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Licence To Sing: The Lost James Bond Themes By Johnny Cash, Blondie, Pulp & More

Licence To Sing: The Lost James Bond Themes By Johnny Cash, Blondie, Pulp & More

Among the many things that make the James Bond franchise unique — the sheer longevity, the way it’s only become more prestigious and successful as it goes on, its ability to survive actor changeovers — is the music. Not just the unforgettable theme by Monty Norman and the great scores by John Barry, but the way that every film since the second installment, “From Russia With Love,” has featured a theme song over the abstracted, dancing-naked-lady-filled opening credits.

It’s as signature a part of the series as tuxedos, Martinis and gun barrels, and it’s seen great recording artists from Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney to Duran Duran and Jack White contribute tracks, albeit with varying results. The latest to get the job is British chanteuse Adele, whose song for “Skyfall” is set to be unveiled in a few short hours after a sneak preview a few days ago. So to mark the occasion, we’ve delved into the MI-6 archives to take a look at some of the Bond themes that never were — mooted tracks by legendary artists that were ultimately rejected for one reason or another. Take a look, and have a listen, below, and you can catch 007 back on the big screen on November 9th.

“Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Thunderball” — Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Cash (“Thunderball”)
The fourth Bond movie, “Thunderball” (and the one that would ultimately cause a lot of headaches for the franchise, with writer Kevin McCrory winning the rights for a separate parallel Bond franchise, so long as he kept remaking this movie) was the first time that there was a degree of unrest about the theme tune. Johnny Cash submitted his own version, which is pretty decent (although leans a little close to the plot), but was rejected by producers in favor of another composition by “Goldfinger” composers Lesley Bricusse and John Barry. The song, entitled “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” (a title borrowed from an Italian journalist), intially reunited Barry and Bricusse (who wrote the lyrics) with Shirley Bassey, but was later re-recorded by Dionne Warwick. Even then, however, the studio asked that they replace it with one that shared the film’s title, and so Barry wrote the booming “Thunderball” with lyricist Don Black, with Tom Jones performing it. Elements of “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” can still be heard in Barry’s score for the film, however.

“The “Man With The Golden Gun” and “For Your Eyes Only” — Alice Cooper and Blondie
The late 1970s and early 1980s are probably the most awkward and least creatively successful period in Bond movie history, with an ever-aging Roger Moore combined with zeitgeist chasing movies that brought space lasers, disco and Grace Jones into the franchise. It was true musically, as well, with more contemporary artists like Paul McCartney, Sheena Easton and Duran Duran among those brought in to record themes. But some of the choices could have been even bolder. For 1974’s “The Man With The Golden Gun,” flamboyant rock star Alice Cooper was asked to write a version of the theme tune (which featured backing vocals from Liza Minnelli, of all people), but it proved too much for Eon, who replaced it with a Lulu track written by Barry and Black again. Cooper was upset, but unbowed, including the song on his 1973 album Muscle of Love. Over a decade later, producers approached Debbie Harry, who set about writing a song for “For Your Eyes Only” with her bandmates in Blondie. As it turned out, they didn’t want them, just her, but Harry refused to participate without the bandmates. So in the end, “Rocky” composer Bill Conti penned a track for rising Scottish singer Sheena Easton, although only after abandoning plans to woo Donna Summer for it. Blondie’s song would eventually appear on their album The Hunter.

“This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” – Pet Shop Boys (“The Living Daylights”)
As Roger Moore‘s tenure came to an end and Timothy Dalton took over, Bond themes had long since shaken off the brassy vibe of the early songs, and “A View To A Kill” by Duran Duran, turned out to be one of the most successful themes in the franchise’s history (the first to be a No. 1 single in the U.S.). As such, producers were keen to keep other contemporary artists involved, and the first act approached were British synth-pop stars Pet Shop Boys. The duo began work on some music, but pulled out after they realized they were only being asked to do the theme song, not the score. Still, they continued to fill out their demo, and the song, now titled “This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave,” appeared on the band’s 1990 album Behavior. After that, The Pretenders were approached (the band ultimately contributed a closing credits track, the first time a second song had appeared in the closing credits, with another heard briefly on a Walkman in the film), while Swedish pop band A-ha ended up with the opening song (much to the derision of their co-writer John Barry, on his final Bond assignment).

“Tomorrow Never Dies” — Pulp and Saint Etienne (“Tomorrow Never Dies”)
When Pierce Brosnan came in and the franchise was revived after a lengthy gap, the themes turned out to be a mix of old and new — U2 frontman and guitarist Bono and The Edge wrote “Goldeneye” for Tina Turner. Two years later for “Tomorrow Never Dies” the field was opened a little wider, with some surprising choices emerging. One of the artists asked to write a song for producers was Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond, who penned a song described as a “pastiche-y, Shirley Bassey-type” number. Meanwhile, Britpop favorites Pulp were also approached, although it’s hard to imagine their very B-sidey, very Jarvis-y track actually making the cut (it later surfaced as “Tomorrow Never Lies” on an actual B-side). Chill-out specialists Saint Etienne came closer with their “Tomorrow Never Dies,” with singer Sarah Cracknell confessing that “We thought we had it in the bag.” It was rejected by producers, but when it cropped up on the band’s Built On Sand album, they suggested in the liner notes that it was the personal favorite of Brosnan himself, who kept the master tapes. Others who submitted tracks included Swedish band The Cardigans and forgotten Britpoppers Space, but in the end it came down to a David Arnold-penned track sung by K.D. Lang (used in the closing credit) and the Sheryl Crow-sung version kicking off the movie.

“Only Myself To Blame”/”No Good About Goodbye” — Scott Walker/Shirley Bassey (“The World Is Not Enough”/”Quantum Of Solace”)
From what we’ve heard of Adele‘s “Skyfall,” it’s a refreshing return to the sound of classic Bond themes, especially given the dirge-y soft rock of the last two, Chris Cornell‘s “You Know My Name” for “Casino Royale” (arguably the worst Bond theme ever), and Jack White and Alicia Keys‘ “Quantum Of Solace.” But the retro sound is something that producers seem to have been flirting with for some time. As far back as 1999, David Arnold was looking for a more old-fashioned vibe, writing a song called “Only Myself To Blame,” sung, in a now-rare excursion from more experimental fare, by the great Scott Walker. The song was rejected for use in the film, but does appear as a bonus track on the soundtrack release. Producer Mark Ronson worked on a demo with his muse Amy Winehouse (the two worked together on her best-selling record Back in Black), but Winehouse’s drug use had already taken off, and Ronson later said that “she wasn’t ready” for the task or recording properly (sadly, she passed away in 2011, so we’ll never get a Winehouse Bond theme). But we could also have seen the artist most associated with the franchise returning, as the film’s composer David Arnold teamed up with lyricist Don Black (who wrote the themes for “Thunderball,” “Diamonds Are Forever” and “The Man With The Golden Gun“) to write a song called “No Good About Goodbye” — which features multiple uses of the word “solace” in the lyrics — for Shirley Bassey to sing. Somehow, a new track from the woman who sang two of the greatest Bond themes was rejected in favor of the White/Keys duet, but the song ultimately surfaced on Bassey’s album The Performance, which was produced by Arnold.

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