‘The Sound of 007’: Looking Back on 60 Years of Iconic James Bond Music

James Bond films are about the action, the intrigue, the gadgets, the girls (and the guys), the tuxedos, the fabulous locales….

And the tunes.

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Over its 60 years and 25 Eon Productions features, the Bond series — from 1962’s Dr. No to last year’s No Time to Die — has launched iconic score music and theme songs. It starts with John Barry’s brassy surf rock-meets-big band “James Bond Theme” and includes a wealth of title themes that have been performed by a hall of fame-legacy lineup that ranges from Shirley Bassey to Billie Eilish and in-between has included the likes of Tom Jones, Paul McCartney & Wings, Sheena Easton, Carly Simon, Lulu, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Madonna, Jack White and Alicia Keys, Chris Cornell, Adele, Sam Smith, Sheryl Crow, Garbage and a-ha — and that’s just to name a few.

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A Bond movie song is the cinematic equivalent to the Super Bowl halftime show: highly anticipated, shrouded in secrecy, it’s a cultural event that transcends the music. The songs stand alongside Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig as stars of the show and defining moments whenever they’re deployed. The best of them leave us shaken and stirred.

Bond music is being celebrated this week with a The Sound of 007 concert Tuesday (Oct. 4) at London’s Royal Albert Hall, featuring Bassey, Lulu, Garbage, Chrissie Hynde and others accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That’s followed by the Wednesday (also World Bond Day) premiere of a documentary of the same name on Amazon Prime. Directed by Mat Whitecross, the film goes deep inside the history of Bond’s scores and songs, using plenty of film and recording studio footage alongside both new and archival interviews with performers, composers, actors and others involved in the Bond universe.

To tune up for the festivities, Billboard sat down with current Eon Production principals Barbara Broccoli (daughter of original Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli) and Michael G. Wilson (her half-brother) — who will also be receiving the 2022 Pioneers of the Year Award and a bronzing ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — to get their take on Bond music then and now. And below, check out an exclusive preview of The Sound of 007 featuring Billie Eilish, Finneas and Hans Zimmer.

It’s a bit of a rhetorical question, but why a documentary about the music of Bond?

Broccoli: I think it’s because music has played a huge part in the films and in the series over 60 years. Usually when we start making a film the question is “Oh, who’s playing James Bond?” and then the next question is “Who’s doing the theme song?” So music is very important in the Bond world.

Talk about that importance of music in the films.

Wilson: I think that John Barry, the way he interpreted the theme, the way he established it, it’s something that’s just part of the DNA of the whole Bond films. On top of that, working with Shirley Bassey on Goldfinger sort of established that theme song that goes along with the titles as evergreen in our films, and it gave us an opportunity to bring all these great performers in to do Bond songs and to write them and end up with 25 films with these great songs and scores.

Broccoli: I think that it’s part of the Bond movies that when you go into the gun barrel sequence, which was brilliantly designed by Maurice Binder, the audience enters a portal into the Bond world and the song sort of sets up who the world is, who the characters are. With “Goldfinger” it was the villain. They beckon you into that world, into that alternative universe. So they’ve become a very valuable, important part of the whole construction of the film with the main title sequence and the song and the music.

And into James Bond himself.

Broccoli: That’s right. Bond does not talk a lot about how he’s feeling, so the score does kind of let you into what’s going on inside Bond in terms of his adrenalin, when he’s anxious and when he feels, through an action sequence, the adrenalin. The joy. The heartbreak. A lot of it is told through the composer throughout the score.

Was that something that was intended back with Dr. No, or is it something that evolved as the series rolled out?

Wilson: I think it evolved. Certainly John Barry had this big brass band type of performing group, the John Barry Seven, and he integrated that with the orchestrations for the classical films. So putting the two of those together created really a new sound, and the sound was established as part of the Bond music. And of course bringing in these great artists established that this is the portal into Bond, and the songs and the titles were preparing you for the experience.

Broccoli: And it is amazing when you think about all the artists that have performed, obviously starting with Shirley Bassey, who was definitely the one who created the sound. But you go through all the others — I mean, Tina Turner and Adele and Duran Duran. It just goes, it goes on and on. Madonna, Chris Cornell, Sheryl Crow, Carly Simon, Jack White and Alicia Keys. It really is a history of popular music over 60 years.

Did you have a brief or direction for the story you wanted The Sound of 007 to tell?

Broccoli: The thing is we’re used to making movies. We’re not documentary filmmakers. So we wanted to get a really great documentary film director. We went for Mat, we got him. He was the fish we wanted to catch, so to speak. We were thrilled he did it. And I think part of the nature of documentary making is you start digging and as you dig you find gold, pardon the pun. We wanted him to make the film he wanted to make. We didn’t put a lot of guard rails on the process because we felt since music is so important to the series it was important to have something that sort of went through and set up what the history of this was in one place.

Wilson: We wanted to kind of have the warts and all, and whatever he turned up was great. It’s pretty much the story he wanted to tell. You know all of these things when you live with it but you never really get it distilled until you see it this way from someone looking at it from the outside, which is what Mat’s been able to do for us.

What kinds of things did you learn from the documentary?

Broccoli: There were definitely stories we weren’t aware of. I didn’t know the story about George Martin going down to the Bahamas and meeting with Harry Saltzman and playing “Live and Let Die,” and Harry apparently saying, “Oh, great. Who are we gonna get to sing it?” when he had Paul McCartney and Wings. That was a story I had not heard before. And of course Louis Armstrong, the last song he ever recorded (“We Have All the Time in the World” for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). It’s such a moving song. It’s my favorite to be honest because it’s just such a beautiful song. Then there was GoldenEye; when we got that demo (by Bono and the Edge of U2) I was just blown away by it. I had no idea that Tina Turner’s reaction to the demo was “Well, this is kind of a strange song. How are we gonna make this work?” and, y’know, she does an amazing job. I love the song, so I found that interesting.

