Today, in honor of the opening of the newest 007 film, I’m indulging in that most rare of experiences — the themed Friday Music entry! Today’s items are all Spy music — from Bond films, and from other sources.
To kick things off — here’s an absolute smoker of a lounge ballad from the 1966 spy film The Silencers, which was one of Dean Martin’s portrayals of Matt Helm — and, like the majority of the Bond films, it bore no resemblance to the Helm novels on which it was based. Hell, Dean Martin didn’t even really act like anything other than Dean Martin. The producers did make an interesting choice, however — despite having Martin at their disposal, they gave the film’s theme to Vikki Carr. She purred out the following: Vikki Carr – “The Silencers.”
As the producers of the Bond films were prepping their second movie, From Russia With Love, they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to use the James Bond theme that they had made popular in the first film. Credited to Monty Norman, it had actually been composed by John Barry, and performed by Monty Norman’s Orchestra. There was some legal wrangling over the credit (eventually resolved, as the writing credit now reads “Monty Norman & John Barry”). So, as a potential stopgap measure, they asked John Barry to come up with an alternate theme. He did, and this has been used several times in multiple Bond films as a result. Whereas I prefer the plucky guitars of the main theme, the rousing heroic horns of this piece is admittedly very cool – John Barry – “007.”
Sticking with Bond for a while: I’m a sucker for Bond themes. Everybody knows the big ones: Shirley Bassey belting out “Goldfinger.” Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.” Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only.” The thing is, though, I haven’t heard a Bond theme that I didn’t like, at least a little bit — that includes clunkers like Madonna’s “Die Another Day” and Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker.” Those are films where the film is much better than the theme, but I still like them. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Bond films where the film is considered one of the lesser Bonds, but the theme is fantastic — and, as such, these are often the music that gets overlooked. Here are three GREAT themes from “lesser” Bond movies:
Shirley Bassey – “Diamonds Are Forever.” The first of the 70s Bond, not only featuring the beginning of the slide into goofy comedy, but a very tired and old-looking Sean Connery. Ironic that he looked better in 1983’s Never Say Never Again (the unofficial Bond film, created due to a legal mess that I won’t get into here) than he did in his last official outing.
a-ha – “The Living Daylights.” They wanted a hot single to follow-up the success of Duran Duran’s “View to Kill.” The problem is that by the time this film came out, a-ha had shown themselves to be a flash in the pan, and a nearly 2-year-old flash, at that. Great theme, though, and one of my favorite films, despite the Dalton-haters out there.
Gladys Knight – “License to Kill.” Dalton’s second and final film, crippled by budget cuts. It was originally supposed to be set in China (and filmed there), dealing with an Opium warlord. Slashed budgets resulted in a fictional South American country, and a drug dealer left over from casting sessions for Miami Vice.. Bond didn’t come back for 6 years, after this clunker. (Actually, this was due to legal in-fighting among the production companies — but it certainly didn’t help the taste that this film leaves in your mouth.) Absolutely amazing song, though.
There have been a few good Spy TV shows — among the best of recent efforts is JJ Abrams pre-Lost effort, ALIAS. Here’s a track from the pilot, which is essentially an extended mix of what would become the theme song of the show — and, interesting enough, was composed by Abrams himself, who is a musician as well as a writer and director. JJ Abrams – “Garage Fight.”
One of the pieces of music used by the show during its first season — an absolutely tone-perfect bit of spybreak electronica by a trip-hop group: Supreme Beings of Leisure – “Under the Gun.”
“Spybreak” is the term that got applied to that style of electronica — groovy lounge sounds, plucky guitar, and generally theme-appropriate to espionage fiction. The Propellerheads (one of my favorite electronic acts, as readers well know) composed a track which used that name as the title — which was famously used as the music in the lobby shoot-out in “The Matrix.” The Propellerheads – “Spybreak!”
The Thievery Corporation is another downtempo/spybreak act. They haven’t been used in any spy film soundtracks — so they didn’t wait to be picked. They released an album, “The Mirror Conspiracy”, which is the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. That’s the conceit of the concept album — that it’s a soundtrack to a film of that name. A Spy film, in fact. Here’s a track from the album: The Thievery Corporation – “Lebanese Blonde.”
The Bourne films, based (loosely) on the Robert Ludlum novels, are shaping up into a fairly nifty spy franchise, and a nice bit of work for Matt Damon. Here’s a track that was used in the first film (“The Bourne Identity”), which appeared again in the second (“The Bourne Supremacy”>, so it’s being used, essentially, as Bourne’s theme: Moby – “Extreme Ways.”
Lastly, here’s my favorite rendition of one of the more famous pieces of spy music – the theme from “Mission Impossible.” This modernized version was created by two members of U2 for the first of the MI films: Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton – “Mission Impossible.”