I love Bond movies. There’s a guilty pleasure to them. I admire the gritty, back-to-basics, no-nonesnese, no-gadgets, fair-trade, PC Daniel Craig movies of recent years. But for me Bond movies will always hold a golden nostalgic quality: rainy Sunday afternoon; dad in his armchair with a can of Carlsberg; sisters cutting out pictures from Jackie or Smash Hits for their scrapbooks; mum milling around worrying about dinner, while I lay on the carpet transfixed on the square box in the corner. Toasted on one side by a three-bar fire, I’d be watching Sean Connery or Roger Moore kissing and killing their way suavely around the world on behalf of Her Majesty, littering the carnage of bodies and cars with double entendres I never understood at the time about ‘re-entry’ or ‘stiffness’. And the villains were always ultra-bad, unhinged megalomaniacs. It was all a world away from my dull, grey suburbia of broken windows and dreams. And those gadgets, what eight-year-old boy whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them a Casio calculator watch didn’t desire those gadgets?
But one of the most lasting memories are those title sequences: the artful silhouettes of cocktail glasses, bullets, and girls dancing suggestively on guns or swimming in water accompanied by those amazing songs—songs with crescendos of horns and strings that broke my heart before I even knew what heartbreak sounded like. And of that iconic barrel shot: Bond striding out in profile in a tux, casual yet aware, he turns quickly, legs braced, the Walther PPK aimed expertly, steadily our way, at which point the screen drips crimson.
Since then I’ve had a fascination with Bond themes almost as much as Bond movies themselves. Sometimes the song surpasses the movie (I’m looking at you The World is Not Enough), and sometimes not even the song can redeem the movie (that’s right Day Another Day). As a child of the eighties brought up on a healthy diet of synth-pop and hairspray, I was already primed to love Duran Duran’s ‘A View to a Kill’ and A-ha’s ‘The Living Daylights’. In the nineties, Tina Turner’s ‘Goldeneye’ and Sheryl Crow’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ did an admirable job recapturing some of the old glitz and glamour of the sixties and seventies. But unfortunately Pierce Brosnan’s Bond fared less well and just seemed oddly out-dated and sexist in a climate of girl-power. Chris Cornell and Jack White & Alicia Keys produced some great, appropriately gritty songs (for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). But I find the recent efforts by Adele (Skyfall) and Sam Smith (Spectre) a little insipid. To me they feel more suited to some sentimental romantic drama, than a (let’s face it) still over-the-top, escapist, male fantasy of getting the girl, and saving the world single-handedly from dictators, tyrants, media magnates, or demented businessmen—perhaps some property tycoon with a deep tan, small hands, disturbing hair, and a trophy wife with an unplaceable Eastern European accent…wait or am I thinking of somebody else?
But still, after all this time, nobody does it better than Dame Shirley Bassey in my opinion. My god, that woman’s voice is the world of Bond: it’s heroic, glitzy, cheesy, outrageous, gorgeous, excessive, megalomaniacal, her tones could rule and save the world at once. And ‘Goldfinger’ is possibly still one of the best Bond themes ever.
But what, I hear you ask, is almost as good as a great Bond theme? Well, I’m glad you asked. What is almost as good as a great Bond theme is a great cover of a Bond theme. I’ve written of my love for cover versions previously. I especially admire those that dramatically reinterpret the original, otherwise why bother right? So it’s appropriate I end this trip down these glitzed-up and glammed avenues of memory with some more sobering versions of these songs.
Pulp – ‘All Time High’
Nineties Britpopers Pulp, whose hits included ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Common People’, cover ‘All Time High’ (originally recorded by Rita Coolidge for Octopussy) and lends the spy a mysterious air of desperation, bed-sits, unwashed dishes, and working-class, charity-shop glamour. This is taken from the album of Bond covers, Shaken and Stirred.
Mark Lanegan – ‘You Only Live Twice’
American alt-rock, singer-songwriter and serial collaborator (Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell, PJ Harvey) takes Nancy Sinatra’s lilting original (for the movie of the same name) and delivers it through a whiskey glass with his trademark, smoker’s drawl. Listening Lanegan’s version is, I imagine, like sitting in a bar listening to Charles Bukowski pouring regret, love, and life out of a bottle. This is taken from Lanegan’s Imitations, an album of covers which includes songs by Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
Cinerama – ‘Diamonds Are Forever’
Former British alternative band, Cinerama, cover Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (another of the best Bond themes ever recorded). They retain a feeling of nostalgia and charm, but here it becomes more of a lament than a celebration. When Shirley Bassey sings the line: ‘I don’t need love, for what good will love do me?’, you feel she means it; but when David Gedge delivers those lines it sparkles with heartbreak and irony—love is the only thing he wants. This was recorded for the b-side of their 2001 single, ‘Health And Efficiency’.
Hollywood Mon Amour – ‘A view to a Kill’
I always thought it was a bad idea when Simon Le Bon advised us to ‘dance into the fire’, especially with all that hairspray and polyester going on in the eighties. But with this gentle acoustic cover you almost sense yourself swaying towards the flames. Albeit, with this version, they’re probably some lovely tea lights on the patio with some sangria and platter of olives. Hollywood Mon Amour is a side project of French musician Marc Collin (also known for his Nouvelle Vague project of eighties new wave classics reinterpreted Bossa Nova and Samba style—another post for another day). This is taken from the album Hollywood, Mon Amour which also includes great versions of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’, Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, and David Bowie’s ‘Cat People’ among many others.
Magazine – ‘Goldfinger’
Seventies British post-punk band, Magazine takes Bassey’s classic and replaces the charm and glamour of ballrooms with the menace and sneers of seedy pubs, and the glittery gowns for muddied Dr. Martens. Goldfinger is no longer a wealthy businessman here, but that nutter in the corner with a tattooed hand wrapped around a pint of lager. His ‘kiss of death’ probably involves a Stanley knife, and his ‘Midas touch’ probably comes from a gold-plated knuckle duster. An inspired and somewhat disturbing version. This song is available on their album Real Life.