Tag Archives: Thunderball

Rocks In The Attic #601: John Barry – ‘The Great Movie Sounds Of John Barry’ (1966)

RITA#601I recently watched a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at the cinema. The two films – scored by Marvin Hamlish and Bill Conti respectively – are both missing something, a key vital ingredient that makes them feel in some way that they’re lesser Bonds. Even The Spy Who Loved Me, undoubtedly one of the stronger films in the Bond canon, feels a touch unfinished. That missing ingredient, of course, is the work of the great John Barry.

Drafted in to re-arrange and record Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme for Dr. No, Barry went onto become the de facto in-house composer of the Bond films, eventually scoring eleven of the next fourteen films.

Those non-Barry films are always interesting for their non-Barry-ness, but his absence is always to the film’s detriment. I don’t know what Live And Let Die would sound like without George Martin’s score. Would Barry’s brassy sludge have evoked the same calypso feel as Martin’s orchestration of the wind section? In The Spy Who Loved Me, what would Bond have sounded like skiing down the mountain in the pre-credits sequence soundtracked by Barry instead of the disco beats of Hamlisch’s Bond’77?

In working with other composers instead of Barry – unavailable due to his falling out with producer Harry Saltzman (Live And Let Die) or for tax reasons (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only) – it seems the Bond producers used the opportunity to do something different. They worked with the Academy Award-winning fifth Beatle (Martin), the Academy Award-winning composer/adapter of The Sting (Hamlisch), and the Academy Award-nominated composer of the Rocky films (Conti), with varying degrees of success.

John Barry, like a lot of composers, regularly re-uses his own work. Like John Williams, it’s easy to hear snippets of minor sections of his scores re-used as more major themes in later films. Sometimes, just the feel of a score can lend itself to re-appropriation. I recently heard Barry’s score to 1985’s Out Of Africa and couldn’t help but spot the likeness to his earlier score for the Moonraker soundtrack.

This LP from 1966, is a nice little taster of Barry’s Bond scores up to that point – From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and of course, the ever-ubiquitous James Bond Theme. The second side features some lesser-known works, themes from films I’m very unlikely to ever see – The Chase, King Rat, The Knack, and Seance On A Wet Afternoon. However, the final two tracks – themes from The Ipcress File and Born Free – really show that Barry was untouchable around 1965-1966.

Hit: The James Bond Theme

Hidden Gem: The Knack

Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #513: Geoff Love & His Orchestra – ‘Big Bond Movie Themes’ (1975)

RITA#513a.jpgThere’s a reason that Geoff Love isn’t remembered as a great conductor. He and his orchestra had a tidy little earner recording easy listening versions of film themes, commonly released on the Music For Pleasure label. Anything that was cool about the original source material was stripped away, and all that remains is a schmaltzy version of something that sounds weirdly familiar. It’s the same result as you would expect if James Last recorded the collected works of Kraftwerk, or if Nana Mouskouri covered Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Of course, the Bond films were full of the odd bit of lounge music, so some of it doesn’t sound too far from the truth. John Barry’s scores are full of tiny snippets of easy listening, usually to soundtrack the moment when Bond is about to bed an exotic looking broad. As a result, Geoff Love’s version of the Thunderball theme sounds like it could have been lifted right off the soundtrack to Barry’s Diamonds Are Forever score, particularly the sections set in the Las Vegas casinos. And a theme as eternally cool as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service could be covered by anybody and it’d still be a thousand times cooler than most other pieces of recorded music.

Still, record collecting gives you the opportunity to pick up little curios in charity shops like this for next to nothing. We always had a copy of Geoff Love’s collection of sci-fi themes next to our record player when I was growing up; it’s now long-gone but I’m sure I’ll find a copy of it one day for next to nothing.

RITA#513bWhilst trying to find a photo cover of Love’s Bond compilation to accompany this blog, I found that there are two covers. The original cover features the likenesses of Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, while the second pressing – the version I have in my collection – has all of these faces either completely obscured (poor Roger) or completely altered. I’m guessing that Music For Pleasure didn’t do their due diligence when it came to securing the rights for what was essentially an unofficial cash-in on EON’s intellectual property.

Hit: The James Bond Theme

Hidden Gem: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Rocks In The Attic #489: Various Artists – ‘The Incredible World Of James Bond’ (1967)

RITA#489I flew back from Sydney last week. Trying to save a bit of money, I didn’t splash out on the usual airline offerings – a meal, alcohol, movies – and instead opted for the basic package. As it turned out, I didn’t miss the free movies as you could still watch a raft of free documentaries.

I watched a couple of good documentaries on the way out to Sydney five days earlier – Elstree 1976, about the bit-part players in the original Star Wars film, and then to follow on the geek-fest, I Am Your Father, a documentary about Dave Prowse, the actor inside the Darth Vader suit.

So I was happy to sit and watch documentaries on the flight back. This time, I opted for Everything Or Nothing – The Untold Story Of 007. Being a big Bond fan, it’s very rare that I ever find out anything I don’t know about the films. I’ve read a heap of books and consumed all the documentaries and featurettes on the Blu Rays (I now have the box set); everything else you see on TV tends to just be a very general overview of the films for the benefit of casual viewers.

