The Best James Bond Theme Songs
From Shirley Bassey to Shirley Manson, we take a look at the singers -- and the stories -- behind the 007 scores
Who says James Bond is all about bodacious babes and superbaddies? Through 19 films and five actors, 007 has saved the world with one not-so-secret weapon: hit songs based on the movie titles. Ranging from the cheesy to the cheeky, it’s a musical dossier that reflects four decades of shifting pop tastes. ”We pick popular groups,” says Bond producer Michael G. Wilson, who’s been co-running the franchise since 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, ”but sometimes the songs outlast the act.”
This month, in time for just-released Bond flick No. 19, The World is Not Enough, Capitol Records is releasing The Best of Bond… James Bond, which features every 007 tune from Shirley Bassey to Sheryl Crow. (Bond aficionados take note: The Bond theme by Shirley Manson’s Garbage can be found on the World Is Not Enough soundtrack; the theme from Sean Connery’s renegade flick, Never Say Never Again, is not included here because it wasn’t part of the Bond franchise.)
Of course, the most enduring 007 sound is that slinky guitar-driven Bond riff—perhaps the most recognizable musical motif in movie history. Played by Brit session guitarist-turned-Bond musician Vic Flick (who earned just $15 for his initial effort), it made its debut in 1962’s Dr. No and is still going strong. The first official song appeared in the next film, 1963’s From Russia With Love, which featured a tune by obscure English crooner Matt Monro over the movie’s closing credits. But it wasn’t until Bond film No. 3, when Shirley Bassey belted out ”Goldfinger” over the opening credits, that the music became as essential as Q’s gadgets.
Despite the theme music’s artistic highs and lows, Danny Biederman, author of the Best of Bond liner notes, insists, ”People would flip if they made a movie without a song.” What follows is an oral history of James Bond’s record collection.
THE CONNERY ERA
SONG “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey DOSSIER Cowritten by the Q of Bond music, John Barry, it turned Bassey (then a cabaret singer) into an international star. Reached No. 8 on the U.S. charts. JOHN BARRY ”This worked because we were singing about a villain in a very positive way, and Shirley Bassey had the Bond attitude. It’s comic-strip stuff, and she gave it all the conviction in the world.” VIC FLICK ”Shirley came into the studio in this very tight dress and stood in the vocal booth. I remember her saying ‘Oh, I’m so damn constricted.’ She had to loosen an undergarment to accommodate those high notes.”
SONG ”Thunderball” by Tom Jones DOSSIER Peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard charts. LESLIE BRICUSSE (lyricist; his most recent U.S. projects include Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde) ”After the success of Goldfinger, [producers] Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted the Thunderball song to be called ‘Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang’—that was Bond’s name in Japan. He was a big hero there. So John and I wrote ‘Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang’ and Dionne Warwick made the most sensational recording of it.” JOHN BARRY ”Two or three weeks before the movie opened, I got the call from Broccoli and Saltzman. United Artists had said, ‘Look, we’ve already had one movie title in a song, and it’s a big thing on the radio. ”Mr. Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang” is not going to do that for us.”’ VIC FLICK ”At the time, Tom Jones had ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ He was an exciting bloke—very Bond. So John rang him up.” TOM JONES ”When John Barry called about the Bond thing, I said, ‘Great!’ In those days, that was it as far as movies were concerned.” BARRY ”We came up with the lyric ‘And he strikes like Thunderball,’ which makes no sense whatsoever. Fortunately, Tom had that same gift for conviction. By the time he was finished, it didn’t matter.” FLICK ”Tom was so convincing, he fainted at the session.” JONES ”Oh, no, no, no. Never fainted. Barry said, ‘Try to hold the last note as long as you possibly can, until you’re out of breath.’ I did get dizzy. I closed my eyes and just…held on. At the end I had to stop, ’cause my head started to swim.”
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
SONG ”You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra DOSSIER Reached No. 44 on the U.S. charts. LESLIE BRICUSSE ”By then I’d moved to Hollywood to work on other movies. I remember writing the song in Kirk Douglas’ Palm Springs house. It was one of the great moments of my life, that I should be in Spartacus’ living room, writing for James Bond.” JOHN BARRY ”I’d found a young black girl that I wanted for ‘You Only Live Twice,’ but Nancy Sinatra was hot with ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,’ and they didn’t want to know about the young black girl—whose name was Aretha Franklin.”NANCY SINATRA ”I grew up knowing Cubby Broccoli, since he was close to my dad. I remember being very excited when he asked me, and very nervous. After Goldfinger and Thunderball, the writing was on the wall about the sequels. You knew the songs could be big hits.”
THE GEORGE LAZENBY EXPERIMENT
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE(1969)
SONG ”We Have All the Time in the World” by Louis Armstrong DOSSIER Sean Connery’s departure wasn’t the only change. This tune (written by Barry and Burt Bacharach collaborator Hal David) broke from the Bond formula of the past three films and was played during the first half hour of the movie. JOHN BARRY ”’We’ve got all the time in the world’ is the last line Bond speaks in Fleming’s book On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I thought the idea of Armstrong—who was quite old then—singing ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ was a nice ironic twist.”
A View to a Kill