Five Songs That Would Make Great Bond Themes

With Skyfall hitting theaters in the United States tomorrow, Sound Affects spotlights five songs that in an ideal world would've played over the opening titles to the adventures of Britain's premier spy.

No matter what era they take place or which actor is brandishing the Walter PPK, there are several essential components to any Eon-produced James Bond film: a cunning villain, loads of beautiful women, eye-catching gizmos, and an instantly familiar score. There is distinctive musical language that characterizes Bond’s cinematic adventures, credit for the development of which largely goes to composer John Barry, who scored a dozen films featuring Ian Fleming’s hero between 1962 (the franchise-launching Dr. No) and 1987 (The Living Daylights). It was Barry’s favoritism for certain musical keys and his repetition of that familiar guitar riff set to traditional orchestration -- bolstered by a particularly muscular brass section -- that has persisted through the adventures of six leading actors, and makes the audience immediately aware that no matter which actor is up on screen that they are watching a film about Agent 007 and not, say, Simon Templar or Jason Bourne or any other super spy you could care to name.

Central to each Bond film’s soundtrack is the title theme, which often (but not always) shares its name with that of the movie it is featured in, and is performed by a pop superstar. Over the last five decades, the Bond title theme has become as recognizable a musical form as the power ballad or the drinking song, and a veritable who’s who of music superstars have competed for the honor being chosen to sing for the secret agent’s latest cinematic adventure. Yet for every Paul McCartney or Madonna who’ve been able to add "Did a Bond theme" to their list of accomplishments, many more marquee names -- including Alice Cooper, Blondie, Johnny Cash, Pet Shop Boys, and Pulp, among others -- have had their efforts rejected by Eon. Sometimes the pairing of an artist and those Barry motifs is so right that it feels like its realization is inevitable -- Adele was mooted as an obvious choice for years by music scribes, and now she sings the title song for this year’s Skyfall. Yet Eon’s judgment is not sacrosanct, which is unfortunate when a song comes along that’s so Bondian you wish that it had made the titles instead of some of the blander offerings that have actually received the official nod.

In honor of 50 years of Bond music, Sound Affects offers up five songs that would slot in admirably between gun sight eye-views and complicated stunt pieces. This list doesn’t concern itself with songs actually pitched as Bond themes (though I do enthusiastically recommend looking up Saint Etienne’s submission for Tomorrow Never Dies, and Johnny Cash’s "Thunderball" must be heard to be believed). Rather, it concisely illustrates that the James Bond film series’ cultural resonance is so profound that all it takes is an unmistakable twang of a guitar string, a well-timed blast of brass, and a certain sultriness of the voice to instantly bring to mind one man and one man only. Hint: his last name is Bond.

ABC – "Poison Arrow"

When this Sheffield group hooked up with producer Trevor Horn in the early 1980s, its members told the former Buggles frontman that they wanted to make "superhuman" records. Horn more than obliged, and the end result was The Lexicon of Love, a cinematic post-punk fusion of disco grooves, Dylanesque wordplay, and Rat Pack debonair that set the tone for much of British pop for the next decade. Though Lexicon on the whole sounds like the sort of music 007 would perpetually keep in his Aston Martin’s CD player, it is "Poison Arrow" that must be singled out as the album’s apex. It is a melodramatic lament of poisoned love and betrayed intentions, conveniently adorned with a title that conflates love and danger and containing at least one sexual entendre in the lyrics. It’s hard to choose what is more thrilling, the tension-building pre-chorus or Martin Fry’s skyscraping falsetto chorus.

Depeche Mode – "Policy of Truth"

If the Bond film series wasn’t on hiatus during the first half of the '90s, Depeche Mode would’ve been a worthy choice to pen a number for a soundtrack in that period. Coming off of its most successful album Violator (1990), the synthpop quartet had parlayed its marriage of gloom-laden romanticism, pop savvy, and forward-thinking production to essentially become the Beatles of electronic music. Early '80s rival Duran Duran got a shot at recording a Bond theme (1985’s "A View to a Kill"), and the darker yet still accessible Mode certainly warranted -- and still warrant -- one. In unlikelihood of any opportunities for the foreseeable future, the smoldering "Policy of Truth" makes for a fitting could-have-been choice. "Truth" deals with typical Depeche themes of guilt and penance, drawn out in tantalizingly measured tones by an ice-cool Dave Gahan.

Monaco – "What Do You Want From Me?"

The '90s New Order side project Monaco boasts a name straight out of a Bond plot outline, and "What Do You Want from Me?" has the sleek jet-set vibe to match. Never mind Peter Hook’s gravelly verses, it’s the "Sha-la-la la la-la-la" hook, that sweeping chorus, and that phenomenal bridge section -- all urgent guitar and swelling strings -- that necessitate the presence of this song playing over a packed movie theater’s sound system.

Portishead – "Sour Times"

Really, you could make a case for most any cut off of Portishead’s Dummy to appear in a 007 adventure, for references to John Barry’s '60s themes were but one of the many retro reference points that waft freely throughout the 1994 trip-hop masterwork. Yet it is on the desolate single "Sour Times" that the '60s spy guitar is at its slinkiest and the strings at their most foreboding, while Beth Gibbons manages to sound both seductive and tortured in the most understated manner possible. Gibbons’ repeated cries of "Nobody loves me" may seem too vulnerable for a Bond theme, but the less emphatic yet equally crucial follow-up line "Not like you do" brings the song back into Fleming-friendly tempestuous-romance territory.

Spandau Ballet – "Gold"

Though not intended as a proposed film theme per se, Spandau’s Gary Kemp has stated that his group’s 1983 hit "Gold" was his attempt to write a Bond theme-style song, and openly acknowledges the influence of John Barry. If only the '80s 007 filmography could’ve found a place for it. All simmering danger and overblown strings and brass, Kemp utterly nailed the Bond/Barry motifs when writing this epic number, and singer Tony Hadley gamely belts it out with a force to rival Tom Jones’ stunning performance on the Thunderball theme. Even if Spandau never got a chance to score a Bondian opening credits shot, the globe-trotting music video is an able substitute, even going as far as to reference Shirley Eaton’s death-by-gold-bodypaint scene from Goldfinger.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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