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A Few Words About the Bond Film Theme Songs…

 
By on Thursday, 11th October 2012 at 11:00 am
 

2012 is a milestone year for Bond fans, seeing both the 50th anniversary of the first episode in the film franchise, Dr. No, and the release of the 22nd in the series, Skyfall, due this month. As a teaser, Adele’s eponymous theme song was unveiled last week – of which more later. As TGTF’s celebration of all things Bond-ian, we run through a short history of Bond movie themes.

Where better than to start than at the beginning, with Dr. No, which, strictly speaking, didn’t have a theme song of its own. The honour it did have, however, was to introduce an unsuspecting public to the sinister, bombastic delights of Monty Norman and John Barry’s title theme, the story of which is just as tortuous and thrilling as any Fleming plot. Norman had to go to court to defend his authorship of the James Bond theme three times; the latest in 2001, after a Sunday Times article alleged it was primarily a John Barry composition. Norman won all three cases, and received royalties unchallenged for years before and since. No matter its authorship (and a keen ear can hear the influence of both Norman and Barry), the song itself is a near-genius piece of composition. Expertly conjuring an orchestral breadth from its big band arrangement, and featuring a guitar riff timeless in both tone and melody from the superbly-named Vic Flick, the appearance of major sevenths in a minor key and liberal use of the ‘blue’ diminished fifth generates a macabre tension in the harmony, which Barry’s brass blasts amplify to almost unbearable levels of drama. Surely the most recognisable movie theme of all time, and amongst the finest 2 minutes’ of music ever conceived.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5jjYLsh1V4[/youtube]

Monty Norman never again worked on a Bond film, in contrast with John Barry, who went on to score eleven more, including the title songs (except Lionel Bart’s competent if somewhat tame From Russia With Love). Goldfinger is where the franchise really hit its stride: Barry is at his menacing best in the opening brass fanfare and contrasting demure strings; the first of three Bond outings for Shirley Bassey matches the orchestra’s passion with a barnstorming vocal never bettered in the whole series, although Tom Jones almost achieves that high accolade with Thunderball, another tour de force performance from composer, orchestra, and singer alike, Jones famously fainting after holding the song’s final note for as long as he could manage. You Only Live Twice sees Nancy Sinatra in a more reflective mood than the bombast of the previous two episodes, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is blessed with Louis Armstrong’s final recording, and Bassey returns along with Connery for Diamonds are Forever.

A Barry hiatus saw him temporarily replaced on composition duties by the wonder pairing of George Martin and Paul McCartney, whose Live And Let Die was recently, and rightly, voted the best Bond theme of all time by no less an authority than the listeners of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review. (You can watch the iconic Macca/Wings-infused title sequence below.) The first rock band theme, but no less Bond-ian for it, the McCartney/Martin effort strikes the perfect balance of lushness and aggression: an apposite way to signal the franchise’s change of tone as Moore picks his way through the mean streets of Harlem. Barry’s return, for The Man with the Golden Gun, carries more than a whiff of self-parody in its wah-wah guitar and blaxploitation overtones, and is, by Barry’s admission, his weakest ever theme, Lulu’s charms insufficient to drag it into the charts on either side of the Atlantic.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7wSQ0rvdig[/youtube]

Marvin Hamlisch’s expert handling of the Barry style for The Spy Who Loved Me generated a worldwide hit for Carly Simon in ‘Nobody Does It Better’ and makes one wonder why Hamlisch never returned to the franchise. It being the late ‘70s, synthesisers and disco influences were creeping into the traditional big band style, to mixed effect. Moonraker is about as humdrum as a Barry/Bassey recording is likely to get: the tone more gentle and orchestral, presumably to reflect the yawning silence of space; the thuggish brass is sorely missed.

By the time of For Your Eyes Only (again Barryless), the rot – the 1980s – had truly set in. The truly dreadful Sheena Easton title song, seemingly played on a child’s synthesiser, is notable solely as a historical artefact, demonstrating how the 1980s FM radio sheen invaded even the most hallowed of musical institutions. Barry returned for Octopussy, but Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’ was barely better than Easton’s effort. Was this really Bond’s fate, to drown in a deluge of 1980s schmaltz?

