Category Archives: Paul McCartney

Rocks In The Attic #793: The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road (3LP Anniversary Edition)’ (1969/2019)

RITA#793Christmas continues to come twice a year for fans of the Fab Four, with 2019’s banner Beatles release. 50 years and a day after its original release on 26th September 1969, Abbey Road  has been given the same makeover afforded to last year’s White Album anniversary set.

Packaged in a similar sized box to the White Album / Esher Demos package, the set is comprised of the new 2019 mix by Giles Martin (with credit given to mix engineer Sam Okell on the hype sticker) in its own sleeve, two LPs of outtakes from the sessions presented in an ‘alternate’ cover sleeve, and a four-panel booklet of liner notes, featuring forewords by Paul McCartney and Giles Martin.

It’s a wonderful package down to the smallest details. The blue font used on the hype sticker and in the ‘3LP Anniversary Edition’ labelling on the side of the box echoes the blue sky that takes up the negative space on the album’s world-famous cover shot. Or is it the blue of the dress worn by the girl blurrily walking out of shot on the rear cover? Maybe it’s just the same blue as gravedigger George’s double-denim?
RITA#793aAs with the White Album’s 2018 mix, the 2019 mix of Abbey Road is intimately revealing. Casual listeners probably won’t be able to spot the changes, but if you grew up listening to the album on headphones during your formative years, the differences are massive. Following on from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin’s remastering campaigns in recent years, the key words here are clarity and presence. It isn’t merely a money-grab release by simply making things LOUDER, although I’m sure the EMI accountants will all be in line for a sizable end-of-year bonus. Thankfully, Giles Martin and team have done more than just ‘make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder.’

John’s vocal on the first stop in Come Together – ‘got to be a joker, he just do what he please’ – reveals the first tweak. You can hear him bite down – or hold back? – on that last word even harder than before. George’s jangly guitar on Octopus’s Garden is even janglier, strengthening the song’s Country credentials. And Ringo’s fills, particularly on The End, have more weight in them. ‘The sound was the result of having new calfskin drum heads,’ Ringo explains in Kevin Howlett’s liner notes. ‘There’s a lot of tom-tom work on that record. I got the new heads and I naturally used them a lot – they were so great.’

The biggest change in the remix however is in the bottom end. Paul’s bass is pushed further into the front of this mix – if such a thing is possible given how front and centre it already was in the original 1969 mix. This is a good thing; the bass playing throughout the album represents the peak of McCartney’s playing, and his fluid, walking basslines are one of the album’s key ingredients.

RITA#793b
In terms of bonus content, it feels like a missed opportunity that Martin Jr. wasn’t tasked to produce a mono mix of the album. With the White Album being the last Beatles record to enjoy a mono mix upon release, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be have only been available in stereo, the decade’s eventual winning format (even though Martin Sr. and team were still mixing the singles in mono in 1969, with Get Back appearing in April of that year as the band’s final mono single in the UK). If mono mixes of Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be don’t already exist somewhere in the archive, even as reference mixes, then it seems a missed opportunity to not hand this challenge to Martin The Younger. Of course, nobody really needs a mono mix of these albums, but given his achievements, from 2006’s Love soundtrack album of the Cirque du Soleil show, to the remixes of Pepper, the White Album and now Abbey Road, he’s the perfect candidate to do something a little different sonically to compliment the respective stereo mixes.

What we do get as extras are still brilliant: twenty-three tracks of demos, outtakes and orchestral instrumentals. As with the outtakes in last year’s White Album set, some have seen the light of day in one form or another across the Anthology project, but the vast majority have been officially unreleased until now.

RITA#793c

The studio chatter preceding the first track – a run-through of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) at Trident studios – offers a glimpse at the joys that lie ahead:

“Is it possible, without affecting yourselves too much, to turn down a little?” somebody politely asks in the background, off-mic. “Apparently there’s been a complaint.”

“From who?” asks John.

“Somebody outside the building,” comes the reply.

“Well, what are they doing here at this time of night? What guy?” fires back a frustrated John.

Several voices debate for a few seconds. In the background, Paul says ‘It’s his own fault for getting a house in such a lousy district!’

John then comes back on the microphone. “Well, we’ll try it once more very loud, and if we don’t get it, we’ll try it quiet….Last chance to be loud!”

