The Sound of 007 Documentary Poster

The Sound of 007 directed by Mat Whitecross
by Cael McLeish
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For the James Bond franchise’s 50th Anniversary in 2012, fans were given a great documentary called Everything or Nothing, which went deep into the full history of the books and films. This documentary has taken a place in the hearts of many Bond fans as essential viewing, mine included.

For the 60th Anniversary though, there wasn’t all that much to add. After all, there had only been two films made in the subsequent ten years and the story of the delays of No Time To Die could quite easily have taken up a solid hour on its own.

So, what could be offered as a bonus for the 60th Anniversary? Well, a genius move for fans like me was the answer EON offered up – an in-depth look at a critical element that may have been overlooked, but has proven to be as much a part of the James Bond iconography as fast cars, beautiful women and vodka martinis. Welcome to an in-depth look at the music that has become The Sound of 007, the Amazon Prime Video exclusive documentary.

Straight off the bat, can we take a moment to appreciate the MGM and 60th Anniversary logos that open this up? Opening with the closing refrain and iconic Bond chord really sets the tone of this documentary in the opening 20 seconds.

The documentary itself opens with Billie Eilish’s recording sessions at AIR Studios in 2019. Billie comments about childhood memories of creating fake Bond songs with her brother FINNEAS, because they were the most iconic thing on the planet. This leads to a montage of past Bond artists and composers talking about their experiences with the music of Bond, and picking out some favourites. Barbara Broccoli singles out ‘All The Time in the World’ as her absolute favourite.

Sam Mendes makes an interesting observation to open the first real segment of the film, which is dedicated to, in my opinion at least, the most iconic theme in cinema history. “When you’re in the womb, what do you hear? A heartbeat and the James Bond theme“. We are quickly taken to Mumbai, where a rather cool version of the theme is played on tabla drums and sitars.

We get a definitive retelling of how the theme came to be straight from Monty Norman (it was actually a reused melody from one of Norman’s earlier stage productions, as many fans will know). Also included here is the story of how John Barry came to be involved, where he was asked to rearrange some of Norman’s works, and he came up with an arrangement that breathed danger and sexuality.

One of the things I really want to point out is how impressive the use of past interviews is. The way that the old footage of people that we have unfortunately lost since their time in the Bond franchise and how it is positioned in a way that still feels completely organic to the documentary as a whole. On my first watch through, if I didn’t remember that we had lost John Barry in 2011, I’d have been fooled into thinking it was new footage. Unfortunately, this brings me to a bit of a downer point. There were other interviewees planned that couldn’t be filmed due to COVID. Still, the interviews that we do have are very strong, and unless you knew that things were cut, I don’t think you’d notice too much.

I’d also like to point out something else I love about the interview footage, with a lot of iconic locations added into the backgrounds. Just as an example, I love that Jon Burlingame, the author of The Music of James Bond, uses the Moonraker boardroom/exhaust bay as his background. Daniel Craig also has one of the many rooms from Safin’s island from No Time To Die. Alongside the repeating motif of the famous Dr. No dots that are used often for transitions and title/name reveals, there are a few subtle elements to the visuals that make this feel very at home in the Bond cinematic world.

We move on from the James Bond theme to talking about the nature of Bond songs. There must be death, excitement and sex, all wrapped into three and a half minutes that drop the name of the film as we go. Sheena Easton talks about the excitement of wondering what the song will sound like and who will sing it. Don Black speaks to the idea of the “lure of the forbidden” where the song should make us feel like “I shouldn’t be here, but I am and I’m going to wallow in it“. Hans Zimmer speaks to the idea that the songs should promise you something, while Maryam d’Abo and Rami Malek speak to the songs being the emotional backbone which can take us for a ride within the film.

It’s here that we get to hear the story of ‘Goldfinger’, a lot of which comes from Michael Caine, who at the time had nowhere to stay for two weeks, and ended up crashing at John Barry’s. He recalls that one night, John played into the early hours of the morning, which meant that Michael got no sleep and began to dread how the next few nights would go. The following morning, they both stepped into John’s kitchen and he said “I’ve finished! Listen to this!” and played ‘Goldfinger’ for Michael, who became the first person in the world to hear the song.

We also find out that John Barry had been on tour as a conductor with Shirley Bassey’s band years before, which is how she came to sing ‘Goldfinger’. When it came to the studio, Shirley was forced to do take after take of the song, always running out of breath on that climactic note, until she took off her bustier and nailed it on the last take of an all-night session.

All of this, by the way, is only the first twenty minutes! From here, we discuss how the formula to the Bond soundtrack changed as a result of ‘Goldfinger’. After the success of how the theme was implemented in the film, the songs weren’t just “here’s the song, here’s the soundtrack”, but became interwoven in the score. This is something taken to a whole extra degree in ‘No Time To Die’, where Eilish’s voice became the first to be used within the film score. We focus on the recording sessions for ‘No Time To Die’ for a little while here, featuring actual footage of the recording which is a bit of an extra treat.

