Tag Archives: Timothy Dalton

Blogalongabond – Licence to Kill: A Song to Die For

Contributor Michael Mand takes a look at the rich history of Bond music, culminating with an appreciation of his own personal favourite theme tune.

The word ‘iconic’ is often overused; however, when it comes to the James Bond film series, there are undoubtedly numerous iconic elements, from the cars to the catchphrases and the actors themselves. Perhaps the most iconic Bond feature of all, however, is the music. This includes both the original Bond theme (perhaps the most instantly recognisable piece of music in all of cinema) and the individual films’ disparate theme songs, recorded by an array of contrasting artists and always the subject of competition and debate.

The iconic James Bond theme

The James Bond Theme” sets out the blueprint for the series; teeming with drama and menace, flailing horns and grandiose production. Written in 1962 in the surf rock style popular at the time, the original, defining riff was played by guitarist Vic Flick (who received a generous one-off fee of six English pounds for his performance). The authorship of the theme has been the subject of dispute over the years. Initially credited to Monty Norman, the theme was recorded by the John Barry Seven. Barry, who would go onto become the composer most associated with Bond, claimed credit for the piece, culminating in a court case which came down on the side of Norman. Since its debut in Dr No (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) each Bond film has seen a different arrangement of the theme, often reflecting the film’s setting, star and title song.

Flick later worked with The Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night, coming under the production eye of George Martin, one of a number of producers/composers who would take the helm when Barry was unavailable. Martin teamed up with Paul McCartney for the first time post-Beatles on 1973’s Live & Let Die. The list also included Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, Marvin Hamlish & Bill Conti before David Arnold stepped into the breach full time. With directorial duties passing to Sam Mendes for the forthcoming Skyfall, Arnold has been replaced by Mendes’ long-time collaborator Thomas Newman.

Another notable musical trademark of the Bond series is the increasing tendency to use snatches of famous soundtracks from other films, as well as self-referential appearances of previous Bond themes and even the use of classical scores. One such example of the former is the appearance of Maurice Jarre’s ‘Theme from Lawrence of Arabia’ during The Spy Who Loved Me’s desert scene.

For every film an individual theme song

If the Bond series’ incidental music is familiar, then far more debate and speculation surrounds the individual theme song which usually accompanies each film’s title sequence. Matt Monroe’s version of ‘From Russia With Love’ was the first vocal track to accompany a Bond film (though it was played over the closing titles), while the following year saw Shirley Bassey make her Bond debut with Goldfinger. Bassey went on to record two further themes, and remains the only person to have had the honour of performing more than one. The use of Tom Jones and Lulu in subsequent films continued the standard pairing of mega-lunged singer with brassy, show-stopping tune.

By the 1970s and early ‘80s, this approach had given way to drippy ballads performed by female singers, including Sheena Easton’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (from The Spy Who Loved Me) and Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’ (Octopussy); the latter two rare examples of theme songs which don’t share the film’s title (this trait has recently reappeared, but then you try shoe-horning Quantum of Solace into a song lyric). There was also a conscious effort to make the songs reflect contemporary musical trends, while retaining their ‘Bond-ness’; this manifested itself in the disco feel of the pre-title music in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and the choice of ‘80s pop titans Duran Duran & a-ha to soundtrack A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights respectively.

Increasingly, the choice of artist recording the Bond theme has become the subject of fevered speculation, competition and controversy, perhaps as much as the choice of actor to play Bond himself. While recent performers have ranged from the hopelessly naff (Madonna, Chris Cornell) to the bizarre (Jack White’s duet with Alicia Keys), it’s interesting to look at the artists who missed out, in the same way as I previously considered the actors who almost played 007.

The Pet Shop Boys submitted a version of ‘The Living Daylights’ in 1987, which was later reworked as their 1990 album track ‘This Must Be the Place I’ve Waited Years to Leave’; Alice Cooper and Blondie recorded unused versions of ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’; the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies attracted entries from Pulp, Marc Almond, Space & The Cardigans, before the bizarre decision to opt for the dismal Sheryl Crow. Speculation is already rife about the theme to this year’s Skyfall, with Adele, Noel Gallagher, Muse & Lady Gaga among the motley crew apparently in contention. A personal preference would be for Radiohead (take a listen to ‘Down is the New Up’ from the extended In Rainbows for a taste of how this might sound) or Arctic Monkeys (recall their Glastonbury cover of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’?), while the great might-have-been is perhaps the late Amy Winehouse.

