James Bond The Documentary—The Sound of 007
What teenage male didn't wish to be James Bond? Not necessarily danger man Bond, but indeed babe collector Bond.
By Bill King
What teenage male didn't wish to be James Bond? Not necessarily danger man Bond, but indeed babe collector Bond. The cool MI6 rogue can ditch an assassin's bullet within inches of the skull and promptly snuff out terrorists in a remote Swiss alp. Drive an Aston Martin sports car with Pussy Galore to the left of him. Bed Ursula Andress, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, and Britt Ekland. Let it be me! Those sublime activities - are underscored by an ultra-cool soundtrack to juice things up a bit. That Dick Dale surf guitar. Screaming brass. That bridge between 60s' porn rock, brass man Doc Severinsen on steroids, and sinister lounge jazz.
The Bond flick Goldfinger landed in 1964, just when I graduated high school. I'm now in the most attractive rock band around Louisville, The Chateaus, and we are pulling down the prime opening act gigs with a dance repertoire that revolves around the Dovells – Bristol Stomp, Little Anthony, Lonnie Mack, The Contours, and others. I bring in an arrangement of Goldfinger. A symbolic showpiece. With four saxophones and zero brass, an even more formidable challenge.
We played the college circuit and one-off black club, Club Cherry, in Lebanon, Kentucky, to amped-up crowds. From teen hops to booze cans. At Club Cherry, I add a bit of Jimmy Smith-style soul organ. Bam! We were an instant hit. "Gimme some more of that finger song." Yes indeed!
I now have my passport to persuade a carload of babes. Just play Goldfinger thrice a night, and that white Plymouth Savoy of mine, I imagined, soon to be papered in shared hamburger wrappers and dixie cups. That babe catcher sedan - my Bond mobile. The drive-through A&W - that secret agent man pit-stop. If I only had a Motel 6 key.
Sean Connery is and always will be Bond to me and Shirley Bassey, the songstress behind the visuals. There have been some great ones. Tina Turner, Sam Smith, Madonna, Garbage, Lulu, Sheryl Crow, Tom Jones, Jack White, Duran Duran, Billie Eilish and others.
For Bond, I’ll hang with Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, a close action man second.
In early October, a celebration of Bond music occurred at London's Royal Albert Hall, featuring Chrissie Hynde, Lulu, Garbage and Shirley Bassey and others accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a prelude to the release of the music documentary—The Sound of 007.
With every new Bond film, the question arises—who will play Bond and who's performing the theme song? Twenty-five films later—great songs, excellent scores, and singing careers, given that big bounce.
What's charming about the documentary from 25 Eon Productions is that throughout the 60 years, the soundtrack has kept the original theme. In successive Bond episodes, the John Barry score is chopped and blocked and appears sporadically in cadence with new source music. That curve is followed in this lavishly produced, detailed account of the decades past.
Currently, it's composer/arranger Hans Zimmer's game.
I saw a live tour of Zimmer's orchestral highlights—Top Gun, Dune, Dunkirk, Rain Man, Gladiator, Lion King, 12 Years a Slave, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. Zimmer brings the same adventure and excitement to his work with singer Billie Eilish in the most recent Bond escapade, No Time to Die.
The studio footage of the two working through the vocals is priceless. Keeping with Zimmer's method of composing, which mostly begins with the visuals, he, behind a big flat screen, hands on a keyboard with numerous sounds to choose from, improvising along. This free-flowing style carries over in source vocals that flow unabated throughout, never drawing attention, underpinning the many mood changes and dramatic shifts.
Eilish is tight to the microphone and spurred to freewheel and let the lines drop. Those bits of melodic inference become small themes Zimmer orchestrates and fuses with the action. Eilish confides that seeing the movie on the big screen and hearing the vocal sweeps surprised her and gave her chills.
Bond soundtracks ride the emotion of the moment. The romance, the thrills, the heartbreaks, the backstabbing, and the many chase scenes. They inform us of the emotional disposition of Bond at any moment.
There are grand stories behind the scenes. Mainly, Live and Let Die, where orchestrator George Martin meets with film producer Harry Saltzman, who hears for the first time the theme composed by Paul McCartney. Saltzman is said to respond, "Oh, great. Who are we going to get to sing the song?" Salzman thought Aretha and others the voices appropriate. An argument ensues, and Martin wins out with McCartney and Wings.
Still, to me, it's the roots of the soundtrack that intrigue me.
The doc homes in on the birth and evolution of the Bond theme from its inception as an interlude in a piece of music composed by Monty Norman for a musical adaptation of V. S. Naipaul's novel A House for Mr. Biswas, set in Trinidad within the Indian community. The song—Good Sign, Bad Sign. It was arranger John Barry who experimented with and developed the motif into the broader orchestrated theme we recognize today as iconic.
The music was recorded on June 21, 1962, with five saxophones, nine brass, a solo guitar and a rhythm section. The guitar lick played by Vic Flick on a 1939 English Clifford Essex Paragon Deluxe guitar plugged into a Fender Vibrolux amplifier. Here's the keeper. Flick was paid six pounds for the session.
I'm leaving it there. Other than to say, this is a keeper. For music fans of James Bond and the scores—behind the scenes, music, visuals, and talk are first-rate. Don't miss it.
The Sound of 007 - Amazon Prime.