[9 November 2012]
Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Silva: So what’s yours?
It’s virtually impossible to listen to the twenty-odd Bond themes contained on Best of Bond and not feel, well, heroic. If only by proxy. The opening bars of the “James Bond Theme” will have you casually sliding your hand into your tuxedo for your PPK whilst nonchalantly lighting a cigarette with the other. When “Thunderball” drops you’ll be doing the roll ‘n’ shoot across the back garden whilst “Man With The Golden Gun” will have you beating up some imaginary henchman in a stairwell before throwing them over the side into a heap then straightening your tie. By the time “Nobody Does It Better” wraps you’ll be in your luxury Hotel dressing gown nursing a bottle of Dom Perignon ‘52 before a delicate tap at the door raises a Roger Moore-sized eyebrow. Yes it’s impossible to sit through these iconic tunes without feeling like the last of the famous international playboys, set for derring-do and crazy capers served at high speeds. If only in four-minute bursts each of these reassuringly overblown songs offer the listener an escape hatch into another world…and most of the time it’s worth jumping through.
It’d be easy to suggest that the suits behind the Bond franchise effectively perfected the look and sound back in ‘64 with Goldfinger. Everything was locked down; the saucy opening sequence (athletic, semi-clad ladies prancin’ about), the motor (DB5), the megalomaniac (y’know, Goldfinger) , the muscle (Oddjob), the girl (Pussy Galore) and that tune by Shirley Bassey. It still twists your melon in 2012, particularly the lung-bursting, skyscraper crescendo “Only GOOOOOLLLLD!”. It’s understandable then that almost every Bond theme (and film) since has walked in its shadow. Bassey herself became so synonymous with 007 she was called back not once but twice. “Diamonds Are Forever” remains as opulently sleek as ever some forty years on, whilst she can even make the notion of a “Moonraker” widescreen dreamy. (Cue classic bar room conversation; “What the hell’s a Moonraker?” “Dunno, someone who rakes the moon?”). When Shirley deals the payoff “It always seems…you loooove me” the only sane response is to sigh ‘n’ swoon…before swiftly dispatching more goons and tearing off in your Lotus Esprit.
But the real star of Best of Bond of course isn’t Bassey or even Bond but Barry, John Barry. After taking Monty Norman’s original draft for the “James Bond Theme” and sticking a jetpack up its arse he would have a hand in almost every Bond theme until the late ‘80s. It’s the ‘60s and 70’s Bond themes though which remain bulletproof. Tom “Who ordered a Sex Panther?” Jones’ hilariously unsubtle “Thunderball” climaxes pretty much with his head exploding whilst Nancy “My Dad’s bigger than your Dad” Sinatra’s swift, serpentine “You Only Live Twice” is the stuff dreams are made of. Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World” even gave a Bond movie genuine pathos when it soundtracked poor Mrs. Bond Diana Rigg’s demise in George Lazenby’s sole outing as Bond ‘69. If there’s one JB track to shootdown “Goldfinger” it’s this. Sung by Satchmo in the twilight of his years it’s timeless, heartbreakingly poignant and with a lyric from Hal David that haunts long after the curtain has closed.
Roger Moore’s 1970s Bond was mostly about eyebrows, perfect hair, cocktails, starlets, jumping across alligators’ backs, fighting in space, wrestling rubber pythons whilst wearing beige safari suits and escaping from folk with metal gnashers. Fun and daftness. None more daft than “Wee Scot#1” Lulu’s “Man with the Golden Gun” which contains some of the most hilariously suggestive lyrics ever to accompany naked women pole-vaulting over giant Walther PPKs. “His eye may be on you or me! Who will he bang? We shall see?...He’ll shoot anyone – with his golden gun”. Pant wettingly hysterical and of course, utterly batshit brilliant. Paul “Fab Macca” McCartney kept things in the “Bonkers” department with the equally fab ludicrousness of “Live & Let Dive” - a genius cocktail of piano bar ballad, headbangin’ rock and weird bongo, calypso reggae…with strings. Macca never sounded this much fun before or since. Completely unhinged and hey don’t do drugs kids. But the best of the ‘70s ‘toons though isn’t a Barry or Wings’ joint. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” is one classy mutha; romantic, lush, sassy, full of elegant grace and a true heartbreaker. “Nobody does it better / Makes me feel sad for the rest”. It top ‘n’ tailed Moore’s most thrillingly entertaining Bond The Spy Who Loved Me but from herein the road gets a little rough.
