I was thinking about Bond themes recently - what makes a good/great theme, which were the all-timers, which tracks I keep in rotation on shuffle, etc. And I had a curious thought: so many of the classic theme songs are about love/passion/danger, or sometimes about a specific villain, but how wild is it that one of the very best Bond themes is about...the deep mutual respect and loyalty Bond and his boss feel for one another?
For 50 years, Bond theme singers have served as hype men/women, stepping to the mic to get our adrenaline going enough to carry us through the next two hours and change. Sometimes the lyrics are super specific (“Goldfinger”, “The Man With the Golden Gun”), and sometimes they feel like generic love songs (“All Time High”, “For Your Eyes Only”). The lyrics are frequently first-person, and usually there’s an in-film love interest onto whom we can map a Bond theme’s POV.
But in 2012, Adele planted her feet and belted out the theme to Skyfall, the lyrics of which, in the context of a Bond film with no real love interest, are all about Bond promising to stand by M’s side when everything's falling apart. The song does not offer a happy outcome; its first words are “this is the end.” It lays out a disaster its narrator saw coming (“I’ve drowned and dreamt this moment”), and in its chorus the song becomes a solemn promise to “face it all, together.”
All of which is describing not some rote, casual romance, but a professional relationship, as illustrated by the film that follows it. 007, after lying low and rethinking his gig in the wake of a professional clusterfuck, returns to stand with M when she’s beset upon by both the bureaucratic prigs who want to use her as a scapegoat, and the unseen threat sniping at her via cyberspace. He’d rather die helping her than abandon her to the wolves. This is partially because Bond is the one who “gets” M’s job better than anyone; he has a front-row view of the nightmare in which M finds herself, and despite any doubt or misgivings he goes through, his resolve to support her only deepens. When she vocalizes her doubt about the decisions she’s made, he’s almost beaming with respect at the courage she’s required to summon on the reg. “You did your job.” The situation is a mess, and he walks into an unwinnable scenario with her because she’s earned that from him.
I think it’s what makes the film - and the emotion of the theme song - such a resonant entry in the canon. (It’s even crazier if you think of the title theme as a response song to the lyrics of Casino Royale’s “You Know My Name,” which sound an awful lot like M telling Bond how the 00 gig will take away his humanity, and she’ll just find someone else once he’s used up.) There’s grace in the fact that, complications or consequences be damned, Bond won’t leave his boss - his friend - twisting in the wind. Adele’s Oscar-winning song becomes this beautiful vow of loyalty to a woman who's got a rougher job than anyone realizes.