The music behind James Bond has always been part of the
allure of the super-spy, a loungy, seductive musical canon tailor-made to
naked women dancing in silhouette behind the opening credits - vaguely
suggesting danger and the good life.
As the Bond film series approaches its 50th anniversary,
periodically the record labels will release a countdown of all of the films'
theme songs. As such it is almost a mini-history lesson, 24 songs
spanning 46 years, spanning then-hip artists (or old classic performers) and
surveying the changes of popular culture, yet always filtered through that
sultry, dangerous rhythm.
Many of Bond's themes were hits of their times.
Others capture short-lived musical trends (Nancy Sinatra, a-ha, k.d. lang,
Garbage and Moby) and transform them with an infusion of spy suspense.
Many of these songs stand up wonderfully today, others are mostly forgotten
and for good reason.
Of course, the most iconic song in the canon is the
first, the shortest and one of the few instrumentals. Monty Norman's
"James Bond Theme" is a cultural touchstone - on the opening notes everyone
knows exactly what it is about. It is an inspired musical
representation of a character.
Most of the other 60s Bond songs are very much the kind
of sultry ballads that the superspy would listen to while enjoying a martini
- shaken, not stirred - in some Monte Carlo club.
Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" is not only the
best of the 60s Bond themes but also just about the best song that Frank's
daughter ever wrapped her pipes around (it is greatly superior to her
best-known song "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'.") Shirley Bassey's
"Goldfinger" is also understandably iconic, but Tom Jones' "Thunderball"
and Louis Armstrong's "We've Got All the Time in the World" (from On Her
Majesty's Secret Service) are both minor songs not worthy of the artists.
However it was the 70s that Bond's themes started to lock
into the perfect groove, starting with Paul McCartney and Wings' 1973
chart-topper "Live and Let Die" Bond discovered rock and modern music.
The decade was a bit schizophrenic for Bond themes, mixing new school
(Wings' hit and Carly Simon's gorgeous "Nobody Does It Better" from The
Spy Who Loved Me) with old style lounge (Shirley Bassey's returns on the
gorgeous "Diamonds Are Forever" and the much lesser "Moonraker" and
Lulu's "The Man With the Golden Gun.")
It wasn't until the 80s that Bond left the lounge mostly
behind. Now they mostly looked to current hitmakers (Sheena Easton,
Rita Coolidge, a-ha, Duran Duran.) Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill"
marked the end of the Roger Moore years of the series, as well as the
essential end of the serie's hit-making power. (a-ha's "The Living
Daylights" was an international hit that never quite made it across the pond
and Madonna's "Die Another Day" became a minor hit years later.) "A
View To a Kill" is a nearly perfect Bond theme, and even if the 80s synth
swooshes are a little dated sounding now, it is still a very solid song, one
of the best on this collection.
There is some Bond music missing here though,
particularly from the late 80s, when the series dabbled with doing more than
one song per movie. For example, the Gladys Knight title track from
"License to Kill" was actually the least interesting of the three songs
recorded for that film, I'd much rather have the Pretenders' "If There
Was A Man" or Patti LaBelle's original recording of "If I Asked You To," which later became a
hit single when covered by Celine Dion - neither of which made this
compilation, because they were not a title track.
Since then, while the music for the series has toyed with
relevance and even had a fluke hit with Madonna's not all that great "Die
Another Day." Some of the songs were actually quite good - Garbage's
"The World Is Not Enough" and Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" are in
Like any compilation, there is some great stuff and some
that is not so good. Also, undoubtedly in four years, they will
re-release the same compilation with two more songs added. However,
The Best of Bond... James Bond is a fascinating musical time machine
ride through 50 years of the world's most famous spy.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright © 2008 PopEntertainment.com.
Posted: December 10, 2008.