As much as I love hearing the alternate versions of these fifty-year old songs, it’s the banter in the studio that’s just as revealing. As we’ve heard before, Paul is always the most playful in the studio. At the beginning of a take of You Never Give Me Your Money, a croaky Paul – at exactly half-past-two, he tells us, presumably in the A.M. – sings ‘You never give me your coffee.’ At the start of the first take of Golden Slumbers, he changes the piano chord from minor to major (specifically from Am7 to D6), singing ‘Day after day…’, the opening line of The Fool On The Hill, before stopping abruptly to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s annoying when the later, solo-years McCartney peppers his releases with this kind of studio tomfoolery. Listening to him larking about as a grown-up feels akin to tolerating a precocious child. Here, as a fresh-faced 27-year old, he’s just endearing.

RITA#793d

As for the album itself, fifty years young, for me it represents their artistic peak. It’s always been in my top 3 Beatles albums, and contests that top spot on an almost daily basis with Revolver and the White Album. It has such a magical vibe, and seems to be full to the brim with positivity. Even John’s default songwriting setting – pessimist – doesn’t seem to derail the proceedings.

Speaking of which, forget other contenders (The Who, The Byrds, and the Beatles’ own Helter Skelter) for the first heavy, heavy sound. Surely the roots of heavy metal can be traced back to John’s doom-laden arpeggios in I Want You (She’s So Heavy). It’s surely the song that feels it’s opening the door for Black Sabbath’s debut just five months later. Lennon and Harrison’s use of arpeggios thoughout their Beatles career – from songs as varied as And I Love Her to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – feel like one of least celebrated aspects of their musicianship. Mark Lewisohn, in the first volume of his Beatles mega-biography, goes to great pains to point out that it was the band’s vocal harmonies that made them stand out from their contemporaries in their early years. I hope Lewisohn will give the band as much credit for their intricate rhythm guitar lines, in the eagerly anticipated next volume of his biography (currently due in 2020).

Abbey Road also represents the songwriting peak of George Harrison, with two of the album’s songs penned by him. It’s a peak that would last at least as long as his debut record, arguably longer, but there’s no debate that in terms of maturity, both Something and Here Comes The Sun are miles ahead of anything he submitted to the White Album or the Let It Be sessions.

Those calfskin toms on Ringo’s drums get the spotlight at the end of the record, with the break leading into The End serving as a brilliantly held-back bit of drumming. Some might see it as a half-hearted drum-solo, but Ringo’s subtlety and less-is-more ethos, as always, works wonders.

RITA#793e

More than anything, it sounds like McCartney’s enthusiasm – the driving force of the band since the death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967 – has led the band to this point, from movie-making and the aborted attempts to get back to their roots as a performing band, to getting together to record again with George Martin. The studio banter on the sessions discs sound as good natured as the biographies would have us believe all these years, and there doesn’t sound to be any kind of tension from the business affairs that were looming in the background.

The album’s very special to me for one specific reason. Once, during my teens, I was on a holiday over Christmas in the snowy highlands of Scotland. My parents fell sick with food poisoning for a few days, and so I was left to my own company. Out of boredom one day, I decided to walk to the next village and back – a 6-mile round trip, through heavy snow. I took off, with the last Beatles album to be unlocked in my brain – Abbey Road – sitting in my portable CD player. I probably listened to the album 6 or 7 times, back to back, as I made my way through the snow. Those magical elements to the album seemed to be heightened in the landscape and even now I associate it with that hike from Newtonmore to Kingussie and back. In terms of location, it’s not a million miles away from the Mull Of Kintyre, where McCartney might have been wintering with Linda at the time, and so the connection feels just right.

Hit: Here Comes The Sun

Hidden Gem: Goodbye (Home Demo)

Rocks In The Attic #654: Wings – ‘Band On The Run’ (1973)

RITA#654The first time I saw Paul McCartney live in concert. I couldn’t have been closer. It was at Glastonbury 2004, and I endured sets from the likes of Joss Stone and the Black Eyed Peas in the early evening to get to the crash barrier at the very front of the field. It was worth it – getting so close to a living legend.

This time around, in December 2017, I couldn’t have been further away. I went for the cheapest GA standing tickets, not wanting to auction off my remaining kidney for a ticket closer to the stage. It was still a blast, and the hi-def, crystal-clear screens at the side of stage made sure I didn’t miss out on much.

The difference in set-lists between the two times I saw him play was quite interesting. At Glastonbury in 2004, he was playing the hits for what would ultimately be a BBC audience enjoying the festival on the television, sat at home minus the mud and discomfort. In Auckland a few weeks ago, on the final date of the band’s world tour, the set threw up some unexpected numbers.

