Intelligence and espionage so often seems to be something from another world, from a film or a spy novel, but it actually governs our lives, to an extent, both as fiction and as a determinant of our political reality. You are invited to join in this musical perspective on spying and intelligence.
Nancy Sinatra—You Only Live Twice
Bond songs are iconic for multiple reasons. The movies are not expected to be any good—nor do they take themselves seriously—but the opening songs play a huge part in them and therefore are truly expected to be good music. Which is, perhaps, why the get such a grand stage. Think of it: do you know any other movie—let alone a series of movies—that has 3, 4, or even 5-minute long openings, in which the theme song is played in its entirety? I can’t think of one. And the opening sequence, that’s another thing: full of tacky, semi-risqué graphics all edited to fit the music. But it’s also that grand musical style—that Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” that attacks the senses and doesn’t let go, the trumpets going “BWAAAH” or the sweeping string sections. Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice is a great indicator of this unique, iconic style. In fact, so iconic it is, that it was remixed for Robbie Williams’ Millenium and its Bond-esque video clip.
Paul McCartney and Wings—Live and Let Die
If Nancy Sinatra (see above) and Shirley Bassey (see below) shaped, to a great extent, the Bond sound, it’s also important to note that Bond songs have evolved along the years—while keeping intact a certain melodic-dramatic signature. And indeed, Bond songs have evolved alongside pop music, and the what pop music meant in each decade. In the 1970’s the grand production made way to rock music with a slight hint of psychedelia, and who was able to make a better job at writing a catchy tune along those lines than former Beatle, (now Sir) Paul McCartney? Being the mainstream, heart of the consensus, Beatle, McCartney, together with Wings, wrote Live and Let Die to accompany Roger Moore’s first Bond film. This time, the brass instruments and the string sections were tossed aside for a guitar solo that shaped the sound of rock music for years to come—as we learn from the famous cover version from Guns n’ Roses.
Duran Duran—A View to a Kill
But soon enough the 1970’s were over, and it was time for Roger Moore to hang his Walther PPK and hand the keys to the Aston Martin to the next in line—Timothy Dalton. The 1985 A View to a Kill was Moore’s last Bond film, and this one had all the characteristics one can expect from the high-noon of the 1980’s. A neon-y, glow-in-the-dark heavy-makeup opening credits scene, rocked by Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill (which, incidentally, has its own video clip—this one containing scenes from the iconic Eiffel Tower chase scene). This song has everything that was great about 80’s New Wave music: synthesizers, heavy bass, electric drums, the occasional gunshot sound effect, and an emotional plea to “dance into the fire”. A classic.
In fact, Bond music became so popular, and so iconic, that even alternative bands started throwing their hats to the music ring. Garbage, who did the theme song for The World is Not Enough are a great example of late 90’s counter culture. The same goes for the somewhat awkward, yet pleasing, collaboration between the White Stripe’s Jack White and Alicia Keys recorded for A Quantum of Solace. So in 2015 it was finally time for Radiohead, perhaps the most beloved and successful alternative band in the world today, to have their shot and record the title track for Spectre. While the song was eventually rejected by the filmmakers (for Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall), Radiohead released it as a single—and an extremely beautiful one at that. Very Radiohead-y, the song contains Thom Yorke’s unique vocals and the band’s beautiful chaotic musical style, while still living up to Bond music standards, being catchy, melodic, dramatic and suspenseful. I do hope that the filmmakers realize the mistake they made rejecting such a massive tune.
Johnny Rivers—Secret Agent Man
The only non-Bond song in our top five this week is Johnny Rivers’ Secret Agent Man. Recorded for the American broadcast the British TV-Show Danger Man, the song became an instant success, peaking at #3 in the Billboard Top 100 list. However it’s not the Americana interpretation of spying that won this song its place in this week’s list, but its immortalization in the first Austin Powers movie. This series of fantastic James Bond parodies definitely deserves its spot in our list, and since Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger is not available online in a friendly version, I decided to go with this instead. Oh, and also because of the fantastically creepy Devo cover.
Shirley Bassey—Diamonds Are Foreverhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPeSPB68i2c
Stan Ridgway—Camouflage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXKIBYnM_9Q
Bauhaus—Spy in the Cab https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN53bSlCqqI
Minimal Compact—The Traitor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MzJ86eCbGA