On Her Majesty’s Secret Soundtrack: Rejected James Bond Theme Songs

The various musical roads not taken by 007.

Speculation about the Bond Theme Song is a weird tradition: there's always a mad frenzy of fan speculation and leaked horseshit from publicists about who will do the next song, like it's some prestigious gig (the choices indicate that's not necessarily so), and it's always - with the exception of Shirley Bassey's occasional returns - some left field choice that no one ever mentioned: Chris Cornell? Jack White? MADONNA? And in recent years, it's usually a Sony-signed artist. But we keep doing it, every couple years yelling "Duffy!" or "Adele!" or "Morrissey!" (okay, that last one is pretty much just me), and every time, we're surprised by the choice. It's a lot of fun to do a little digging and be even more surprised by who DIDN'T make the cut.

The Bond faithful probably have playlists with all this stuff already, but I was so surprised at how many casual fans seemed unaware of Shirley Bassey's rejected theme for Quantum of Solace when I linked to it recently, that I thought I'd throw out some of the musical roads not taken by Eon. I won't include all of them - some have been well covered elsewhere, some there isn't that much to say about - but feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments!

Probably my all-time favorite Bond theme is "Thunderball." Tom Jones was 22 (!) when he belted out the classic tune, shouting down not one, but two competitors. This first one could have been a contender: Dionne Warwick singing "Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," a follow-up to Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" that would have worked just fine:

Unfortunately for her, producer Albert Broccoli demanded the song have the film's title in it. So, obviously, they turned to Johnny Cash.

It's a fun song, but I have no idea what anyone was thinking when this idea went all the way from concept to tape.

On the other hand, in 1973, Paul McCartney helped kick open the door for more contemporary Bond themes with "Live and Let Die," giving Roger Moore's debut an immediacy and an edge that he ultimately never really earned! Maybe he was just getting back at Connery after the Beatles dig in Goldfinger. Either way, for better or worse, Sir McCartney and Wings paved the way for more rock-based themes from acts like Duran Duran, Chris Cornell, and Jack White & Alicia Keys. And it was probably the reason someone let Alice Cooper take a crack at a theme one year later.

You can find just about every one of these rejected themes on YouTube, laid over their respective films' title sequences. I've avoided that here; the opens are cut for specific songs, and it's often just distracting to see them clashing with the rhythm of an existing title sequence, especially in the case of For Your Eyes Only, where Sheena Easton is singing on camera. Ms. Easton's theme is an all-timer, and in truth, Blondie's take on "For Your Eyes Only" is somewhere between Lulu's "The Man With the Golden Gun" and Duran Duran's "View To A Kill," but hey, I love Blondie, and so it's a favorite "what if?" for me.

After ol' Roger hung it up came one of my least favorite themes: A-Ha's "The Living Daylights." It's a wilted, limp piece of fluff that just brings nothing classic OR fresh to the party, and is a shitty fit for the "back to basics" Bond the 1987 film promised. The story goes that the band got on very poorly with composer John Barry, and as a result the collaboration just never gelled.  What makes it extra sad is that another 80s pop band turned in a much stronger demo, but the producers passed. That band was The Pet Shop Boys, and their theme (reworked into "This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave") feels, while still very 80s, like a much more appropriate transition into the moody Timothy Dalton era.

In 1997, there was something of a legendary free-for-all involving the theme for Tomorrow Never Dies. Though the filmmakers eventually settled on Sheryl Crow (who's honestly just this side of Johnny Cash on the "appropriate for a Bond theme" scale), k.d. lang turned in a song so good ("Surrender") they stuck it on the end credits. But other attempts - by folks like Pulp (whose song retains the film's original title of "Tomorrow Never Lies") - ended up as also-rans, with some of their tracks turning up on various albums and b-sides afterward. Pulp's is the goofiest of the bunch that I've heard:

Next up was Swan Lee, who seem, uh, unashamed about their effort. 

St. Etienne also took a stab, and it's got a real "imitation Bond" vibe to it. 

As for Craig's run, we know about Radiohead's Spectre theme, which doesn't seem to be on YouTube. But here's composer David Arnold's collaboration with Dame Shirley Bassey, earmarked for Quantum of Solace. It's a bang-on perfect Bond song...but did the producers feel it was a little out of touch? Maybe it is?

That's life, I suppose. Whoever's doing the next one, I'm always hopeful they get it right. Because when they don't, it's like your team losing the Super Bowl. But when they get it right? Well...