Have you noticed that the theme song that accompanies a new Bond film sounds a little bit like the song that preceded it? The rule is not an absolute one, but it happens with sufficient frequency to suggest that the previous theme tends to be influential, even in a slight way, to its successor. Then there’s the Shirley Bassey factor. Just as every so often the Bond producers ‘reset the clock’ and make a back-to-basics Bond film, the choice of artist regularly returns to the Bassey prototype seemingly at times of renewal.
It took three films for the film’s song to be used as the accompaniment to the opening titles and the musical break between the pre-title sequence and the start of the film proper. The original theme song, Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, is played straight after the opening gun barrel in Dr No (1962), while Matt Monro is heard crooning ‘From Russia with Love’ at the end of its film (1963). The film makers may not have recognised necessarily that they had found the ideal placement with the use of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ (1964) with the opening titles, but repeating the trick with ‘Thunderball’ (1965) certainly helped to establish the formula.
The song ‘Goldfinger’ – a big and brassy number – was very different from Monro’s ‘From Russia with Love’ (although Anthony Newley’s subdued version of ‘Goldfinger’ is closer to it). However, ‘Thunderball’ by Tom Jones is reminiscent of ‘Goldfinger’ (as is, to a lesser extent, Dionne Warwick’s alternative theme song, ‘Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’). Probably the Bond producers wanted to repeat the success of ‘Goldfinger’ with the same sort of sound, but ‘Goldfinger’ was such a big hit, it would have been difficult not to think of it when writing the next Bond song. The love song returned in 1967 in the next film with Nancy Sinatra’s ‘You Only Live Twice’, and was retained for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), although ‘We have all the time in the world’, sung by Lois Armstrong, accompanied a mid-film romantic montage.
For the return of Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the Bond producers looked again to Shirley Bassey to reassert a familiar Bond sound. However, a new Bond, in the form of Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973), permitted a new type of theme song, and Paul McCartney delivered with an explosive and rockier number. This seems to have influenced the next song. Lulu’s ‘The man with the golden gun’ (1974) certainly took the dramatic tone of McCartney’s effort, despite the innuendo-laden lyrics.
Cubby Broccoli needed The Spy Who Loved Me (1976) to re-launch Bond after the disappointing returns of The Man With the Golden Gun and a host of legal battles, and the theme song helped to achieve it. ‘Nobody does it better’ was loud and proud, and the singer Carly Simon evoked Bassey’s confident tones. By now Bond themes were strongly associated with solo female artists, rather than male solo artists or groups. The association was reinforced with the next three films. If you had to think of potential artists to sing a Bond song, the chances were you’d turn first to a female singer.
A View to a Kill (1985), though, marked a change, as the group Duran Duran was chosen to perform the title song. It was so successful (it reached no. 1 in the USA and no. 2 in the UK), that the next song, ‘The Living Daylights’ was also by a group, a-ha, and was something of a clone of its predecessor.
Timothy Dalton’s second Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989) was intended as a return to Fleming’s Bond, and fittingly Gladys Knight’s theme song returned to the Bassey’s prototype; its opening bars are especially reminiscent of ‘Goldfinger’. Inevitably, after a six-year gap, the next film, GoldenEye (1995), also had a Bassey-esque theme song, sung this time by Tina Turner. Female singers were chosen for the next three songs, although Garbage’s ‘The world is not enough’ could be described as hybrid of ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘A view to a kill’.
Given the four-year wait, and the desire to again film Fleming’s Bond, Casino Royale (2006) should have had a Bassey-style song. Instead, it was accompanied by a rock number, by Chris Cornell. It was a great song, and also influential. ‘Another way to die’ by Alicia Keys and Jack White, which featured in Quantum of Solace (2008), has the same rocky style. For the next film, if media reports of Adele singing the next theme are true, then the Bond producers appear to have turned once again to the Shirley Bassey prototype.
Bond title songs are to some extent influenced by the song that preceded it. ‘Another way to die’ sounds a bit like ‘You know my name’. ‘The man with the golden gun’ sounds a bit like ‘Live and Let Die. ‘Thunderball’ sounds a bit like ‘Goldfinger’. Also we can detect that, usually at times of renewal, the Bond producers turn to Shirley Bassey, or a Shirley Bassey-type singer to help put the audience back into the world of James Bond.