Everything Or Nothing was different though. The documentaries on the Blu Rays are all sanctioned by EON Productions (the documentary takes its name from EON – Everything Or Nothing – Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s production company, set up to produce the Bond films), but Everything Or Nothing seems to have been produced independently. So instead of the official viewpoint you commonly get from EON, this was a warts and all retelling of the Bond story.

Interestingly, this meant there was a lot of content around the Ian Fleming / Kevin McClory lawsuits over the novel and film of Thunderball, and Sean Connery’s falling out with Broccoli towards the end of his tenure as an official Bond. Great stuff – and a really enjoyable watch for a lifelong Bond fan.

The Incredible World Of James Bond is a passable early compilation of instrumental Bond material. Some of the LP’s tracks are conducted by Monty Norman and John Barry, which adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but then these are cobbled together with renditions by the Leroy Holmes Orchestra. “Who?”, I hear you all shout in unison.

Hit: Bond Back In Action Again – John Barry

Hidden Gem: Jump Up – Monty Norman

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 #368: John Barry – ‘Thunderball (O.S.T.)’ (1965)

RITA#368We watched Thunderball a few weeks ago. It really is a mess of a film, oddly paced and the first real mis-step of the series. It’s only a dash over two hours long, but it feels like a three-hour epic. I have trouble enjoying it, and usually start wishing I’d put You Only Live Twice on instead.

There’s an unintentionally funny scene in Thunderball where Bond dances with Domino in a hotel resort. The band next to the dancefloor look frozen in time, while couples glide around. The audible music is John Barry’s score – an instrumental version of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but nothing matches! The band are supposed to be miming to it, but they’re just standing there, not moving; and Bond, Domino and the surrounding couples are all dancing at the wrong speed to the music. This scene itself is a microcosm of how messy the rest of the film is.

The story behind Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel of the same name is just as muddled as the resulting film turned out to be. Decamping from England to the Bahamas to take advantage of tax breaks, he started working on a screenplay with Kevin McLory, Jack Wittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernie Cuneo. In the prior novels, the enemy was SMERSH (a shortened version of Smert Shpionam – Russian for ‘Death to Spies’ – and eventually referred to in the film of The Living Daylights), but suspecting that the Cold War would end before the screenplay was filmed, Fleming changed the enemy to SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).

The screenplay went unfilmed, but Fleming recycled much of the story for the novel – the ninth in the series. Kevin McLory saw an advance copy and claimed it was based on their collaborative work for the original screenplay idea. Sued for breach of copyright, Fleming suffered a heart attack at the age of fifty three.

By the time the film appeared in 1965, Thunderball was the best selling of the Bond novels and McLory had been awarded the film rights as a result of his lawsuit against Fleming. To be able to shoot the film (and subsequently use the characters of SPECTRE and Blofeld in later films), EON Productions made McLory a co-producer on the proviso that he wouldn’t make his own version of the film for at least ten years. Never Say Never Again – a remake of Thunderball, starring an aging Sean Connery – hit cinemas in 1983, just four months after Roger Moore’s penultimate Bond film, Octopussy.

It’s hard to say which is the better film – Thunderball or Never Say Never Again. Thunderball has the effortless cool of the mid-‘60s in its favour, while Never Say Never Again feels a little more modern. While the films in the official run of films at that time – especially Octopussy – felt a little stuffy, Never Say Never Again has a bit of a harder edge. The later film still feels a little weighty, being of a similar running time and essentially telling the same story, but the action scenes pick up the pace better than in Thunderball. In particular, the motorcycle chase through Nice is as good as any of the stunts in the Moore films of the early ‘80s.

Claudine Auger plays Domino in Thunderball, and Kim Basinger plays the same role in Never Say Never Again, so at the end of the day it all boils down to what you prefer: blondes or brunettes.

Hit: Thunderball (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Switching The Body

Rocks In The Attic #334: Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#334I haven’t seen Chariots Of Fire, or at least I don’t think I have. If I did, it must have been when it was first on television, which would have been when I was about five years old. It hardly seems the sort of film that would excite a five year-old though.

Almost everything on this soundtrack sounds like Blade Runner. I know the score – and the soundscape – of that film so well, that you can hear certain sections in this soundtrack that he’s rehashed for the later Ridley Scott film. When I finally get to see Chariots Of Fire, I’ll be disappointed if there are no Voight-Kampff empathy tests as part of their University education.

Before I bought this record – for no more than a dollar, from one of my local charity shops – I hadn’t heard anything from the soundtrack except for the main theme (Titles). The rest of the album is just as good, with a lovely electric piano on Abraham’s Theme showing where Zero 7 got some of their inspiration from.

After the excellent opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the main titles of Chariots Of Fire will forever be linked to that great little sketch by Rowan Atkinson. I need to see the film, otherwise I’ll start to think that I have seen it, and that I really enjoyed its humour, especially in that scene when Rowan Atkinson outran everybody on the beach.

That’s the good thing about living in this decade – films at your fingertips. All though growing up, adolescence, and into my twenties, I would wait patiently for certain films to show on television. In the UK, there was a good chance for classic films to turn up from time to time on a BBC2 retrospective. Unfortunately New Zealand television doesn’t have the same mandate to educate viewers – they just show the same action films and rom-coms over and over. There was also that time that TVNZ played Thunderball the week after they had played Never Say Never Again. Idiots!

Hit: Titles

Hidden Gem: Abraham’s Theme