Note to Eon: Robbie Williams must NEVER be allowed near a Bond theme.

The greatest Bond theme of all time

So, to my personal favourite. As this was ostensibly to be an article about Timothy Dalton’s 1989 swansong Licence to Kill, let us turn to the film’s true star: Gladys Knight. While the film itself is a solid effort, featuring a more confident turn from Dalton than in the preceding drear-fest The Living Daylights, a plot involving personal revenge and the suspension of Bond’s 00-status (plus a surprisingly fresh-faced Benicio Del Toto as a henchman), the most memorable aspect is Knight’s magnum opus of a theme song.

The Empress of Soul (for it is she) beat a mooted collaboration between Flick and Eric Clapton to the gig and, in the absence of Barry, was paired with Narada Michael Walden (he of ‘Divine Emotions’, ‘80s fans), Jeffrey Cohen and producer Walter Afanasieff. The result was the definitive Bond theme. Borrowing liberally from Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’, it was suitably self-referential, featured trademark brass and bluster and benefitted from a soaring vocal performance from Gladys herself. Topped off by a somewhat gangsta lyric which suggested that our Glad was ready to pop a cap in the ass of anyone who might dare try it on with her man, it was even cool enough to make its debut on Radio 1’s Big Beat Show, normally the home of hip hop and R’n’B.

‘Licence to Kill’ was the last of the great Bond themes, encapsulating all of the traits that had been established in the decades before, and overshadowing the disparate shambles who have since taken up the mantle. Somehow, I just don’t see Noel Gallagher living up to a song that remains one of the great film openers, with or without The Pips.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit. Contributor Michael Mand can be followed on Twitter @grindermand.

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Blogalongabond – The Living Daylights: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Bond?

I recall that the appointment of Timothy Dalton as the fourth official actor to play James Bond, following the retirement of Roger Moore, caused some confusion in my postal district. Up until that point, Dalton had been largely known as a stage actor and was only familiar to us as Prince Barin in the enjoyably barmy Flash Gordon. Dalton’s debut came in 1987’s The Living Daylights, which I will confess remains perhaps my least favourite Bond film, and makes Dalton my least favourite Bond (George Lazenby’s brief miscasting aside).

A Bond fan’s view of their favourite era tends to depend on age; my parents’ generation grew up with Sean Connery, the suave, definitive Bond (in their eyes), while I was used to Roger Moore’s irony-laden, eyebrow-raising model. Those who came of age in the ’90s will have enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s amalgamation-Bond, and Daniel Craig has brought the franchise up-to-date, with his post-Bourne/post-9/11 action hero. The character has something in common with Doctor Who, as an icon with a dedicated fanbase, with each reinvention the subject of enormous interest and controversy.

Theatrical poster

Dalton, however, seems to have fallen through memory’s cracks, almost obscure enough to warrant a quiz question, but too recent to have been entirely forgotten. However, the story of his casting as 007 reveals a wider tale of missed chances, second chances and actors being in the right place at the right time (and vice versa). Indeed, Dalton only got the role when he did because Brosnan was unavailable due to contractual obligations with the TV show Remington Steele. In many ways, the history of those who didn’t play Bond is more interesting than that of those who did, and takes us into some surprising areas.

Bond’s creator – Ian Fleming – was keen to bring his character to the big screen and was involved in the production of an early screenplay called James Bond, Secret Agent, written with Richard Burton in mind. However, Burton rejected the role and the Bond film was shelved until Cubby Broccoli’s production company Eon obtained the rights and a film dynasty was born. Eon initially held a contest to ‘find James Bond’, which was won by an obscure model named Peter Anthony. It quickly became clear that Anthony could not act, leading Eon to begin a search for an established actor capable of filling 007’s shoes.

