At the time of writing this, every Thursday from 3-6pm I am on the air on Spark Sunderland where I present their Drivetime show for the day. One of the main features of the show, with it being broadcast on a community radio station in Sunderland, is that it features a song from a local band or artist each and every hour. It provides a nice contrast from the mainstream and opens up listeners’ ears to budding artists whose music may just be what they are looking for; something new, from the heart and brought to them by their own neighbours.
Since starting the lockdown editions of the show back in October 2020 I have found myself paying more attention to the local artists who end up being featured on the show, showcasing genres like straightforward indie rock to dance punk electronica to the playlists. It’s a refreshing part of Drive that I look forward to and I have found myself adding their music to my Spotify library. In an effort to hopefully give you some new flavours to try, I’d like to highlight these artists and some choice singles of theirs.
We’re kicking things off with Butterjunk, a three-piece band formed at Newcastle University who pride themselves on producing ethereal indie rock which is described by several music magazines and blogs out there as dreamgaze and lo-fi. Sounds like a good combination, dunnit? As soon as I read those last three words I was sold, I had to hear what they had in store for the show. And boy was I impressed.
Woodside was the first song of theirs that I heard all the way back in January, and is from their debut EP Normalised. Ethereal is the way Butterjunk describe their music and that word suits this song to a tee; the notes sound like they are bouncing off old walls. The word reviewers kept on using to describe this song was ‘hazy’ and the reverb on the music does create this impression of a dream-like state, flying through a clouded sky of melody. Lovely bit of psychedelia. Looking at the lyrics as well it seems that this song has continued to age like a fine wine (For better or for worse) as we have fallen deeper and deeper into the proverbial and Lockdown 3 became a thing after New Year’s. Vocalist Ben has gone on record saying Woodside is a “self-reflective song inspired whilst I was looking back at a year of my life”, and melancholy is very much an undercurrent here as a result. In particular the lyric ‘I was just looking for some who talked like me. Now I’m broken down, lost the feeling’ resonates.
The other single I wish to talk about from Normalised is the lead single Little Alien, something which I think I’m right in saying is very cutely illustrated on the album cover. Once again this song is drenched in reverb, which helps create an atmosphere befitting of a little alien sailing through space. It’s very much a journey into the unknown but one that you’re going to be all here for no matter what if this opening track is anything to go by. Special mention also has to go to the drum work which dominates the second half of the song, guiding the three of them along a trip through the space of sound. Normally, I’d argue that foregoing lyrics for a whole half of a song in favour of a jam session could make the whole thing feel disjointed, but here it showcases what they are capable of and that they can easily hold their own with instrumentals.
When live music becomes a thing again, make sure you leave a space at the top of your list of must-sees for Butterjunk.
For every fanbase for every piece of media, from TV shows, to discographies, to film series, to video games, there is something in there considered to be the Holy Grail. A piece of legend, something that has been seen or teased in the past, that has whetted the appetite of many a fan. As a Doctor Who fan that would be the discovery of the remaining missing episodes (Still waiting on Marco Polo and Fury from the Deep being found), or as a La’s fan it would be the discovery of never-before-heard songs from the band that could create that evasive second album. For fans of the most famous James Bond video game, GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64, the Holy Grail has been the graphical remake of the game that was developed in 2008.
Fans of GoldenEye have been clambering for a faithful update to the game for a long time now. Unfortunately, that old chestnut legal issues has prevented that from happening time and time again – Rights over actors’ likenesses, the Bond license and the rivalry between Microsoft and Nintendo have meant that this remake which was due for release on the Xbox Live Arcade was shut down. There was the odd screenshot and bit of gameplay leaked here and there but nothing came of it and the remake seemed lost to time.
