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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Top Ten James Bond Title Sequences


Carly Simon Nobody Does it Better The Spy Who Loved Me jamesbondreview.blogspot.com

Top Ten James Bond Title Sequences: The Master, Maurice Binder, at Work


In some ways, the James Bond title sequences created the whole idea of music videos. If nothing else, they certainly emphasized the idea of matching artistic scenes to popular music. Each title sequence is a story unto itself, sometimes with only the barest of references to the succeeding film. You can watch one of Maurice Binder's creations and just marvel at the artistry. A good title sequence can enhance an entire James Bond film and take it to the next level.

Putting together a good opening for a James Bond film took a lot of hard work and effort. Maurice Binder, who was the king of the James Bond opening sequences, was notorious for getting his work to the studio at the very last minute. One surmises that at least some small fraction of the reason behind that habit was Binder not wanting anyone to have the chance to demand changes in his creations. Certainly, though, it also reflected how much effort he (and the others who did title sequences) put into their creation.

To have a top James Bond title sequence, you need some combination of the following:
1. A top Title song;
2. Brilliant, arresting visuals;
3. some kind of narrative that enhances the following story somehow; and
4. flashy elements which draw the viewer's attention away from the actual credits.
 
Maurice Binder usually was the master of numbers 2-4 , but the selection of the song was out of his hands. Some of his brilliant title sequences were ruined by a mediocre title tune ("From Russia with Love" - how they couldn't figure out to put Matt Monroe's brilliant rendition over the opening titles is just a mystery). On the other hand, some brilliant songs were marred by mediocre titles ("Live and Let Die," "A View to a Kill"). Then again, sometimes both the music and the visuals sucked ("The Man with the Golden Gun"). Other times, the music and visuals are both perfectly fine and get the job done, but together they are simply mediocre ("Moonraker"). It's like the story of the three little bears: a song or sequence can be too hot, or too cold. Getting them just right, well, that wasn't always something even Maurice could pull off in his studio each and every time.

An average song or title sequence could be saved by the other. For instance, "Goldeneye" by Tina Turner is a pleasant tune, but few would call it one of the true classics. The visuals, though, were magnificent, and raise the whole effort above the pack.

Herewith, the top ten James Bond title sequences.

10. Thunderball (1965)

Tom Jones wasn't the first choice to sing the title song (Shirley Bassey recorded something else that was dropped), but he gave it his all, reputedly passing out from the strain of singing the final note. The visuals by Maurice Binder are good, with shots of predatory fellows using aqualungs and the usual scantily clad girls swimming about. Nothing too amazing, but the title sequence did help introduce the fact that this Bond film would involve underwater action and in large part be set far out at sea. This is a good example of both the song and visuals being just good enough jointly to raise this title sequence above the pack, without either one being particularly outstanding.


9. Goldeneye (1995)

It was a long wait from "License to Kill" in 1989 to "Goldeneye," and just hearing a new James Bond theme song was a thrill. Tina Turner gives it a fairly subdued treatment. Bono and his U2 bandmate The Edge wrote the song, which is quite nice but, like "Thunderball," not quite in the elite of James Bond themes. This was the first title sequence since "Goldfinger" not done by Maurice Binder, and the new blood probably was a good thing by this point. Even the masters can get stale, and Binder's last few efforts were mediocre at best. It's a very symbolic title sequence, which alerts the viewer to the fact that it is set in post-Soviet Russia, and some of the film's stars make appearances. Daniel Kleinman did a great job, with guns and bullets used quite artistically, though some of the symbolism is a bit murky.



8.The World is Not Enough (1999)

David Arnold had taken over from John Barry, and he collaborated with long-time James Bond composer Don Black (who also helped with "Thunderball," among others) for the classic song sung by Shirley Manson of Garbage, "The World is Not Enough." The title sequence makes clear that oil is at the heart of this tale, and it introduces the idea of actually finishing off a plot point from the teaser (Bond, in jeopardy before the sequence, is seen to land on his feet and walks away unharmed). It was quite clever, and the only bad thing you can really say about it is that, well, the title sequence sure does seem obsessed with oil.



7. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

For the only time in the series, the performer of the title song actually appears in the opening credits, and it is easy to see why. Sheena Easton had an okay voice (a bit heavy on the Scottish accent, but whatever), and it was a good but not altogether "wow" sort of song. However, Easton had one thing going for her that few of the singers who had preceded (or followed) her had to offer: she was strikingly beautiful, as pretty as any of the girls who usually appeared in Maurice Binder's title sequences. There are some several action images of Roger Moore as James Bond re-used from "The Spy Who Loved Me" title sequence which are put to good effect. It was the dawn of the music video age, and Sheena was in the spotlight making it clear that this was her music video. She singlehandedly carried both the pedestrian song and the fairly average  visuals way above where they deserved to be, right into the Top Ten.



