James Bond

Eon Productions

June is Black Music Month and the Take 2 blog is running a four-part series on black music and the movies. For this week, we take a look at James Bond songs, and for the sake of the series, this post recognizes music created by those of African descent, not just African Americans.

It seems odd to include the world’s most famous spy in this series, but James Bond and black music have a long and profitable history together. Bond films are perhaps the only movies in which the audience eagerly awaits who is going to sing the theme song. The singer or band reflects the music of the film’s time, and the pairing cements it and the musicians in a long-lasting relationship. Try reading a Bond title to yourself without breaking into song.

“Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey

Dame Shirley Bassey is synonymous with Bond, performing three theme songs — “Goldfnger” in 1964, “Diamonds are Forever” in 1971 and “Moonraker” in 1979. Her booming vocals compliment the orchestra’s horns and give the song more weight. It would become Bassey’s most successful song, a top 40 hit in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2004, the American Film Institute would name “Goldfinger” No. 53 in its “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Songs” list. In 2013, to celebrate 50 years of Bond, Bassey performed “Goldfinger” while draped in a sparkling gold dress and received a standing ovation. “Diamonds are Forever” saw new life in 2005 when Kanye West sampled it in “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.”

 “GoldenEye” by Tina Turner

Tina Turner picked up Bassey’s baton and ran with it in this 1995 tune. Turner always had the charisma and bravado to perform a Bond theme, and it was refitting for her to have the chance to sing one in the middle of a career renaissance. Her rock-soul vibe worked well with the film, introducing Pierce Bronson to the franchise. Bono and the Edge of U2 wrote the song.

“We Have All the Time in the World” by Louis Armstrong

This was a secondary theme to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” Instead of a theme song, the John Barry orchestra performed during the opening sequence. That’s not the only thing that changed: Sean Connery left the spy role behind and George Lazenby was his replacement. While Louis Armstrong kept his signature jazz style with this song, it didn’t have the teeth of previous themes.

“If You Ask Me To” by Patti LaBelle and “License to Kill” by Gladys Knight

This is another example of a primary/secondary theme combination, but this had better results in 1989. It also marked the beginning of seeking outside help for writing songs, collecting hitmakers to compose great tunes. Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff wrote the primary theme of Gladys Knight, a safe take on the Bond theme. “If You Ask Me To,” written by Diane Warren, is just as soft, but it found more success outside the film when Celine Dion covered it in 1992.

“Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys and Jack White

Alicia Keys and Jack White were last-minute replacements for Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson in 2008, and much like the title “Quantum of Solace,” this pairing does not make sense or sound good.