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Rediscover the Music of James Bond

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About forty-five years ago I got hooked on a series of books that featured a British secret agent who was suave, sophisticated, deadly to his enemies, and irresistible to the ladies.

I was so fond of the books that I even tried vodka martinis – shaken, not stirred – but that experiment didn't last long. The British agent was, of course, Bond. James Bond.

I wasn't the only fan of the books. I remember they received a big boost in popularity when word came out that JFK enjoyed them. However, I hadn't voted for him, and I remember wanting people to know that I was into the books before the publicity created by his endorsement, although I secretly felt validated in my tastes. After all, the guy had intelligence and style even if I didn't agree with his politics at the time.

This was before the first of the movies that would make the Bond character famous, and I still remember how skeptical I was that they would be able to cast someone for the lead who would be up to the job. I guess it wasn't that different then from how it is now, when rabid fans of books such as Harry Potter show the same doubt about the abilities of the movie-makers. But of course I was wrong. When the first Bond film, Dr. No, opened in 1962 with Sean Connery in the lead, he raised a sardonic eyebrow and became James Bond, and all who followed are imposters — including that new guy in the movie opening soon. (In fact, he's literally a pale imitation since he's the first blond Bond. Groan …sorry.)

I do recognize that not everyone thinks Connery is the best and only Bond, especially those who think of him as "the old dude in the kilt," but whatever your preferences, nobody could deny that the producers of the films have always traveled first class when it comes to the music.

From the opening scenes of Dr. No, where the action is driven by the distinctive guitar beat that became the opening for all the films, to pop hits like Shirley Bassey's unforgettable "Goldfinger", the films have always featured many award-winning songs, written and performed by such established stars as Paul McCartney and Wings, Carly Simon, Sheena Easton, Duran Duran, Louis Armstrong, Tom Jones, and Gladys Knight (sans Pips).

To show the diversity of music associated with the Bond movies I'm providing samples of two different kinds of songs, both selected from the album The Best Of James Bond.

First is the familiar driving instrumental that opens all the movies, the "James Bond Theme". It's performed by the Monty Norman Orchestra from an arrangement by John Barry, who ended up writing a lot of the music for subsequent Bond movies. It's impossible to hear the familiar strumming of the electric guitar and not imagine James Bond in action.

The second sample (which is one of my favorite movie themes) was written by John Barry and is performed by Nancy Sinatra, who was a pretty big star at that time (1967). It's the title song for the Bond movie, You Only Live Twice.

Enjoy the music, and buy the album for the full experience of the music of James Bond! 

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About Big Geez

  • I’ve always had *really* mixed feelings on Bond songs. I don’t quite get why so many of them hit the charts, actually.

    And sure enough, I find myself humming them, too. But I don’t know why.

  • Bliffle

    Barry has said in interviews that he copied the style of Stan Kenton, the Big Band leader who became quite famous while quite young. Kenton even had a TV show about music for awhile. His characteristic sound was the big brassy crescendo, featuring trombones and trumpets.

    An old jazz musician told me this story about Kenton. I repeat it for what it’s worth, as it reflects the enormous ego that Kenton had. The young Kenton, who was already famous, was in New Orleans and wanted to hear Art Tatum play at a saloon, but he was underage, so the saloon owner told him “go and sit at that table with that old man and if anyone asks say he’s your grandfather”. After the set kenton turned to the old man and proudly introduced himself as the famous young band leader Stan Kenton, whereupon the old man said “I’m pleased to meet you, my name is Maurice Ravel”.

  • I found it amusing to see someone reviewing the Bond 30th. I bought this album about 10 years ago as an impulse buy that paid off. While there are a couple stinkers on here, it’s hard to walk away without an appreciation for Shirley Bassey.

    Of course, I’d be a liar if listening to it doesn’t make me think of the silouhettes of naked woman bouncing on trampolines among pistols firing slow motion bullets. Classic stuff.

  • Big Geez

    You might see even older albums that this show up in my articles, Mark, because what I do is write about how a particular album’s contents and artists resonate with me as a music-loving geezer, rather than a conventional review. (Not that there’s anything wrong with CD reviews – in fact, I may do some of those too!)

  • -E

    Congrats! This article has been selected as one of this week’s Editors’ Picks.