplets. Not bad, not special, not enough to break the 27-year drought since ‘A View to a Kill’. Time and hindsight may treat the recent themes more kindly, but arguably the line “Nobody does it… quite as good as you… baby you’re the best,” could well have been written about the great John Barry himself.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 9th May 2012 at 11:00 am
‘You Are the Quarry’ had been called Morrissey‘s comeback album in May 2004 after the much-maligned ‘Maladjusted’ released in 1997. Things were looking good for the Mozzer; the album was his highest charting album ever in America. Fast forward a couple months and I’m flipping through cable channels to find something interesting to watch and I hear a couple bars of something familiar. I look more closely at the television. It’s the new MTV teen reality show Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, and during what I’m guessing was supposed to be a tender moment, what do I hear in the background but ‘First of the Gang to Die’.
Sadly, I don’t have a YouTube video to go along with this; the video above is taken from the film for Who Put the M in Manchester?, filmed live at the MEN in 2004 (I’ve played my DVD of this so many times, my DVD skips, I think I broke it). But in my research for this piece, I also learned it was used in an episode of Date My Mom, such that a boy and the coed his mother chose as his date can disappear into the sunset. By limo. We have no way of knowing if Steven Patrick Morrissey himself approved the usage of this song, but it’s hard to believe he would allow the song, about a kid in a Latino gang who becomes a martyr by being the first in his group of friends to die, to be used in either context. While it is a pop song, it’s not really a song about sunny days and going out on dates.
It seems not surprising that the E4 reality drama Made in Chelsea, essentially the UK’s answer to Laguna Beach with well-heeled rich kids from a posh area of London, also uses current ‘hot’ songs in their shows. I won’t list every artist, but a quick glance at the tracklisting for the first episode of the first series for Made in Chelsea lists tunes form some pretty impressive stars that we’ve written about before: Adele, Dragonette, Morning Parade, Muse, the Script, Tinie Tempah (erroneously credited as ‘Tinie T’) and Two Door Cinema Club (twice!). Either the producers have been reading up on the music blogosphere or consulting with people in the know on ‘what’s hot’ (more likely the latter).
While I agree with Grohl on this – I personally can’t stand the show and how it repurposes already great music, only to redo them in charmless, overblown, unworthy imitations – there seems to be no right or wrong answer for an artist or band considering allowing commercial use of their songs. Some bands still and will always feel that allowing such permission debases the artistic value of their hard work and inspiration. However, maybe the gold standard yet groan worthy rule of PR applies here: “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” As much as Goyte might complain that the song he wrote no longer belongs to him, ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ is still #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the third week running. Suffering for one’s art? Maybe not so much.
By Mary Chang on Wednesday, 5th October 2011 at 6:00 pm
In Adele‘s new video for the sad love song ‘Someone Like You’, the sombreness of the music is extended to the theme of the video: Adele walking around the lonely, empty streets of Paris. Alone.
“Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?” That sums it up, really. That and how at the very end, we’re left watching Adele looking at herself in the mirror. There’s nothing more sad than realising the person you love is gone. And isn’t coming back. And you’re left. Alone.
Also included below is a find from YouTube: a video filmed by actor/director Casey Ford Alexander, taking Facebook statuses and using them to construct an engaging story based on the song. While Adele’s official video is dark and brooding as the song is, I find levity, yet more emotion with Alexander’s. Watch both and decide for yourself which you prefer.
Just prior to the shortlist being announced, it was strong, talented representatives of “the fairer sex” who topped the bookies’ top bets: Adele and PJ Harvey were neck and neck as the odds on favourite. These two lovely ladies continued to be strong favourites throughout the weeks leading up to the event in London hosted by Jools Holland this past Tuesday night. On the evening, Adele did not join her nominee compadres on the red carpet, nor did she perform on the Grosvenor Hotel stage due to illness. Ms. Adkins did, however, made everyone laugh with her humourous fake acceptance speech. Speaking of the faux acceptance speeches, after a rousing performance of ‘The Bay’, Joseph Mount of Metronomy said with a grin, “this is nice that the first album that you hear from us is about the place where I’m from. And I hope you visit Devon!” Bless. (To be fair, it’s nice that Devon will now be known for something other than their cows and Muse.)
