Various Artists

The Best of Bond…..James Bond

Rating: 3.0

Label: Capitol

These days, James Bond films are an ubiquitous multimedia merchandising event. The movie is just the flagship endeavor; there’s a novelization, a video game, fast food specials and expensive watches, to name a few 007-licensed products. Although this onslaught on the consumer has been made into a science today, it is not exactly anything new. In the ’60s, when United Artists was just getting started with their enormously successful film franchise, a generation of teenagers on either side of the Atlantic bought records with more frequency than ever before.

As part of the promotion for the release of Quantum of Solace on November 14, Capitol is releasing The Best of Bond…James Bond, which contains most of the franchise’s famous music, namely, the main title songs which have featured a revolving door of performing artists with the aim of turning the films into a cross-media event, each indicative of that moment in mainstream pop culture. Interestingly enough, the films’ songs are easily divisible into distinct eras in the Bond oeuvre, as much as Connery, Moore, et al, are touchstones for particular sensibilities in the films’ history.

Starting things off is the unmistakable “James Bond Theme,” used during the main titles of Dr. No; not only does the tune introduce the bombastic brass that would color most of the songs contained on this disc, it contains the oft-imitated, never duplicated twangy guitar line, played by Vic Flick. The song is pure tension and danger- tailor made for the budding 007 series. Composer Monty Norman could do no better, his hip opus becoming so important and thematic a song that he and arranger John Barry would do battle for songwriting credit in the decades that followed.

The ’60s film themes that followed were largely written by Barry and featured loud brass and the vocals of a recording star of the day. “From Russia With Love” does feature a Sinatra-sound alike named Matt Monro, but the themes hit their stride with Shirley Bassey’s performance of “Goldfinger.” A rare Bond song solely about the villain, Bassey turns in a gonzo reading with an irresistible two note brass explosion that is referenced in several Bond songs to come. It’s hard not to like it during the final seconds with Bassey shouting “He loves gold!” Tom Jones appears with a lackluster outing for “Thunderball,” but the song is notable for his supposed fainting on the final note. With 1967’s You Only Live Twice, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman did hire a Sinatra- Nancy. In addition to Oriental flourishes in the melody, the Bond theme gets some timely fuzz guitar.

As Saltzman and Broccoli always wanted the film’s title to be in the song, it was damn near impossible for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to be worked into a tune. It got an instrumental treatment, the first since Dr. No, and is largely forgettable except for an early Moog bassline before it became a staple of 70s film soundtracks. Bassey appears again on “Diamonds Are Forever,” mewing lyrics full of innuendo while Barry outfits the song with some interesting tempo changes and some waka/jawaka guitar that reminds the listener of funk’s emergence in the early ’70s.

Barry took a vacation from Bond and George Martin was hired for composing duties for Live and Let Die. Naturally, Paul McCartney and Wings give 007 his first rock song, emblematic of the acceptance of rock as art form on par, for better or worse, with the explosive instrumental 007 work of the early 60s. “Live and Let Die,” while probably the only Bond tune in regular rotation on radio, is an overwrought, bloated beast, symptomatic of the overwrought, bloated Roger Moore films. Lulu, out of her class here, gives us “The Man with the Golden Gun,” its manic guitar and frantic tempo sounding like ’70s porno music given a large budget.

From 1977 to 1983, a period of adult contemporary female vocalized ballads appeared for 007. It’s always struck me as curious that these songs were about being uncontrollably, swept off one’s feet when those Bond Girls’ roles were given hardly any emotional depth, not even as deep as the shallows these tunes wade in. Carly Simon purrs through “Nobody Does it Better,” with a smirk as wry as any Roger Moore’s 007 could muster. Bassey returns with a Bond curtain call “Moonraker,” a confused song that awkwardly fits the film’s title into the chorus. Are we being serenaded about space shuttles, or is it an obscure reference to rural British smugglers? “For Your Eyes Only,” does a much better job of working the title into its lyrics. Sheena Easton was the first and only artist to appear in the title sequence, perhaps the influence of MTV on designer Maurice Binder. “All Time High,” from Octopussy, features Rita Coolidge and sounds like the definition of AM radio in 1983.

For View to a Kill, Broccoli and Saltzman wisely hired Duran Duran, who trick out Barry’s orchestral blasts, recalling Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It’s the closest a Bond song comes to rockin’ and so successful was this pairing that A-ha was exhumed for “The Living Daylights,” which is every bit as bad as it sounds. Gladys Knight provides the only African-American influence so far, on “Licence to Kill,” a boring bit of a forced storm. Even Bono, the Edge, and Tina Turner can’t spruce up “GoldenEye.” This song, in addition to Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” and Garbage’s “The World is Not Enough,” are indicative of the Brosnan movies; cold, electronic, and overproduced. These tracks are half-baked and don’t work without the sometimes striking titles sequences’ semi-nude silhouettes playing with Walther PPKs.

Die Another Day was the twentieth movie in the franchise and Madonna was selected to commemorate the occasion with her title tune. Although it did appear on her widely panned American Life album and was nominated for a Golden Raspberry, the song sounds like nothing else on this collection. It should be noted that “Die Another Day” gave itself completely over to electronic sounds, rather than the tepid combination of big brass and synthesizer that marked most of the Brosnan era. The franchise’s reboot, Casino Royale, offers “You Know My Name,” the latest chapter in the tragedy of Chris Cornell. The song travels a legitimately different direction, as does the first Daniel Craig film, yet it’s hard to hear an older, lost Cornell power through a song that makes him sound like Matt Stone and Trey Parker on the Orgazmo soundtrack.

Some oddball tracks are included: kd Lang performed her own track for Tomorrow Never Dies called “Surrender,” which was rejected for the more popular Crow. John Arnold, who took up composing duties on the series after Barry, delivers his own version of “The James Bond Theme,” with electronic flourishes that never come anywhere near the last guitar downbeat on Barry’s original in terms of sheer coolness. What would be fun to hear here is Marvin Hamlisch’s “Bond 77,” a sleazy disco rendition of the theme. What we do get though, is Louis Armstrong’s last recording in “We Have All the Time in the World,” the love theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Knowing the fate that awaits Bond and his wife Tracy and knowing the fate of Armstrong himself, the tune’s lyrics achieve an effective, though antiquated sentimentality that brings the collection its only true emotional depth.

This is, obviously, not an album for someone lacking interest in the 007 films. There’s not a lot to listen to here beyond novelty. However, soundtrack nuts, pop culture enthusiasts, and Bond fanatics will definitely appreciate this collection, provided they didn’t buy a similar compilation when any of the last three movies were released.

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