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With every new Bond release, there seems to be a tribute album / video / book that takes stock of 007’s 36-year influence over our pop culture. Where his various incarnations have certainly shaped fans’ tastes in alcohol, cars and watches in their desperate attempt to Mac like MI-6’s best man-killing babe magnet, perhaps no element in 007’s commercial arsenal has given us groove like his songs. With then-currently hot singer/ groups ranging from Shirley Bassey to Tom Jones and Duran Duran, the best of these tunes have captured the lushly lethal sex appeal that’s made 007 stand the test of time. The “worst” of them leaves the agent as neutered as a cat-loving codger, though the use of that term usually meant inoffensive tunes that made the charts on brand name alone.
While the Bond song’s desire to be of-the-moment have seen their styles go from nightclub swank to hard pop rock, the producers’ increasingly desperate desire to be “hip” first resulted in Madonna’s electro turkey “Die Another Day,” a song whose bizarre techno tricks now seem positively welcome next to Jack White’s “Another Way To Die” for QUANTUM OF SOLACE. With alt. jazz rhythms and goofball lyrics that sound mightily like “The Hokey-Pokey,” this tune seems more as a Coca-Cola ad than anything resembling a “proper” Bond song.
Thankfully, “Another Way to Die” is NOT present on the latest 007 compilation album THE BEST OF BOND…JAMES BOND, a mostly wonderful trip down Bond tune memory lane, an album whose limited edition also contains six music videos and a cool “Bond Sound” documentary. At their best, these songs were storytelling at their finest. Lyrics by the likes of Don Black and Marvin Hamlisch complemented the silhouetted main title visuals, their words tell you as much about the film’s story as they did about the hard-broiled psychology of 007.
Just about every Bond main title song is here. However, no album to my knowledge has ever included the real first Bond song, which is “The Three Blind Mice”’s Calypso version of “Three Blind Mice” from DR. NO for you trivia buffs. And while it’s never been used as a Bond opener, the battle between John Barry and Monty Norman as to who’s the true originator of “The James Bond Theme” has been as nefariously long-running as the rivalry between Bond and Blofeld. But no matter who gave Vic Flick the license to strum that trademarked guitar rhythm on top of a mean jazz orchestra, there’s never been any movie theme that’s spelled out cool danger like it. Not only would Barry’s initial scores create the lushly lethal “sound” of Bond, but he’d also compose the only instrumental piece to ever start off a Bond film with the main title for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (the best “real” movie of the series in this diehard 007 fan’s opinion).
The rest of THE BEST OF BOND licenses to thrill the vocal cuts from some 21 Bond movies. And nobody sings it better than the Sean Connery films, especially with the sultry stylings of Matt Monro’s “From Russia With Love” morphing into the hot brass of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” before going right over the top with Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” – whose final high note still threatens to break glass. Nancy Sinatra delivered an exotically relaxed take on “You Only Live Twice,” with Louis Armstrong’s throaty voice ironically tells George Lazenby that he has “All the Time in the World.” Shirley Bassey would return with Connery for “Diamonds Are Forever,” a tune whose glistening, haunting vibes and sinister strings make it my favorite Bond theme.
The Roger Moore years would blazingly announce themselves with the “hard rock” of Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” though Lulu’s wah-wah stylings on “The Man With the Golden Gun” are just as much fun. A beautiful elegance infused Carly Simon’s soulful “Nobody Does It Better,” while three times wasn’t the charm for Bassey’s bland “Moonraker.” A sea of synths proved a memorable backdrop for Sheena Easton’s memorable “For Your Eyes Only,” a song that marked the only time the title singer would actually appear in the opening credits “All Time High” wasn’t much of one, though Rita Coolidge’s number was pleasantly innocuous. That made it even more of a welcome kick in the pants when Duran Duran’s mod guitar threw Bond into the 80’s rock sound with “A View To A Kill.” While Moore may have grown a bit old in the holster by that film, the Bond song sound firmly had some new blood in it- an uptempo quality that continued with A-Ha’s unsung, yet still-terrific theme for the first Timothy Dalton entry “The Living Daylights.”
Jazzy pop elegance returned for another great, unheralded Bond song with Gladys Knight’s “License To Kill” (though Patti Labelle’s end title song “If You Asked Me To” would go on to greater success- even if it isn’t on this CD). Bond songs would become more aggressively pop-driven when Pierce Brosnan entered the series with GOLDENEYE, whose Tina Turner tune managed to be energetic if not especially memorable. Sheryl Crow’s theme for “Tomorrow Never Dies” had a sensuous guitar groove mystery, while that film’s K.D. Lang end title “Surrender” was a misfire of lyrics and Bond brass. Easily the best song to grace Brosnan was Garbage’s “The World Is Not Enough,” a marriage of cutting-edge techno rhythm and Bond grace. Madonna’s tango-percussion and whacked-out overdubs for “Die Another Day” brought to mind an Ecstacy’d 007, complete with pacifier and a glowstick (though it’s a guilty pleasure when compared to Jack Black’s take on the subject). Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” was an energetic back-to-brass basics attempt to recapture the old 007 magic for the debut of Daniel Craig. Though it’s not exactly a top rung title, Cornell’s energy does impress.
The music videos on the limited edition BEST OF BOND CD being with the awesome hoot of Duran Duran strutting their buffed-hair about the Eiffel Tower in “A View To A Kill.” That kind of silliness is avoided as Tina Turner shows a tigress’ sex appeal in the well-produced “Goldeneye” video. Rita Coolidge is bathed in gauzy lighting in “All Time High,” while Shirley Bassey does her throaty best for a mod Albert Hall performance of “Goldfinger.” Thankfully, the Bond composers from Barry to Michael Kamen and 007’s long-running muse David Arnold are also given their due in the excellent mini-documentary “The Bond Sound” – a look into the instrumental magic of 007 that’s another big reason to pick up this limited edition.
The songs of Bond. You mostly know their names. And while the series will doubtless continue, this is probably last time they’ll fit on one CD. So until the next compilation, you won’t find a bigger testament to 007’s legacy. Bond’s producers might try to shake their approach up to match the pop sound of the moment. Yet it’s always been the three ingredients of powerhouse lyrics, dangerously sensuous voices and killer melodies that have let this agent’s martini go down smooth, and memorably. Here’s a full bar that doesn’t let you forget that.
Listen to Bond’s greatest hits here.