The Best Of Bond... James Bond

Various Artists

Capitol Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Dan Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/09/2000

It's always been a secret ambition of mine to become a Bond archvillain. You know, surround yourself with beautiful women in an overly-elaborate underground headquarters, with thousands of neatly color-coded pajama-clad henchmen and/or thugs, full of gigantic computers and machines whose only obvious purpose is to make "ping" noises. I mean, I've got a cat and no fashion sense, so I should be halfway there.

It should be gleaned from the above paragraph that I am something of a Bond enthusiast.

This CD was an impulse buy at the record store, more for the "holy shit, this looks cool" factor than any real musical interest. It consists of 19 tracks, including the title theme to each of the official 007 movies ( Never Say Never Again doesn't count). This sounds like a disaster, since usually these themes consist of hilariously badly written lyrics delivered in a diva-esque fashion (never sing one note when nine or ten will do) over unbelievably pretentious overblown orchestral backing.

The fact that the album includes tracks by a-ha, Duran Duran, Tom Jones, Carly Simon and Nancy Sinatra may also indicate train-wreck potential. But this disc does contain a surprising amount of solid material, plus a lot of absolutely hilarious material (more on this later).

The first track, of course, is "The James Bond Theme", the instantly recognizable rock-jazz theme that opens Dr. No, the series' first picture. This track is best played at earsplitting volume in your personal automobile, as you accelerate to approximately 134 miles per hour and start running suspicious cars off the road. A lot of fun. The other instrumental on the record is from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", which is the sort of lost Bond movie (the only one featuring George Lazenby as 007). Both are characterized by great rock-jazz-orchestral arrangement and general excitement.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title themes fall into several categories. There are some honestly good tunes, some moderately ridiculous ones, and some which will likely leave you crying with laughter whilst rolling around the floor.

Let's tackle these categories in reverse order. First, Tom Jones crooning "Thunderball" is one of the most surreal bits of recorded music I've ever experienced. Like William Shatner's "Mr Tambourine Man", it crosses the threshold of "bad" and enters wholly different, and uncharted, territory. Duran Duran's "A View To A Kill" isn't quite as stupefying, but still pretty much awful.

Most of the tracks on the album fall into the "forgettable" middle ground. The a-ha track isn't insultingly bad, but doesn't really go anywhere. Nor does "You Only Live Twice," performed by Nancy Sinatra, or Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only". Rather surprisingly, the two Brosnan-era songs included - Tina Turner's "Goldeneye" and Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" - are very mediocre. Unfortunately, this collection doesn't include Garbage's theme for "The World Is Not Enough," which frankly is excellent and would have been one of the top four or five tunes on this disc.

As for the good ones...everyone's favorite Bond theme is Wings' "Live And Let Die" which makes up for its moronic lyrics with absolutely ingenious arrangement, including an all-too-short middle theme that puts you in the midst of the all at once hilarious and exhilarating bayou motorboat chase that makes that movie my personal favorite of the series. The funkified treatment of the Bond theme used in that movie (which largely takes place in Harlem and New Orleans) was the instrumental highlight of that score, for me, and I intend to seek out this movie's soundtrack album.

Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better", from another Moore-era classic, The Spy Who Loved Me, is a good, catchy pop tune. Gladys Knight's "Licence To Kill", although hampered by idiotic 80s synth timbres, is not only a glorious vocal performance by this soul goddess, but also reprises the wailing arrangement of "Goldfinger" in the verses. The singer perhaps most identified with Bond title themes is Shirley Bassey, who did the title themes for "Goldfinger", "Diamonds Are Forever", and "Moonraker". "Goldfinger" is by far the best, the overblown arrangement works well and Bassey shows off a pretty amazing set of vocal chords.

The best track on this compilation, without a doubt, is the totally disarming Louis Armstrong theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, "We Have All The Time In The World." A touching love song sung in that glorious gravelly voice, "All The Time" is a lovely song with pretty instrumentation and a generally laid-back feel which is all too often absent from the other tunes on the album. It's fitting, since On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the only Bond movie that really works on an emotional level, and frankly may be the best movie of the series, whatever Lazenby's faults.

I don't know if I can recommend this to anyone who isn't a big Bond fan, but those who are will most likely enjoy it. If nothing else, it's a fun novelty album.

Rating: C

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