The ‘80s and ‘90s were a dodgy time to be a secret agent-stroke-playboy and the quality control of those decades Bond themes are equally wonky. “Wee Scot #2” Sheena Easton’s polite “For Your Eyes Only” lacked the sheer “Brick-shithouse” wrecking ball power of your Welsh giants Bassey ‘n’ Jones although Rita (Who?) Coolidge’s “All Time High” is sweet enough if slight. Duran Duran’s “View To A Kill” roars like the Sex Pistols by comparison (“DANCE! Into the fire!”) and kicked some spark into ageing Moore’s last mission but their arch nemeses A-Ha’s “Living Daylights” still sounds as clunky and awkward as it did in ‘87. The eighties spluttered to an end with Gladys Knight’s “Licence to Kill” which sounds like something recorded for a pensioner’s cruiseship not for tossing Thug#5 from 10,000 feet before landing a plane with one wing. When the twee backing vocalists notify you Bond’s “Got a licence to kill” it carries all the threat of someone newly awarded a free bus pass.
The Pierce Brosnan era of the late ‘90s started out with much promise. “Goldeneye”, Bono and The Edge’s song for Tina Turner reminded everyone what a Bond theme should sound like (that’s basically “Goldfinger” then) before Sheryl Crow and Garbage donned the Bassey wig and teeth to fair effect. Bond stepped into the 21st century though in bad shape. Die Another Day was an abomination in every respect. Madonna acting, laugh-out-loud dodgy CGI, invisible cars and the self-fulfilling prophecy of naming a Bond girl “Jinx Johnson”. Seriously. The Madonna track itself is an interesting pass at glitchy electronica but honey that ain’t no Bond theme.
Chris Cornell’s ribshakin’ “You Know My Name” felt fresh, different at the time and still sticks out like a big hairy, macho thumb. Sure it sounds like a Gillette advert (“I’ve seen diamonds cut through harder men”) and the “We-e-e” squeal at 1:55 is plenty chucklesome but it’s got more kick ‘n’ fight in it than any Bond theme of the previous two decades. The fact that Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond in Casino Royale was bloody ace probably helped though. As Adele’s moment in Bassey’s boots for Skyfall isn’t included here (cheapskates!), Jack White and Alicia Keys get to push the ejector seat button in style with the “Better than you remember” prowling matador dance of “Another Way to Die”.
There’s a double-disc edition for rich folk which lights an extra 27 candles for Bond’s fiftieth anniversary. A real Aladdin’s caves of curios ‘n’ oddities…and some crap too. The first half is mostly “Gooolddd” and includes some truly bizarro vintage soundtrack pieces. “Into Miami” is the greatest sixty-second soundtrack for stepping onto a Millionaire’s yacht whilst the beatnik beret cool of “Dr. No’s Fantasy” is surely destined for Tarantino’s in-tray. There’s also a gonzo big-pimpin’, soul-funk reworking of “Live & Let Die” called “Fillet of Soul”, some mo’ Bassey, a cat burglin’ instrumental amusing titled “Bond Smells A Rat” and Moby’s buzzin’ electrocution of the main Bond theme. But the remainder is mixed blessings; stay clear of the godawful, new age horror “Experience of Love” by Eric Serra but stick around for Bond soundtrack saviour and keeper of the flame David Arnold’s serene, beautiful “Vesper”.
“Keeping the British end up” for fifty years would leave anyone feeling knackered and there are moments on Best of Bond that feel flabby, wheezing ‘n’ clueless. But the ‘60s and ‘70s Bond years offer some of the most iconic, thrilling music ever to grace the silver screen. But be warned…it may inspire you to contemplate the practicalities of, maybe, foolishly putting on your best suit and practising your best roll ‘n’ shoot across the garden.