Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred: James Bond Songs Part-II

Continuing from my previous post about the songs from James Bond films, this post looks at all the Bond songs which came after 1980.


All the songs which came after 1980 had strong pop influence, with more of keyboards, synthesizers rather than usual trumpets, horns and string orchestra used before. I would say the quality graph of Bond songs went down drastically during the 80s, with songs being made only to compete with other pop chartbusters rather than painting the 'Bond Music' feel on them. The 90s, however, improved and significantly that too, with David Arnold taking the helm of the music of Bond series films. The reason why David Arnold clicked, despite changing the Bond Music template to more contemporary techno-based form, is the fact that his sense of observation of John Barry's music for all Bond films prior to 80s was strong. In a way, he did not completely deviated from that school of thought, but only adapted the nuances, to more evolved sound. As you read/hear along, you can know the difference. For now, let us look at how Bond Music plummeted... and then rose.


12. For Your Eyes Only: This 1981 film had music by someone called Bill Conti, and not John Barry. Originally, the producers roped in a band called 'Blondie' for the theme song, but they never used that composition. This unused song by Blondie has few traces of Bond style of music, with chord-shifts that replicate the original Bond theme. By that characteristic atleast, it could have been a better Bond song, rather than the one that has been used in the film, sung by Sheena Easton. Sheena's version is completely stripped off (just like what you see in Bond film titles ;) ) the Bond music elements. The song ends up as a pretty normal conventional pop number.

Blondie Song Rating: 7/10

Sheena Easton Song Rating: 5/10


13. Octopussy: John Barry returned to compose music for this 13th Bond film, which had the title song "All Time High" sung by Rita Coolidge. The song has sensuous overtures, both musically, replete with Saxophone and lyrically too. In my opinion, this song strikes a fine balance between the Pop fever running at that period and the ingredients of Bond songs, changes not withstanding. Yes, the trademark mysterious feel and suspense evoking trumpets are given a miss, but the song definitely captures Bond's another facet - his fascination for women-sensuality. A compellingly teasing tune with wonderful orchestration, makes me rate this song higher, even though it is devoid of the typical John Barry Bond-ish sound.

Rating: 8.5/10


i) Never Say Never Again: This film was not by EON productions (Franchise which produced all Bond films) and the producers got to make this film due to a legal loophole, which prevented EON productions from doing anything about it. This Sean Connery film was a remake of "Thunderball" and was released simultaneously with "Octopussy". Much like the film, the soundtrack was quite bad, making the Bond song into just another Pop song of the 80s, and a very ordinary Pop Song, that is.

Rating: 3/10


14. A View To Kill: This last Bond film by Roger Moore saw John Barry teaming up with a band called Duran Duran for the soundtrack. I regard this theme song among the weakest Bond songs, signaling the declined quality in the Bond Music. Nothing about Bond, its feel or quality or sound. Just another poor imitation of spirit of a Boney M song. I wonder how this song actually became a hit. Trend, may be.

Rating: 2/10


15. The Living Daylights: Evidently, as can be seen with previous two films, the quality of Bond songs witnessed a down trend, in which songs have become mere pop and disco numbers rather than reflecting James Bond aura. This first film of Thimothy Dalton had a song which is a complete misfit, just like the way Dalton was misfit for the Bond role. It is disbelievable that John Barry was at the helm of this soundtrack, which is completely electronic in sound and un-Bondish in execution. A new band called 'A-Ha' crooned this Pop song which probably can fit in a movie like Mad Max and definitely not a Bond film. The end credits had much better song, with orchestral elements such as Piano and string ensemble and a evocative melody.

A-Ha song Rating: 1/10

End credits song rating: 6/10


16. License to Kill: After spiraling down to ordinary pop songs, James Bond songs got back on the track of Bond aura sounds. This film's theme song was composed by Michael Kamen and was sung by Gladys Knight. The song heavily borrows the lead cue from the opening trumpet-horn notes in the title song of 'Goldfinger'. The only difference being that while the elements have been retained, the execution is more synthesizer based. The pace and tone of the song is reminiscent of Bond songs that appeared in 60s. The end credits has a hummable song, which does not have Bond song chaacteristics and yet makes a good listening. Some redemption atleast.