Yup. It leaked. It took nearly 13 years but it is finally out and if you have the technical know how to set up an emulator then it’s yours to play once again. As a result, GoldenEye has had a mini-resurgence with fans relishing the chance to play as Bond with a few more pixels. Nearly 25 years on, GoldenEye’s faithful fanbase still love and adore the game. Besides being a pioneer of the first person shooter genre, one of the main pieces of GoldenEye’s puzzle is its soundtrack composed by Grant Kirkhope and Graeme Norgate. To celebrate the remake’s leak, we’re going to take a peek into one of the most legendary video game soundtracks of all time.
There are so many tracks here to choose from and as a result I have had to very reluctantly ignore a few. That being said, you really should just check out the full soundtrack when you have time.
A legendary level deserves a legendary track and that is Facility in spades. Slightly industrial sounding notes of the Bond theme peppered throughout to create the quintessential ‘super-spy slinking around like a badass’ track.
One of the best parts about the GoldenEye soundtrack is that it constantly has that undertone running through it that you are alone. Runway, which takes place after the ‘sacrifice’ of Bond’s colleague, certainly evokes that loneliness. Sure it starts off rather bombastic, if a little melancholy, at first but then as it carries on as you get further into the level, as you are presumably sailing down the runway in a tank, it takes a turn. It’s as if it’s trying to convey what’s in Bond’s mind; sure he’s escaping, but he should be escaping with his mate.
Surface I + II
Same map, two polar opposite tracks. The first time we hit the Surface level, it’s daylight with the sun turning the sky a gorgeous pink and blue, and the music is almost triumphant as Bond plods his way through the snow avoiding detection from the guards. I’ve seen some people say it scared them when they were younger but I’ve always found it strangely calming. Second level’s version though, that would scare the bejeezus out of me. This time it’s dark, you can’t see a bloody thing, and the guards are after you from the off. The music is suitably cold and atmospheric as you try not to get lost and keep calm as your enemies stalk you from the shadows. Easier said than done.
There’s also two versions of Bunker but to be controversially honest, I really don’t like the second track. The first is brilliant though, playing well into the stealth aspects of the level, with Bond getting the drop on unsuspected guards.
Time for a good old-fashioned shoot ‘em up. James Bond has a licence to kill and this track is one of the better examples to remind you of that. Bonus points though to the ‘countdown’ part of the track if you’re cutting it a bit fine and the bombs you’ve placed are about to explode. When you hear that you know that shit is about to hit the fan.
Statue may not be one of my favourite levels of the game but I don’t think there is a better track that could suit a creepy dark park full of old relics while you’re shot out by goons with shotguns. A particular highlight is when it transitions to that crescendo that just screams ‘RUSSIA’.
Driving the tank through the streets of St Petersburg would be endless amounts of fun if it weren’t for the fact you’re on a time limit, which the snare drumbeat serves to remind you of. There’s a very war-esque, military vibe with the Streets track which suits going around creating havoc in the tank.
I don’t see this track getting as much love as I think it should. Like Silo, this is a track suited for a straight shoot ‘em up, let none stand in your way kind of situation but here it’s no holds barred as Bond shoots his way through the Janus base. I think this one could be a little bit better though, if it had some backing choir vocals added to it. Can we get something like that modded into GoldenEye XBLA please?
Train is one of the more difficult levels in the game, and is a straight firefight with Bond ploughing through carriage upon carriage of guards. There’s something a little more gritty about Train’s track, as if Bond’s embracing his inner psycho as he mercilessly guns down everything in sight in search of Trevelyan and Natalya. Doubly so if you’re playing on the easiest difficulty and pick up the RCP90.
The bassline. Nuff said.
Very much a calm before the storm, Caverns can be a bit of a slog as one of the longest levels in GoldenEye. However, its length allows it to be more of the more atmospheric tracks in the game not just because it’s set in some dark wet caves but also because of its melancholic undertones. Like Runway, it feels like we’re tapping into Bond’s true feelings about the mission, how depressing it is that he is in pursuit of and out to kill a man who was once a good friend and trusted ally.