6music reported that Guy Garvey of Elbow (the 2008 Mercury winner for ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’) was self-deprecating as usual, saying he wished their “little friends” Everything Everything would prove to be the winner. Speaking of the double-named band, they took the bold step of performing a non-single, album track from ‘Man Alive’, ‘Tin (the Manhole)’, when it was their turn to wow the dinner audience at the Grosvenor. But ultimately, it was PJ Harvey who came out on top, with her album ‘Let England Shake’ winning the top honours. With this win, she becomes the first act ever to win the Mercury Prize twice (she won exactly 10 years ago, in 2011 for her ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’). You can watch her live performance of ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ from Tuesday night below. Congratulations Polly Jean!
By Mary Chang on Tuesday, 19th July 2011 at 2:16 pm
The shortlist for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2011 Albums of the Year were announced by 6music presenter Lauren Laverne this morning in a special ceremony at London’s Hospital Club. As usual, some of the nominees were expected to receive the prestigious industry nod, while some were definitely less than expected.
Not surprisingly, soul singer Adele‘s critically acclaimed and best-selling album on both sides of the Atlantic, ’21′, received a nom. There are plenty of new artists on this year’s shortlist, in exactly the same shoes Adele was in 3 years ago with ’19′. Sultry-looking and equally sultry-sounding Anna Calvi received a nomination for her eponymous debut; again, this is hardly surprising given she was shortlisted in late 2010 for the BBC Sound of 2011. James Blake, #2 on the Sound of 2011 list, also garnered a nod for his self-titled debut album bringing dubstep more to the mainstream. (Read Natalie’s review of the album here.) Electronic producer Ghostpoet is nominated for his debut album that sounds more like the title of a cookbook, ‘Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam’.
New urban music makes a good showing on this year’s shortlist. Katy B‘s ‘On a Mission’ received a nomination, as did Tinie Tempah‘s ‘Disc-Overy’. But legends also figure in the nominations. Influential singer/songwriter PJ Harvey has been recognised for ‘Let England Shake’, her first album in 4 years. The Domino-released collaboration between Scottish singer-songwriter King Creosote and electronica artist Jon Hopkins, ‘Diamond Mine’, that was a labour of love for 7 years is also nominated. Brighton dance band Metronomy‘s highly-anticipated third album released in April, ‘The English Riviera’, is also a contender. (Read Luke’s review of the album here.) And if we’ve learned anything from 2 decades of the Mercury Prize, there is always at least one album that comes out of left field. This year, that nomination goes to Welsh jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock and his ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’. (I Googled it: Schloss Elmau is a luxury hotel in the foothills of Bavaria. Maybe that’s a good place for the to-be-announced Mercury Prize winner to escape inevitable press and paps in mid-September?)
The winner of the 2011 Mercury Prize will be announced on Tuesday, 6 September.
Sunday 4th September 2011 – Plymouth Pavillions
Monday 5th September 2011 – Bournemouth BIC
Wednesday 7th September 2011 – Cardiff International Arena
Thursday 8th September 2011 – Blackpool Empress Ballroom
Saturday 10th September 2011 – Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Sunday 11th September 2011 – Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Tuesday 13th September 2011 – Leicester De Montford Hall
Wednesday 14th September 2011 – Newcastle O2 Academy
Friday 16th September 2011 – Manchester Apollo
Saturday 17th September 2011 – Manchester Apollo
Monday 19th September 2011 – London Hammersmith Apollo
Thursday 22th September 2011 – London Royal Albert Hall
Saturday 24th September 2011 – Edinburgh Usher Hall
Sunday 25th September 2011 – Glasgow O2 Academy