The Best of Bond
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
"The Best of Bond...James Bond" is a dish best served up with a martini and a plate of caviar. The best of the songs attached to the multi-million dollar franchise are elegant, sumptuous and gloriously overblown, as exciting as a tuxedo wearing spy who saves the world. The best of the theme songs are mini-epics, diamonds that are forever. The more recent efforts fall into the realm of "Dr., No!"
The songs that will leave you saying "Roger...give me more!"
John Barry's "James Bond theme" is the right choice for the opener, combining a twangy Duane Eddy guitar lick with a powerhouse horn section, while mixing together elements of stealth and sophistication with the strength and of explosiveness Mt. St. Helens. Barry was the franchise's early MVP, providing the rich, vivid scores that energized each singer's performance. International crooner Matt Munro swaggers through the smooth, warm strings bathing "From Russia With Love" sounding like a downer-dosed Steve Lawrence. You can picture Matt singing this in a tailored tux in a London lounge while winking at ladies dripping with diamonds. Munro delivers a sleepy performance, but can sustain a note like a Cossack hung up on the horn of his saddle.
There couldn't be a best of without Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger," the quintessential Bond barnburner written by Barry, actor/singer Anthony Newley and lyricist Leslie Briscusse. "Goldfinger" was supervised by Beatles producer George Martin, who was on a creative roll with the little combo from Liverpool. Barry's horns enter with a dramatic WAH-WAH-WAH as bombastic Bassey booms out "GOLD...FING...GAH!" accentuating every syllable. Bassey's performance is solid gold. She's bold and brassy, but she's also seductive and sexy, something the other Bond girls lack. Even Q couldn't come up with a weapon as powerful as Bassey's voice. Watch out for her final note, it'll shatter the windows in your Aston Martin.
Bassey's equally full-lunged Welsh counterpart, Tom Jones, is in full bellow as he blasts out "Thunderball." The ball of thunder is an obvious "Goldfinger" redux with Tom holding the same end note as Bassey for so long he reportedly passed out. But man, if it works, do it again. "And he strikes, like Thunderball."
Continuing John Barry's use of heavy orchestration, Nancy Sinatra warbles "You Only Live Twice," a slightly exotic and tropical change of pace that pushes the trembley violins and luxuriant French horns to the forefront. "You Only Live Twice" validates that The Chairman of the Board's daughter could really sing - yes, genes do matter! It's surprisingly mellow for the sassy singer who stomped out "These Boots Are Made For Walking," but has a languid, naughty charm.
If Shirley Bassey's "Goldfingah" is the number one Bond song, then Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" is a close second and is equally enduring. What separates it from the other Bond cuts is the mad cap rush of the instrumental section that sounds like a chase scene with xylophones that rattle like skeletons, the nay saying back up vocals ("you know you did, you know you did") and the explosive horns arranged by George Martin. It's not only one of the better Bond themes; it's one of Paulie's more credible solo efforts. Too bad its reputation was marred by Guns and Hoses version in which Axl Rose sounded as if he was channeling Ethel Merman passing a kidney stone.
Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only" takes Mr. Bond out of the orchestration era and into 80s techno, employing Fairlights and plastic drum kits. The pleasant surprise is Easton demonstrates considerable vocal control. Sadly, few of her singles were equal to her talent. But after hearing "For Your Eyes Only," you'll want to date this woman's voice.
Duran Duran's "View To Kill" has more of the artist's stamp in much more liberal doses than what's usually found in a Bond theme. The new wave jerky-beat, programmed keyboards and heavily muffled drums let you know this is a Duran Duran song, as Barry and his orchestra take a back seat. Cheeky Simon Le Bon is one of rock's less talented singers, but by the same token, there's little doubt who it is when he steps up to the mike. It takes confidence and gall to name yourself twice and Duran Duran has never shied away from an opportunity to make headlines. This succeeds on pure killer instinct. Bon. Simon Le Bon.
Swedish one hit wonders Aha combined a pulsating riff with rotoscope animation and live action to construct "Take On Me," one of MTV's iconic videos and a #1 on the record charts. Memo to the Bond brain trust...make sure the band you hire is well established before handing out the lofty keys of Bondom. Aha was a household name when they recorded "The Living Daylights." I'm sure if you asked folks today if they know who Aha is, they'd say, "Uh-uh." Too bad, this is one of the better later day Bond themes. "Take On Me" was characterized by an upper register only dogs can hear vocal. Lead singer Morten Harket's vocal for "The Living Daylights" lives at a lower level. Harket sounds a great deal like Simon LeBon, only far less egotistical. This track will shake the living daylights out of your rock and roll shoes.
Tina Turner is a gyrating, gesticulating generator, one of those 1,000 watt entertainers you have to see live to appreciate. Besides, you gotta give Tina credit for recording all those songs by Tony Joe White. Listening to her raspy, cat scratch voice as she navigates through "Goldeneye" without the benefit of a stage show is tough, but not impossible. Unlike contemporary R & B diva Gladys Knight (see "License To Kill"), Tina does well in conveying "Goldeneye's" mystery, sounding snakey and snide during the verses.
