By Antonio Dileo
It’s been over 50 years since former Royal Navy Commander and MI-6 Intelligence Officer (code number 007) James Bond broke out of the pages of Ian Fleming’s novels, arriving in cinemas worldwide in Dr. No. Since then, the action/adventure and spy genre has never been the same. Producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman brought us this world of 007—with tuxedoes, shaken (not stirred) martinis, exotic locations, fast cars (equipped with weaponry or the ability to turn into a hover craft or sub), and endless gadgets (supplied by the ingenious head of Research and Development, Q). There was the wrist-mounted Dart Gun, Trick Briefcase, the Jetpack, and Dagger Shoe, to name but a few.
And, of course, there were a slew of Bond girls who have graced the arms of the various Mr. Bonds, played notably by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Bronson, and Daniel Craig. His missions task him with bringing down the operations of villains bent on world domination or destruction (most notably the organization SPECTRE), often with the help of a henchman (i.e. Oddjob, Jaws, or May Day). Bond typically confronts these villains during the story’s climax, exposing their evil plot.
Each film follows a structure that stands out, opening with the now legendary “Gun Barrel” sequence, accompanied by the theme written by Monty Norman. After a brief opening, with Bond finishing a mission in which the baddie is finished off, the film goes into what is a hallmark to Bond (and some non-Bond) fans alike: the elaborate Maurice Binder-created “Title Sequence.” Accompanying the credits is an essential component in moving things along: the movie’s theme song. The psychedelic visuals and silhouettes of females that usually grace the scene complement each other, creating an important part of the Bond experience. To me, it is the theme that always stands out. Of the 23 official Bond films (and counting), there have been hits and misses among those themes. Here are my top five favorites.
5) “A VIEW TO A KILL” – from A View to a Kill (1985) – Writers: John Berry, Duran Duran – Performer: Duran Duran
This film, Roger Moore’s final Bond film, was a box office success, but a critical disappointment. It pits him against Silicon Valley billionaire Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and his henchman May Day (played by the muscular Grace Jones). The theme song by Duran Duran, at their peak at this time in the ‘80s, reflects the era’s music well and still packs a punch. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Number One.
Further viewing: check out Duran Duran’s own video.
4) “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” – from For Your Eyes Only (1981) – Writers: Bill Conti, Mick Leeson – Performer: Sheena Easton
Written by Academy Award-winning composer Bill Conti (Rocky, The Right Stuff) and Mick Leeson, this Bond theme was an Academy Award-nominated song. Sheena Easton also has the distinction of being the first singer of a Bond theme to appear in the title sequence.
The sequence itself has a water theme, which the film itself takes place in the Mediterranean, with underwater footage having been shot in the Bahamas. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Number Four.
3) “NOBODY DOES IT BETTER” – from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – Writers: Marvin Hamlisch, Carole Bayer Sager – Performer: Carly Simon
This title sequence is set up perfectly by the end of the opening sequence, in which Bond (Roger Moore) evades capture from Soviet agents by skiing off an Austrian mountainside and releasing his Union Jack parachute… And then the first keys from the piano sound and the jazzy vocals of Carly Simon come in and set it up, complete with the dark colors, smoke, and gun-wielding silhouettes of the Bond Girl and 007.
In 2004, this song was honored by the American Film Institute as the 67th greatest song as part of their 100 Years Series. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Number Two.
2) “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” – from You Only Live Twice (1967) – Writers: John Barry, Leslie Bricusse – Performer: Nancy Sinatra
From Bond’s fifth cinematic adventure, with Sean Connery as the suave MI-6 operative, this seductive and soothing tune was belted out beautifully by Nancy Sinatra, who had hits with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” and her duet with father Frank, “Somethin’ Stupid.” Billboard peak position: Number 44.
** Off subject interesting tidbit: the screenplay for You Only Live Twice was written by Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. **
1) “LIVE AND LET DIE” – from Live and Let Die (1973) – Writers: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney – Performer: Paul McCartney & Wings
Released in 1973, this was the most successful 007 theme to that point, and one of the Paul McCartney and Wing’s biggest hits. The opening fits with the voodoo theme that is a vital part of the movie. Producer Harry Saltzman asked Paul to write the theme. Paul requested a copy of the original Ian Fleming novel to read. Liking it, he wrote the song that same afternoon and had it recorded within that week. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Number Two.
“LICENSE TO KILL” – from License To Kill (1989) – Writers: Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff – Performer: Gladys Knight
The Motown legend brings soul to the theme of Timothy Dalton’s final Bond film. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Did not chart (it reached Number Six on the U.K. singles chart).
“GOLDENEYE” – from GoldenEye (1995) – Writer: Bono, The Edge – Performer: Tina Turner
The Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner captures the essence of the old Bond themes with a song written by U2’s Bono and The Edge. Billboard Hot 100 peak position: Did not chart (Reach Number 22 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs, and Number 10 on the U.K. singles chart).
NEXT WEEK: MY LEAST FAVORITE FIVE