Goldfinger, Skyfall, Living Daylights – in addition to their memories of these classic James Bond movies, film fans may also recall their title songs zooming up the charts.
Sometimes when new Bond films come out, the title songs – and the title sequences that accompany them – are almost as anticipated as the movies themselves.
John Paul Green – a self-confessed James Bond obsessive and a lecturer at the University of Sunderland – has been investigating the meanings behind James Bond songs and title sequences. He recently gave a workshop on them as part of the university’s Creative Industries Week.
John Paul – who lectures in journalism, media and cultural studies – has analysed how the songs have changed over time, from Shirley Bassey’s brassy belting out of Goldfinger to 1980s pop-rock classics such as Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill to deliberately retro numbers like Gladys Knight’s Licence to Kill.
John Paul is also interested in the Bond songs that have arguably had less impact – such as Madonna’s Die Another Day – and in how gender stereotyping and political upheavals have been reflected in the films’ title sequences over time.
John Paul said, “Goldfinger has been referred to as ‘the song every other Bond song would try to sound like’.”
“By the 1970s, the songs ran the gamut from rock – Wings’ Live and Let Die – to the romantic ballad, Nobody Does it Better and For Your Eyes Only.”
“The 1980s moved towards using successful pop-rock bands such as Duran Duran and A-ha while Gladys Knight tried to recapture the Bassey sound for 1989’s Licence to Kill.”
“These later songs had an eye on the pop chart as much as they did on accompanying the Bond title sequence and this move to using successful contemporary artists continues in recent years with a return to the ballad, with the likes of Adele and Sam Smith’s laments Skyfall and Writing’s on the Wall respectively.”
“No matter how the songs themselves change, from singing about the villains, the stories or Bond himself, they each have that hard-to-define yet instantly recognisable ‘Bond’ sound.”
“They have an epic quality that matches the spectacle of the movies. If the songs are themselves lacklustre, it can set the films up for a fall.”
“On occasion, artists and composers have failed to capture that sound – Madonna’s Die Another Day and Jack White’s Another Way to Die spring to mind. They were efforts to sound fresh and in tune with current musical trends and they forgot to be Bond songs.”
Regarding the title sequences, John Paul stresses that “each iteration of James Bond, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig helped map changes of attitudes towards – amongst other things – gender, nationality and indeed politics.”
It will be interesting to see how the Bond title songs and sequences evolve in the coming years and decades.
(This article’s featured image is by Mieremet, Rob / Anefo courtesy of the Dutch National Archives from Wikimedia Commons.)