RITA#654aKicking off with A Hard Day’s Night – ostensibly a ‘John’ song – the set included a couple of other Beatles songs written predominantly by Lennon: Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and A Day In The Life. Also played were a couple of genuine 50/50 co-written Beatles songs – I’ve Got A Feeling and Birthday – which I was surprised McCartney would even bother with.

Ever since the former Beatle was happy to lean on a Beatles-heavy set-list (post-Flaming Pie?), there’s always been an embarrassment of riches. He can’t possibly play everything, so this time there was no Drive My Car, no Get Back, no Paperback Writer. So it’s even stranger that he made the decision to play some of the songs that he did include. He played Mull Of Kintyre for fuck’s sake!

The Band On The Run record was well represented though. Band On The Run and Jet are probably a feature of the band’s set-list every night, and Let Me Roll It sounds like the kind of song they just love to play live, but it was the appearance of the album’s closer, Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five, that was the most surprising. At four songs, this made Band On The Run the most represented album in McCartney’s back catalogue – not including Beatles compilations of course – a testament to how strong the record is in relation to everything else he has produced in his career.

I prefer Ram, and always will, but it’s clear that Band On The Run is the closest McCartney ever got to replicating the strength of the Beatles’ output.

Hit: Jet

Hidden Gem: Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

Rocks In The Attic #568: Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington – ‘Thrillington’ (1977)

RITA#568.jpgIn 1971, Paul McCartney had just recorded his second solo album, Ram (actually his third if you include his 1967 soundtrack to The Family Way). He had credited the record to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’, to get around the publishing contract he had signed as a Beatle. Under that contract, any solo recordings he made until 1973 were owned by Northern Songs, so wisely he credited the album to himself and his wife.

It’s not surprising that McCartney was pleased with Ram; despite a fair bit of whimsy, it’s a massive improvement on his uneven debut solo record. If a comparison were to be made, you could argue that the melodies on Ram follow on from the more powerful moments of Abbey Road. However, where his contributions to the Beatles’ final recorded studio record were tempered with songs by John, George and even Ringo, Ram found McCartney writing and performing the whole thing by himself in fifth gear.

Before Ram was even released, McCartney had asked arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to orchestrate the whole record as a collection of light orchestral instrumental songs, intended for a separate release. Among the orchestra who played on these sessions at Abbey Road were the cream of the studio players of the day – James Bond Theme guitarist Vic Flick, bassist Herbie Flowers and drummer Clem Cattini.

The end result is an oddity. It is thought the indulgent project was undertaken to please his father, who played in bands of this nature during the First World War – but as Howard Sounes, author of Fab: An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney, points out, ‘the record…sounds like incidental television music, with a soupcon of the tea dance’.

Following the release of Ram in May 1971, and the recording of the instrumental version in June 1971, Paul formed Wings alongside Linda, Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine and session drummer Denny Seiwell. As a result of this new direction, the instrumental Ram was shelved, and McCartney’s band went on to record and release Wild Life instead.

rita568a‘When Paul did finally put this off record out,’ Sounes writes, ‘he did so as quietly as possible under a pseudonym, titling the album Thrillington after an invented character named Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington “Born in Coventry Cathedral in 1939”. Somehow this wasn’t as amusing as Paul obviously thought it was.’

Thrillington finally saw the light of day in April 1977, released between 1976’s triple-live album Wings Over America and 1978’s London Town. While McCartney is pictured on the record’s rear cover as a reflection in the glass of the studio’s control room, and thus identifying him as the true producer of the album, Thrillington went largely unnoticed until McCartney revealed the connection during a 1989 press-conference. Following this admission, the record tripled in value and hasn’t been reissued on vinyl since its original release.

Hit: Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

Hidden Gem: Smile Away

Rocks In The Attic #425: Paul McCartney – ‘The Family Way (O.S.T.)’ (1967)

RITA#425Long before any cherries were spilt, this was the first solo offering by Paul McCartney – in fact the first solo offering by any Beatle. It is entirely un-Beatle-like, and offers nothing related to the fab four’s summer of love, psychedelic state of mind except for maybe a blast of brass before Sgt. Pepper’s band tuned up.

There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about the score – most of it is simply a selection of cues to soundtrack a “nice little film” set in the north of England.  I haven’t seen the film by the way, and while I expect it would play on the BBC every once in a while, there’s absolutely no chance it would get anywhere over the cultural Berlin Wall of New Zealand’s borders so I’ll have to find it by other methods.

Certain sections of the score – which sound like they are used over city scenes showing ‘swinging London’ (London buses and Carnaby St miniskirts) – sound extremely dated with heavy bass and uptempo brass. It’s in the quieter moments that the soundtrack shines though, and while it’s not essential listening it’s definitely a must-hear for Beatle fans and completists.