We cut to a segment about the lyrics, leading to a crude joke from Duran Duran riffing on the Quantum of Solace title. This leads to a focus on how the lyrics to ‘No Time To Die’ came about. There’s also a great anecdote from Don Black about how the lyrics to ‘The World Is Not Enough’ came to be, in which he said that his OBE “wasn’t a knighthood, but it’s the perfect way to start“. All of this culminates into discussing the lewdness that is the lyrics to ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. For those not in the know, it’s not actually about diamonds. As it turns out though, Harry Saltzman is not a huge fan of either of Shirley Bassey’s first two songs, which are arguably two of the biggest Bond songs of all time.

We follow this up with a discussion about how John Barry is the reason that Bond sounds the way that it does, and it’s said in no uncertain terms that without his influence, Bond would have sounded far less exciting. His use of muted brass is likened to a silencer on a gun, making yet another great metaphor within the music.

Talk then turns to the process of deciding who should sing the title track for each film, which is handled a lot like casting the film itself. The singer can’t just be a singer, they have to be the right choice for the song. This turns into a brief look at ‘Skyfall’ and Adele, before turning into the story of how ‘GoldenEye’ came to be. Originally written by Bono and the Edge, though they didn’t want to perform it, they put together an abysmal demo (watch the documentary and hear it for yourself, it’s kinda cool to hear), which Tina Turner received and didn’t feel was actually intended for her to sing.

This segment continues into how Garbage came to perform ‘The World Is Not Enough’, until we get back to ‘No Time to Die’, and Billie and FINNEAS’ feeling that they would’ve hated to walk away feeling they could have done better, but they knew for themselves they had written to their apex.

One of my favourite segments comes right after this, analysing some of the reinventions of the Bond theme over the years. My favourite part of this segment is how it starts by showing us an excerpt from ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, showing the interplay between the main theme and the Bond theme. It’s here that we take a brief look at the rock styled Bond theme from ‘Live and Let Die’, the disco style from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and David Arnold’s techno-laced approach from ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.

All of this is merely an introduction to how Hans Zimmer constructed his Bond theme and the lack of Bond theme in the Daniel Craig era. The way that David Arnold breaks down the theme for Casino Royale is masterful and explained very well here. The discussion of reusing the ending of Casino Royale for the DB5 reveal in Skyfall is here too, boiling down to “nobody does it better”.

There’s a great discussion of how the course of musical culture is very much reflected in the songs themselves. This leads to an interesting story about Harry Saltzman trying to change who would sing ‘Live and Let Die’ after receiving the finished track with Paul McCartney’s vocal on it. This is just one of a number of great stories within the last forty minutes that you really have to watch and hear for yourselves. Two of the most interesting ones to me are about which song would eventually end up as the title track to SPECTRE, featuring a guest appearance from Radiohead in a later segment.

A short segment is dedicated to the songs that “didn’t work”, namely ‘Moonraker’ and ‘All Time High’ before launching into how ‘A View To A Kill’ came to be. However, this does also mention collaborating with John Barry could be difficult, with Duran Duran pointing out that “John Barry knew what he wanted but didn’t know how to get it politely“, leading to Barry’s departure from the franchise. He bowed out very politely, though I wish he could’ve done one more.

Next up is another great segment, looking into the artists that should have done a Bond song. I find it particularly funny when Rami Malek mentions he would have loved a Queen track. Frankly, I agree. There’s a discussion here as to how Radiohead could have had the song for SPECTRE, but the original song was ineligible for use due to being previously released, and how they were slightly too late with their final product to make the final cut. This culminates in a nice tip of the hat with part of SPECTRE’s title sequence played with the alternate song.

Perhaps the saddest moment of the documentary deals with Amy Winehouse’s run-in with the franchise for Quantum of Solace. We have a good bit of discussion as to how great she would have been, had she been able to produce a song for the film. Barbara Broccoli recounts their meeting, and how Winehouse had asked for a notebook. She was writing throughout, but ultimately left the paper behind. The paper only contained a single word, repeated all over the page, “Blake”. Sadly, it was agreed that she was no longer in a state to be able to produce great work.

This then turns into a quick look at ‘Another Way To Die’ and how rushed the production of the song was and how it led to Jack White being able to do things he definitely wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise. Jack White mentions that Prince was a fan of the song, though many Bond fans aren’t.

It’s here that the legacy of Bond music is discussed, particularly in relation to ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and ‘No Time To Die’. Which, naturally, comes to a head talking about ‘All the Time in the World’ and one of Louis Armstrong’s final performances of the song live. Hans Zimmer speaks to how the song is timeless, but with hints of nostalgia and heartbreak to it, which is why he used it for No Time To Die. Daniel Craig had also pushed for its use in the film.

The final segment talks about ‘Final Ascent’ from No Time To Die. I think many of us would already agree that it is one of the best score cues from the film, but this deep dive on that moment gave me an even bigger appreciation for everything that went into that track. This was the track where Zimmer decided to just play to the character’s final chapter. The song is ultimately a requiem but throws in the Bond chords in a twisted way and also contains elements of No Time To Die. It pays tribute to John Barry, it pays tribute to the character, it’s honestly flawless in my opinion.

And ultimately, I owe you a final opinion on this documentary. I honestly think it’s brilliant. This captures the legacy and history of the franchise in a concise 88 minutes. There’s so much cool stuff here that you don’t have to be a music nerd like I am to get a lot out of this. I give it a 5/5, and would recommend watching this back to back with the previously mentioned Everything or Nothing for an enjoyable afternoon!

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