Run James, Run – Brian Wilson’s James Bond theme

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

It is early 1966. The fourth 007 screen adventure, Thunderball, recently released, is a monstrous hit. “James Bond mania” is at its peak. You happen to be Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys — “America’s Band” — and in a personal neck-and-neck competition with the Beatles to conquer new sonic frontiers in pop music. So what do you do? You decide to compose a theme song for the next James Bond movie.

It’s a little-known fact that Brian Wilson harbored such an intent, much less actually went and did it. Working in the studio with the cream of Los Angeles-based studio musicians (while his bandmates were on tour in Japan), Wilson composed and recorded an instrumental track titled Run James, Run. Stacked with swinging brass, bongos, and (the de rigueur) twangy guitars, it’s a quintessential piece of 60s-style spy music. Unfortunately, Wilson wasn’t the most self-confident person in the world to begin with, and his fragile psyche was further compromised by nervous breakdowns, heavy drug use, and (later diagnosed) bipolar syndrome. End result: he lost his nerve and never submitted the music to Eon Productions, producers of the Bond films. Happy ending: he renamed the piece Pet Sounds and made it the title track to one of the greatest albums of the rock era.

It’s an interesting thought that the natural, intuitive, pairing of James Bond and pop music would have been his countrymen — and fellow British invaders — the Beatles1. But it was their American counterpart who actually made the first move, abortive as it was. At any rate, here is an imagining of the title sequence for You Only Live Twice, marrying Maurice Binder’s visuals with Brian Wilson’s music:

(Courtesy LuiECuomo’s channel on YouTube.)

1 Who knows? Maybe they were still smarting over the “earmuffs” crack in Goldfinger. Maybe John Lennon would’ve had political issues with the amorality of the screen 007. Maybe Paul was setting things up for Live and Let Die. Maybe Ringo was setting things up for Barbara Bach…

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4 Responses

  1. I’m so glad you wrote about this. Combines 3 of my 4 pure obsessions in pop culture: the Eon Bond films, John Barry scores, and Brian Wilson’s compositions. This was the place where they nearly intersected. My only question is this: do we have evidenced that Brian never actually submitted the demo to Eon? For decades he has always said he has, but his memory is notoriously unreliable. This is the first I’ve seen that it was never actually submitted. And of course, why would Broccoli/Saltzman use it when they had Barry on board… wait a minute, Saltzman might have flighty enough to do it.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the article! As best as I can ascertain, Wilson never actually submitted the piece to Eon. On several occasions, he’s said that he “chickened out.” Of course, on other occasions, he’s said that “they turned it down.” Just going by his mental state at the time, I suspect the former is true.

    It would have been interesting to know what John Barry might have thought of it!

    – Paul Baack

  3. Easy answer. Run James Run doesn’t fit at all with Barry’s score or with the film itself. It’s a great piece of musical dynamics, but the only film it could have fit would be Feldman’s Casino Royale.

  4. I remember some story about Paul McCartney agreeing to do the theme for LALD only if George Martin could do the soundtrack. I dont know if this is true, or if I have it backwards, but the rest of the story was that Paul wrote LALD in 15 minutes. Not bad work if you can get it.

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