Hit: Love In The Open Air

Hidden Gem: Cue 2M5

Rocks In The Attic #400: Various Artists – ‘The Best Of James Bond – 30th Anniversary Collection’ (1992)

Bond 00A new Bond film – Spectre – is imminent, set to be released on the 6th of November 2015. To say that I’m looking forward to it is a major understatement. Hopefully it can restore my faith in the series, after the let-down of the appalling Skyfall – a Bond film for non-Bond film fans.

To celebrate the 400th Rocks In The Attic blog post, here are the twenty four* previous Bond themes, ranked from worst to best.

Bond 0(*Prior to Spectre, there are actually twenty three Bond films in the official series, but Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme song, other than Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme, and that tune really belongs to all of the films. I’ve also included the themes to the two unofficial Bond films – the spoof Casino Royale from 1967, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again – because they’re well worth considering).

24. Die Another Day – Madonna (2002)

Bond 1Die Another Day is not only hands-down the worst Bond film, it also has the honour of having the worst theme song. If there’s one person who needs to stay away from films, it’s Madonna. The producers even gave her a part in the film! Her filmography reads like a criminal record. Body Of Evidence? Who’s That Girl? Swept Away? If you haven’t seen these films, keep it that way. Die Another Day was released in the midst of her attempt to reinvent herself as a British person, all flat caps and tweed jackets. Ugh. Pass the sick bucket.

23. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

Bond 2Carly Simon’s theme to The Spy Who Loved Me was such a hit in 1977 that the producers spent the early 1980s trying to replicate its success. This and the theme to the next film in the series, Octopussy, are some of the weakest Bond themes – all synths and dated atmospherics, about as far away as you can get from what a Bond theme should be. For Your Eyes loses more points for repurposing the title of the film into a cheesy double-entendre.

22. All Time High – Rita Coolidge (from Octopussy, 1983)

Bond 3I guess when you’re faced with a title like Octopussy, you’re going to need to change the name of the song. Nobody wants to hear somebody crowbar the words ‘hussy’ and ‘fussy’ just so that they can rhyme them with ‘Octopussy’. Or do they…? I’m not too sure what that song would be about, perhaps something along the lines of Bond not being particularly choosy about his women: With girls, he was never fussy / He’d take them all, any hussy / But the one that really took his eye / No word of a lie / Was Octopussy.

21. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow (1997)

Bond 4Just as the early-‘80s was a fallow period for good Bond themes, so was the late-‘90s. There’s nothing particularly offensive about Tomorrow Never Dies or The World Is Not Enough, but there’s nothing great about them either. They both sound like they’ve been written by a computer program designed to write Bond themes: Start. Open file. Insert menacing three-note ascending motif. Run.

20. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage (1999)

Bond 5David Arnold might have hit his stride now, but back in the ‘90s he was really struggling. John Barry left a big pair of shoes to fill (size 007s probably), and subsequently Arnold’s first few soundtracks seem to crumble under the pressure. His choice of theme-tune artist is a little strange for this one too. Garbage were indie darlings back in 1995, but by 1999 they were an afterthought. A less than exciting second album didn’t help, and their Bond song was released long after the honeymoon was over.

19. Casino Royale – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (from Casino Royale, 1967)

Bond 6Herb Alpert & The Marijuana Brass, more like. If you’ve never seen 1967’s Casino Royale, don’t bother. It’s a big, sloppy mess of a film. The music, however, is much better. Aside from Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love, performed by Dusty Springfield, you get this short, sharp slap of catchy ‘60s trumpet jazz. Although it’s one of the few highlights of the film, I’ve only rated it low down because it’s so far out of step with the rest of the theme songs.

18. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell (from Casino Royale, 2006)

Bond 7Getting the singer from Soundgarden to do a Bond song – for 2006’s Casino Royale – sounds like a fantastic move. Just listen to a song like Jesus Christ Pose from 1991’s Badmotorfinger – the guy can wail. So on paper, it sounds great. But the more memorable Bond themes have something – a certain je ne sais quoi, usually in the form of a hook or a riff, or a catchy chorus. This has nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s so forgettable it’s almost a black hole (sun) in my knowledge of Bond themes.