6. You Only Live Twice (1967)

Nancy Sinatra's brilliant vocals, combined with John Barry's marvelous song "You Only Live Twice," carry this entry into the Top Ten. The images of an exploding volcano, while artistic, have next to nothing to do with the story. The whole thing is saved by some classy shots of Japanese ladies in traditional garb and the fact that some of the lava shots are pretty darn impressive. Too bad this song couldn't get some better visuals, but they did advance the idea that this Bond film would be set in Japan and have something to do with volcanoes, which was true, in a roundabout fashion.



5. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby gets no respect, least of all from Diana Rigg. However, he helps carry the title sequence for "On Her Majesty's Secret Secret Service," making a wry joke right before it and then running artistically across the screen in slow motion, timed nicely to the beat of the instrumental theme, to establish his presence. The instrumental theme is one of the classics, but the visuals really carry this title sequence. Shots from past Bond films establish the continuity of the series, which undoubtedly was a top concern of the producers. Maurice Binder foreshadows where he would be going in the '70s with the title sequences by using plenty of nude girls in silhouette in between clips from the previous Bond films, giving the whole effort a flair that catches the viewer's attention.




4. Diamonds are Forever (1971)

This was entry number 2 for Shirley Bassey, her first being "Goldfinger" and last "Moonraker," and her whack at "Diamonds are Forever" was good. The song itself was fairly simple, but the visuals for it were perfect. Combining shots of diamonds with a precious little white cat instantly alerted the knowledgeable viewer that old villain Blofeld likely was going to be putting in an appearance, and that it would involve smuggling of some sort. Just the visual of the white cat wearing a diamond necklace, and arrogantly strutting off the screen, makes this title sequence an instant classic. Maurice even manages to work in some quick shots of dancing go-go girls, making their appearances special and not the overbearing presence they became in some of his later outings. "Diamonds Are Forever" is a very enjoyable, almost campy title sequence which bears repeated viewings.




3. Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Kleinman already has appeared on this list for "Goldeneye," and he came up with another top opening title sequence with "Casino Royale." Apparently, Kleinman wisely went back to the roots of the franchise and found an old first edition copy of the Ian Fleming book "Casino Royale" and based the sequence on its cover. The use of cutting edge animation (rotoscope?) to portray Bond and his assailants in silhouette gives the action in the title sequence an almost mythic quality, and even Eva Green makes an unusual Bond girl appearance in the sequence appearance as the Queen of Hearts. Combine that with the superbly muscular and confrontational title song "You Know My Name" by Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell and what is left is one of the top title sequences in the entire franchise. Daniel Craig's performance in this title sequence - ending with a final defiant stare into the lens - is his absolute top performance as James Bond, and in its own way matches up with any performance by Sean Connery, Roger Moore or any of the other Bonds..




2. Goldfinger (1964)

Shirley Bassey gave the entire James Bond franchise a signature sound with her brassy rendition of the title song composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. Strangely enough, Bassey wasn't even the first choice to sing the tune, as Newley himself was going to do it. Bassey just wowed everyone with her version, which was a chart smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The key to the title sequence's success, though, is that it is devoted, not to Bond, but to the villain, Goldfinger. If you are going to have your hero take down some villain you've never heard of before, what better way to get the ball rolling than to dedicate the entire title sequence to singing about how fearsome he is? It was a brilliant, backhanded decision, and showing images of Goldfinger himself before those of James Bond himself helped sell the rest of the film. Some say that the lyrics of "Goldfinger" are trite, but every time Bassy sang that word "Goldfinger," it made the character seem even more imposing and a worthy adversary of 007 himself (much the same way that the song "He's a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" later helped sell "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"). There also are shots of Shirley Eaton and the other Bond girls in the title sequence by Robert Brownjohn which spices it up (like with the anonymous dancing girl in his previous "From Russia with Love"). This was a technique that Maurice Binder picked up on and enhanced in the 1970s and still is used occasionally to this day.




1. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The song "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, was performed to perfection by Carly Simon. She hadn't had a hit in several years, but suddenly she reappeared with this crystal-clear power ballad that was unlike anything else on the radio at the time. It received tons of airplay and became one of the top hits of the franchise. It takes more than that to create the top Bond sequence of them all, though, because plenty of Bond films have great, classic theme songs. What sets "The Spy Who Loved Me" title sequence apart, placing it way ahead of the pack and almost in its own league, are the extraordinary visuals by Maurice Binder. One can argue that, technically, they are not all that impressive, as there is some clumsy editing and no real theme to the entire sequence. However, after a brilliant segue from the astonishing ski-off-the-mountain stunt, Binder makes the brilliantly original decision to have Roger Moore act out scenes - completely unrelated to the following film - for the title sequence that became iconic images of Moore as Bond. In fact, the images were so good that Binder re-used them in the title sequences for all subsequent Moore films. This title sequence is so well known that it has become a bit of a joke among Bond afficionados, but you have to be good to be remembered, and this title sequence is remembered above all others. The use of naked girls throughout is controversial with some, as is the repeated imagery of Phallic pistols and James Bond manhandling women, but the title sequence for "The Spy Who Loved Me" is a delicious, campy treat served fresh from the cream of the 1970s for your viewing and listening pleasure.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Top Ten James Bond Theme Songs

Best James Bond Musical Artist? John Barry, He was Behind Everything

Nancy Sinatra John Barry You Only Live Twice 1967
Nancy Sinatra, looking terrified, in the studio with John Barry for 'You Only Live Twice"
There are well over two dozen James Bond theme songs, ranging from the original Monty Norman theme from "Dr. No" up through Adele's popular composition for 2012's "Skyfall." Any true fan of the James Bond movies has their own list of favorites, just as they have their own ranking of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton (that's mine, by the way). It so happens that the following are not just my favorite Bond theme songs - they also are among my favorite songs, period. Proper credit must go to the performers, but John Barry was the brains behind the whole enterprise for over thirty years, and his touch is evident in just about all of the songs listed below.

I have considered not just the title songs of each Bond film, but also secondary compositions in the films that sometimes are better than the "official" themes. Thus, for instance, Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World" from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and Matt Monroe's "From Russia with Love" are given exactly the same consideration as the instrumental title themes from those two films. As you will see, that may lead to a surprise or two in my list.

Oh, and I haven't forgotten about the current Adele 2012 tune, "Skyfall." I simply don't think it ranks, despite its current popularity. Madonna's contribution for "Die Another Day" was hot in its day, too - heck, all themes are when their respective movies come out - but "Die Another Day"'s theme is in the bottom ten, not the top. The "Skyfall" theme is a fine homage to the classic Bond themes like "Goldfinger," but also is derivative and designed to showcase Adele and her personal style rather than say much about James Bond. The song "Skyfall" is popular because Adele is hot right now and the movie is a smash hit, which is not a bad thing, but that does not mean the song itself is of any lasting value. Adele will probably win an Academy Award for it, but there are plenty of forgotten Academy-Award winning songs, and 2012 was a weak year for film songs (plus the Academy voters will figure they should give the movie some kind of recognition, and "Best Song" will be an adequate consolation prize).

"Skyfall" really could have used John Barry's unifying and sometimes quirky influence, may he rest in peace, or maybe some tuning up by someone like George Martin. As it is, "Skyfall" sounds like a piece written by somebody who had listened to the previous Bond themes and decided to write something that would be just like them. That's terrific, homages are great, but the originals are classics, derivative rip-offs like "Skyfall" are not. Give "Skyfall" ten years, maybe I'll change my mind - but probably not. It's slow, ponderous, and a downer. That said, if you like "Skyfall," it's Top Ten for you, and congratulations on finding something that you like. You may watch the "Skyfall" music video directly below to decide for yourself, then, as Casey Kasem would say, "on with the countdown."


10. Tie: "Goldfinger" - Goldfinger (1964) and "Moonraker (Disco Version)" - Moonraker (1979)

"Goldfinger" singer Shirley Bassey ultimately wound up doing three James Bond theme songs ("Goldfinger," "Diamonds are Forever" and "Moonraker"), and has been under consideration for others as well. While all three of Bassey's contributions are superb, "Goldfinger" is the one that had the most lasting impact and remains fresh almost fifty years later. Sung in a loud, brassy style, "Goldfinger" is the song most people think about (except for the most recent ones) when the Bond series comes up. It captures the mood and style of a villain who is larger than life, like Goldfinger, rather than going the usual route and glorifying or otherwise describing Bond himself. In that sense, it helps the film (which really built the foundation for the entire rest of the franchise) by subtly building up Goldfinger himself as this awesome entity who only a James Bond could threaten. "Goldfinger"'s only fault is that it has a sort of 1950s style that is unfamiliar to modern ears and sounds dated, plus it could have been a bit longer. If I were to skip Goldfinger because of these minor quibbles, I would replace it with Bassey's disco version of "Moonraker (1979) (it plays over the film's end credits), which is just pure fun and original, haunting and menacing at the same time. It is a change of pace for Shirley Bassey and the series, and it works. The opening bars are phenomenal, capturing an entire musical era in one musical phrase. "Moonraker" serves to show just how timeless Bond is - if he can survive Disco, he can survive anything.