Thankfully, to draw the Moore era to a close, Barry reached out for help, and found inspiration in a collaboration with Duran Duran. They knew how to harness the electronic sound for drama and tension rather than sickly sentiment, whilst Barry kept the orchestra bubbling underneath: The samples of ‘A View to a Kill’, its stratocaster and synth stabs add up to the finest Bond theme of the electronic era, charting higher than any Bond theme before or since on both sides of the Atlantic. [It also has a hilariously ridiculous spy-themed promo video, which you can watch below. – Ed.] Presumably, recruiting a-ha for The Living Daylights was meant to engender the same success – it didn’t, the resulting collaboration being a mostly forgettable, insipid thing. And thus ended the Barry era of Bond music. Patchy, but at its best, particularly in the early years, nothing could come close.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp4CR2HcHLQ[/youtube]

Licence to Kill mystifyingly chose Gladys Knight’s MOR r&b over a re-recorded version of the original theme tune by Eric Clapton and original guitarist Vic Flick. Evidence that the plot had well and truly been lost. It would be 6 years before Goldeneye released Eric Serra’s underrated avant-garde electronic minimalism on unsuspecting Bond fans. Featuring familiar themes given unfamiliar treatments (the main riff played on timpani, anyone?), anyone who spent hours playing the superb Nintendo video game will be more familiar with the nuances of Serra’s soundtrack than any other in the series.

David Arnold helmed the next five films, spanning 13 years, and failed to deliver a true classic theme for any one. Which brings us to Adele’s effort. Thomas Newman appears to be adopting the David Arnold “no surprises” approach – no blast of horns, no sneering vocal, just a gentle piano intro, developing strings, smooth, diva-ish vocal, choir call-and-response, and end. The intro’s too long, and there are some dreadful “moon in june” rhyming couplets. Not bad, not special, not enough to break the 27-year drought since ‘A View to a Kill’. Time and hindsight may treat the recent themes more kindly, but arguably the line “Nobody does it… quite as good as you… baby you’re the best,” could well have been written about the great John Barry himself.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HKoqNJtMTQ[/youtube]

 

Video(s) of the Moment #779: Paul McCartney

 
By on Sunday, 29th April 2012 at 10:00 am
 

When you’re as famous as Paul McCartney, you can pretty much round up anyone to appear in your music videos. So who has Macca enlisted for not one, not two, but three promos for ‘My Valentine’, off his new ‘Kisses on the Bottom’ album released this past winter? (Read Ben’s review of it here.) None other than actors Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp, who star singly in their own videos and then come together (sorry, had to get a Beatles pun in here somewhere) for a third. Watch all three, directed by the big Mc himself, below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xX453lI5l8[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lkuPt6ylEY[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4dzzv81X9w[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Paul McCartney – Kisses on the Bottom

 
By on Wednesday, 8th February 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

‘Kisses on the Bottom’, the fifteenth offering from pop institution Paul McCartney, is a blend of jazz classics with an odd Macca original stirred in. It was never likely to knock ‘Mull of Kintyre’ off its perch, or stop ‘Hey Jude’ being wheeled out for every goodwill mission, but an insistence on an empty kind of easy listening risks the album becoming just a kitsch footnote to a jaw-dropping back catalogue.

The title sounds like a dirty comment from an elderly relative: so desexualised by time that imagining the literal seems comic, but is still enough to raise a lump in the throat. Luckily, the brushed snare and teetering double bass slide so fluidly in to Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young‘s ‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ that the joke can be forgiven. Macca’s voice has returned with a light husk that compliments the beat-like cool in this intro; there’s a touch of ‘Kind of Blue’ without Miles Davis’ freewheelin’ trumpet heralding a plethora of improvisation.

‘Home (When Shadows Fall)’ has a lullaby-like quality (used to great effect in ‘The Shining’) but verges on Disney, lying closer to late Nina Simone (or that bloke off the Stella Artois advert) than its music hall roots. The front porch fiddle on ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ gives it a honky tonk feel although – as with the sickly sweet ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ (obviously dusted off from the honeymoon) – McCartney brings in too little variation or dynamism. The flatlands continue through ‘The Glory of Love’ and ‘We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)’.

‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’ is a sort of unknowing wink to the recent jazz revival (which may explain Jamie Cullum‘s soppy appraisal on the Guardian) and is so forcibly merry it should perhaps be contained to the odd rehab clinic. On the other hand, with ‘My Valentine’ McCartney’s emotion breaks from the prevailing monotony; creating a certain melancholy, with trademark Beatles key change and composition, and a Latino vibe that reminds you why in 2000 a BBC poll named him the “greatest composer of the millennium”.

