It was Joe Elliott of Def Leppard who told me the secret to writing the theme song to a movie.
He said: “If the title of the movie is really awkward, then you write it into the first line, like A View to a Kill. Another great example is Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders. It never comes up again after the first line.” He referred to it as “the old trick”.
I was reminded of this after hearing that teenage sensation Billie Eilish has recorded the song for forthcoming 007 blockbuster No Time to Die. Will she follow the likes of Adele and Sam Smith in bagging an Oscar for Skyfall and Writing’s on the Wall? Moreover will she be inspired by how they approached the songs, incorporating the title (in Adele’s case) or avoiding it (as Smith did)?
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Bond producers EON have always had an eye on talent. They’ve also been prepared to take risks. From Shirley Bassey and Louis Armstrong via Paul McCartney, Sheena Easton, Gladys Knight and Sheryl Crowe their choice of vocalist has been eclectic.
There have been a few blips along the road, and some weak songs. For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights come to mind. Arguably the worst was Die Another Day, with Madonna delivering a lousy theme to an execrable movie.
Yet Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill is a guilty pleasure and sing-a-long-able in a gloriously ‘80s kind of way. Thus James Bond has always been current, even if the accompanying song (and video promo) seems out of place with whoever bears the 00- prefix on screen.
In the case of No Time to Die the song will be a valedictory statement for Daniel Craig, who bids farewell to the role after a quintet of mostly impressive films. His debut Casino Royale in 2006 brought Bond to a new generation and ushered in a fresh, fast, frenetic style that dispensed with much of what had gone before.
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The theme song didn’t reference the film’s title. Instead Chris Cornell sang You Know My Name to drive home a harder, more macho incarnation of 007.
This, after all, was an agent reinventing himself after being nudged into the shadows by Jason Bourne. But just as the character has evolved, so have the voices that accompany him on his missions.
Sam Smith’s mournful falsetto hints at a weariness that 007 often shrugs off. There’s a vulnerability there, a recognition that our hero is, after all, just a man. And like all men, he has his limits.
What will the new song offer up? Only Billie Eilish and her brother/co-writer Finneas O’Connell can tell us that.
But whilst it represents the changing face and fortunes of James Bond in the 21st century, doubtless it will still be classic 007. Some things never change.