Half a century of “nothing more, nothing less”, 40 years of flying to the moon, a licence for 30 years and 20 years of Garbage!
It’s not always possible to appreciate the evolution of popular music as the decades wear on, but a snap shot of how styles and harmonies change can be gained through the James Bond series of films. It’s now 57 years since ‘Dr. No’ first introduced the wider world to the fictional exploits of 007 and as each decade passes, Bond music evolves and often leads the way. This is mostly thanks to the legendary composer John Barry (1933-2011), who is recognised as one of the architects of British popular music from the early 1950’s.
His music and the songs he wrote for the series across three decades define the advance in sound of British and international music to the present day. From the kitch of “Goldfinger” to the glam of “The Man With The Golden Gun” through to 80’s chart kings Duran Duran and a-ha, John shaped and then reshaped pop culture as well as ‘imposing’ the music of James Bond upon us all, forever.
This year, four songs celebrate their own individual anniversaries, and in each case all four songs define their age and also the development of the Bond movies themselves. Four very different themes instantly become noticeable, from the moving to the haunting, to the spectacular and eventually alt-rock grunge at the turn of the 20th/21st century. Every two years a Bond film celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, this year it is ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Turning forty is ‘Moonraker’. ‘Licence To Kill’ is now thirty and ‘The World Is Not Enough’ will be twenty this Winter. So let’s celebrate four very different songs and see just how far popular music itself has advanced in the last half century.
“We Have All The Time In The World” – Louis Armstrong
Fifty years ago, filming of the sixth James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was almost complete with an unknown Australian model George Lazenby in the driving seat for his first outing as Ian Fleming’s super spy agent.
Whilst public reaction to the film was lukewarm, the same cannot be said of the music score, regarded by many Bond fans as the very best 007 score of all time and one of John Barry’s greatest works along with his Oscar winning scores for ‘Born Free’, ‘The Lion In Winter’, ‘Out Of Africa’ and ‘Dances With Wolves’. For the first time since ‘Dr. No’ an instrumental piece accompanied the main title sequence but Barry, along with Academy Award winning lyricist Hal David, did compose a song for the film. And what a song.
“We Have All The Time In The World” is one of the single most beautiful songs ever written, a timeless classic and a truly beautiful love song that captivates listeners even today. The key ingredient in its DNA is the heartfelt and tender vocals of Mr. Louis Armstrong. Armstrong had not been well for some years and was too ill to play his trademark trumpet. It was recorded in one take one afternoon and as he left the studio, he turned to Barry and said “thank’s for the gig man”. He died soon afterwards. Poignantly, it would be the last song he ever recorded.
‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ performed poorly at the box office, and whilst no Bond film has ever been a financial disaster, the film’s gross was half that of its predecessor ‘You Only Live Twice’. And perhaps that is what affected the reception to “We Have All The Time In The World”. When released at Christmas 1969, the song failed to chart anywhere, particularly in 007’s two most lucrative markets, America and The United Kingdom.
However, twenty five years later, Guinness picked up the track as part of its latest marketing campaign in late 1994. Interest in the song was enormous, so much so that it was re-released as a single that November and finally, at long last, became the hit it deserved to be, spending the Christmas period at No.3 in the UK and ranking as the 28th biggest selling single of the year.
This feat coincided with the twenty fifth anniversary of the film’s release and, thanks to a reappraisal from film critics, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was lauded as arguably the finest Bond film of all time, and certainly the most faithful adaption of a Fleming novel for the screen. This view among both film buffs as well as Bond fans has only increased in the years since, with both visual presentation and soundtrack of the film setting it apart from all other 007 outings.
And if you want to have a good cry, then fast forward to ‘that nasty ending’, where 007 clutches the murdered body of his wife and utters “we have all the time in the world now darling”. John Barry scores this final scene with just a few strings playing the tune of the song itself, the camera pulls away and the bullet hole in the windscreen is revealed, blood stained, as Bond himself embraces the woman he has just married, for the last time.
“We have all the time in the world
Just for love
“Moonraker” – Shirley Bassey
A decade on and Roger Moore was wearing the tuxedo and drinking the vodka martinis. With an enormous budget of $30m ($104m in today’s money), Bond’s eleventh outing would see him set off into space itself! John Barry was back and provided some atmospheric themes to accompany the flight into space and Bond’s time spent on the villain’s space city that had been constructed. Perhaps a little too far fetched for some, nevertheless, the film was a colossal success at the box office becoming the biggest grossing Bond film of all time until ‘GoldenEye’ in 1995.
Two versions of the title song were recorded by Shirley Bassey, who was back for a third time in the recording studio for a Bond theme. Unlike her two previous bravura anthems “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Moonraker” was a more subdued affair, haunting in both production and in Bassey’s soulful vocals. It was a perfect fit to Maurice Binder’s slow moving and sublime title sequence, in which silhouetted girls vaulted the clouded moon. Again, the song underperformed in music charts around the world, but perhaps no one this time was unduly worried considering the film took shed loads of cash at the ticket office.