9. "For Your Eyes Only" - For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Sheena Easton was riding a crest of popularity in the early '80s, one of those inexplicable phenomena that you look back on and can only scratch your head at in wonder. With the song "For Your Eyes Only" written by Bill Conti and Mick Leeson for the next Bond film, the producers were hunting around for someone to sing it, and the studio suggested Sheena. In her favor, Sheena Easton was a very pretty girl, and she also was from the British Isles, always a consideration when choosing a Bond singer. They caught Sheena Easton at just the right moment, for she was still rising in popularity (her popularity crashed soon after). Her hotness fortunately lasted long enough to turn "For Your Eyes Only" into a major international hit. Sung in a very emotive style, "For Your Eyes Only" remains the peak of Sheena Easton's career and, because she subsequently was not over-exposed, helps identify her and her song with the James Bond franchise. Easton remains the only Bond theme singer to appear in the opening titles singing her song, helping make the song a unique delight for true Bond fans.



8. "The World is Not Enough" - The World is Not Enough (1999)

Written by David Arnold and Don Black and performed by then-popular Garbage, "The World is Not Enough" has a classic Bond sound. Throaty vocals by Garbage lead singer Shirley Manson contrasted nicely with the classical sound of the theme song, giving what could have sounded like a golden oldie a sharp and emotional edge. The song has a wistful quality that compares nicely to other classics in the series such as "You Only Live Twice," conveying deeper emotions below the surface that help give the character of James Bond added depth. The song was accompanied by a well-crafted, if somewhat derivative, music video that quite appropriately focuses on Shirley Manson's charms and has a very Bond-ish theme. If "The World is Not Enough" has a fault, it is that it sounds a little too much like what a Bond theme should sound like, perhaps a bit formulaic and derivative of Shirley Bassey's sweeping vocals in "Goldfinger." This was a minor problem with "The World is Not Enough," and became much greater with Adele's later "Skyfall."


7. "We Have All the Time in the World" - On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is the James Bond film in which the super-spy gets married, and "We Have All the Time in the World" is the song that accompanies scenes of that relationship. Composed by John Barry with Hal David, it is another of the great '60s James Bond tunes that has stood the test of time. "We Have All the Time in the World" was Louis Armstrong's last recorded song, and is another example of a great Bond theme song that was not composed to cater to prevailing musical tastes and fads and, thus, did not do much on the charts. It is a sweet, affecting love song that has grown in popularity over the years, the way the truly great James Bond theme songs tend to do. Watching the film's love scenes now is kind of amusing because of the harsh things that Diana Rigg has said recently about co-star George Lazenby (he effectively dumped her during production, though that is not something she brings up these days), but the song itself has become a true classic.



6. "A View to a Kill" - A View to a Kill (1985)

Duran Duran was at the absolute peak of its popularity while it was composing "A View to a Kill" with John Barry, and retains the distinction of having the only James Bond theme song to hit the top of the charts in the United States (Adele with "Skyfall" had similar popularity at the time of her own Bond theme song, accounting for its extravagant chart success). The song has distinctive Eighties touches that date it, but it remains a lively and well-performed song. Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" is somewhat similar to Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" in being more memorable than the movie it accompanied because of who performed it and its hard-edged lyrics. If the song "A View to a Kill" has any real fault, it is that the accompanying opening titles by Maurice Binder were lackluster at best, along with the entire film.



5. "You Know My Name" - Casino Royale (2006)

Written for "Casino Royale" by Chris Cornell and David Arnold, performed by Cornell, "You Know My Name" has a powerful, driving quality that is perfect for the film that introduced the latest James Bond, Daniel Craig. Craig portrays Bond in muscular, no-nonsense style, and that is how Cornell delivers "You Know My Name." Cornell was a bit of an odd choice for a Bond theme-song singer, being a male American, but the song is brilliant and accompanies an animated title sequence that is among the very best of the series. The song did not do very well on the charts, which just shows that the charts are not the best way to judge Bond theme songs that are directed at complementing the films and not necessarily focused on the musical fads of the moment. "You Know My Name" is direct and to the point, just like Daniel Craig's portrayal of James Bond, and only gets better with time.