And so we come to the final level of the game with a track that sets the scene for an all or nothing climax. The stakes are high and so are Bond and Trevelyan as they do battle hundreds of feet in the air. The keyboard notes capture the intensity of the Cradle level as you dish it out with Trev and his never ending supply of minions who flank you from every corner. You might be panicking, you might be under a lot of pressure, but who cares? You’re James f*cking Bond.
Something a bit different. I could easily talk about the proper Aztec track and how grand it is but I’m giving mention to the intense version that starts playing once you activate the countdown for the shuttle. See, Aztec has a bit of a reputation of being the most difficult, anger-inducing level in the entire game, with guards that shoot lasers, drone guns that never stop shooting and Jaws wielding two assault rifles all standing in your way. If you manage to get through all that, you’ve still got to survive endlessly spawning enemies while you’re trying to get that shuttle to takeoff. With this track playing, your heart will be beating like mad and you’ll be praying to the Gods of gaming that you’re not going to blow it at the last hurdle. The timer freezing if you forget to open the launch bay doors doesn’t help matters either.
Silent Hill or GoldenEye? Either way, suitably mysterious and spooky for a level involving Baron Samedi, the man who cannot die.
So those are my picks for the best tracks from the main levels, but what about the miscellaneous bits of music you can hear across the game? Here’s a select few…
For me, of all the bits of music you hear over the course of GoldenEye, this was the tune of my childhood. Pausing midway through the game to take a breather and just leaving the watch ticking along as I collected my thoughts while this played. It is a rather calming track in my book. Plus it can lead to some hilarity if you pause in the middle of an encounter with a squad of goons and leave the game running for an hour.
“Everyone, cease fire! He’s looking at his watch!”
-ONE HOUR LATER-
“He’s got to look up at some point hasn’t he?”
Battle with Xenia
Jungle for the most part has no real music to speak of (Although it was meant to if the beta track is anything to go by), but then you encounter iron thighs herself, Xenia Onatopp midway through and engage in a boss battle with her. This starts playing and immediately puts you on your toes as you prepare for a tough battle. Or if you just aim for the head, a three second encounter.
Elevator (Control + Caverns)
Well you can’t really talk about the GoldenEye soundtrack without mentioning the elevator music you hear when you start up Control and Caverns. If you didn’t make Bond dance a little jig before exiting the lift then I’m sorry, you haven’t lived.
So there you go, that is my take on the GoldenEye soundtrack. And you know what? I’m only scratching the surface. There’s still a lot more to dig into; the main level tracks I haven’t talked about, the unused Citadel, the multiplayer versions, the main theme…Like I say, if there is one game’s soundtrack that you need to spend time listening to at least once, if there is a game itself whose soundtrack alone makes it worth playing, then it is GoldenEye. The full soundtrack is available below. Get listening.
I think you have to be in a very specific kind of mood before you listen to a Radiohead album, especially during lockdown when your mental health is in a state of constant flux and the album you said you’d listen to would be Kid A. Simply put, for most of January I didn’t think I’d been in the right kind of mood to get through Kid A so to bridge the gap and psych myself up I ended up turning to my favourite Radiohead album, In Rainbows.
I’ve already talked about lead single Jigsaw Falling Into Place at length on this blog but I want to take a look at another song on that list that falls under the category ‘Best song not to be a single’, like Gas Panic! from Standing on the Shoulder of Giants or Failure from The La’s (Or saying that, anything from the La’s). Basically the song that provides the biggest excuse to purchase/stream the album. For In Rainbows, that song is Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.
Now, one YouTuber I’ve been following as of late has been MicTheSnare (Can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3qbvcgOHXRIFIofXyd1vBw), mainly because he reviewed both Blur and Oasis albums and called Blur the better band, in terms of Britpop at least, so he can’t be all that bad. At the merciful end of 2020, he released his own quickfire awards show commemorating the year’s music with the standard categories such as ‘Best Bar in 11/8’, ‘Best Warping of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Name to Fit a Rhyme’ and ‘Album Most Suited for Waiting in Line for a COVID Test’. The Grammys could learn a thing or two from him. But one category that caught my eye was ‘Best Covers of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” on Albums by Women That Have Covers in Black and White Featuring the Artist’s Face Obscured by Their Hair’.