17. Goldeneye – Tina Turner (1995)

Bond 8Bono and the Edge wrote a fantastic film theme in 1995, just not for a Bond film. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me was released as the theme to Joel Schumacher’s otherwise woeful Batman Forever. It’s everything a Bond theme should be – majestic, sweeping, cutting edge and quite simply, cool as fuck. Their other effort, for Goldeneye, performed by Tina Turner – no stranger to a film theme, herself – is the exact opposite. It’s cold, uninviting and the worst thing about a great film in the series.

16. The Living Daylights – A-Ha (1987)

Bond 9John Barry’s final entry in the Bond soundtrack canon is one of his weakest. Buoyed by the success of working with a successful pop band – Duran Duran on A View To A Kill – he tried a second time with A-Ha, the Norwegian darlings of the moment. The song sounds very over-produced, and this is evident when listening to A-Ha’s preferred ‘cut back’ version, found on their album Stay On These Roads. This actually sounds like the A-Ha of Take On Me and The Sun Always Shines On T.V. and is a far better fit for a Bond film.

15. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu (1974)

Bond 10If you think Lulu’s Bond theme is bad you should listen to Alice Cooper’s rejected song for the film. A different song entirely, it’s an oddity that thankfully never saw the silver screen (it would beat Lulu’s version by appearing on Alice’s 1973 album, Muscle Of Love). I actually like the Lulu song – it’s high camp entirely fitting for a Roger Moore film. There’s one famous detractor though – its composer John Barry would later go on record to say that the song, and the score for the film, was the weakest of his many contributions to the series. “It’s the one I hate most… it just never happened for me.”

14. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight (1989)

Bond 11The most incestuous Bond theme (the producers of the song were sued over its familiarity to the Goldfinger theme), Licence To Kill is probably the last of the traditional Bond themes. From this point on, the themes went further down the pop route, shepherded by David Arnold. The baby boomers passing the baton to generation X, if you will. The studio where they recorded the theme to Licence To Kill was filled with bowls of seedless oranges – as the producers were confused by Gladys Knight’s ultimatum that she would only record the song without the pips.

13. Thunderball – Tom Jones (1965)

Bond 12Legend has it that Jones fainted at the end of the recording of this song, due to the long sustained note. Truth or myth, who knows? It is a beast of a note he holds, so it isn’t out of the realms of believability. In Thunderball, we have the very first example of the Bond theme trying to repeat a tried and tested formula. A year earlier, Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger – also with a long sustained note at the climax of the song – had pointed to the way forward. From now on, brass was key (a brass key?) in the sound of Bond themes. With Thunderball, John Barry tried to repeat what he had achieved with Goldfinger – it just isn’t as good a song, with a confused approach to the film’s title (Don Black’s lyric personifies Thunderball, and presents it as a character in the film – a la Goldfinger – when in the film, it was just a codename for Bond’s mission – ‘Operation Thunderball’).

12. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey (1979)

Bond 13Shirley Bassey’s third and final Bond theme may be her weakest, but it’s still a lovely slice of film music. It does lose points for sounding a bit like something you would expect to hear on The Love Boat – strange considering that this film is the series’ only departure into science-fiction. You’d think that they might have tried to do something a bit harder with the theme song, but maybe it was just the strings of John Williams’ Star Wars score they liked.

11. Skyfall – Adele (2012)

Bond 14At the time of writing, the artist for the theme to Spectre has not been announced, but it’s rumoured that Adele may be reprising her duties from Skyfall to sing her second theme. I couldn’t be happier about this. If there’s anybody who deserves a repeat performance, it’s Adele; she could be the Shirley Bassey of our times. She’s definitely got the lungs for it, and the classy, ballgown-wearing credentials.

10. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra (1967)

Bond 15That ominous orchestral sweep that opens this theme is one of the most threatening sounds committed to vinyl. It also sounds like the orchestra are walking backwards, into the main motif. It reminds the listener that despite the lush swings, this is still a Bond theme – even though when we hear this for the first time in the film, Bond has just been assassinated. OR HAS HE??? The theme is notable for being the first to be performed by a non-British artist, Nancy ‘daughter of Frank’ Sinatra. It’s also the little known fourth theme to be sung by Shirley Bassey, covered for her 2007 retrospective album, Get The Party Started (a full album of Bassey covering Bond themes had been earlier withdrawn from sale in the late ‘80s and again in the early ‘90s).

9. Never Say Never Again – Lani Hall (1983)

Bond 16Probably the most overlooked Bond theme, Lani Hall’s contribution to the ‘unofficial Bond film’ of 1983 will never be included on Bond theme compilations, or used in any of EON’s promotional materials. What a shame, because it’s pretty good. If they shot a porn parody of Bond – and I’m sure that one, if not many, must exist already – it would probably sound like this. The thing about porn parodies of Bond films is that you wouldn’t need to change the titles too much – Goldfinger speaks for itself, as does Thunderball and The Man With The Golden Gun. More specific, niche tastes would be covered by Moonraker, Dr. No and, ahem, Goldeneye.

8. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey (1971)

Bond 17The theme to Diamonds Are Forever needed to be something special. It marked the first time a Bond singer had returned for a repeat performance – something nobody else has managed to do, except Bassey herself for a third and final time in 1979. Bassey’s second effort is everything a Bond theme should be – sexy, dangerous and with a universal appeal. Diamonds Are Forever also holds the title for being the funkiest Bond song, with a slinky bass line that Bootsy Collins would be proud of.

7. Another Way To Die – Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)

Bond 18The first Bond theme for a long time that actually sounded like it was doing something different, this effort from 2008’s Quantum Of Solace sounds like a bad idea. Professional enigma and vintage enthusiast Jack White sharing vocals with Alicia Keys – the product of a performing arts education? This doesn’t bode well. Instead, it’s a delightful slice of alternative rock with Bondian overtones. Jack White is welcome back in the house of Bond anytime.

6. From Russia With Love – Matt Munro (1963)

Bond 19Those were the days, when a spy thriller at the movies just had to a have a syrupy love song on the soundtrack; something for the ladies to enjoy while the men pondered over the plot details and wondered if there was ever a chance for the popcorn trick (made famous in the 1982 film Diner) to actually work. From Russia With Love, by “England’s Sinatra”, Matt Munro, gets a free pass in my book. It’s the first Bond theme proper, and therefore has nothing to compete with. It could have been slush, but it’s magical.

5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey (1964)

Bond 20Waaap – waaaaaaap –waaap! If this isn’t the brassiest song in the world, I’m not sure what is. Everything about this song screams Bond, and it’s difficult to imagine the song being performed by anybody else other than Shirley Bassey. One of the inspirations was Mack The Knife, so it could have been a Sinatra-type crooner belting out something smoother than Bassey’s abrasive rasp. Jimmy Page played on the session, which gives the song an extra bit of credibility, and although it feels like everybody loves the song, the film’s co-producer Harry Saltzman tried to remove it from the film, saying ‘”That’s the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard in my f**king life”. Not a fan then.

4. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran (1985)

Bond 21Growing up in the 1980s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bond themes were the mainstay of middle of the road songstresses – all breathy vocals and atmospheric production. Then 1985 came along, and we suddenly got the most exciting Bond theme since Live And Let Die. Roger Moore might be close to claiming his pension in A View To A Kill, but the theme song more than makes up for it. It could have been far, far worse – let’s all feel thankful that Grace Jones didn’t sing the title song. Just don’t ask Simon Le Bon to sing A View To A Kill in front of a billion people – at Live Aid, he sounded almost prepubescent as he reached for a high note in the chorus (at 2:54 here).

3. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

Bond 22Perhaps the quintessential Bond film of the 1970s – it was to that decade what Goldfinger was to the 1960s – Nobody Does It Better marks the first time that the name of the film wasn’t the name of the theme (although ‘The spy who loved me’ is crowbarred into the lyrics at one point). This is a beautiful song, with a lovely piano introduction by composer Marvin Hamlisch – and what a great way to segue into the credits sequence: Bond, looking like a plastic banana, skis off the end of a mountain and deploys a Union flag parachute. And then, as Alan Partridge would say, “Glang…glangalangalangalangalangalang…glangalang…”

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – John Barry (1969)

Bond 23Propose a Bond theme without a vocal these days, and I’d run a mile, but John Barry gets away with this purely because it’s such an awesome melody. This is the epitome of cool – George Lazenby skiing down a mountain in 1969, to this ominous instrumental. It even sounds a bit futuristic, with a Moog synth part laying down the driving bass line. The only reason this theme doesn’t top the list is that the first few seconds of synth do sound a bit like the beginning to The Teddy Bear’s Picnic. This is thankfully not as obvious in the Propellerheads’ balls-out awesome 1997 cover.

1. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

Bond 24When I saw Paul McCartney play Glastonbury in 2004, I momentarily forgot about the existence of the Live And Let Die theme song – a travesty, considering what a huge Bond fan I am, but excusable for the fact that I was in full Beatles mode, watching a Beatle performing Beatles songs. Then, mid-set, he launched into the piano intro to Live And Let Die and I nearly vomited from my ears in excitement. McCartney’s song tops the list because it has everything – it’s a ballad, it’s a rocker, it even has a reggae section to reflect the film’s West Indian setting. Produced by George Martin, it also has the added value of being linked to that Beatles universe that had only just come to an end a couple of years earlier. It’s a common phenomenon for musos to distance themselves from McCartney’s post-Beatles output, but no matter what you think of Ebony And Ivory or The Pipes Of Peace, you can’t take Live And Let Die from him – the best Bond theme there ever was.

Honourable Mentions

I always wonder if the would-be suitors of Honor Blackman got mixed messages when her father told them to do the honourable thing. Bad jokes aside, there are plenty of musical honourable mentions in the Bond universe. In one of the series’ rare references to pop culture, Bond even mentions the Beatles at one point, just before he’s attacked by Oddjob in Jill Masterson’s hotel room in 1964’s Goldfinger. So, in no particular order (and in no way an exhaustive list):

The James Bond Theme – Monty Norman (1962)

Bond 25The series wouldn’t be what it is without this short piece of twangy guitar, written by Monty Norman and performed by session guitarist Vic Flick. It’s John Barry’s arrangement that makes it though – while Norman wrote the melody of the main guitar riff, it was Barry who supplied the countermelodies from the orchestra that really make it all work. To make an analogy, Norman’s Bond theme melody might be a fine pair of shoes, but Barry tailored the rest of the suit. Many years of court cases have contested who the true composer is – legally, it’s Monty Norman – but I see it as a collaboration in which John Barry’s contributions have been sorely overlooked.

Kingston Calypso – Eric Rodgers (1962)

Bond 26I wrote earlier that Dr. No doesn’t really have a theme tune – except the Bond theme itself – but that’s actually not entirely true. Halfway through the opening credits, we get a blast of Kingston Calypso by Eric Rodgers – a calypso version of Three Blind Mice, in reference to the murder we’ve just seen on screen. History has covered this up – but what a great quiz question: which nursery rhyme is used on the opening credits to the first James Bond film?

– Maurice Binder (1925-1991)

Bond 27The on-screen visuals are a major component to the opening credits of the James Bond films and serve as a fantastic accompaniment to the music. Maurice Binder designed these title sequences from the very start, with Dr. No in 1962, to Licence To Kill in 1989 (missing only From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, which were designed by Robert Brownjohn). Binder also designed the famous gun barrel sequence – probably the single-most iconic visual of the Bond series, and one of the most identifiable images in film history. To young boys eager for a glimpse of side-boob or the silhouetted nipple of a girl cart-wheeling off a gun barrel, Maurice Binder was the man. Legend.

007 – John Barry (1963)

Bond 28John Barry might have missed out on the credit for The James Bond Theme, but 007 (sometimes known as The 007 Theme) is undoubtedly his own composition. Written for the gypsy camp scene in From Russia With Love, the song has soundtracked many sequences in the Bond series – an underwater fight in Thunderball, the ‘Little Nellie’ helicopter chase in You Only Live Twice, the destruction of Blofeld’s oil-rig in Diamonds Are Forever, and the Amazon river chase in Moonraker.

Bond 29Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang BangShirley Bassey / Dionne Warwick (1965)

Originally the main title theme to Thunderball, the extremely Bondian Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was recorded first by Shirley Bassey, then Dionne Warwick, before the producers demanded a theme song with the film’s name in the title. John Barry and Don Black then rushed another composition under a tight deadline, hence the existence of the Tom Jones song. Johnny Cash also composed a song intended to be used as the film’s main theme, but let’s all be glad the Bond producers had better ideas.

Bond 30The Look Of Love – Dusty Springfield (1967)

The unwatchable Casino Royale from 1967 has the honour of two themes – Herb Alpert’s titular instrumental, and also this easy-listening gem from the piano of Burt Bacharach. Dusty’s voice is so stark, it sounds like it’s going to shatter at any second. It’s sometimes hard to believe that a film project that produced such a terrible piece of celluloid also resulted in such a strong soundtrack, with this as its centrepiece – a terrific single from the summer of love.

– We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong (1969)

Bond 31For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond producers, Cubby Broccoli and Albert Saltzman, decided to borrow an idea from the ‘unofficial’ Casino Royale, released two years earlier – both films have an instrumental main title theme, and then a syrupy ballad as a secondary main theme. Reportedly the last studio recording by Armstrong before his death in 1971 (he was too sick to play his noticeably absent trumpet), this is undoubtedly one of the loveliest songs in the Bond canon.

