Saturday, November 08, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred: James Bond Songs Part-I

This post could be seen as an eventful piece, in the wake of 'Quantum of Solace' euphoria that is catching up all over. But in reality, this came up because I recently indulged in a bit of childhood and watched couple of James Bond films, which I had seen earlier when I was a kiddo. And during this adventure, I discovered some beautiful songs, which were used in those films during title credits. So, why not a post about - Bond Music.

The character of Bond Songs - There is a unique quality about most of the Bond songs. Most of them have a mysterious, dark, enigmatic feel attached to them. Over that, they could be either suspense evoking (blaring trumpets using Bond theme motif) or very dreamy (usually sung by a female singer) sensuous melody. The orchestra usually consisted of String Section and Brass elements (trumpets, horn). After the 3rd Bond film, it became a norm to have the title song rendered by a contemporary pop singer. As time progressed, Bond theme songs adapted contemporary genres and sounds, such as more fiercy-rebellious in eary 70s, synth and disco-ish sounds in 1980s and more evolved electronic sounds and trance-based music in 90s and later. Yet, some of the songs managed to keep the inherent character alive, while some other songs had deviations, in the form of experiments and few, utterly failed in all aspects. And not to forget, most of the songs have traces of Indian Raagas most notably Keeravani and Charukesi (Ravi identified about 3 songs based on this raaga). That interested me more and thats why, Here is my take on all the Bond songs so far.

1. Dr. No - Being the first film in the series, the only thing Bond-ish about it is the trademark theme, composed by Monty Norman and orchestrated by John Barry orchestra. However, the soundtrack also had a very non-Bond-ish nursery-rhyme-kind 'Underneath the Mano Tree', with more carribean touch. If we ignore the fact that the music does not have anything to do with James Bond, the song is quite a good one.

Rating - 9/10

2. From Russia With Love - The title song, sung by Matt Monro, appears in the end-credits. A wonderful composition to which Matt Monro's vocal suit the best. His base voice reminded me the base of Jose Feliciano. One of the best Bond songs indeed. Also, John Barry started his stint as full-fledged composer for Bond Films.

Rating 9/10

3. Goldfinger - Goldfinger started the trend of using a pop-singer for the theme song. The song, sung by Shirley Bassey, in a way set the trend for forming the character of the Bond song. With blaring trumpets and slow pace, the song has opera-feel in the way it is rendered, while the tune and orchestration establish the enigma, mystery brutality and suspense, which continued in many other Bond songs.

Rating - 8/10

4. ThunderBall - The song completely runs on the Bond Theme motif, while Tom Jones croons this noticeably difficult song. There is one more song, in the end, titled quite funnily as "Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang". Even this song, sounding all Bond-ish with Trumpets and Horns and string orchestra, has carried the legacy started by Goldfinger.

Thunder Ball song Rating - 7/10;

"Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" song Rating - 6/10

5. You Only Live Twice - Nancy Sinatra was roped in for this phenomenal composition. In my opinion, this is one of the best bond compositions. Starting with a grand ensemble of string arrangements playing a melody, which later becomes an electric guitar melody in the background, while the actual melody of the song runs in a very relaxed tone, backed by guitars. A very sweepy melody. The usage of strong orchestra with horns, steals the show in this phenomenal song. Nancy Sinatra too.

Rating - 10/10.

6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - This film, is the first film after Dr. No, which does not have a theme song during opening titles. Instead, John Barry makes it up with a trendsetting piece, which was not approved initially. It is the first Bond track to feature electronic elements, spiced up along with symphony orchestra. John Barry executed a stunning orchestration. Listen to it in ear-phones and you will realize that probably this track makes up for the quality of the film. The end titles however, had a grumpy ballad by Louis Armstrong, "We have All the Time in the world", melodic tune though. Although there is nothing Bond-ish about the song, the song could be seen as a post-cursor to "From Russia With Love".

Title Piece Rating - 10/10

"We Have All the Time in the World" Rating - 7/10

7. Diamonds Are Forever - Shirley Bassey again. In my opinion, much more than music, the song is interesting for the lyrics it had, comparing Diamonds with Men and a lady preferring former over latter. (At times, i wonder if this song inspired Sahir Ludhianvi to write "Sona Mile tho log aaj kal dil ko kabhi le", in Joshila). The song has a very dreamy rendition, with heavy base and electric guitars mildly mixing with the rhythm. In many ways, this song sounds like a precursor to 'MoonRaker' title song, sung by Shirley Bassey again. Exotic Melody.

Rating - 8/10

8. Live and Let Die - This song is a complete re-interpretation of Bond Music. John Barry took a break and Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney teamed up with a band named Wings, for this unconventional number. While elements of Rock and Ballad type of music are woven with simple piano strokes, the track has much more to it. The colour/mood of the song changes from soft to violent to brutal to spunk. For me, what stands out is sonorous and blaring trumpets, which repeats many times, sounding very eerie, backed up electronic elements. The tune actually potrays tension, intimidatingly.

Rating - 7/10

9. The Man With The Golden Gun - This could be probably one of the weakest songs in the Bond series. John Barry returned to Bond series with this song. The club-disco era has already started and this song imbibes just that. While the opening trumpets start off on the promising Bond motif, the bland disco cum into-the-face pop tune just doesnt work.The lyrics too, bring down Bond to a mere comics-hero.

Rating - 2/10

10. The Spy Who Loved Me - The song, "Nobody Does It Better" by Carl Simon, despite suggestive lyrics, works big time. It was the 1st song in Bond series which had title different from that of the film. Instead of John Barry, it was composed by Marvin Hamlisch. This song puts the Bond songs back into the trademark songs league, something which was missing after 'Diamonds Are Forever'. The song starts off on Piano, in a mere jazzy style and then emerges into the Bond-ish pop ballad. The strong string section and soft percussions with guitars culminate to make it sound like a perfect fusion between pop and opera music.

Rating - 8/10

11. Moonraker - John Barry returns again and so does Shirley Bassey, to create one of the classic Bond songs ever. Horns, String section, keyboards, haunting melody, sensuous rendition... probably it works in all dimensions. The song has two versions. While the slow version appeared in titles, the end-credits had a faster disco-version of the same song, done quite intelligently. In all, both versions are quite intoxicating.

Rating - 10/10

We are left with 11 more films. To be continued...


Random Walker said...

:D Cuves, guns, action and mindlessly engaging ... the perfect hollywood masala - that's bond films for you; good review though... the latest bond songs are much cooler don't you think?

Aakarsh said...

every era of songs reflected that era. and there was an evolution, although the quality shrunk a bit in 80s. i really liked some of the older ones, like 'you only live twice', 'thunderball' because they set the tone for the mood of Bond songs. and songs like 'Moonraker' and 'Nobody does it better' diluted a it a bit, mixing the pop mood, just to avoid repetitiveness. i think the 80s songs are a let down (except for Octopussy), just like the Bond films in that period were.
More about them and newer ones, in my subsequent post.

Ramesh V said...

wow reaaly nice collection of james bond songs...telugu songs