About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

The whipped cream atop the sundae

Adele, the newest 007 title song performer


The kabuki dance finally came to an end on Oct. 1: Adele said over her official Twitter feed that she co-wrote and performed the Skyfall title song and shortly thereafter the official 007.com Web site issued the formal announcement.

On top of that, an excerpt showed up for a time on the Internet by by late Oct. 1 IT APPEARED TO HAVE BEEN YANKED. (Although it appears to have POPPED UP ELSEWHERE.) No matter, the song, according to the official announcement, will be on ADELE’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE at 12:07 a.m. (0:07 a.m. military time) on Oct. 5, or 7:07 p.m. New York time, Oct. 4.

The question is will this be an important part of Skyfall? Or it is just the whipped cream atop the sundae? That is, a nice topping but not a vital ingredient?

There are a number of classic James Bond title songs. Still, From Russia With Love often ranks near the top for many fans, but it had an instrumental version of the Lionel Bart-written song. The actual song ran briefly during the film (when Sean Connery’s 007 is romancing Sylvia Trench) and then in the end titles. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, ranked No. 1 007 film in one fan vote had a John Barry instrumental for its main titles. The Living Daylights, the 25th anniversary 007 film, is fondly remembered by many fans while its a-ha/John Barry title song doesn’t register among the best in the series.

On the other hand, author Jon Burlingame IN AN INTERVIEW WITH US PUBLISHED LAST WEEK noted that Bond title songs serve multiple purposes.

“From the beginning, it’s always really been a kind of crap shoot to try and create a song that would serve the film but also reach the pop charts to serve the broader promotional needs of the film and be successful on its own,” he said in the interview.

It has been awhile since a Bond title song has registered on the pop music charts, or received an Oscar nomination (1981’s For Your Eyes Only). So, perhaps the Adele song will reach the public. At this point, it remains to be seen whether Adele is the whipped cream on top of the Skyfall sundae or whether the song helps Skyfall reach a broader audience. With an Oct. 26 release date in the U.K. and a Nov. 9 U.S. release date, we’ll know the answer soon.