Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper, and Blondie: The fascinating history of rejected James Bond theme songs
Later this month, crooner Sam Smith will release "Writing's on the Wall," his theme song for the new James Bond movie Spectre, becoming the latest artist to join one of the most exclusive and high-profile clubs Hollywood has to offer.
Smith's involvement with Spectre was kept almost totally under wraps until this week's announcement, which kept the rumor mill churning. Over the past few months, a wide variety of artists and groups — including Ellie Goulding, Radiohead, and Lana Del Rey — had been tipped for the job.
But whether or not those other artists were ever in serious contention for the Spectre theme, they can feel good about one thing: When it comes to being shut out of the 007 franchise, they're in very good company. Over the years, artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper, and Blondie have taken a crack at a 007 theme song, only to see the gig go to another musician. Here's a brief musical tour through the fascinating alternate history of rejected James Bond themes:
"Thunderball," Tom Jones
"Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Shirley Bassey
Borrowing a nickname bestowed upon 007 by an Italian journalist, "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is the same kind of blustery anthem that made Bassey's "Goldfinger" an iconic hit, but her version of the song was eventually discarded in favor of a recording by Dionne Warwick.
"Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," Dionne Warwick
In the end, neither version of "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" made the cut. United Artists — perhaps nervous about shaking up a formula that had worked for Matt Monro's "From Russia With Love" and Bassey's "Goldfinger" — insisted that the film's main theme incorporate the actual title. Warwick's "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was slotted for the closing credits, but a lawsuit introduced by Bassey resulted in both versions being shelved until the 1990s.
"Thunderball," Johnny Cash
The most intriguing of the what-if options for Thunderball, Johnny Cash's attempt to work the unwieldy Ian Fleming title into a rollicking country song doesn't quite work — but does deliver a relatively comprehensive plot summary of the movie.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
"You Only Live Twice," Nancy Sinatra
"You Only Live Twice," Lorraine Chandler
Chandler's crack at a 007 theme eschews the delicacy of Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" in favor of Bassey-esque bombast. This version even incorporates a riff from the traditional "James Bond Theme."
"You Only Live Twice," Julie Rogers
Rogers' take on "You Only Live Twice" is closer in style to Sinatra's version, though its lyrical interpretation of the "You Only Live Twice" theme is, like the film itself, a bit more literal.
"Run James Run," Brian Wilson
"Run James Run" isn't technically a rejected 007 theme, because Beach Boy Brian Wilson never submitted it for consideration — but once you know what inspired Wilson to write the instrumental track, it's easy to recognize its Bond-ian roots. Wilson eventually retitled the song "Pet Sounds," slotting it in as the title track of what turned out to be the Beach Boys' most acclaimed album.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
"The Man with the Golden Gun," Lulu
"The Man with the Golden Gun," Alice Cooper
"To Sir With Love" singer Lulu's "The Man with the Golden Gun" is — like the film that inspired it — one of the blander and more forgettable songs in the Bond canon. But producers initially targeted a far less conventional singer for the title theme: metal icon Alice Cooper, best known for the 1972 hit "School's Out." Cooper claims that his "The Man with the Golden Gun" was actually the frontrunner for the opening credits — but when he delivered it a day too late, the producers had already signed with Lulu. "Even Christopher Lee, who played Scaramanga in the movie, said, 'Oh, man, why did we take the Lulu song? This song is the one!'" recalled Cooper in a 2011 interview with The AV Club. Instead, the song appeared on the 1973 Alice Cooper album Muscle of Love.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
"For Your Eyes Only," Sheena Easton
"For Your Eyes Only," Blondie
Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only" came in the midst of an era of 007 ballads — preceded by Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" and Bassey's "Moonraker," and followed by Rita Coolidge's "All Time High." But Blondie ambitiously (though unsuccessfully) attempted to woo producers by recording their own song called "For Your Eyes Only," which wears its musical inspiration proudly.
The Living Daylights (1987)
"The Living Daylights," a-ha
"This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave," Pet Shop Boys
A-ha's soggy, unmemorable "The Living Daylights" is the musical distillation of the 1980s at its very blandest. But a more interesting glimpse of what could have been exists in Pet Shop Boys' "This Must Be the Place I've Waited Years to Leave," which was adapted from their rejected attempt at a Living Daylights theme.
"GoldenEye," Tina Turner
"The GoldenEye," Ace of Base
Ace of Base's catchy, preachy theme for GoldenEye makes an earnest attempt to reintroduce James Bond to a world that seemed to have outgrown him. ("We're in the '90s, nothing is the same / The Cold War is replaced by different actors using different names," reads one characteristically didactic lyric.) In the end, the title theme turned out to be the more enigmatic "GoldenEye," co-written by U2's Bono and The Edge and sung by Tina Turner. Ace of Base later reworked "The GoldenEye" into "The Juvenile," but a few transparent references to GoldenEye remain. The chorus' repeated refrain, "Tomorrow's foe is now a friend," directly recalls a conversation between Bond and ex-KGB agent turned ally Valentin Zukovsky.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
"Tomorrow Never Dies," Sheryl Crow
"Tomorrow Never Lies," Pulp
The success of "GoldenEye" — and the subsequent boost to Tina Turner's music career — made the theme song for its sequel, Tomorrow Never Dies, an unusually hot commodity. Taking advantage of the situation, producers invited a number of artists to submit their best effort, with the promise that one track would eventually be selected. Sheryl Crow's forgettable anthem wound up taking the top spot, but funkier options were considered — including an entry from British alt-rockers Pulp. Though their song wasn't selected for the film, Pulp released it anyway as the barely retitled "Tomorrow Never Lies."
"Tomorrow Never Dies," Saint Etienne
Another rejected contender came from Britpop band Saint Etienne. Their "Tomorrow Never Dies" was eventually released under its original title, and — given lyrics alluding to a "cold" man who "put on a spell on me like so many other girls" — pretty much unchanged.
"Surrender," k.d. lang
The sole survivor from the gauntlet of rejected themes for Tomorrow Never Dies, k.d. lang's "Surrender" didn't make the opening title sequence — but producers liked "Surrender" enough to slot it for the end credits instead.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
"The World is Not Enough," Garbage
"The World is Not Enough," Straw
One-album wonder Straw got a shot at a mainstream hit with their attempt at a theme for "The World is Not Enough," which offers an uneasy marriage between sub-Radiohead rock and a traditionally brassy James Bond backing orchestra. In the end, producers opted for a superior theme by fellow grunge rockers Garbage.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
"Another Way to Die," Jack White and Alicia Keys
"No Good About Goodbye," Shirley Bassey
Give this one an asterisk. Composer David Arnold insists that Shirley Bassey's "No Good About Goodbye" was "far from complete" in time to be a serious contender against the Jack White/Alicia Keys collaboration "Another Way to Die." Still, it's hard not to imagine a version of Quantum of Solace with Bassey's sultry song instead of the screechy theme that was selected. And with the opening line "Where is the solace that I crave?" and lyrics that seem to allude to Bond's grief over the loss of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, Bassey's "No Good About Goodbye" actually feels like a better fit for Quantum of Solace.