Beginning with a performance of Monty Norman’s iconic James Bond theme by Vic Flick — the original guitarist who performed it on the Dr. No soundtrack in 1962 — the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threw a smashing salute, “The Music Of Bond: The First 50 Years”, in front of a packed house Friday night. It was part of a worldwide celebration known as Global James Bond Day; it was on October 5, 1962, that the first Bond film, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery, debuted in the UK. The franchise has continued through six different actors playing the title role including current Bond Daniel Craig, whose third outing as 007 in the 23rd film in the series, Skyfall, opens November 9th.
The evening, produced by the Academy’s Ellen Harrington and flawlessly hosted by film music historian Jon Burlingame, author of the new book The Music Of James Bond, featured a series of terrific clips and several classic opening-credit sequences that highlighted the Bond songs that are a much-awaited part of every one of these films. Onstage guests included Oscar- and Tony-winning lyricist Don Black, who wrote five Bond songs; Bill Conti, who received an Oscar nomination for his title song to For Your Eyes Only (1981); Flick; and a special taped message from Bond star Roger Moore.
Burlingame saved the biggest surprise for last when he debuted a montage of scenes from Skyfall scored with Grammy winner Adele’s title song, which she just “secretly” recorded in London with a 77-piece orchestra. She also co-wrote the tune while 10-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman got to score his first-ever Bond film. Burlingame noted that within the first 16 hours of the song’s release, it was already in the top 10 in 21 countries and No. 1 in 10 of them including the UK.
Although Norman wrote the James Bond theme — one of the most recognizable and famous in film history — it was Flick, then a member of the John Barry Seven, and Barry himself who turned it into such a memorable tune in Dr. No. As Flick explained in an onstage discussion, they had pulled out this old unused song, dropped the lyrics, sped up the music and came up with what we heard. “John Barry turned it into this iconic theme,” he said. Barry continued as the most famous Bond composer of all, known for several provocative title songs for the Connery films including Goldfinger, memorably sung by Shirley Bassey, first of three Bond songs she recorded. Bassey, apparently known for diva-like behavior on occasion, was so stressed recording Goldfinger she couldn’t get the very difficult final note to the satisfaction of Barry, who asked for one more take. “So she took off her bra, threw it over the top of the booth and finally nailed the note”, said Flick.
It was also revealed that the original theme for Thunderball (Black’s first Bond outing) was going to be “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (a popular Italian nickname for Bond), to be recorded by Dionne Warwick. But distributor United Artists did not think that title too appropriate, and Tom Jones wound up recording the theme as a title song.
Black said he worked with Barry for 50 years. Their collaboration on Born Free (1966) won Barry the first two of five Oscars and brought Black his only statuette out of four nominations. Neither ironically ever won for a Bond theme or were even nominated. Only one Bond film has ever been nominated for its dramatic score (Marvin Hamlisch’s The Spy Who Loved Me), and in fact Oscar nominations for Bond songs have been scarce in the run of the series, with only three — Paul and Linda McCartney’s “Live And Let Die” (1973), “For Your Eyes Only”, and the Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager tune “Nobody Does It Better”, sung by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) — making the grade. Those were all from the Roger Moore films. “They were generally not taken as artistic achievements in that era,” says Black.
He noted that there is definitely a formula and rules to write by when tackling a great Bond song. “It should be seductive, provocative, with a whiff of the boudoir, threatening, dark and dangerous,” he says, adding that Bond without Barry in those early days would have been like Laurel without Hardy.
Black says Barry, who shared the same initials as Bond, was very much like the suave super spy himself and had definite ideas on how to make the music soar. When Bassey was recording “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971), she couldn’t figure out the song and asked Barry, “How do I sing this?” Barry replied: “Just think of the Diamond as a penis”. After that piece of advice she got it in one take, according to Black.
On “You Only Live Twice” (1967), vocalist Nancy Sinatra was so nervous they ended up having to piece the song together from 25 versions she recorded. For my money, that theme is one of the best, but it turned out to be one of the toughest to make.
Only one of the multitude of famous singers who recorded Bond songs actually wound up in the movie singing it. That was Sheena Easton in For Your Eyes Only, and as noted it was one of the very few to get an Oscar nomination, so maybe that was the trick. As Conti explained, Maurice Binder, the man who created so many famous Bond opening-credit sequences, was a very short man. When he met Scottish lass Easton, who was even shorter, he instantly became smitten and insisted on havng her sing on camera during his credits.
Perhaps because this was an evening dedicated to the Bond films of EON Productions and Albert R. Broccoli and his family and co-producer Harry Saltzman, there was no mention at all of one other “Bond song” that stands out for me as perhaps the best one of all: Dusty Springfield’s vocal of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look Of Love”, from easily the worst film that ever featured a James Bond (in fact, every agent in it was named James Bond), the disastrous 1967 spoof Casino Royale (no relation to Craig’s 2006 Bond film). It of course took its name from the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, but nothing else. Nevertheless, “The Look Of Love” was nominated for the Best Song Oscar and deserved to win (it lost to “Talk To The Animals” from Dr. Dolittle). How ironic that would have been. Whether the movie itself was an illegitimate Bond, there’s no question “The Look Of Love” was the real thing.