Title song Rating: 7.5/10

End credits song: 5.5/10


17. GoldenEye: Bond films witnessed a never before 6 year gap and a lot has changed in the 6 years. The decade turned. The dark backdrops of films in general have been replaced by more vibrant and colourful pictures.The synthesizer backed pop and disco era has transformed into electronic fusion cum techno sounds. The sounds that ruled the charts, changed significantly. And so did the Bond. Pierce Brosnan stepped in. The theme song was composed by Eric Serra and was sung by Tina Turner. Ranked easily among the best Bond songs ever, this song worked because it married Bond music elements and all elements that is, to modern percussion sounds and brilliant vocal rendition reminiscent of Bond songs in 60s. The song was modern, yet had everything about Bond song..the tune, soundscape and orchestral elements. Originally, pop band 'Ace of Base' was approached for theme song. Their song "The Juvenile"(originally supposed to be GoldenEye), was rejected, although they too did a fair job on the Bond song. The end credits had had "Experience of Love" by Eic Serra, a casual romantic ballad, which is does not need much mention.

GoldenEye Rating: 9.5/10

The Juvenile Rating: 8/10


18. Tomorrow Never Dies: David Arnold stepped in as composer for this flick and went on to compose for subsequent Bond films too. His forte was fusing John Barry's classical style of orchestration with modern electronic music. The title song by Sheryl Crow hit the right notes of Bond song, much like GoldenEye song, capturing the mood of the Bond song to the perfect level. The orchestration and rendition, both are top class. Another song "Surrender", sung by K.D.Lang, used in the end credits, comes quite close to the title song, in execution. This song too, is characteized by John Barry elements and modern electronica, filling the with Bond signature. Meanwhile, several other artists/bands vied for clinching the title song of the film. They include Saint Etienne's version, Swan Lee's version, Pulp's Version (rock interpretation) and Propellerheads version (techno).

Sheryl Crow song Rating: 9/10

Surrender Rating:  8/10

Sain Etienne's Version Rating: 7/10

Swan Lee's Version Rating: 7/10

Pulp's Rating: 6/10

Propellerheads version Rating: 6/10


19. The World is Not Enough: David Arnold continued his interpretation of John Barry's touch and painted exactly the same colours on modern canvas of sound. This film's title song was sung by Garbage and the tune, which has shades of Keeravani raaga, has quite an intoxicating melody. The song's lyrics are quite interesting too. Noticeable is the fact that Arnold has retained the flavour of the Bond song, without using the usual trumpets and horns. Probably the signature tune or rather the lead melody was compellingly Bond-ish enough that he could do away with them. Another version by Straw, was also speculated to be the title song but it never made it, despite it having a lazy rendition and being violently enticing. Scott Walker's "Only Myself to Blame" which appears in the end credits is a jazz number with hardly any semblance with Bond music, although the tune is mildly mysterious.

Garbage song Rating: 9.5/10

Straw version Rating: 6/10


20. Die Another Day: One of the weakest soundtracks, apart from being one of the weakest films. Expectations were high when it was publicized as Madonna's first Bond song. The song turned out to be overly techno, which could have made it end in dance floors rather than in the collection of Bond enthusiasts. After two outstanding songs from previous two Bond films, David Arnold disappoints in this one.

Rating: 6/10


21. Casino Royale: In many ways, the title song of this film seems to be inspired, in spirit, by the themes of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and "Live and Let die". However, there is no resemblance. The title song "You know my Name" is quite a deviation from the John Barry and David Arnold mould, but still retains the flavour of enigma all within. The trumpets and horns are replaced by electric guitars for sure, but they too make a grand entry much like wind instruments. The rendition is one of the best among the male renditions of Bond songs and given the story of this film, that of re-booting the entire James Bond story, the music had to be little different, which it was. But yet, it maintained the spirit of the Bond song, though the tune and the lyrics. Quite impressive.

Rating: 9/10


22. Quantum of Solace: This song by Alicia Keys and Jack white disappointment me a lot. It sounded as caricature of Bond music, trapped in the cacophony of modern techno sounds. I heard that the film too, deviates completely from the Bond features such as the sense of humour, the gadgets, the smart one-liners, the charm, bond music, etc. Must be so, because the music too does not seem to be a Bond song at all.

