Welcome back to MI-6 Madness, where our panel of music critics pits the theme music from each of the 24 James Bond films against one another in a March Madness-style tournament! I’m your moderator, Dylan Roth, and here again are our judges: Julian Ames, Mike Duquette, and Sam Paxton. This week is the Final Four, after which we’re left only with our final two combatants!
ROUND FOUR, MATCH ONE
“James Bond Theme” – John Barry Orchestra (Dr. No, 1962)
“Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die, 1973)
Dylan: The inclusion of the classic “James Bond Theme” may have been a game-breaking decision, in hindsight. I suppose it all depends on how it fares from here on out.
Sam: When I was young, and my heart was an open book, I used to say “James Bond Theme;” but if this ever changing world in which we live in, makes me give in and cry—say “Live and Let Die,” yo.
Julian: Ok, so I’ve been saying we need to evaluate the “James Bond Theme” paying closer attention to its musical merits over its importance in the overall Bond universe. For the most part it has held its own as it is a pretty interesting piece of music, but now it goes up against a song written by an actual Beatle. They’re similar songs with several motifs; while the transitions between themes in “James Bond Theme” feel smooth and natural, the contrast between the ballad-y and rock opera parts of “Live and Let Die” makes for a much more thrilling song. The jazzy feel of “James Bond Theme” does a great job of capturing James Bond’s cool and suave nature, but “Live and Let Die” reflects the thrilling, action-packed, and dynamic aspect of the character. I really hate to penalize the “James Bond Theme” for its ubiquity in the franchise, but if it won there would always be that big asterisk next to it, making a mockery of this otherwise super serious, definitive tournament. I’m leaning towards giving the nod to “Live and Let Die,” let’s make the championship round more exciting, boys.
Mike: As I think I mentioned last week, it’s, let’s say, generous to pit Monty Norman’s original Bond theme arrangement against a galaxy of pop songs which build upon the Bond theme and create a formula that is still being employed more than 50 years later. I was admittedly aghast when the classic theme knocked Tom Jones’ “Thunderball,” one of the best examples of the early Bond theme foundation, out of the running last week. The tenets of a great Bond theme (brassy arrangements, interpolation of the Bond theme, big-ass high notes) are something like tradition, and when they’re built upon well, the result is pure, unadulterated magic.
And like I’ve said before: “Live and Let Die” was written by a Beatle—a Beatle that could generally do fairly little wrong at this stage in his post-Beatles career (you know, before Pipes of Peace). McCartney’s got a bag of tricks like no other, and when he’s on, he’s on. In this case, I feel the need to respect the sanctity of the foundation theory I have laid out and give “Live and Let Die” an enthusiastic vote.
The Survivor: “Live and Let Die”
ROUND FOUR, MATCH TWO
“Goldfinger” – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, 1964)
“The Living Daylights” – a-ha (The Living Daylights, 1987)
Dylan: Okay, we’ve had our fun, as dark horse favorite “The Living Daylights” has survived match-ups with Adele, Duran Duran, and Carly Simon. Now it’s up against “Goldfinger.” This is it, right?
Mike: Hoo boy. Hoooooo boy. For many of these matchups I’ve operated on a careful balance of what works on a cultural and technical level and what just tickles my fancy. This is a tricky proposition, however—I was in fact comparing it to the guys as the closest thing to rockism this bracket may brush up against. You see, it’s often a foregone conclusion that the Bond themes of the John Barry era are just…better; I’ve discussed those merits at length as recently as the entry above, and they hold a lot of weight, as evidenced by the fact that three of the four surviving songs are over 40 years old.
But then there’s the personal factor: as I’ve written extensively, “The Living Daylights” is one of my favorite Bond themes, and a key song on the Duquett-a Stone of Musical Awareness. And, putting my personal biases aside, there’s a reason these guys have helped this tune get this far into the running. So it’s got something, right?
So, to wit: we’ve got an accepted, satisfying classic in “Goldfinger,” and we have a pretty great (if not classic) track I love, which has against all odds risen through the ranks on the goodwill of our gang. The head and the heart are doing backflips…but ultimately I’m going to go with the heart.
“The Living Daylights” gets my vote.
Julian: You’re right Mike, this is a tough choice. You have the clean, hook-y, 80’s pop versus the classic, grandiose showstopper. I love, love, love “The Living Daylights;” I discovered it around the time that “Take On Me” was my favorite song, and the chorus hook has stuck with me from my first listen to this day. That being said, “Goldfinger” is THE Bond song to end all Bond songs. As we’ve mentioned countless times before, “Goldfinger” is the benchmark by which every Bond theme, pseudo-Bond theme, and parody of Bond themes are measured. “The Living Daylights” is fun and snappy, but “Goldfinger” is classic and has staying power. “The Living Daylights” had a good run, and it’s been very fun to watch, but I think it’s time to close the book on this Cinderella story and send “Goldfinger” to the championship round.
Sam: Look, I love both these tracks. “Goldfinger” is, as we have established, the Rosetta Stone for every Bond theme that came hence; “The Living Daylights” is probably the epitome of 80s pop-as-theme song. But! “Goldfinger” is, without any qualifiers, the Bond song that set the template for all Bond songs, the gold standard of theme tunes. As much as I adore “The Living Daylights”, and as much as i have been a proponent of it throughout this tourney, I have to throw my support behind “Goldfinger”, because without it, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
Dylan: You guys had me scared for a minute there.
The Survivor: “Goldfinger”
It’s come down to this. Which of these two classic tunes has a golden bullet with its name on it? Find out next week!