The co-winners were Lianne La Havas and Kelly Lee Owens. And the simple fact that this category existed, let alone that two rising artists had gone and done a cover of it and popped it on their albums, meant that I had to check both their efforts out.
Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes
We begin with that signature opening drumbeat slowed down a couple of notches that dominates early proceedings before we start to get a more ethereal, ‘swimmy’ sound to accompany it, and create the atmosphere a song titled Weird Fishes deserves. The cherry on top though has to be the bassline, one which I never really paid attention to in the Radiohead version but here it’s loud and clear and keeping the song smoothly flowing. Lianne turns in a gorgeous and emotional performance here, one that for the most part reminded me of Billie Eilish singing No Time To Die. She nails the personal and bittersweet vibe of the song, peaking as the music takes a backseat three minutes in. It’s just her, alone, at the bottom of the ocean with the Weird Fishes. Then the band returns to create the impression she is floating back up to the surface, escaping. You can tell Lianne enjoyed every second of this and was determined to get it right. That, she definitely did.
Kelly Lee Owens – Arpeggi
Well, this was different. There’s no real drumbeat to start off with, instead we have a more mysterious sound produced by synths that create the impression of being underwater. Immediately a more mysterious, captivating atmosphere is created. As it turns out, this is in fact an instrumental which does make this a little trickier to talk about, trickier still because at first I didn’t feel like this was going anywhere for me. Therefore, I decided to do some digging. Turns out that this is in fact the opener to Kelly’s album Inner Song and that she did initially record vocals but ended up ditching them, believing that the music itself did the talking.
“What it represented for me was a beginning, the arpeggios rising from a murky surface towards the light” – Kelly Lee Owens, Rolling Stone, 2020.
Looking at it as an album opener I’d say it’s quite effective and probably a good stepping stone to her work. I admire that she’s saying that she doesn’t want to Thom Yorke and that the music alone creates the song’s story, but I can’t help but feel that the vocals are a missing piece of the puzzle. That being said, it is still a good adaptation of the tune and I do think that if you closed your eyes listening to this you would easily be able to picture yourself at the ocean’s floor.
Going into this I had every intention of comparing the two versions of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi but now having listened to them and realised just how different they are I think it would be really unfair. Both are brilliant in their respective ways, with Lianne paying a more traditional tribute to the song with an excellent performance, while Kelly takes the track and puts her own spin on it. Both are clearly passionate about this Radiohead song and that passion bleeds into the music. They know what they want to do here and they do it to the letter. Give both of them a try if you’ve got time.
All good things come to an end as the saying goes. Britpop had to end at some point after peaking in the summer of 1995 with Blur v Oasis. The most commonly cited factor that brought about the movement’s end is Radiohead’s OK Computer. We all know about that album. How many times has that thing been voted as one of, if not the best album of all time? Every track was a classic, every note was perfect, it was an apex of music, and it cemented Radiohead as one of the most influential bands in Britain (Or so the story goes; me personally, I’ve never really been able to gel with it that much).
And of course, with every high comes a low.
Radiohead’s came as they slogged their way through the gruelling Against Demons tour to promote the album. Almost a year of being on the road nearly wiped the band out. Like Pulp in the previous review, they were sick and tired of playing the same songs, doing the same interviews and appearing on the same television shows constantly week after week, city after city. OK Computer was so popular, Radiohead was so popular, that they couldn’t handle it.