K.D. Lang pounds out "Surrender," flaunting the type of unlimited swaggering vocal muscle made for a Bond theme song. Stylistically, her voice is a throwback to sensuous 50s torch singers like Julie London and Peggy Lee stirred together with the power authority pipes of Barbara Streisand or Julie Driscoll. Laing hits heights that make other conscripts such as Sheryl Crow and Rita Coolidge sound tentative and tuneless. Her megawatt voice is made for doing battle with the crashing horns and strings. I surrender, K.D.
Bad Bond...Shaken, And Not Stirring
You can add all the ballistics, bikinis, booze and boats you want...These Bond bashers are bombs.
Louis Armstrong's "We Have All The Time In The World" is not the same orgasmic rock steady raver that introduced the Climax Blues Band's "FM Live" album.
Did Louie really sanction this? It sounds like his incongruous growl was grafted onto Barry's slow samba and thick strings post mortem. There are so many things wrong with this combination that it had to have been attempted simply because of Satchmo's rep. The light-hearted, bouncy arrangement just doesn't match Louie's punch-drunk vocal. Sorry, Satchmo, your time is up.
Lulu created adolescent magic with "To Sir With Love," the title track for the 1967 Sidney Poitier film in which she had a supporting role. "Man With The Golden Gun" is a tragic attempt to recreate the bouncing brio of "Live And Let Die." The end result is circus sideshow with Lulu sounding like a distressed ring leader trying to corral a gaggle of mischievous midgets. "Man With A Golden Gun" is completely misfires.
Being a fan of Carly Simon, I'll give her a push for the brutally silly "Nobody Does It Better." C'mon, somebody has to do it better. This was co-written by Marvin Hamlish, which means you'll need the Heimlich Maneuver to get through it. Credit Simon's name with pushing this syrupy dreck up to number #2 on the Billboard charts. I'm devastated, Ms. Moneypenny.
I've never understood the attraction of Rita Coolidge, aka "The Delta Lady." Her voice is a wan whisper. It's sensuous under only the most optimum conditions (such as deafness). If you want an honest, live, no frills performance, listen to Coolidge wobble her way through "Superstar" on Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" album. Jim Gordon, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Kris Kristofferson were all mad for Rita, and frankly they weren't attracted to her vocal prowess, they fell in love with her....personality! Well, not exactly. Coolidge has maintained through the years that her Bond entry, "All Time High" was a rushed affair. The Lady may not be a blessed with talent, but she's smart - she knew she had to disown this lowdown stinker. "All Time High" is a better overall song than either "Nobody Does It Better," or "For Your Eyes Only," but it could have used a singer who could hit a few more high notes than Coolidge.
When you're in a slump, revisit your early successes. The Bond brain trust took the music from "Goldfinger" to create "License to Kill," substituting mortar-mouthed Shirley Bassey for soul diva Gladys Knight. Gladys is in fine finger-pointing soul sister mode, and that's the problem. There's way too much R & B attitude crammed into a classical music arrangement. Not surprisingly, it was co-written by Michael ("Nada") Narada Walden, who seems to have a license to kill everything he touches and turns every note he composes into a disco version of the Bataan Death March. And where the heck are the Pips?
Then there's Sheryl Crow cawing out "Tomorrow Never Dies." Alas, Sheryl, the idea of having you sing a Bond song should have died immediately. Insincere cupie doll singers have no place in the world of James Bond. "Tomorrow Never Dies" is an abominable schriekfest with an incompetent Crow trying to imitate Eartha Kitt. Her performance can be described in one unspeakable word that rhymes with Kitt -- and it ain't hit.
Garbage's entry "The World Is Not Enough" is, (this is so easy), absolute trash. Singer Shirley Manson (you're kidding me with that last name, right?) doesn't have the muscle to hit the heights in "This World Is Not Enough" and is frequently buried beneath the orchestration. Never send a punk poser to replace a real singer. Thwacking percussion and throbbing synths mixed in with the swirling strings show that "World" embraced the technology of the day, and although the music is intriguing, Manson is not enough. Next time try Marilyn Manson. Better yet, send Charlie Manson to Shirley's next recording session. And don't call me Shirley.
Madonna turns up every knob in her bag of studio tricks and kills "Die Another Day."
No, Madge. Don't die today. Die right now. James Bond electronica? You need new material, girl. Pierce Brosnan must've heard this and realized it was a death knell because he quit the series. A gunshot sounds at the end of Madge's computerized catastrophe. I can only hope the barrel was pointed at her.
With Madonna's "Die" it was obvious the Bond franchise was more interested in cashing checks than making listenable music. For "You Know My Name" they trolled the streets of Seattle and came up with Chris Connell, capitalizing on the inexplicable popularity of Grunge. The last time I heard Chris Cornell's voice, he was rearranging my skull with his sound barrier breaking vocal for Temple of the Dog's "Sail On To Heaven," which despite its potential for causing permanent hearing loss, actually harnessed Cornell's vocal weaponry. "You Know My Name" is noisy, aggressive, and should only be played for prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Yes, Chris, I know your name, and if you record detris like this, I'm liable to forget it faster than a head banger can check out of detox.
You'll want to smack the living daylights out of Madonna, put out a license to kill on Sheryl Crow, and tell the man with the golden gun to find a view to kill Rita Coolidge after listening to the second half of this. But you only live twice... So treat yourself to the earlier Best of Bond epics and you'll have a thunderball.