You tell a very moving story in the film about almost working with Amy Winehouse for Quantum of Solace. There’s a great sadness in the way that did not work out.

Broccoli: I don’t think it was the right time for her. She tried to work on it and then she…It just didn’t work out which is very sad. I don’t think she was in the right place to be able to pull it off, tragically. It was not long before she passed away.

One of the other “almosts” that kind of glides by in the film is Alice Cooper, who wrote and recorded a “The Man with the Golden Gun” after seeing it listed as the next Bond title in the end credits for Live and Let Die. Any reason why that one didn’t pan out?

Broccoli: Well I was very young. I was like 13 or 14 but I was a huge Alice Cooper fan. So when I heard, I was like “Oh my God, Alice Cooper! Alice Cooper!” I was just obsessed with Alice Cooper and of course really disappointed when it didn’t work. I don’t know why it didn’t work out, really.

Speaking of “Live and Let Die,” that was a very important song for the series, wasn’t it?

Wilson: I think so. It’s a real rock n’ roll song. That certainly hadn’t been tried before. We have had Duran Duran and a-ha afterwards, but certainly “Live and Let Die” has really become a classic, of (McCartney’s) songs as well as of the Bond songs.

Was it a controversial choice behind-the-scenes? As you noted, Harry Saltzman wasn’t even thinking that McCartney should sing it originally.

Broccoli: Again I was pretty young. I just remember the demo, when my dad played my sister and I the demo, we wore that tape out. We must’ve played it 1,000 times, to the point I think it almost broke. But I think the thing about the Bond movies is they do reflect the contemporary time. I think that’s really important. So I think that was a good choice even though at the time that was a little controversial. It set the standard for the future, and I think it was a really smart thing to do.

Wilson: I’m not sure there was any (controversy) except maybe in the hearts of some purists, they said “How can it become a rock n’ roll song?”. But as I said it’s become a classic, so ….

Take us through the process of how a Bond theme song is chosen.

Broccoli: Well it’s different every time. With the last one, with Billie Eilish, Cary Fukunaga, the director, suggested Billie and she’s a huge star. It’s always the question of are they gonna be interested, are they gonna be available, all the various things. I went to Ireland to see Billie and Finneas and they were performing there and met with them backstage to talk about the film. I didn’t know they were big Bond fans. I was thrilled to hear that. No Time to Die was very much a love story, and when I started explaining the love story to them they were very intrigued, and so from there they read the script, they saw the footage leading up to the main title. Hans Zimmer was very involved with them as well. What was fantastic about that was that song really seemed to capture the emotions of Madeleine Swann, the character in the film, and so Hans used the theme throughout the score and every time that haunting theme came up it evoked the heartbreak and it gave the film a lot of resonance, emotional resonance.

Is the director usually the starting point for determining a song?

Broccoli: It’s a combination. It’s always different. Sometimes we hear an artist is interested and we follow that up. Sometimes we target a particular artist. It can come from various sources. It’s always an exciting and fun time. It’s one of the things; when we announce a Bond film people are always interested in that aspect of it. So it’s always cloaked in secrecy. And then of course we have to get them to write to a timetable because we have to have the visuals. The main titles have to be designed to go with the song, so there’s always a timing issue as well and we have to get the song, the demo or the recording of the song done so that Maurice Binder or Danny Kleinman, whoever’s doing the titles, can design them and shoot them so we can get them cut into the picture on time. So there’s lots of challenges. But allows for things like, for example, Sheena Easton, when she recorded (“For Your Eyes Only”), Maurice Binder said, “Let’s put her in the main title. She has beautiful eyes and it’s ‘for your eyes only.'” In many ways I think that was the first music video that Maurice designed because it was just before or just as MTV was coming into fruition.

It was interesting to see in the documentary how involved and passionate Daniel Craig has been in regards to the music.

Broccoli: That was one of the things when he took the role on. He said to Michael and I, “I want to be involved” and we said, “Great!” He’s a brilliant person, a great actor and a great man, very intelligent, so we welcomed his input.

Wilson: In a way he knows the character better than anyone, in his interpretation of it. And he does look at every aspect of the film and has an interest in it coming off.

Broccoli: I remember the Adele track (“Skyfall).” We were shooting on a weekend down in east London and we got the tape of her singing her demo of it, and I remember getting Daniel and going into his car and putting it on in his car and listening to it the first time and it was just, oh my God, just sent tingles up your spine.

What was the Duran Duran experience like for a young Barbara Broccoli?

Broccoli: I was in my twenties when we were working on (A View to a Kill), when we had Duran Duran, which was mind-blowing because they were at the height of their fame and I got to spend time with them. I went and did the music video with them. That was thrilling.

You killed, or seemed to kill, James Bond off at the end of No Time to Die. What’s next for the Bond franchise?

Wilson: Well that is the secret. We really haven’t made any moves yet. We’re trying to get through the 60th anniversary. So I think early next year Barbara and I will sit down and figure out how we reboot, where Bond goes from here.

I get the feeling you know more than you’re letting on.

Wilson: (laughs) If I am, I don’t know more than I’m telling you

And if you did tell me you’d probably have to kill me, right?

Wilson: You got it. That’s a possibility.

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