Over the past five decades there has never been a movie series as enduring and for millions as endearing as creator Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films. Never mind Furious 7, How about 24 x 007. And through those dozens of movies the expert melding of action and music remains integral to the franchise’s success, in particular the opening credits which set the tone for each flick. As detailed in Wikipedia, the actual iconic James Bond theme – featuring the surfer-esque “Dum-de-de-de-Dum” guitar riff was created by composer Monty Norman and scored by the legendary John Barry. It has been utilized in the opening credits from the very beginning, including 1962’s “Dr. No” and 1963’s “To Russia with Love” as well as many of the closing credits through the very latest film.
By 1964s “Goldfinger” however, the movie’s openings would be dominated by popular singers and groups of that particular era. And so it was that Welch singer Shirley Bassey took on that title track and took it to #1 for a 200 week run on the Billboard charts (#14 in the UK), garnering a Grammy nomination as well. Bassey would return in 1971 for “Diamonds are Forever” and again in 1979 with “Moonraker.” As the Bond marketing and promotions machine continued to churn with radio airplay and soundtrack sales for its celluloid offerings, the franchise officially entered the rock era in 1973 with perhaps one of its best known and successful themes: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Composed by George Martin, it marked the first Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Original Song), reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 on the UK charts. The song also won a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists).
Thus would begin a non-stop run of popular artists in every film that has included, most notably: Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Alicia Keys. To say nothing of a slew of top performers that have contributed tunes to the closing credits: Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Moby. And despite mega superstar Adele performing “Skyfall” in 2012, no Bond song had every topped the charts in the UK until Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” entered them at #1 in recent weeks on behalf of the latest 007 chapter, “Spectre.”
Which brings us to what I and many feel is one of the best Bond songs ever: “Spectre” by Radiohead. Released to fans this past week online as something of a “Christmas gift” it does not appear in the film nor soundtrack as the hauntingly beautiful tune was passed over in favor of Smith. It’s not the first time top artists have lost out in favor of other options. Consider these “losers”: Johnny Cash (Thunderball), Brian Wilson (for a James Bond theme song: “Run James Run” which would later appear on “Pet Sounds”), Alice Cooper (The Man with the Golden Gun), Blondie (For Your Eyes Only [Sheena Easton] and Pet Shop Boys (The Living Daylights). It would seem, then, that Radiohead is in very good company. And thought enough to make it available to enjoy through the power of social media.
Take a listen, decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You’ll find a link to the Soundcloud version here as well as a YouTube version of how it might have worked/looked over the actual opening credits here. And, with Radiohead four years removed from their last studio LP, one can’t help but get excited by the shape of things to come.