Rating: 1/10


I wish the producers bring back the things that made Bond films, and my expectations include Bond music too. Afterall, with so many wonderful Bond songs so far, whats the point in revamping the concept into something that does not identify with them. If the classic John Barry elements are brought back or even like the ones David Arnold created, therein lies the real quantum of solace, of every bond music buff, like me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Piya Tose - Actual Version

One of the first few albums i ever listened to, in my life, was Dev Anand's 'Guide'. I did not know any music back then. Yet, i loved playing the songs, on the LP record my uncle used to have. Later, my Dad bought the tapes. Much later, i happened to watch the film and i realized that the tape versions are not complete, but edited ones. Among the songs that were edited was 'Piya Tose Naina Lage Re', which originally was over 7mins. The tapes, and subsequently the cds, contained versions which are only over 4mins.

Finally, i got the full version, ripped from the VCD of 'Guide'. I listen to this version, probably once in 10-15days, thus making it one of the most revisited songs in my entire collection. I cannot exactly say what draws me towards this composition. Probably it is sheer magic. It is indeed difficult to appreciate just 1-2 aspects of this song. There is always something new popping up, as the song plays on. What really sets this song apart? Is it the tricky rhythm patterns, which change very intricately? Or the highly imaginative interludes? Counter-melodies? Finer nuances in rendition? Lata Mangeshkar? I think this is one of those complete, full-some songs which has 'G-E-N-I-U-S' written all over it. What does it take to compose such a song?

Frankly, i am not qualified enough to review this composition. It still gives me goose bumps, to believe the fact that the entire soundtrack of 'Guide' was composed in, hold-your-breath, 5 days. By every measure, it is not at all an ordinalry achievement, given the fact the soundtrack had nothing but sheer Gems. And among them, shining brightly is this nugget, which leaves listeners spellbound. Can any current-era composer try to compose, if not the similar, but a song of this stature? If yes, how long it could take, for this sng alone? And to understand what all gives the song the stature it deserves, please listen to it atleast 3-4 times, paying attention to every note, instrument and tune running on the forefront and the background. I tried mentioning few master-strokes, as comments in the player-bar. The song, in my opinion, is a monument, much like the man behind it - S.D.Burman.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A peek into Ilaiyaraaja's Tremelos

This topic was on my 'yet to blog about' list since long. A wonderful peek into the 'Tremelo effect' on string ensemble, as practised by one of the Indian Grand Masters of orchestra - Ilaiyaraaja. Even before I could blog about it, my friend Vicky came up with his take on his blog. Do read this wonderful post, where he cites few apt examples (if i were to write about same topic, i would also pick the very same songs) in which tremelo effect has been used to fine perfection, putting the painting (song), on a whole different canvas. I completely agree with the last words of Vicky, that no composer from South Asia has used tremelo effect in such evocatve way, holding listeners in a musically rapturous delight. Thanks to Vicky, for citing the right examples.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Is Accordion slowly getting back!

Last year, A.R.Rahman belted out an impressive melody "Ay Hairath-E-Aashiqi" from Guru which brought back an instrument now extinct in the current technoscape of film music - Accordion. Although the album credits did not mention who actually played it in the song, many believe that it was Rahman himself, because he personally picked it up from a music store in London (or Prague?). And he did play it well too.
Now, again, after a long time, i chanced upon another wonderful song with very good accordion work. The song, 'Muskuraa' from a new film called 'Dasvidaniyan', composed by singer Kailash Kher, reminded me of another exquisite composition, "Fallen from the Sky', from the film 'Once'. Although i cannot say that Kailash Kher copied it, because, to be fair, he did quite commendable job to the complete composition, I am sure that he got inspired from the song from Once. The similarity exists only in the initial lines, for few bars. But then, I must say, Kailesh belted out a very mature composition, simple melody and yet captivating, bringing back the glory of accordion which was once a regular instrument in Hindi Film Music, particularly by Shankar-Jaikishan duo. Listening to that instrument, aptly used in a melodious number calls for an applause. It rarely happens with current crop Hindi films, that a song catches my attention the very 1st time i hear it. This is just one among them. Kudos to Kailash, for this one.

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...