When it all finally came to an end in mid-1998 Thom Yorke was especially feeling the effects, having become cynical to the concept of rock and dealing with writer’s block that prohibited him from writing new songs. By the time the band finally reconvened at the start of 1999, he still was not fully back to his old self. Anything he did have to offer was disjointed and/or basic and he would be damned if he was just going to go back to writing rock songs around them and making his brain sick again. The way to go now in his eyes was something he had gelled with in the aftermath of the tour; electronica.
Now how the hell was that going to work for an alt-rock band like Radiohead? The Greenwoods voiced their concern that it was “art rock nonsense just for its own sake”. Ed O’Brien was seemingly going to be left little to do as guitarist. And the fanbase were eagerly awaiting what they thought would be OK Computer II; typically atypical rock.
Was Radiohead about to sign its death warrant in revolt against their biggest success, or would they successfully evolve the sound of music once again?
The answer lay with Kid A.
Track #1 – Everything In Its Right Place
Setting up Kid A right away as the antithesis of OK Computer is this introductory track. Basic structure, haunting electronic sounds only and random sentences stitched together to form lyrics. The latter point at the time of release led to the accusation of it being a load of gibberish but according to Yorke, it was a reflection on his mental state during the tour. All things considered it is quite minimalist and a gradual step into the experimental field Radiohead will be playing in.
Track #2 – Kid A
Title track time. Here I find this one brings the ear closer to the sound as Thom’s vocals are distorted to the point of indecipherability, and we hear Phil Selway’s drumming guiding us along what sounds like a twisted nursery rhyme tune. Then at 3 minutes in, there’s a scratch of guitar that throws you off, the synths begin to kick in, the anticipation builds along with a sense of dread and then…more of the same, which makes you relax a little before the song ends with a distorted baby’s wail. That’s when I checked the lyrics, saw the third verse said ‘Standing in the shadows at the end of my bed’, and realised what was going on. Jesus Christ.
Track #3 – The National Anthem
Hot damn I love this track. This is Colin Greenwood’s day in the sun as he commands this track with that simple but rocking bassline. We get an orchestra in this song too, for what has been described as a session of “traffic jam” music which Yorke got so into that he broke his foot whilst conducting. With that increasing manic clashing of brass, I can believe that. It’s a near 6 minute jam session by a band with zero f*cks left to give and the result is such a beautiful mess that flies by. Special shoutout aswell to anytime the band plays it live, particularly at Reading 2009.
Track #4 – How to Disappear Completely
I like to think this song lulled OK Computer fans into a false sense of security with the opening acoustic guitar and Thom’s lyrics no longer being put through a ring modulator. While this one sounds more ethereal (Helped by the fact it was recorded in Dorchester Abbey), this has some of the most downbeat lyrics to be found. Having half of them be the sentence ‘I’m not here’ will do that. And then you get to the final minute. The orchestra loses the plot momentarily, as if screeching in pain, before recomposing themselves as Thom fades away. That’s one way to translate death to sound. Or maybe it’s hopeless escape. One of the two. Or both.
Track #5 – Treefingers
Imagine yourself in a large white room. Miles of space around you. Nothing to fill it. Just yourself. You’re alone. But you’re safe. That’s what Treefingers conjures up, for me at least.
Track #6 – Optimistic
Irony incoming I bet, was my reaction when I saw that title. Optimism and Radiohead seemed like water and oil to me. But it all stems from a message of reassurance that Thom received from his partner, Rachel – ‘Try the best you can/the best is good enough’. It’s a little too basic for Kid A though. It’s good, but it ain’t fantastic like everything has been up to this point.
Track #7 – In Limbo
Once again leaning to Thom’s cynicism with Radiohead’s increased exposure, and magnifying it more than any other track up to this point, In Limbo implies he was stuck between the real world with all the cameras and the people biting at his heels, and a fantasy world, a world of dreams where he was safe (More than likely whatever he was imagining in his head when Treefingers was made). The lyrics are once again seemingly slapdash like they were on Everything In Its Right Place but if you look closely, they all tie together. ‘I’m on your side’? Force fed false reassurance from prying eyes that won’t leave him. ‘Nowhere to hide’. ‘I’m lost at sea’. Stuck miles away from home. ‘Don’t bother me’. Doesn’t want to be back in reality. Lyrically, this is my favourite track on Kid A by a mile.
