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Licence To Sing: The Lost James Bond Themes By Johnny Cash, Blondie, Pulp & More

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 4, 2012 2:20 PM
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 Bond Themes That Never Were

Among the many things that make the James Bond franchise unique -- the sheer longevity, the way it's only become more prestigious and successful as it goes on, its ability to survive actor changeovers -- is the music. Not just the unforgettable theme by Monty Norman and the great scores by John Barry, but the way that every film since the second installment, "From Russia With Love," has featured a theme song over the abstracted, dancing-naked-lady-filled opening credits.

It's as signature a part of the series as tuxedos, Martinis and gun barrels, and it's seen great recording artists from Shirley Bassey and Paul McCartney to Duran Duran and Jack White contribute tracks, albeit with varying results. The latest to get the job is British chanteuse Adele, whose song for "Skyfall" is set to be unveiled in a few short hours after a sneak preview a few days ago. So to mark the occasion, we've delved into the MI-6 archives to take a look at some of the Bond themes that never were -- mooted tracks by legendary artists that were ultimately rejected for one reason or another. Take a look, and have a listen, below, and you can catch 007 back on the big screen on November 9th.

"Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Thunderball" -- Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Cash ("Thunderball")
The fourth Bond movie, "Thunderball" (and the one that would ultimately cause a lot of headaches for the franchise, with writer Kevin McCrory winning the rights for a separate parallel Bond franchise, so long as he kept remaking this movie) was the first time that there was a degree of unrest about the theme tune. Johnny Cash submitted his own version, which is pretty decent (although leans a little close to the plot), but was rejected by producers in favor of another composition by "Goldfinger" composers Lesley Bricusse and John Barry. The song, entitled "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," (a title borrowed from an Italian journalist), intially reunited Barry and Bricusse (who wrote the lyrics) with Shirley Bassey, but was later re-recorded by Dionne Warwick. Even then, however, the studio asked that they replace it with one that shared the film's title, and so Barry wrote the booming "Thunderball" with lyricist Don Black, with Tom Jones performing it. Elements of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" can still be heard in Barry's score for the film, however.

"The "Man With The Golden Gun" and "For Your Eyes Only" -- Alice Cooper and Blondie
The late 1970s and early 1980s are probably the most awkward and least creatively successful period in Bond movie history, with an ever-aging Roger Moore combined with zeitgeist chasing movies that brought space lasers, disco and Grace Jones into the franchise. It was true musically, as well, with more contemporary artists like Paul McCartney, Sheena Easton and Duran Duran among those brought in to record themes. But some of the choices could have been even bolder. For 1974's "The Man With The Golden Gun," flamboyant rock star Alice Cooper was asked to write a version of the theme tune (which featured backing vocals from Liza Minnelli, of all people), but it proved too much for Eon, who replaced it with a Lulu track written by Barry and Black again. Cooper was upset, but unbowed, including the song on his 1973 album Muscle of Love. Over a decade later, producers approached Debbie Harry, who set about writing a song for "For Your Eyes Only" with her bandmates in Blondie. As it turned out, they didn't want them, just her, but Harry refused to participate without the bandmates. So in the end, "Rocky" composer Bill Conti penned a track for rising Scottish singer Sheena Easton, although only after abandoning plans to woo Donna Summer for it. Blondie's song would eventually appear on their album The Hunter.

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  • Lucas | March 3, 2013 4:54 PMReply

    You Know my name worst theme ever? Or for christ sake, it is great! Chris Cornell is awesome.

  • cara | January 25, 2013 2:33 PMReply

    This song by Alice Cooper is so much better than the horrible song they used for The Man With The Golden Gun.

  • SlyFox007 | November 14, 2012 12:37 AMReply

    How could you forget to mention Ace of Base's version of the "GoldenEye" theme. I think I like it better than Tina Turner's.

  • Ernst Blofeld | November 13, 2012 11:47 AMReply

    "You Know my Name" the worst Bond Song? Get over yourself you blowhard, what about the man with the Golden Gun, Goldeneye, Die Another Day, Moonraker?

  • Brie | October 5, 2012 7:56 AMReply

    Sorry, but David Arnold has publicly rejected the notion that "No Good About Goodbye" was meant as a possible "Quantum of Solace" theme song:

    Danish pop act Swan Lee also contributed to the glut of "Tomorrow Never Dies" contenders:

  • CR | October 4, 2012 5:12 PMReply

    Don't forget Duffy's unused gem 'Rain on Your Parade' for Quantum of Solace - Saint Etienne also recorded an unused 'Tomorrow Never Dies'.

  • James | October 4, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    That version of 'No Good About Goodbye" is at the wrong speed. The guy who did the video had to speed up the song to make it fit the opening credits.

    He uploaded a corrected version later, it can be found in his YouTube profile and at this link:

  • James | October 4, 2012 4:10 PMReply

    Unfortunately the Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang video above is out of synch, the song has a number of stings, etc, that hit moments in the credits, but whoever put together that video has the music late by about 3 seconds. I believe the correct version is on the DVD.

  • James | October 4, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    How could you forget GoldenEye by Ace of Base, lol. (Retitled The Juvenile when they re-recorded it later)

  • Christopher Schobert | October 4, 2012 2:46 PMReply

    Note for the completists: Pulp's "Tomorrow Never Lies" can be found on the two-disc deluxe edition of "This is Hardcore" that came out in 2006. (It can be bought on iTunes, too.)

  • cunterman | October 4, 2012 2:45 PMReply

    Good fuckin' article, Oliver. Very enjoyable. I always thought David Arnold was auditioning for the Bond job when he produced 'Play Dead' for Bjork - always struck me as a great potential Bond theme.

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