– Adam & Joe’s Song Wars

Bond 32Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish are broadcasters in the UK, famous for their very funny, esoteric TV show for Channel Four, and later their radio show for the BBC. Cornish has gone on to bigger things in recent years, co-writing the script for Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and directing his debut feature, Attack The Block (both in 2011). Before that though, one of the highlights of their radio show was the Song Wars segment. Every fortnight, they would set themselves a task whereby they would pick a theme, then compose and record a song related to that theme by the following week’s show. Their two alternative theme songs for Quantum Of Solace – both Adam’s version and Joe’s version – are essential listening for any Bond fan with a sense of humour.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Propellerheads & David Arnold (1997)

Bond 33Everything about this homage to John Barry is freakin’ awesome – from the rotating motif that opens the song, lifted off the From Russia With Love soundtrack, to the space march interlude from You Only Live Twice – and everything between. This couldn’t be any more ‘90s big-beat / break-beat if it tried, but it still sounds fresh. That bass line gets me every time – and the counterpoint this goes to in the second section of the main orchestral riff just takes the song somewhere else.

If there’s one thing that the Propellerheads’ cover proves, it’s that the musical future of the Bond franchise (I hate that word) is safe and well. We might get the occasional dodgy theme song – the series wouldn’t be the same without them – but there’ll always be artists who love the Bond films, ready and willing to take that ascending three note structure into uncharted territory.

To finish off, here’s a photograph that took me a very, very long time to put together. I have been collecting the Bond soundtracks on vinyl every since I started collecting vinyl in the late 1990s, and decided earlier this year to ramp up my search to find them all. These are all the Bond soundtracks that have been commercially released on vinyl – there’s a gap of six films, the four Brosnan films and the first two Craig films which didn’t see a vinyl release. The treasure of this collection is the soundtrack to 1983’s Never Say Never Again – only pressed on vinyl in Japan for some strange reason, and a welcome delivery from the Hyōgo Prefecture.
Bond 34

Rocks In The Attic #379: Wings – ‘Wild Life’ (1971)

RITA#379This is the debut record of Paul McCartney’s second band – the name of his first one escapes me at the moment. In terms of where this is placed in his solo career, it’s record number three after McCartney and Ram. Those two albums showed a natural progression – from the back to basics experimentation of McCartney to the sublime perfection of Ram – which sadly ends here. You can almost imagine his new band-members Denny Laine and Denny Seiwell looking at each other and wondering ‘Well…where are the songs?’

I love Ram – alongside Band On The Run, it’s probably the one album in his career that gets close to escaping from the shadow of that former band. His songwriting on Ram is just as good as anything he contributed to Abbey Road, which makes it even more dumbfounding how he really pressed the reset button with this one. There are songs on the album – Wild Life itself is a nice tune – but gibberish like Mumbo and Bip Bop are reminiscent of the out-of-ideas DIY wankery on his first solo album.

Album closer Dear Friend is a thinly veiled attempt at a reconciliation with Lennon, after Lennon’s no-veil snipe at McCartney on Imagine’s How Do You Sleep? If I was McCartney, I would have written a rebuttal song titled Quite Well Actually, How About You, You Wife-Beating Smack-Head? I doubt it would get picked for a single though, but you can’t win them all.

Hit: Dear Friend

Hidden Gem: Wild Life

Rocks In The Attic #261: Paul McCartney – ‘McCartney’ (1970)

RITA#261I’ve written about George’s mammoth first solo album, Ringo’s crooning debut, and John’s first album proper, so this entry completes the set. Why have I left Paul’s until last? Well, on paper it might sound like a more compelling prospect than an album of covers by a drummer with a woeful singing voice, but Ringo’s offering is far more enjoyable. Arguably McCartney may be the most musically talented Beatles – depending on how you define talent – but his first outing on his own is just half-hearted at best.

Aside from Maybe I’m Amazed (a big song, and a true classic that he still performs in concert to this day), McCartney is filled with low-fi home recordings, all self-played, with the occasional “harmony” from wife Linda. It relies too much on its charm, and it’s hard to find an album charming when the inner-gatefold is a collage of photographs of said Beatle acting like a prat.

McCartney’s next album, Ram, is probably my favourite solo album by a Beatle and so it’s hard to understand why he got it so right on that one, and so wrong on this one. If you look at the timeline of events, McCartney was released just after he heard Phil Spector’s treatment of the Let It Be sessions and within a year he would file suit for the dissolution of the band, so let’s just say he had a few things on his mind other than the quality control of his work.

Hit: Maybe I’m Amazed

Hidden Gem: Momma Miss America