Many stars of the day were linked with the part – James Mason, Trevor Howard and even Cary Grant were considered – but, following the decision of first choice Rex Harrison to reject the role, Broccoli settled on a young Scottish actor named Sean Connery (incidentally, this casting choice influenced Fleming’s later portrayal of his hero in his books, as he added a previously unheard of sense of humour and Scottish heritage). Connery retired (briefly) from the role in 1968, at which point a then 22-year-old actor was approached to replace him. His name? Timothy Dalton. Dalton refused the part, believing that he was too young for the role, the first of a series of fateful decisions which would come to define the Bond series. Instead, Lazenby was cast (apparently beating One Million Years BC star John Richardson to the part), making his only appearance in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before Connery returned.

Briefly researching the list of those linked with role of 007 is notable for the sheer number of actors considered, but even more surprising is their disparate styles; from professional Yorkshireman Sean Bean to Cold Feet posho Robert Bathurst; from tuxedo-sporting Bond wannabe Clive Owen to anti-Semitic has-been Mel Gibson; from family friendly Hollywood star Sam Neill to Brodie-from-The-Professionals Lewis Collins; and from ballet dancer Antony Hamilton to actual Frenchman Christopher Lambert.

“Actual Frenchman” Christopher Lambert

Those of you who have read Fleming’s original Bond books will recall that his creation was a rather different character to most of the portrayals which have appeared on the big screen over the fifty years since Connery first took to the screen in Dr No. Fleming’s Bond was a difficult and conflicted man, displaying many of his creator’s own prejudices (sexism & homophobia were par for the course). He is described in the novels as having been born in the early 1920’s, resembling musician Hoagy Carmichael, with a scar on his cheek, grey/blue eyes, a cruel mouth and as standing six feet tall, with a thin build. From this we can perhaps judge which Bond actor has been most faithful to the original 007; we can probably discount Moore’s ironic, elderly stint, which seemed to be based more on his earlier portrayal of The Saint than Fleming’s novels. Connery, as mentioned, became more of an influence on the Bond novels than they were on him, while Brosnan’s reinvention seemed to be an amalgamation of his favourite aspects of Connery and Moore, a smug, post-cold war heartthrob mixed with a witty, heart-in-the-right-place ironist. As good as Craig’s current incarnation may be at running up cranes and modelling swimwear, he surely bears no resemblance to the James portrayed in Fleming’s books. Perhaps then we should re-evaluate Dalton’s contribution to the canon?

The Living Daylights, based on a late short story by Fleming, sees Dalton reinvent Bond as a harder, more serious character than we had seen previously. The rather convoluted plot sees 007 deployed to oversee the defection of a KGB agent and discovering that the KGB themselves appear to have rebooted their policy of “Smert’ Spionam” (“Death to Spies”). As he crosses Europe and Afghanistan, it becomes clear that Dalton’s Bond has more in common with the character of the early novels than that of his film predecessors; gone are the painfully comic asides, the easy charm and the much parodied silliness. Instead we have an actual spy thriller, with all the complexities that involves. The problem is, that’s not what I look to Bond for; having scratched my head through last year’s inexplicably lauded Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I clearly lack the intellectual chops to deal with any spy film which doesn’t involve chasing Russians through space. Perhaps I’ve come to love the screen Bond as an entirely different character to that of the books; for me Dalton is just too damn straight.

So, where next for James Bond? A quick perusal of the internet shows that bets are already on for Craig’s successor in the iconic tuxedo, with CGI’s Sam Worthington the hot favourite, followed by Tom Hardy & Christian Bale (a potentially over-serious 007 if ever there was one). There is also the ongoing debate about whether it’s time for a black Bond, with Will Smith (rather absurdly) being mentioned; my own preference would be Adrian Lester. This appears to be a controversial subject (Bond’s a white guy, right?), but I refer you to Idris Elba’s quote in Bim Adewunmi’s excellent recent article in The Guardian: “Can a black man play a Nordic character? Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

Bond remains Fleming’s creation, but has evolved so many times that he is essentially the property of whichever actor is playing him at the time. This makes him a character for the ages and goes some way to explaining why Dalton’s ‘true to the text’ 007 in The Living Daylights is perhaps the least fun of any film in this much loved series.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit. Contributor Michael Mand can be followed on Twitter @grindermand.