I have to credit my wife, the Beautiful & Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, for the title of this column. Anyway, in Figure 1, you see Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, at his house in Jamaica, called Goldeneye. He looks more than a little like a somewhat dissolute Pierce Brosnan, doesn’t he? Now, some may question a column about Bond stuff in Amazing Stories®, but I’m here to tell you that Bond is, and has been for years, pure SF.
In fact, in 1960-ish, when I was around 13 years old, I first encountered Fleming’s super-spy in the Science Fiction section (it was one bookshelf) of the Base Library at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. (Also in fact, that same section is where I first read—in Gnome Press hardcovers—the amazing Conan stories of Robert E. Howard!) I recall the dustjacket of the Fleming book had a rocket on it, ready to take off; that’s probably what caused them to put it in the SF section—never mind the fact that, at that time, there were people on the base who were actively involved in what was to become America’s space program. Figure 2, the first American edition, isn’t quite what I remember, but hey, it was more than half a century ago, so who’s counting?
For those of us who were fortunate enough to catch the early Bond movies in the theatre, especially the Sean Connery ones, there was something special about those films, and for me at least (and, I’m sure, for many of you), the themes/theme songs were a really big part of those days. There was no home video (unless you were rich and had a home theatre. I didn’t; did any of you?) and there was a certain thrill about hearing that Monty Norman Bond theme, especially the “dum diddy dum dum” guitar part as the gun sequence opened the film. And most of the early Bond theme songs, as well as the instrumental Monty Norman/John Barry theme, made it to the charts on the radio, too. (In fact, I was so taken with both Bond at the time Thunderball came out, that I made up a birthday present for my high-school best friend Darrell Wilcox [who now lives in Viet Nam with his wife, Binh] consisting of the LP soundtrack of the film, a “superball” relabeled a “Thunderball,” and something else which time has now erased from my memory.)
So in honour of those long-ago days and of the newest Daniel Craig-starring Bond film, No Time to Die (which has unfortunately been pushed back to August thanks to COVID-19), I’m going to tell you my favourite Bond film themes—and, yes, even the ones I’m not terribly fond of—in the order in which the films came out. Remember, these will be judged by me not necessarily on musical merit, nor on appropriateness to the film, or any other merit. These will be judged solely on my fondness—if any—for them. Your mileage, as they say, may vary. You may hate some I love; you may love some I hate. That’s fine by me… you can put out your own list if you like! I will attempt to link YouTube videos to the appropriate songs, since some copyright holder might object to my putting the actual theme songs in the column. (By the way, when I say “written by,” I’m referring to the song, not the film of the same name.)
STEVE’S FAVOURITE JAMES BOND THEMES/THEME SONGS
- Dr. No (1962). James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry. No lyrics, but it’s the biggest and the baddest and, let’s face it, the first Bond theme we hear (still)! Jack Lord was the first Felix Leiter in this film; Eunice Gayson and Ursula Andress are the first “Bond Girls.” (Unless, that is, you count Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.)
- From Russia with Love (1963), written by Lionel Bart (yes, same guy who wrote Oliver!), and sung by Matt Munro, whose only other mainstream hit would be Born Free, although he also sang the theme from The Italian Job. Some don’t think Munro’s smooth vocals are suitable for a Bond film, but I disagree. It’s the first film in which we see Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Major Boothroyd/Q (played by Desmond Llewellyn). And Eunice Gayson is still Sylvia Trench, Bond’s “girlfriend.”
- Goldfinger (1964), written by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony (Stop The World…!) Newley; it was the first, and best, Bond theme sung by big-voiced Shirley Bassey. Who can hear those blaring horns without knowing this song? Probably every adult Bond fan in the world knows this song. It made her so iconic that even Monty Python hired her to do the Bond-ish theme song for The Life of Brian! Just getting the link to this song makes me want to watch the film again, even though I must have seen it a dozen times or more! Notable actors in this are Gert Fröbe (Auric Goldfinger), Harold Sakata (Oddjob), Shirley Eaton (Jill Masterson), and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) as a lesbian turned straight by the charismatic James Bond. (Yes, I know. Ridonculous!) Cec Linder played Felix Leiter.
- Thunderball (1965), written by John Barry with lyricist Don Black, and sung with panache by Welsh songster Tom Jones (Figure 3). Again, some people say that his voice/style were inappropriate for Bond, but I really disagree. And I liked the lyrics. Like Bassey and some other theme singers, Jones had a big voice that swelled and sank like the Bond theme itself. He only sang this one Bond, though. Felix Leiter was played by Rik Van Nutter.
- You Only Live Twice (1967), was written by John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse (alone this time), and sung by Nancy Sinatra. Bond producers have always looked to get “hot” singers for the time, and she had an enormous hit with “These Boots are Made for Walking.” Although I’ve never been that fond of Ms. Sinatra, her somewhat thin voice (compared to, say, Bassey’s) and smooth Sinatra style seem to complement this tune appropriately. The high strings, koto sounds and all, seem to complement her voice. The gadget range of this film was upped with the introduction of the autogyro “Little Nellie.”