The second version of the song was used on the closing credits, and was a nod to the rising disco scene that occurred at the end of the 1970’s. A funky, fast moving “Moonraker” with ‘happening’ vocals this time from Dame Shirley, was heard as Bond’s space shuttle disappeared into the distance. Did nobody think to release this uptempo version commercially? Whilst not in the same league as “I Feel Love”, this could of been the version of “Moonraker” that brought chart success to rival other 70’s Bond hits “Live And Let Die” and “Nobody Does It Better”.
“Licence To Kill” – Gladys Knight
Ten years later and Timothy Dalton was exercising his brut force in ‘Licence To Kill’. John Barry was unavailable to score the film and so the producers brought in American composer Michael Kamen (1948-2002) who would eventually submit a largely forgettable soundtrack of Latin enthused themes, none of which were remotely ‘Bondish’.
The same cannot be said of the title song, written by 80’s chartmaker Narada Michael Walden and Walter Afanasieff (later to become synonymous as Mariah Carey’s main collaborator). The job of performing the five minute fifteen second epic was given to Soul legend Gladys Knight, who acquitted herself more than admirably with the thrilling, Bondian sounding track. The song charted in the top ten around the globe, particularly in the UK, where it reached No.6, having entered the chart at No.40, two weeks earlier! The video for the single was directed by Daniel Kleinman, who has designed and directed the main title sequences of all but one of the 007 films from ‘GoldenEye’ to the present day.
‘Licence To Kill’ to some was a glorious return to the grit and violence of Fleming’s earlier novels, but the level of brutality, blood and gunfire was too much for the censors, who award the film a 15 certificate, much higher than any Bond film before it or since, robbing a large percentage of 007’s film audience of the chance to go see it at the cinema. A worldwide gross of $156.2m ($318.4m) on a negative outlay of $36m ($73.3m) again, hardly spelled financial disaster, but the restriction in audience age meant that ‘Licence To Kill’ took $40m less than its predecessor, a film which cost less to make.
A second song accompanied the closing titles of the film, “If You Ask Me To”, written by Diane Warren and recorded by American singer Patti LaBelle. She took it to No.79 on the US singles chart, although it was either not released or failed to chart elsewhere. Three years later, however, in 1992, rising Canadian singer Celine Dion recorded the song and took it to No.4 Stateside. It is this version of the song that is best known today, topping the chart in Canada and reaching No.57 in the UK, although the album on which the track features (“Celine Dion”) has sold over 2.5 million copies in America and over a million in Canada.
“The World Is Not Enough” – Garbage
At the end of the 20th century, Pierce Brosnan starred in the 19th 007 film ‘The World Is Not Enough’. After ‘Licence To Kill’, the series had experienced production difficulties and spent six years off air, only to return triumphantly in 1995 with ‘GoldenEye’. Brosnan reawakened interest in the franchise as well as injecting new blood and renewed interest in the Bond films, something he honed to perfection with ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.
His third outing as 007 was the most expensive yet at a cost of $110.0m, and once again two songs were used as part of the soundtrack, this time with British composer David Arnold in the hot seat, returning for the second time and taking up the baton of series composer from John Barry into the 21st century. Arnold had a love of Bond music and cites Barry’s score for ‘You Only Live Twice’ as his favourite. It was the theme “Mountains and Sunsets” that was sampled for Robbie Williams chart topping hit “Millennium”.
Before joining the Bond family in 1997, Arnold had given an indication of how he would approach the duty of series composer and songwriter with Bjork’s 1993 hit “Play Dead”, written for the film ‘The Young Americans’. Whilst the film largely went unnoticed, Arnold’s score did not. “Play Dead” was both a critical and commercial success the world over, with its over the top orchestral backing tracks and Bjork’s striking vocals, it’s easy to fit this over a 007 title sequence and it’s not hard to see why Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson would eventually hire Arnold to score ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Incidentally, “Play Dead” is co-produced with Tim ‘Bomb The Bass’ Simenon!
Title song to ‘The World Is Not Enough’ was entrusted to Scottish alt-rock band Garbage. The group had an impressive string of chart hits already to their name including “Queer” and “Stupid Girl” as well as two multi-million selling albums around the world. “The World Is Not Enough” is typical Garbage given a 007 feel by Arnold together with co-writer Don Black, the man responsible for unforgettable lyrics such as “touch it, stroke it and undress it” (Diamonds Are Forever) and “he has a powerful weapon” (The Man With The Golden Gun). The song charted high across Europe including a No.11 placing in the UK and No.12 on the Scottish singles chart. It did nothing Stateside.
‘The World Is Not Enough’ was a surefire smash at the cinema in the closing weeks of 1999, giving great exposure to both the song and the soundtrack, which also included another Arnold/Black penned number “Only Myself To Blame”, recorded by Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers and featured over the closing credits of the film. Sadly Walker died recently (March 2019) and although very much a recluse in his later years, his presence and smokey vocals on this song are very welcome.
Within the last twenty years we have either been delighted or disgusted with (depending on your own personal opinion) Madonna’s “Die Another Day”, Alicia Keys’ “Another Way To Die”, Adele’s “Skyfall” and Sam Smith’s “Writing On The Wall”. And with the 25th Bond film now in production, how will we view future Bond songs, or celebrate those aforementioned in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years time? One thing is for sure, ‘James Bond will return’!