Track #8 – Idioteque
I’ve been looking forward to this one. You always seem to hear about this one when Kid A is brought up. After the electronica had been blended nicely with Radiohead’s rock sound and perverted orchestrations, here it is well and truly on display once again. While Colin’s shining moment was The National Anthem, brother Jonny’s is definitely Idioteque. While things have felt a little fraught but still held together for a few tracks now, this track undoes that as Radiohead descend back into mania. With lyrics like ‘Who’s in a bunker, who’s in a bunker?’ and ‘Ice age coming, ice age coming’, this feels like a psychotic calm after the storm. I guess we’ll be playing this once World War 3 finally happens.
Track #9 – Morning Bell
Nice transition from Idioteque to this song; I didn’t realise Morning Bell had started until I looked up and saw it had. Immediately you get a more soothing feel in stark contrast to Idioteque but Thom’s strained vocals remind you you’re still listening to Radiohead. ‘Cut the kids in half’ reminds you you’re still listening to Kid A. However, I don’t think there is really much to say about this song. Like Optimistic, it does feel a little bit basic. A little unnerving, yes, but it wouldn’t really be Radiohead if it wasn’t unnerving would it?
Track #10 – Motion Picture Soundtrack
A hangover from OK Computer, which I’ll say right now has one of my favourite Radiohead songs in the form of Exit Music (For a Film). Like that song, this definitely feels like it comes from a soundtrack to a film thanks to the swirly sounds of a harp. I’d argue that it is Exit Music’s little sister; if you look at the lyrics to both you get the standard feeling of reluctant attention as the narrator seemingly talks of suicide (‘Red wine and sleeping pills’ and ‘I will see you in the next life’ kind of sum it up). But while Exit Music has a level of bombast to it, Motion Picture Soundtrack has a more gentle and subtle majesty. Which is kind of why I instead buy Thom’s interpretation of the song; that it’s saying goodbye to a dying loved one. If it was from their point of view, maybe it would sound like a grandiose final note, which is what a lot of us want to go out on, which is what the narrators of Exit Music and (perhaps) How to Disappear Completely do. But because it’s from someone else’s point of view, someone who is making peace with the idea that someone’s suffering is coming to an end, it gives us a more gentle, relaxing sound instead. An ideal finale for an album like Kid A.
I put this review off for a long time. I always thought you would have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to any Radiohead album, let alone Kid A, and with the constant cycle of despair that is the pandemic still raging on I was worried in case I wasn’t entirely ready for it. But today I finally bit the bullet and you know what? I’m glad I did. Kid A is a damn near perfect album in my book. It’s not a conventional album by any means, nor is it an easy listen (I don’t exactly see myself sitting back in my chair and thinking “Why don’t I listen to In Limbo?”), but it is truly an artistic masterpiece. Radiohead excel themselves here, subverting their norm, stepping into new territory and nailing it with the help of Nigel Godrich.
And indeed, this is the perfect sequel to OK Computer.
Radiohead needed to do an album that wasn’t OK Computer, one that would help them vent their frustrations, one that would allow them to feel good about making music again, one that would make people scratch their heads but still enjoy themselves, one that wouldn’t be appreciated right away but in due course to allow the band time to recharge. Kid A achieves all of those. Looking back, not releasing any singles for this album was a smart move. Any preview would have killed sales. They gently forced the general public to accept them for what they were now. Not many bands can do that.
As far as protests against fame go, Kid A is a shining example.
Happy 2021! At the time of writing this we are about less than a week into the New Year and the world hasn’t burst into flames or anything just yet, so I’d say that we’re off to a good start. Just another 360-odd days to go. I said at the end of the last entry that the next album that would be covered on A-Side Glance would be Kid A but frankly I think the best time to listen to that is when you’re already in a bit of a downer mood, to help you come full circle. So until the bad news rears its ugly head again, we’re going to talk about James Bond.
