Music is a huge part of the James Bond movies. The soundtrack, and the title track specifically, have become just as much a part of the Bond movie experience as explosions, guns, glamorous women and evil villains.
Many others have written on the themes but as part of the build up to No Time To Die, now rescheduled to November, I thought I’d give my thoughts on the Bond Themes You Didn’t Hear.
Since From Russia With Love in 1962, Bond films have had a title song by a popular contemporary singer. That song, by Matt Monro, is a classic from the famous British crooner. (Dr No didn’t have an opening don’t as such, although it did establish Monty Norman‘s brilliant James Bond Theme).
The composers of the movies have been brilliant: John Barry, George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, David Arnold and Thomas Newman.
Lyricists have included famous names such as Lionel Bart, Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Hal David, Don Black, Carole Bayer Sager, Tim Rice, Bono and The Edge.
The list of singers or bands who have opened or been featured in Bond films is stellar:
- 1960s: Matt Monro, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Louis Armstrong.
- 1970s: Shirley Bassey. Paul McCartney and Wings, Lulu, Carly Simon.
- 1980s: Sheena Easton, Rita Coolidge, Duran Duran, A-ha, The Pretenders, Gladys Knight.
- 1990s: Moby, Tina Turner, The Propellerheads, Sheryl Crow, Garbage, Madonna.
- 2000s: Chris Cornell, Jack White and Alicia Keys.
- 2010s: Adele, Sam Smith.
- 2020: Billie Eilish.
It’s quite a roster. Yet as you can imagine, there are times when artists submit tracks for consideration which don’t get selected. There are other times where the composer of the soundtrack writes or collaborates on a theme which doesn’t get chosen.
So I thought it would be interesting to look at my favourite near-misses, and a couple of curiosities!
QUANTUM OF SOLACE
“Quantum of Solace” is a title most people would struggle to fit into a song. Ignoring Joe Cornish‘s fun track which embraced it, we had Another Way to Die.
Composer David Arnold was producing a new album for Shirley Bassey which included the ever-so-Bond-like No Good About Goodbye. Arnold says that the song wasn’t intended for Bond, even though you can hear similarities with the films soundtrack and the opening words are:
Where is the solace that I crave?
Arnold later brought in lyricist Don Black to complete the song for Dame Shirley’s album.
This is a fantastic track, and would have been Dame Shirley’s FOURTH theme, if it had been used (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker)
TOMORROW NEVER DIES
Back on 1997, Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies was the chosen theme – but listen to David Arnold and KD Lang’s Surrender, which is threaded throughout the TND soundtrack.
Thankfully this song was included over the end credits and on the soundtrack album.
Tomorrow Never Dies had a few contenders: Pulp, Swan Lee and St Etienne. It’s possible that EON Productions felt that they key was to get a very marketable star as the theme, rather than worrying about the content of the song itself, or if it contained “Bond” sounds.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
Another example of multiple contenders can be seen back in 1967 when the producers and John Barry were trying to find the right mix for YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.
Nancy Sinatra sang the official song, but it had gone through at least two variations by then, by two very different recording artists.
Yes, Radiohead had written a new track for 2015’s Spectre, although the dark and mournful tone of that song meant that it was edged out by Sam Smith‘s Writing’s On The Wall. (I’d argue that the last three Bond songs, including No Time To Die have been quite mournful!) SPECTRE director Sam Mendes liked the song, but was unable to find a place for it in the finished film.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN
Rocker Alice Cooper had recorded his track in 1974 for the film too, and was quite upset when he wasn’t chosen. While not memorable, the guitar work is great – even if it does swerve into Monster Mash/The Munsters territory half way through!
There are others, worth seeking out – The Pet Shop Boys were once attached to THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and their song This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave, released on a later album was said to be their Bond track. Electronic band Ace of Base also made an attempt at a track for GOLDENEYE. Blondie recorded “For Your Eyes Only” in 1981, but the composer of the film wasn’t a fan. Even Johnny Cash had a go at Thunderball.
On the subject of THUNDERBALL, one of the few relatively well-known songs is Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, recorded by Dionne Warwick. The title was inspired by a nickname given to Bond by Italian fans. Everyone involved in the song was delighted, but then EON Productions dropped a bombshell – they wanted a new song with the title of the film. Composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black created the new “Thunderball” theme which Tom Jones sang. Barry even threaded elements of the new song into the soundtrack so it wouldn’t like they had made a last-minute change!
For a while, Shirley Bassey was to have a recording of Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang over the end credits, but that wasn’t to be.
And finally we have the theme from NO TIME TO DIE, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas, with orchestrations by the great Hans Zimmer. The song delighted Eilish’s army of fans, earning number one sales in UK and Ireland, with huge sales and downloads. Smart move by EON productions, finger on the pulse of the music scene.
The song is another mournful reflection on love and betrayal which are themes which have haunted Daniel Craig’s Bond, and the lyrics suggest powerful emotions, making me keen to see how his final Bond film plays out.
Of course there is another phenomenon today which is “fan versions” of songs on YouTube. There are also other bands or musicians producing masterful alternative versions. I’ll leave you with this cover of NO TIME TO DIE by Halocene.
Footnote 1 – if you haven’t already, listen to Shaken and Stirred, an album of brilliant Bond covers produced by David Arnold in the mid nineties.
Footnote 2 – if you didn’t know where Monty Norman got the idea for his James Bond Theme – have a look at this!