By Marc S. Sanders
Recently I was asked to list what I consider to the Top Ten Songs from the James Bond film series produced under the EON production group.
To factor in this list with only my viewpoint as an authority constitutes the meaning behind each song in relation to the film it represents. Songs are songs. However, each song selected for a James Bond installment should have some direct correlation to the Agent 007 and/or the elements of its respective film. Do the lyrics, tempo and rhythms work directly with the movie as a whole? If they don’t then they need not be considered.
For example, I like All Time High by Rita Coolidge for the Roger Moore film Octopussy. However, to this day I cannot figure out why that song was selected for the film focusing on Cold War conspiracy with a hint of Alfred Hitchcock sensationalism and the titillation of alluring, skintight clad women ready to serve at the behest of the title character, with machine guns strapped over their shoulders and busty chests, and gorgeous hairdos right out of the glamorous times of early 1980s decadence.
I expect some readers may vent frustrations over some glaring omissions here. I did not rank a certain Beatle’s contribution to the series with Live And Let Die. It’s likely a runner up, ranked number 11 on my list. Why not higher? Well, I have issues with Paul McCartney’s number. His gorgeous voice is there for sure. However, I feel it disrupts itself over the course of the song. McCartney is offering up beautiful harmonies and then a cult like ritual composition interrupts the number also serving as a repetitive chorus. Then it slows down for Paul to sing the next verse. I never understood why. It breaks up a consistent trajectory. As well, the lyrics lend nothing to the story or setting of the film (honestly, not one of my favorite Bond pictures). Blaxploitation and voodoo supernatural tones occupy much of this film and McCartney is definitely not the poster boy for any of those themes. Out of context of the film, I’m a strong advocate. I just don’t feel it enhances the picture it is linked with.
To be an effective memorable song for a James Bond movie, the record should contain the chords from Monty Norman’s horns and bugles that declare Bond is here ready for action, danger, and sex. The lyrics should describe the story or maybe the villain or simply 007 himself.
And so, let’s begin…
10) You Only Live Twice (You Only Live Twice) – Nancy Sinatra’s entry in the Bond catalogue comes off like the soundtrack of your vacation to Asia. You can almost hear it as you explore the continent. It has a quiet hypnotic approach that works so well with the visual locales of Hong Kong and Japan where much of the adventure takes place. It’s seductive and bewitching, allowing Bond to effectively place a woman under his spell, with permission as a male chauvinist during Sean Connery’s tenure with the role in the 1960s.
9) A View To A Kill (A View To A Kill) – Okay, my justification for it being on the list may not be consistent with what constitutes an appropriate James Bond song, but I’m allowed to break my own rules. This is a film that rests at the bottom of my rankings. However, who has ever forgotten the 1980’s introduction of 007 into the world of pop music, compliments of Duran Duran? This is a far cry from the standard Shirley Bassey numbers of earlier Bond films, not to be found on the easy listening stations programmed on your radio. Another song not directly related to film’s central theme of the criminal world existing within Silicon Valley. Still, the rock song is entirely recognizable. One of the best movie songs to come out of the 1980s, that featured numerous tunes from the likes of Kenny Loggins and Glenn Frey, for example. Arguably one of Duran Duran’s most popular songs.
8) Another Way To Die (Quantum Of Solace) – While not a huge fan of the film, that does a poor job of hiding its flaws in story and construction, I cannot deny the single from Jack White and Alicia Keys. White offers guitar riffs that sound dangerous and scary, like a fast-racing motorcycle equipped with machine guns firing at you. When his vocals duet with Keys, the harmonies sound sexy and alluring like Bond would be with any of the women he meets, capable of seduction or maybe betrayal. “A Bomb On The Table/A Woman Walking By/A Drop In The Water/A Look In Her Eye.” These lyrics really don’t describe what is seen in the film, but they lend to the spy with a license to kill because of what he too often encounters on any of his missions. The lyrics are chilling. The music is treacherous; much like when Bond ritually walks into the center of the gun barrel pointing right at him at the beginning of most of the films in the series. This song promised a better movie than we got from Quantum Of Solace.
7) Writing Is On The Wall (Spectre) – I thought all five songs from Daniel Craig’s time with the series were entirely fitting to the collective storyline of his interpretation with the character. Spectre is a very personal film for Bond, as it reinvents the relationship he has with well-known arch villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sam Smith has such a silky vocal to his Oscar winning song which comes off tragic for 007 as he has no choice but to revisit his past in order to accomplish his mission. What does Blofeld mean personally to Bond? Who will Bond have to meet up with, and what personal risks will he have to take in order to succeed? Sam Smith’s song implies Bond was not ready for the fall, but the truth had to be met, nonetheless.
6) The Man With The Golden Gun (The Man With The Golden Gun) – I’m sorry but this film does not get enough recognition. Neither does the song. The theme is as devilishly entertaining as the title character’s fun house that pits James Bond in a climactic dual against Scaramenga played with wonderful glee by Christopher Lee. While Lulu may be doing an obvious imitation of Shirley Bassey, I can’t deny the song’s recognizable musical tones from John Barry as the singer belts out how “No Hit Man Can Match Him” and “He’ll Shoot Anyone/With His Golden Gunnnnnnnn.” With a song like this over the opening credits that follow after the character’s maniacal introduction in the opening scene, I have just been promised that 007 will come face to face with one of the most dangerous killers in the world, and it may in fact spell the end of James Bond.
