By no stretch of the imagination was the James Bond film series the first to understand the marketing power of popular music. You’d have to go back as far as silent movies, where a score was played live for the audience, to see how the two mediums — movies and music — first got tangled together. But it is safe to say that few film franchises have become as well-known for its theme songs as the Bond series has.
After all, what’s the conversation like whenever a new entry is announced? Who will be the Bond Girl(s)? What will the Bond gadgets be? Who is doing the Bond title song this time? Just as one can expect anticipation for the song, one can also expect that there will be debates about it, and who does it. (Are you pro-Sam Smith or pro-Radiohead?) But for a few exceptions, each entry arrives as a new composition with a new celebrity performer behind it.
There are some things that remain consistent. Primarily — and I don’t mean this to sound derogatory, but I’m guessing it will — most Bond themes sound like they’re written by pubescent males. Over the top lyrics typically illustrate big ego, big drama, big sex, and big paranoia, and in order to complete the task successfully, the performer needs to play this game straight. You can take liberties with a Bond song, but you cannot have “fun” with it. This is life or death stuff, after all.
Songs, Bond Songs – The Music Of 007 is the fourth release from Andrew Curry’s label Curry Cuts, and the third which features unique versions of well-known tracks (the previous material being ’70s Lite Rock and ’80s Brit Rock and Pop). By and large, Curry has scored another winner but, as you can guess, the remit must have been the most difficult of all.
It comes down to the conviction of the performances and how far you’re willing to go. The most successful reinterpretations are willing to rewrite the parameters, but not the rules. Freedy Johnson’s take on “For Your Eyes Only” as an acoustic ballad strips away the soft pop enlargement of Sheena Easton’s original, and the intimacy works perfectly. Lisa Mychols’ version of “The Man With The Golden Gun” brings all the pow and zap of the late-’60s and early-’70s, arguably the era where James Bond held the greatest sway with pop culture, without reducing the song to a parody.
That’s a tough job. No one on the compilation had a more difficult assignment than Jaret Reddick (Bowling For Soup), but by all accounts, he personally signed up to do the theme for “Thunderball.” The original is an overwrought piece of nonsense that came as a last resort. Other songs had been commissioned. Dionne Warwick recorded one, the equally absurd “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” But producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli disputed the value of having a theme that doesn’t directly namedrop the movie title (subsequently selling said movie on pop radio stations). “Thunderball” was written. Tom Jones was enlisted to sing it, and he did with all the conviction of a man fighting off the armies of SPECTRE with one hand and holding three bleach-blondes with the other. Like I said, the songs readily and unabashedly courted adolescent fantasy and machismo.
The tracks that do not work best — and I suppose this is strictly a case of personal opinion rather than an empirical determination — either play too loose with the ground rules or are way too beholden to the originals. The former neglects the narrow parameters of what a Bond song is and, therefore, misses the target entirely. The latter…well, you might as well go back and listen to the originals instead, right? As with any Various Artists compilation, tastes run the range, and the aspects that don’t suit me might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Of the tunes that do it for me, multi-instrumentalist Joe Seiders, drummer for The New Pornographers and heard here as Big-Box Store, takes one of the least-effective latter day Bond themes, “Die Another Day,” and gives it new life. Jeff Litman and Andi Rae Healy layer “You Only Live Twice” with a gauzy, hypnotic frost, providing unexpected and much-needed weight to lyrics that weren’t very complex from the start. The combination of these with John Barry’s descending chords — a progression he’d revisit for the “Theme from Midnight Cowboy” — make a great impression.
At a total of 26 tracks, the odds are in your favor that you’ll find a lot to love about Songs, Bond Songs – The Music Of 007. Andrew Curry’s winning streak appears to be unbroken, and the only question now is, what can he possibly do to top himself?
More information about Songs Bond Songs – The Music Of 007 is available here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/444321026/songs-bond-songs-the-music-of-007