Once again this edition of Sampling Soundtracks is rooted in my early exposure to video games on the Nintendo 64, the game in question of course being GoldenEye 007. Thanks to that, I ended up finding the film it’s based off in my grandparents’ VHS collection along with Octopussy, watched them both and before long I became a fan of the James Bond films. With my magnifying look into the world of music I have started to pay more attention to the soundtracks that accompany each film in the series, from the likes of Monty Norman and John Barry, to David Arnold and Thomas Newman. For this entry I’m going to take a selection of instrumental pieces heard across the 24 Bond films. I could talk about each film’s respective theme song, or the soundtracks to the video games like the above-mentioned GoldenEye, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish to look into another time. This is mainly just out of intrigue but also because it kills time as we await No Time To Die being delayed for the gazillionth time. That film was meant to be out in 2019 for crying out loud.
Just a heads up going into this, I won’t be talking about the James Bond theme itself or its many, many variations heard throughout the franchise. If I did, we would be here far too long and I’m pretty sure you’ve got better things to do then read a five thousand word essay on why Michael Kamen’s take on the Bond theme is the best of the lot or how Eric Serra did the best piece of music for the gunbarrel.
To start things off, let’s have some of the…less than stellar moments from our resident composers.
Monty Norman’s Dr No score
No full disrespect meant to Monty Norman, after all he did give us the Bond theme which is one of the most classic musical renditions in all of cinema. But when that isn’t playing and he has to come up with something else he lends a tune that would be more suited to a Disney film. Admittedly, this was the first Bond film and a true Bondian score was one of the kinks that had to be worked out. Unfortunately you can’t really help but laugh when there’s an exceptionally loud blare of music as the Three Blind Mice make a lame attempt to assassinate Bond, or the orchestra accompanies each time Bond twats the tarantula.
The Man with the Golden Gun – The slide whistle
John Barry had only two weeks to compose the score for The Man with The Golden Gun. I’m sure if given more time he would have realised just how much a slide whistle would dilute what should be considered one of the best stunts in the entire series.
GoldenEye – Ladies First
There are parts of Eric Serra’s one and only Bond score that I will happily defend. This is not one of them. One of the main criticisms of the GoldenEye soundtrack is that it sounds better suited as elevator music and I think this, one of the most 90s tracks ever 90s’d, best exemplifies that.
Right, that’s enough negativity. Let’s have some positivity.
The secondary Bond theme, the one you would hear on and off through the Connery era for an action setpiece that didn’t quite suit the Monty Norman tune. I used to dislike this one as a kid actually but it has grown on me. To me it screams courageous adventurer, kind of more Indiana Jones than James Bond, but at the end of the day that’s what Bond is: courageous, unflappable, always running headfirst into danger.
Goldfinger – The Laser Beam
We all know the scene. We’ve all seen it parodied a thousand times. We all know that dialogue between Goldfinger and Bond. But that scene would only have half worked if it weren’t for the music that steadily gets louder and more frantic as the laser slowly approaches Bond’s knackers.
You Only Live Twice – Mountains and Sunsets
To lean into the Japanese setting for You Only Live Twice, John Barry’s music has more of an oriental flavour behind it that makes this film’s score stand out from the others in terms of sheer beauty, and none sound more elegant than those beautiful swirling strings that bookend the track Mountains and Sunsets. Of course there’s the dramatic middle portion that highlights that this is still a Bond film and he’s got a World War to avert (As a side note, honourable mention to climactic track Bond Averts World War III for its sheer intensity).
The entirety of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is John Barry’s finest hour as Bond composer in my book. Everything from the gunbarrel to the credits is peppered with his best tracks as he experiments with a new instrument in his repertoire; the Moog synthesiser. It screams late 60s class and adds a layer of hurriedness and intensity to the scenes it can be heard in, especially the safecracking sequence. You can’t pick a single best track out of this film’s music, just listen to the full thing. Do not skip Lazenby!
