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10 James Bond Theme Songs That Never Were
The James Bond theme song is as iconic as the girls, guns, and gadgets, and the accompanying title sequence has, over the years, provoked a shift in what audiences expect from film credits.
And while it may often seem as if the cultural juggernaut that is the Bond song springs out of the ground readymade, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. A lot goes into a Bond song before it ever hits our ears, often involving collaborative writing sessions between artists, producers, songwriters, and the film’s composer, not to mention the competition to be selected in the first place.
A plethora of tracks was pitched for the films but wasn’t chosen as the theme. And while many of them have been released by their artists separately from the world of 007, none secured the audience and immortality the films might have brought them.
10 “Thunderball”—Johnny Cash
Thunderball (1965), Sean Connery’s fourth outing in the superspy role, had a lot to live up to after Goldfinger gave viewers an era-defining film and title track the year before. Thankfully, the word was out, Bond was huge, and there was no shortage of applicants queuing up to put their musical stamp on the franchise.
While we typically associate the Bond theme song with slower tempos, swelling strings, and grand, operatic voices like “Goldfinger” singer Shirley Bassey’s, that didn’t stop musicians of every sort from throwing their hat in the ring. And perhaps no hat was bigger than the Stetson from Johnny Cash’s head.
Rather than toning down his country style for “Thunderball,” Cash lent into it with a galloping rhythm and stripped-down acoustic sound that, in typical country fashion, lays out the story of the film. Bassey herself also recorded a potential soundtrack song, but the honors went to Tom Jones, whose similarity in style and origins to Bassey made his “Thunderball” slot seamlessly into the Bond aesthetic. Yet, given the Welsh crooner had to produce an unrepeatable, faint-inducing final note for the track, perhaps Cash’s take would have seen greater popularity in the lounges and clubs of the time.
9 “You Only Live Twice”—Julie Rogers
You Only Live Twice (1967) was originally slated as Connery’s final Bond film, as tensions between himself and producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had bubbled over. And who better to sing him out than Ol’ Blue Eyes’ daughter Nancy Sinatra? Well, perhaps Julie Rogers…
In a time when competition on 007 title tracks was still slim, Rogers was at the height of her career and had quite rightly been attached as the song’s vocalist from the beginning, working closely with the film’s composer John Barry and a 50-piece orchestra. Unfortunately, after the song was already recorded, the producers decided to go with, in Rogers’s own words, a “bigger name” and found Sinatra not long after.
Despite Barry’s involvement in both songs, the cascading melody and seductive tone of Sinatra’s final version bears no great similarity to Rogers’s—and only the lines “You only live twice” and “you’ll pay the price” are kept over. This is primarily due to a late-in-the-day overhaul by Barry and adjustments that had to be made due to the two singers’ differing vocal ranges.
8 “Man with the Golden Gun”—Alice Cooper
Before Chris Cornell’s watershed track “You Know My Name” for Casino Royale (2006), rock artists were few and far between on the Bond roster. Certainly, few could have been farther from audience expectations than notorious shock rocker Alice Cooper, who put together a version of “Man with the Golden Gun” for the 1974 Roger Moore Bond film of the same name.
While Cooper’s vocal performance makes no attempt to imitate the traditionally luxurious melodies of Bassey, Jones, or Sinatra, the track does nonetheless bear several hallmarks of the classic Bond track. This includes more subdued orchestral elements in the mix and guitars plucking out motifs from Monty Norman’s original 007 theme. Cooper also managed to get the Pointers Sisters, Ronnie Spector, and Liza Minnelli on background vocals!
But, despite the blood, sweat, and snakes he put into making it, Alice wasn’t quick enough off the mark and delivered the song a day too late to Eon Productions, who by that time had opted for the far more traditionalist sound of Lulu’s title track.
7 “For Your Eyes Only”—Blondie
For Your Eyes Only (1981), Moore’s fifth time in the black tux, ushered in a new era for 007, ditching the old and embracing everything the 1980s had to offer. And this rings true in every element except for the song.
Bill Conti, who was responsible for the film’s score, wrote his version of “For Your Eyes Only” as a cheesy, piano-laden pop ballad with Sheena Easton on vocal duties. The resulting track has all the hallmarks of the late ’70s and none of the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of the film it is forever attached to.
A strong alternative came from U.S. five-piece Blondie, who had written their own track of the same name. Their reverberating, rock-tinged effort may lack Easton’s vocal crescendos but feels more of a piece with the film itself. However, the producers had originally only approached Blondie because they wanted singer Debbie Harry to lend her voice to their track. These miscommunications led to neither Harry nor the band getting their time in the opening credits.
6 “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave”—Pet Shop Boys
When Roger Moore left the post and The Living Daylights (1987) came around, the Bond producers didn’t get the Bond they were after, settling on Timothy Dalton instead, a stage-trained Welshman who imbued the role with the grit and edge of Ian Fleming’s original spy novel series. But it was Pierce Brosnan who Eon really wanted for the part, and it was only due to him being tied up with the TV series Remington Steele in the States—the very show that brought him to their attention—that he initially missed out.
