Movies have come a long way from the 1920’s where upon entering a theatre, you would expect to see a pianist seated offstage to add some dramatic sound to the moving pictures on the screen in front of you. Music in movies provides emotional context to the scenes therein, introduces how the audience should feel about certain characters and events, and sets the overall tone and mood of a film. In the early days, music and the eventual “talkie” were used also to drown out the awfully loud sounds that come from the projector room, wherein you could expect to hear the whirling projector and someone working to switch the large, heavy film reels so the audience doesn’t notice the transition. As time has passed cinematographers have become more adept at matching the sounds needed in a film. Rather than a rambling vaudeville piano, we now have the works of John Williams and Hanz Zimmer, creating scores specifically for each film to accompany the movements and conflicts in sync. Some film scores are far better than others, but the original film scores and songs written for specific films generally set the bar higher for a film, giving the movie its own world and not bringing the audience back to the reality in which they had heard on the radio on their way to the theatre.
The James Bond films did not always have the original music of the likes of Chris Cornell of Sound Garden to introduce their films. The very first Bond film Casino Royale in 1954 used Chopin’s Opus 28, No 24. in D minor, though it was written by a legendary composer who will live on throughout time, it did lack a certain timeliness for the 1950’s, as the opus was written in 1834. In the modern era of Daniel Craig as 007, there have been some great introduction songs written and performed by current artists that make the 10-minutes animated montage at the start of the movie sometimes worth it. In 2012 the movie Skyfall was released alongside a song by the same name written and performed by Adele. The song, written by a British artist for a British film, captured the mood of the film before the film began. “This is the end/ Hold you breath and count to ten”, are the ominous first lines of the song. Skyfall was the beginning of a much darker side of the 007 franchise, and the raspy operatic sound of Adele captured what was changing in the ever-evolving creation of 007. Skyfall‘s predecessor, Another Way To Die was a different story altogether. The song written and performed by Jack White of the White Stripes and Alicia Keys was a strange homage to the 007 sound of old, but more so felt like a quickly thrown together White Stripes song that tries to metaphorically spell out the life of a spy. To match the hacky song, the film’s intro was basically the Seven Nation Army music video with Alicia Keys in it.
The World Is Not Enough
The 1990’s was a strange time. Young men were wearing jeans that looked like dresses, people started getting email addresses, and Pierce Brosnan was James Bond. Despite the strangeness of each era of culture and music, the Bond franchise does make a really great effort to embrace what the world has to offer at the moment in time of each film. In The World Is Not Enough, the title track went to Garbage, a female led punk band known for tracks like “I Hate Love” and “I’m Only Happy When It Rains.” Though the song was composed by David Arnold, Shirley Manson’s voice and the rock sound was a great fit for the movie, even if the movie did not live up to the song.
Tomorrow Never Dies
It seems strange to highlight the decade of songs from some of the worst Bond films, but the ’90’s made for some great title tracks. In 1997, Tomorrow Never Dies hit theatres as the second film in the Brosnan series and the track by the same name was performed by Sheryl Crow. For those that can only think of “I Wanna Soak Up The Sun” when they think of Sheryl Crow, let me assure you that in her prime, Crow keys into a sultry depth which drives through as the key tone in her recording of Tomorrow Never Dies. The song was favorably received by critics like Larry Flick of Billboard saying, “Crow steps forward with a tune that perfectly fuses her distinctive rock/pop style with the bombastic sound that has become the Bond signature.”
Diamonds Are Forever
Arguably two of the best performances of the Bond soundtrack franchise come from one artist: Shirley Bassey. Bassey performed the title tracks for the 1964 Goldfinger as well as the 1971 Diamonds Are Forever. The latter song was sampled by Kanye West in 2005, which angered the then 68-year-old star, as she was not asked for permission by West to sample the song. Bassey stated in an interview that Kanye “was very cheeky, so one way for another he is going to have to pay me a lot of money.” Which was an awfully charming old-timey way of publicly ostracizing someone. The song at it’s original debut was received very well, in part because till this day, the movie is considered one of the finest Bond films.
Goldfinger set the standard for Bond in 1964, as it was the start of the title song to be played during the opening credits. This is the James Bond sound that every artist from then until now borrows from. From the blaring muted horns to her wide-open vowels and coquettish nature of performing the song. It is strange to think that one of the oddest film titles would start a tradition in the film franchise that sticks around all the way to 2021 when Billie Eilish performed the title track for No Time To Die. Bassey’s control and energy is what has kept her singing throughout the decades, as she continues to perform at the age of 84.
There is always something sexy about the 007 films. Much of the time it is heavy-handed by way of words, but it is something that belongs to the franchise as a nod to the nature of the characters written by Ian Fleming. The seductive nature of each song produced for each film is typically best left in the hands of a woman to get the proper sound and ring out of the track. I use the word ring because of the best 007 songs, most of which listed above, each voice has the effortless ring of a church bell. That somber tone that carries from note to note moves each ballad towards the start of the film in a hypnotic way. According to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, films should create “a world-class marriage between score and song that’s really great, really contemporary and still holds up.”
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