PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

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.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.