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) was the second Bond film without a theme song connected to the title, although they did bring in Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong for the secondary song, “We Have All the Time in the World,” written by John Barry with lyrics by Burt Bacharach’s lyricist Hal David. Some think George Lazenby, who took the Bond role after Connery refused it, wasn’t tough-seeming enough; I think this film is one of the few original Bonds that’s pretty close to the book, and Lazenby, once you get used to him not being Connery, is pretty good. Telly Savalas plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld just this once. And the movie has Diana Rigg!
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971) was again written by John Barry, with a sparkling set of lyrics by Don Black, and it marks Shirley Bassey’s second foray into Bond themes, cementing her role as Bond-song queen. Sean Connery returns as Bond for the last time in an “official” Bond movie (see #’s 26 & 27 for the “unofficial” ones). “Pure Pork Country Sausage” mogul Jimmy Dean appears in this movie, with Charles Gray (The Narrator from Rocky Horror Picture Show) as Blofeld, and Jill St. John and Natalie Wood’s kid sister Lana Wood as “Bond Girls.” Watch out for hench-persons Bambi and Thumper! (Norman Burton was Felix Leiter.)
- Live and Let Die (1973) was the first Roger Moore Bond, and this theme song was written by Paul McCartney and performed by him with his band Wings. Although McCartney doesn’t have a strong voice like Munro or Jones, his theme song proved a popular song on the charts. The title sequence is notable for featuring African-American women in Maurice Binder’s usual brilliant suggestive title video. And the featured actors include David Hedison (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) as Felix Leiter (the last time Leiter will appear for years), Yaphet Kotto (Alien) as Mr. Big, Geoffrey Holder (“the UN-cola!”), and Jane Seymour as Domino. It also introduced Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper; he’ll show up again.
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) was again written by John Barry with lyrics by Don Black, and it was sung by brassy-voiced Lulu. Barry himself considered this his weakest Bond song and I have to agree with him. Instead of the usual Bond groove, Barry aimed for a hopped-up jumpy sort of tune that didn’t suit either the film or Lulu’s big voice, though she did the best she could with it. The movie also has Christopher Lee (Star Wars, countless Hammer films), Hervé Villechaise (“The plane, boss, the plane!”), and Maud Adams and Britt Ekland as Bond “girls.” (Yes, I know, but they’re called “Bond girls,” even though they’re women and not Bond’s possessions. It’s a ‘sixties thing.) Film was okay, but the title song not so much. Oh, and J.W. Pepper again as the comic relief.
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was written by Marvin Hamlisch (The Sting) with lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager (“That’s What Friends Are For”), and sung by Carly Simon (Figure 5). Although the song doesn’t have the same title as the movie, the movie’s title is referenced in the song. Slower, and a bit more leisurely-sounding than most Bond themes, the song still works both as a Bond theme (big orchestral “hits” in the song) and as a stand-alone. Richard Kiel (“Jaws”) makes his first appearance; “Bond Girls” are Barbara Bach (now Mrs. Ringo Starr) and Caroline Munro, English “horror film pinup” (who makes an uncredited cameo appearance in #26, Casino Royale).
Well, we’re almost halfway through the list and I’m headed to 2000 words, which means I’d be well over 3000, maybe 4000 words if I continued, so I’m going to have to break it in the approximate middle and conclude next week. But before I go, I am going to touch on one of two non-“official” Bond films; that is, films that weren’t authorized by the Bond estate. Somehow the film copyrights for the books were clouded, which meant that the film could be made despite the copyright owners’ preferences (said copyright owners being Eon Productions and the heirs of Ian Fleming, who had gone to that Great Agency In the Sky (spy or literary) in 1964. The two books were Casino Royale, the first Bond book to be published, and Thunderball. I’ll touch here on the first Casino Royale movie, made in 1967, and not starring Sean Connery! I’ll talk about the Thunderball remake (now called Never Say Never Again, and actually starring Sean Connery, next time! Isn’t life in the movies weird?)
- Casino Royale (1967), didn’t have an actual theme song with lyrics over the title, although Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote both. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass performed the extremely catchy title instrumental, and the lyrics were sung over the end titles by Mike Redway. Unlike the sexy Maurice Binder opening credit scenes, this movie had opening titles somewhat reminiscent of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam’s work, although they were done by Richard Williams. It was a very silly movie, with five or six actors—well-known ones like David Niven, Woody Allen and Peter Sellers—playing James Bonds. It had a giant ensemble cast and (I just found this out) David Prowse (Darth Vader) playing the Frankenstein monster! It also had the incomparable Dusty Springfield singing a Bacharach/David composition (over a love scene) called The Look of Love, which went on to be a pop hit. Other than that, I found the film to be rather unmemorable. Okay; next week I’ll try to wrap this up!
I welcome comments, you know. Maybe you want to send me your own list of favourite Bond themes? Please—comment here, or on Facebook. All comments are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!