Why Americans shouldn’t do Bond theme tunes

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James Bond, that suave, sophisticated British secret agent is back in Quantum of Solace. Yes – that’s British. Why then, do we keep on having to endure second-rate Bond theme songs that have been penned or co-written by American artistes?

Who better to capture the sexy and stylish vibe of Her Majesty’s Government’s most famous spy, than, err, Jack White – that swamp-rock blues maestro from Detroit.

Let’s hope the new film is better than White and Alicia Keys’ pitiful attempt at a Bond song – Another Way To Die. A blustering, long-lost White Stripes guitar riff over what sounds like some Garageband software brass stabs, indecipherable R’n’B hollering and a few piano flourishes just doesn’t leave me shaken or stirred, I’m afraid.

It’s a shame Amy Winehouse couldn’t get her act together to record her and Mark Ronson’s composition for Quantum of Solace – I bet it would have been a killer update of the ‘60s Bond sound. From Rehab With Love, anyone?

Why not ask John-Barry-lovin’, glam disco darlings Goldfrapp to do it? Or maybe edgy soundtrack noir experts Portishead, or Bond obsessive Robbie Williams duetting with theatrical pop legends the Pet Shop Boys? And then there’s Welsh soulstress Duffy – surely a natural choice to write and perform a 007 song? The new Shirley Bassey? Well, maybe not quite, but I’m sure her and her musical partner Bernard Butler could have penned a suitably epic, bombastic Bond song – all booming drums, Bacharach trumpets and sweeping strings.

How about Richard Hawley? He’s a dead cert to compose a grandiose, heartbreaking ballad to rival We Have All The Time In The World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, there’s a song on the new Tony Christie album, Made In Sheffield, which has been co-produced by Hawley, which sounds just like a Bond song. It’s called Danger Is A Woman In Love and is dramatic, deadly and deliciously over-the-top. It’s even got a fantastically camp lyric that’s straight out of the “Goldfinger/coldfinger” school of thought, rhyming “Medusa” with “abuse her”.  Genius.

Staying with the Sheffield theme, what about the Last Shadow Puppets? I’m sure Alex Turner could write a top Bond tune. Their cinematic new single, My Mistakes Were Made For You, is a sultry, swooning number to die for, with its twanging guitars and lush orchestral backing.

Just look at the Bond soundtrack legacy. All the best Bond tunes have been penned by Brits – Lionel Bart and John Barry’s From Russia With Love, Barry and Leslie Bricusse’s You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger, written by Bricusse, Anthony Newley and Barry. What happens when you entrust this most hazardous of musical missions to the Yanks? You get Madonna’s techno tragedy Die Another Day or Sheryl Crow’s risible Tomorrow Never Dies. You wouldn’t let the CIA run an MI6 operation would you? Do you remember You Know My Name – the limp soft rock effort from dodgy ex-grunger Chris Cornell that soundtracked the title sequence of Casino Royale? No? Exactly.

Over the last few years, the Bond filmmakers have continually made bad choices for title tunes – a total and utter Thunderballs-up, if you like. Current Bond soundtrack composer David Arnold once wrote a killer song with vintage 007 lyricist Don Black. Peformed by KD Lang, it’s called Surrender and is a brassy, Bassey-style belter with a great sleazy arrangement of big, bolshy horns and sinister strings. It’s easily up there with the best of Bond. What happened to it? It was relegated to the closing credits of Tomorrrow Never Dies, while Sheryl Crow’s sub-standard effort was given all the glory. St Etienne’s attempt, Tomorrow Never Dies, was also never used – you can find it on their Built On Sand rarities album. It’s well worth searching for – a nifty, ‘60s-style pop tune with cool funky flutes.

Pulp also offered up a track for the movie. It was called Tomorrow Never Lies (the film’s original title), but it too was rejected and ended up as the b-side of their single Help the Aged. It’s great – very atmospheric with more than a hint of vintage Scott Walker. And talking of Scott Walker, what happened to his performance of the song Only Myself To Blame – a haunting, jazzy number by Arnold and Black that was intended for The World Is Not Enough? It could have been the perfect accompaniment to a Bond bedroom scene – instead, it never made the final cut – tossed aside, like one of 007’s sexual conquests.

After years of trying – and often failing – the makers of the Bond films have finally got the movies right. They’ve reinvented and rejuvenated the franchise by adopting a thriller-based style that’s closer to the earlier Connery classics, but when it comes to choosing the title songs, they’re haunted by the, ahem, S.P.E.C.T.R.E of defeat.

Next time, give the mission to a British pop act – nobody does it better.

Sean Hannam

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