4. "Nobody Does it Better" - The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Composed for "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, "Nobody Does it Better" was a big hit for Carly Simon. Those were the days of disco and mellow soft-rock, so hearing a power ballad on the radio in between the latest Abba disco hit or overly mellow Debby Boone confection was like a breath of fresh air. The phrase "the spy who loved me" is a lyric in the song, though this was a departure from the official theme song being named the same as the film itself. "Nobody Does it Better" stayed on the charts all summer long, and it later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. For many people, this was the summer song of 1977, and they'll never forget it for that reason alone. That it also has ideal lyrics for a Bond theme song has helped this become an enduring classic, covered repeatedly over intervening years and often used by Eon Productions for various purposes. The song also is helped by the fact that it accompanied Maurice Binder's absolutely best title sequence, featuring acrobatic nude girls (and Bond himself) and classic images of Roger Moore as Bond that were so good they were used in subsequent Bond films as well.


3. "Live and Let Die" - Live and Let Die (1972)

It was time for a new James Bond, and Roger Moore was ready to go in "Live and Let Die." As is so often the case with new actors brought on to play the super-spy, the producers were eager to prove that Moore would be a "tough" Bond the way that Ian Fleming intended. The story goes that Paul McCartney went in to pitch the song to Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, and when he was done, one of them asked, "That's it?" Indeed it was it, and the song ultimately became a huge hit on the pop charts and earned Wings an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, the first such honor for an Eon Productions James Bond theme song ("The Look of Love" from 1967's "Casino Royale" actually received the first for any Bond film). For years, people poked fun at McCartney's repeated use of the word "in" during one sequence of the song, but you have to have created something special if people continue to recall it for any reason years later. McCartney continues to perform "Live and Let Die" regularly, perhaps most memorably at the Super Bowl some years ago, and 'Live and Let Die" appears to be one of his personal favorites. "Live and Let Die" is another of the great Bond songs that has only increased in popularity over the years, and most would agree that it is the best thing about Roger Moore's first Bond outing.



2. "The Look of Love" - Casino Royale (1967)

The 1967 "Casino Royale" is the black sheep of the entire James Bond canon, being not an "official" Bond film because it was not made by Eon Productions. However, it is without question a James Bond film, and just because Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman own the rights to most of the other Ian Fleming novels doesn't make "Casino Royale" any less a James Bond film. Burt Bacharach wrote "The Look of Love" as an instrumental, but Hal David later added lyrics. Bacharach said that he was inspired by Ursula Andress' performance in early footage of the film. Phil Ramone produced, and Dusty Springfield's sensuous vocal propelled the song to an Oscar nomination. It became extremely popular and was covered by many high-profile artists of the time. "The Look of Love" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. You may not associate this song with Bond, but it was and remains a top James Bond tune, much beloved by fans of all the Bond films. The short sequence of Peter Sellers and Ursula walking behind the giant fish tank became an iconic image of the 1960s.


1. "You Only Live Twice" - You Only Live Twice (1967)

There were two Bond Films released in 1967 - "You Only Live Twice" and "Casino Royale" - and both were huge financial successes. While receiving mixed critical reviews overall, they undeniably also both were huge musical successes. Nancy Sinatra sang the "You Only Live Twice" theme song in a longing, wistful way, pushing her voice harder than at any other time in her career, giving the lyrics an almost operatic quality (some of which undoubtedly is terrific processing). The song became a minor radio hit despite being completely out of step with the music of the time. The story is that Sinatra was so nervous about singing "You Only Live Twice" that she almost ran out of the studio in terror, but the final result was spectacular. John Barry composed it, with lyrics added by Leslie Bricusse, and Barry gave it a slightly Japanese feel in accordance with the plot of the film. Two versions of Nancy Sinatra's rendition exist, one for the soundtrack and one for radio airplay. The haunting, repetitive undulating string figure is so recognizable as a Bond tune that many people don't even know what film it came from - they just hear it, and know instinctively that it is a Bond tune. There are so many different Bond-ian musical influences and varieties of tempo melded into the final product, building throughout the song and culminating in the magnificent staccato climax, that it's difficult to sort them all out, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Robbie Williams paid the tune the ultimate homage by using the string background composition for his hit "Millenium" in 1998, knowing that it is perhaps the most recognizable musical theme of the series aside from Monty Norman's original Dr. No "James Bond Theme." This remains one of Nancy Sinatra's finest recordings (even if she doesn't like it much), one of John Barry's best compositions (though he had songs that did much better on the charts), and our pick for the best song in the James Bond canon.



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