The James Bond movies have given us lots of great songs — but only one of them reached the peak of on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the song subverted expectations for fans. Afterward, one of the musicians behind the song had some advice for Sam Smith when Smith composed a Bond theme.
The sound of the James Bond series
First, a little background. The 007 film series began with Dr. No, but Goldfinger — the third film in the franchise — really cemented the sound of Bond music. The film’s title song includes melodramatic singing, brassy instrumentation, and some subtle jazz influences. The song “Goldfinger” sounded contemporary in the 1960s. However, it soon sounded dated — albeit charmingly dated.
The Bond series could have abandoned the brassy sound of “Goldfinger” back in the 1960s but it didn’t. While some Bond themes are very different from “Goldfinger,” many subsequent Bond themes drew some obvious inspiration from its instrumentation and vocals. However, the only Bond theme to reach No. 1 is stunningly contemporary.
What Duran Duran tried to accomplish with their James Bond theme
Duran Duran were one of the most famous synthpop bands of their time. They stayed true to their roots while composing the title track for the 007 film A View to a Kill starring Roger Moore. According to the Irish Examiner, this was intentional.
“We didn’t try and write one that sounded like Eartha Kitt or Tom Jones,” said Duran Duran member Simon Le Bon. “We wanted to make a Duran Duran Bond theme and make sure it sounded like that.”
While the song “A View to a Kill” doesn’t sound like the Bond themes of previous decades, it does stay true to the franchise through its lyrics. The song’s lyrics ooze danger and sensuality — two of the main ingredients of the 007 films. The song even includes the line “All we need is that fatal kiss” which recalls a famous nickname for 007 — Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Simon Le Bon’s advice for Sam Smith’s 007 theme
Interestingly, Le Bon had some advice for Sam Smith when Smith was chosen to provide the theme song for the most recent 007 film, Spectre. “Sam Smith is a fantastic singer. You make it yours that’s what I would say because that is how we approached doing it. Le Bon recalled how Duran Duran wanted their Bond theme to sound like their own music, telling Smith “That’s what you’ve got to do, enjoy the journey. The James Bond franchise is massive and you get on the train and take it all in.”
So did Smith manage to produce a Bond theme as popular as Duran Duran’s? Stereogum reports “A View to a Kill” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. To date, it’s the only 007 song to do so. Smith’s retro Bond ballad — “Writing’s on the Wall” — merely reached No. 71 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, the public preferred Duran Duran’s more contemporary take on Bond music.
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