Then the Stella Artois guy is pushed drunkenly back on to the midnight terrace, tinkering at the back of ‘Always’. The song possesses mellowness that smacks of honeymoon apathy, which is carried through the Hawaiian horizon of ‘My Very Good Friend the Milkman’. And so on, in to the redemptive ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ (which somehow manages to stick dangerously close to its Beatles namesake), the lamenting Sinatra croon of ‘Get Yourself Another Fool’ and the childish whimsy of ‘The Inch Worm’. On ‘Only Our Hearts’ he is dynamically unshackled, free to envisage the world through the spectrum of vintage film moments he has tied together. There’s more to keep you hooked in the first 30 seconds than the last 3 tracks combined, ending on an unmistakable harmonica outro by Stevie Wonder, which shows that, save the odd jaunt in to mediocrity, McCartney’s material should now be considered more classic than ‘the classics’.

6/10

Paul McCartney’s fifteenth (yes, you read that right, fifteenth) studio album ‘Kisses on the Bottom’ is out now on Hear Music/Mercury.

 

Preview: The 51st Grammy Awards

 
By on Sunday, 8th February 2009 at 8:07 pm
 

RadioheadIt’s that time of year again, readers, when the who’s who in music gather together at the Staples Centre, in Los Angeles, to celebrate the world famous ceremony that is the Grammy Awards. This year’s bash has been a particular success for British artists. Home-bred talent such as Coldplay (pictured top), Radiohead (pictured right), Duffy, Leona Lewis and Led Zepplin’s Robert Plant are all up for coveted gongs ranging from ‘Album of the Year’ to ‘Best New Artist’. Brits performing at the awards include Adele, Paul McCartney, Estelle and M.I.A – who has riskily decided to go on with the show despite the fact her baby is due that very night!

Further performances come from Rihanna, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Jonas Brothers, U2 and even a potential surprise appearance from Green Day. The band have hinted on their website, that they may be showing at this year’s awards despite a near 5 year hiatus since releasing hit-album, American Idiot.

The nominees and consequent winners of the gongs’ are decided by a board of around 10000 members made up of artists, songwriters, producers and music engineers. American rapper, Lil Wayne, is the artist to receive the greatest amount of nominations this year, claiming a cool eight nods. Jay-Z, Kanye West, John Mayer, The Eagles and Metallica are other name’s that will be featuring across a significant array of awards tonight. Meanwhile, Neil Diamond is set to be awarded the acclaimed MusiCares Person of the Year title, which aims to recognise those who have made both an outstanding contribution to music as well as charity-work. Previous winners of the award include Bono, Sting and Aretha Franklin.

Catch all the Grammy action tomorrow night (Monday 9th), at 9pm on ITV2.

 

Paul McCartney’s Latest Project Currently Streaming Free Over At MySpace

 
By on Saturday, 22nd November 2008 at 8:33 am
 

Ok, I admit it, I am absolutely obsessed with The Beatles. I guess then, being the Fab Four-nut that I am, I’m kinda biased in thinking anything that comes out of Paul McCartney‘s brain is an act of pure genius. And in my eyes, his latest release is no exception. ‘The Fireman‘ originally started out about 15 years ago. Combining forces with dance producer Youth, Macca has since released 2 albums under the pseudonym, and this week, The Fireman are back with their third – ‘Electric Arguments‘.

Intrigued? Well, if you’ve yet to come across The Fireman – do not expect any ‘Yesterday’s and ‘Let it Be’s here. The Fireman are as far from the puppy-eyed ballads of the 60s as you could get. Rather, The Fireman duo are an experimental electro project , both edgy and ambient, set to thrill and stun. It’s undeniable the latest Fireman release is a great deal more commercial than the previous two releases (1993’s ‘Strawberries Oceans Ships Forests’ and 1998’s ‘Rushes‘) – for starters, it’s the first of the three albums to have lyrics actually sung by McCartney. While Electric Arguments is still a fair distance from the music that made McCartney the legend he is today – it’s pretty exciting when listening to rocking Helter Skelter stylee tracks such as ‘Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight’ and Wing-esque songs such as ‘Sing the Changes’.

Generally, Electric Arguments really is an incredibly exciting, and at times very beautiful, album. You can’t wait to hear what colourful surprises the next track is going to offer you. The best thing is, each new tune that comes along on the CD never does disappoint. It’s a peculiar, fantastical trip of an album – a highly recommended one too!

Tracks to check out : Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight, Sing the Changes, Sun is Shining

Electric Arguments is currently being streamed for free over at The Fireman’s MySpace. You can pre-order the album, set to be released on Monday from Amazon here.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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