As Sam Smith unveils ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’, the theme to this year’s Bond film, Spectre, our writers take a look down the barrel of a gun with YouTube in the firing line. From the covers to the demoes to the sampled and live performances; Fear not, it’s a ‘Die Another Day’ free zone.
Arctic Monkeys ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (Live from Glastonbury 2007)
Who would’ve thought that a fresh faced Alex Turner and co would ever cover a Bond theme, let alone one of the most famous Bond themes ever – Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. This was just the icing on the cake for the Monkeys’ triumphant 2007 Glastonbury headline slot. The boys did have some pretty big shoes to fill, a bold move considering that Turner’s vocals don’t quite pack the powerhouse effect that Bassey’s do. But they made it their own; a scrappy, indie-rock cover of the classic was just what Glastonbury 2007 needed.
Alice Cooper ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’
Glam-dram, schlock-rock scourge of Mary Whitehouse Alice Cooper (still the band name at this point) claim to have been approached by the Bonderarchy to soundtrack film number nine. The film starred Roger Moore in his second outing, Christopher Lee as tri-nippled island-dwelling villain Scaramanga and Britpop’s Noel Gallagher as pint-size-sidekick Nick-Nack. Lyrically it’s a literal summary of the film’s title and baddie, but the music contains all the mystery and intrigue required for a Bond ditty, on 1.20 the song descends into an aural equivalent of the hall of mirrors scene culminating in a death-knelling gong. The rockers subsequently lost out to Scotch-shrieker Lulu’s take, John Barry producing a pale imitation of Shirley Bassey’s two earlier efforts with all-too-familiar Bond tropes from earlier themes tacked on. Cooper’s song instead featuring on the band’s 1973 LP ‘Muscle of Love’
Bono ‘Goldeneye’ (Demo)
Despite being one of the few huge acts to have not recorded a Bond theme, half of U2 wrote the theme to 1995’s GoldenEye for Tina Turner. While the end result was to be a hypnotic number, produced by Nellee Hooper (Bjork, Massive Attack) with the bottom end of Turner’s range providing a subtle, captivating vocal (in true Bond baddy fashion), Bono’s is weaker than Roger Moore’s stunts in A View To A Kill . It was only ever meant to be a demo, however, and it’s nice to see the ego’d one allowing someone else to take the mic.
Guns N’ Roses ‘Live And Let Die’
In the late ’80s and early ’90s Guns N’ Roses were one of the hottest (if not the hottest) tickets in town following the colossal success of their 1987 album, Appetite For Destruction. Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (both sold separately) followed in September 1991 and fans of the band head-banged and argued about what the best tracks were from the 30 on offer. A cover of Paul McCartney’s Wings song ‘Live And Let Die’ was undoubtedly one of the stand-out tracks. With the accompanying video comprising of live footage, the song was an instant fan favourite and showcased the band at their absolute best. Opening with a gunshot and a stripped back vocal from Axl, the cover captured the aggression and energy of GN’R perfectly. It was only a shame follow-up covers album The Spaghetti Incident? fell way, way short of this standard and the rest as they say is history. Interesting or not: The video was rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin’s last before departing the band, whilst the song featured the late Shannon Hoon (of Blind Melon fame) on backing vocals.
Now let’s be real for a second, if there was going to be the perfect bond theme for Skyfall, then it would’ve been Muse’s ‘Supremacy’. With its explosive, operatic choruses and snarling guitar riffs that creep up on you when you least expect it, and how could you forget the absolute carnage of the solo? Imagine the overwhelming feeling of anticipation that would flood over you after the sonic attack of one of Muse’s most potent tracks in surround sound. Yes, Adele’s melancholy piano ballad builds a bit of suspense, but its no ‘Supremacy’. There’s even a Bond chord thrown in at the end. How could it not be a bond theme?
Radiohead ‘Nobody Does It Better’
In 1995, Radiohead covered Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’, redressing the power-ballad with an angsty rock makeover whilst also labelling the track as “the sexiest song that was ever written”. The melodies heard in the original match Yorke’s usual delivery well, but he pushes his voice to its limits at times in contrast to Simon’s softer original rendition. Gentle pianos are swapped for distorted guitars and in typical fashion Greenwood and co hold nothing back as each member lays into their instrument, reaching a climax as the track closes. Radiohead do the track total justice, putting it up there with one of the best Bond covers to date.
Kanye West ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’
Whilst not technically a cover version, Kanye’s ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ does borrow it’s hook from Shirley Bassey’s 1971 masterpiece, as he turns this classic James Bond theme into a modern day Hip Hop anthem. It definitely made us “throw our diamonds in the sky”, but surely now the time has come for the “greatest living rock star on the planet” to throw his name into the hat to become the next James Bond? If he can fit the job in before he becomes President of the United States, of course…
Blondie ‘For Your Eyes Only’
Rumour has it that after the Bond producers snubbed Blondie’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, they offered the band the chance to record the Bill Conti (Rocky, Dynasty) penned track before Sheena Easton. Naturally they declined, leaving Easton – one of the UK’s first reality TV-made pop stars – to not only record the track but also become the first (and so far only) singer to appear in the title sequence. Despite this it’s one of the more forgettable entries, while Blondie’s packs more punches than Lazenby into their effort. And just imagine if they’d had Debbie as a Bond girl too. Broccoli missed a trick there.
Bjork ‘You Only Live Twice’
Bjork is everything isn’t she just? Covering the original 007 theme tune ‘You Only Live Twice’ (original by Nancy Sinatra), the elusive theme is presented into something so much more fluid, also adding a little of her unique vocal flavour, and with extra orchestral beauty in the opening bars. There is just something about this track which is amplified by Bjork; not only does it sound more magical, but it sounds like a more modern take on the Bond theme (Garbage, Sheryl Crow).
Michael Legrand And Lani Hall ‘Never Say Never Again’
The theme for a needless remake fraught with difficulties from the onset. What could possibly go wrong? In 1983 52-year old $$$ean Connery (and requisite toupee) was tempted back by a co-writer on the 1961 novel Thunderball to remake said 1965 film in opposition with the Broccoli backed Octopussy, starring Moore alongside Kim Basinger and ‘funny-mime-man’ Mr Bean in a speaking role as ‘Nigel Small-Fawcett’ *guffaw*. The theme music, written by renowned composer Michael (uncle of Beach House’s Victoria) Legrand and sung by Lani Hall (a singer with Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 and wife of Herb ‘Tijuana Brass’ Albert who herself replaced Phyllis Hyman in another dispute) is a typical torpid ’80s cocktail infused aria that only serves to illustrate the folly this production was. The result a half-baked piss-take of myriad earlier themes. Speaking of which step forward the fake ‘n’ hot turd Sam Smith, licenced to kill the mood. Double-oh-no …