5) Skyfall (Skyfall) – Daniel Craig’s films go for dramatic zeniths. The film Skyfall certainly leaves you breathless on multiple occasions with the first time happening at the climax of the pre credit scene. Bond has been shot, he falls from a great height and he’s presumed dead. That hardly ever happens to 007. Jump to the end of the film, and a personal loss occurs. Adele’s Oscar winning song begins with a frightening declaration that “This Is The End/Hold Your Breath And Count To Ten.” She is practically speaking to Bond himself of what’s to come from this point now that the world thinks you’re dead. Adele takes you on a narration easing you into the drama you’re about see over the next two hours. The tongue and cheek humor found especially in the days of Roger Moore may be long gone, but Craig’s interpretation of Ian Fleming’s “blunt instrument” is thankfully more serious and personal. This is another perfect example that you will get your thrills from the super spy. He’s just not as fancy free as he used to be, because the villains make it all the more personal.
4) No Time To Die (No Time To Die) – It may be the one song in the list that sums up James Bond’s relationship with a lover. That would be holdover, Madeliene Swann, from the prior film, Spectre. Madeliene is the daughter of a former enemy of Bond that he just happens to fall in love with. Billie Eilish hauntingly sings from the consciousness of 007. “Fool Me Once/Fool Me Twice…You’ll Never See Me Cry/There’s Just No Time To Die.” Early on, Bond has reason to suspect Madeliene has betrayed him, and he will not let it happen again because his career and mission and endgame is simply never to die by anyone else’s hand but his own. Eilish’s song is a perfect wrap up to Daniel Craig’s characterization. His 007 finds it hard to ever live peacefully and he will always have to keep his guard up. If he will surrender to defeat, it is only going to be under his terms. Madeliene, nor Blofeld, or anyone else will ever get the best of him.
3) Goldfinger (Goldfinger) – Shirley Bassey’s first of three contributions (so far) to the sixty-year-old series is her best. She’s not singing about 007 though. She’s celebrating one of the most memorable villains that Bond ever faced. Auric Goldfinger is serious about his love for all things gold. “He’s The Man/The Man With The Midas Touch.” Wait for it, because there’s more. “A Spider’s Touch.” Deadly! The fun thing about Goldfinger is that he kills just about anyone he encounters. He’ll make his point with 007 that he’s not be trifled by suffocating his one-night stand and covering her entire body in paint, gold paint. He happily lays down his plan for robbing Fort Knox of its entire gold supply to a bunch of hoodlum investors, but then moments later he gasses them all to death anyway. This guy of immense wealth is proud of all he possesses and what he is capable of. Rather than shoot Bond while he’s tied down to a table, Auric Goldfinger has the expectation of him to die by severing the spy in half with a laser beam beginning right at the “weapon” Bond carries everywhere between his thighs. Shirley Bassey might have sung multiple times for the superspy, but in Goldfinger she’s sings from the sidelines of James Bond’s bad guy with unlimited resources. Shirley practically implies that maybe you better sit this one out, James.
2) You Know My Name (Casino Royale) – Even if you reinvent the character, we are still going to know who you’re talking about. Bond, James Bond. In the opening moments of Daniel Craig’s first film, we get an overview of what constitutes Bond as an exclusive “Double O” agent for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Then Chris Cornell offers a hard-edged rock interpretation of what it takes to live dangerously, where agents like Bond are not expected to carry a long-life span. We might be meeting 007 for the first time all over again, but we certainly know the man with the license to kill. However, do we know what it means to behave like him? “Arm Yourself Because No One Else Here Will Save You/The Odds Will Betray You And I Will Replace You/You Can’t Deny The Prize It May Never Fulfill You/It Longs To Kill You, Are You Willing To Die?/The Coldest Blood Runs Through My Veins/You Know My Name.” To be the kind of killer who does not dwell on the carnage a man leaves behind requires lyrics like this. James Bond has to be cold like that with no time to reflect on who he dispatches in the name of Queen and Country.
1) Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me) – Carly Simon’s song, orchestrated by Marvin Hamlisch, arrives at just the right moment in the film. Bond has outrun KGB agents on skis. Yet, he’s running out of snow to escape on. A dangerous cliff is ahead. When I first saw The Spy Who Loved Me, my five-year-old self wondered how he would ever get out of this scenario alive. He leaps off the mountain into the great wide open, his skis fly off his boots and Bond is left to endlessly fall…that is until his parachute bearing the Union Jack appears and his recognizable theme song kicks in. Then Carly Simon reminds us that “Nobody Does It Better/Makes Me Sad For The Rest/Nobody Does It Half As Good As You/Baby You’re The Best.” Can’t disagree with you Carly. Simon and Hamlisch are playful with this crooning number, and just as mischievous as Roger Moore approached the super spy. Regardless, it never negates any of the various interpretations that 007 has offered through the years. In sixty years, nobody has been better at the spy game than James Bond. It’s not even a matter of opinion anymore. James Bond is the best.
What did you think? Am I far off from what you believe are the best Bond numbers, or did I at least get it mostly right. Share your thoughts in the comments. It’ll be “For (Our) Eyes Only.”