Moonraker – Flight Into Space
Say what you like about Moonraker, but if there’s one thing it does right it is the execution of the journey into outer space. I’m not overly fond of the entire soundtrack but that piece of music that accompanies the shuttle from Earth to the space station is magnificent. Like with the laser sequence in Goldfinger, the visuals are only half the tale; the model work in this sequence is brilliant but if it weren’t for Flight Into Space, with its choir adding to the beauty of leaving the planet behind, the scene would have been universally shat on. However, thanks to John Barry, it’s only shat on by purists who call this the jump-the-shark moment for the series.
For Your Eyes Only – Runaway
Enter Bill Conti. Yes, that Bill Conti. The one who did Gonna Fly Now for the Rocky films. He did a Bond film. And if you couldn’t tell we had entered the 80s with For Your Eyes Only, here’s Bill to give you a loud and proud reminder. The highlight of his one and only Bond score has to be Runaway, which for me is the ideal kind of track for a Moore-era chase thanks to it being not overly dramatic, settling for a tune that has a jovial vibe to it. Classy and camp. That’s our Rog.
A View To A Kill – Snow Job, He’s Dangerous, Golden Gate Fight
After some weaker compositions in the 70s, I think Barry had something of a renaissance period with his final Bond films. A View To A Kill, while not one of the best films in the series, does boast one of the better soundtracks, one that harkens back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Only this time, the 60s-sounding Moog synthesiser has been replaced with an 80s-sounding electric guitar. It does date things ever so slightly but fully suits the film it accompanies and reflects well on the mental state of main antagonist Max Zorin; classy but erratic. The main action setpieces of AVTAK (Bond escaping Siberia, the fire truck chase, and the battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge) all use the same orchestral composition but with different variations of the guitar. The final appearance of the tune on the bridge is the best in my book, selling the effect of Bond and Zorin doing battle in the skies.
The Living Daylights – Air Bond
John Barry ended his time with the series with The Living Daylights and what a score to go out with. Again, very 80s, but also with some of the most hard hitting brass that evokes memories of the moodier compositions of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, most notably shown with the grandiose piece that blasts out as Koskov flies off to freedom in a jet. Triumph rarely sounds so epic.
The World is Not Enough – Casino Jazz
I love a bit of jazz. That’s all.
Casino Royale – African Rundown
Let’s talk about David Arnold proper now. I feel like I should like him more than I should. Don’t get me wrong, he does what he sets out to do and does it well, whether it be romantic or exciting or both. For some reason it just doesn’t normally click with me aswell as Barry’s work. I think what also doesn’t work in my favour is the fact that I have sworn off tracks that primarily incorporate the Bond theme for this entry and most of Arnold’s best work does include that (for example, Bike Chase from Tomorrow Never Dies or Come in 007 Your Time is Up from The World is Not Enough). So perhaps with the deliberate move to not include the Bond theme at all until the end credits of Casino Royale, Arnold gets to show his potential a lot more and boy does he do that with African Rundown. One of my favourite pieces of chase music for one of my favourite chases, full stop.
Skyfall – Tennyson
And so we end things with the most recent addition to the roster of composers who have had a crack at the Bond films, Thomas Newman (Well at least until No Time To Die is released and we officially hear Hans Zimmer’s score). There are a lot of tracks to choose from (so much so that he lifted half the soundtrack and plonked it in Spectre, but that’s besides the point), Quartermaster and Welcome to Scotland being particular highlights, but when you think of the Skyfall soundtrack you’ve got to think of Tennyson. The ultimate track to suit the feeling of arriving in just the nick of time. Judi Dench reading poetry as Bond sprints across London would have only had half the impact if it weren’t for this track, the cherry on the cake from Newman.