At the same time, the Pet Shop Boys were missing out on the title track. Their preposterously long-winded “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave” was originally composed as a prospective theme song for the film after someone in the industry insinuated to the pair that they would soon be approached by the studio. But the call never came, and producers went with Norwegian synth-pop trio a-ha’s “The Living Daylights” instead.
5 “The Juvenile”—Ace of Base
If the ’80s split the tone of Bond, the ’90s were all about setting that straight, with a new actor—Pierce Brosnan, at last—and a new outlook that sent off the Cold War in the first entry and focused squarely on the future. GoldenEye (1995) was the first Brosnan feature and boasted a breakneck opening sequence in a chemical weapons facility followed by a credits sequence that set guns, girls, and crumbling icons of old Soviet figures to a typically raspy and grandiose Tina Turner track.
Perplexingly, Europop group Ace of Base thought they were in the running for the title spot, pitching their track “The Goldeneye” (subsequently renamed “The Juvenile”) as the film’s theme song. Granted, Ace of Base represented a certain aspect of the ’90s—a time when bubblegum pop and Furbies were never too hard to find—but their kitschy musical stylings would have been wrong for even the silliest Bond movie (looking at you, Moonraker). Unlucky for them, their record label, Arista Records, pulled them out of the project, fearing the film might flop and damage the group’s reputation.
4 “Tomorrow Never Dies”—The Cardigans
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was the first 007 flick to openly invite competition for the theme song. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson put out a call for submissions. This saw artists as diverse as Pulp, Saint Etienne, Swan Lee, and Duran Duran—who had previously recorded the homonymous title song for A View to a Kill (1985)—vying for the opportunity.
One entry that went largely unreported at the time and since was The Cardigans’ “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Popular, hip, and well known in the late ’90s, the band was an ideal fit for a franchise wanting to sell itself to a new generation, and if it weren’t for singer Nina Persson’s reluctance, they might have been the perfect fit. Persson cited exhaustion as the reason for not submitting their song, fearing a whole extra workload on top of touring and writing music, but later came to sorely regret the missed opportunity.
Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” ultimately took the top spot. And in a rare move for the franchise, composer David Arnold had k.d. lang sing on his orchestral composition “Surrender” for the end credits, giving fans two themes for the price of one.
3 “Beyond the Ice”—Red Flag
Die Another Day (2002) signaled the end of an era, not just because it was Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film, but because the series had slipped into self-parody again and was ready for the Bourne-flavored reboot that Casino Royale would gift it four years later.
One of the most egregious elements of the tonally confused film was its theme song—Madonna’s “Die Another Day”—which saw the material girl go all technopop in a misguided effort to stay relevant. The track is massively overproduced and smacks of a lack of clear direction, with producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï and French composer Michel Colombier pulling in different directions throughout. But it could have been worse…
Electronic duo Red Flag recorded a laughably amateur track called “Beyond the Ice” that embedded Brosnan-era Bond soundtrack elements in the music and included extensive use of Bond concepts and themes in its lyrics. Whether they were approached by anyone official or whether this was merely a cynical attempt to try and put themselves in the running is unclear. It set fan sites and forums ablaze at the time, with many speculating that “Beyond the Ice” might even be the title of the new film.
2 “Quantum of Solace”—Amy Winehouse
Jack White’s and Alicia Keys’s track for Quantum of Solace (2008), “Another Way to Die,” has proven to be one of the more divisive theme songs in recent years, but the odd couple was not the producers’ first pick. Amy Winehouse was the original choice for the voice to front the second Daniel Craig feature. However, the London-born soul singer didn’t match the tone Barbara Broccoli was hoping to hit, and in light of her delicate physical and emotional state, the whole thing was called off.
Thus, there was a pretty big gap to fill, and White and Keys were drafted toward the end of the project. This allowed White, in particular, to have the kind of free reign artists don’t normally enjoy on a Bond soundtrack, and he injected a heady dose of his own style into the song. As a result, the song sometimes feels cluttered, with the two singers’ contrasting vocal styles competing rather than harmonizing, and the guitar squeals and other idiosyncratic elements often surfacing unexpectedly.
The James Bond franchise rarely attracts as niche talent as Radiohead, but back in 2015, Spectre producers met with the English art rock group to discuss the possibility of them leaving their mark on the series. After producers turned down their previously recorded song “Man of War,” Radiohead suspended work on their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016), in order to record a fresh song for the film.
The result is a somber, melancholic, and ethereal piece that fuses an off-beat rhythm with high-range vocals from singer Thom Yorke throughout. It is undeniably unique and fits the Bond aesthetic, but its dark, pessimistic themes and disassociation from the musical forms that might typically be expected of a Bond song did not make it an easy pick, and the powers that be turned it down.
Instead, the film uses Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall,” a serviceable enough title song that manages to balance melancholy and darkness with enough grandeur and optimism to keep audiences feeling good.