The job of writing and performing a James Bond theme is a monumental task, in terms of pressure and prestige. It’s also one of the most high-profile gigs in movie music and something that’s on the bucket list of many performers.
Billie Eilish has nabbed the role of recording the theme tune for this year’s Bond movie No Time to Die and, ahead of that track’s release on Thursday, it’s worth taking a look into the archive to see which songs didn’t make the cut.
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Many of the most famous performers in the history of music have had a bite of the Bond cherry, but didn’t see their songs ultimately used in any of the movies. Though there are almost certainly many more that we’ll never hear, these are the ones that have seen the light of day.
Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds)
The two-minute title track of the iconic 1966 Beach Boys album Pet Sounds is an instrumental penned by frontman Brian Wilson. Originally, however, it was called Run James Run and was designed to be the theme tune for a Bond movie. In his 2016 memoir I Am Brian Wilson, the star wrote that he had loved Thunderball — released the year before Pet Sounds — and was inspired by theme tune composers like Henry Mancini.
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In keeping with the experimental approach of the Pet Sounds album, the track features drummer Ritchie Frost playing a pair of empty Coca-Cola cans to generate an unusual percussion sound.
The original Run James Run title was subsequently used for an unrelated song on Wilson’s 2017 compilation album Playback: The Brian Wilson Anthology.
Johnny Cash (Thunderball)
Even the briefest of listens to country legend Johnny Cash’s proposed title song for 1965 movie Thunderball makes it clear why it wasn’t used. The song is enjoyable and exactly what anyone would expect from Cash, but it’s also entirely unsuitable for Bond. If the task had been to create a memorable song for a Western, he’d have had it in the bag.
Tom Jones ultimately got the gig, of course, but the American and the Welshman were not the only two options on the table...
Dionne Warwick/Shirley Bassey (Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for Thunderball)
Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the theme tune for Thunderball until very late in the day. Written by original Bond theme composer John Barry and Leslie Bricusse, the track was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick and Shirley Bassey also had a go at it, having achieved success with the song for Goldfinger. The song was binned after distributor United Artists stipulated the film’s title had to feature in the lyrics.
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Plans were mooted for Warwick’s version of the track to appear over the end credits of the movie, but Shirley Bassey sued the producers and both versions remained under wraps for several decades.
Lorraine Chandler (You Only Live Twice)
One of several unused attempts at a theme for You Only Live Twice featured soul singer Lorraine Chandler. The track, uncovered in the RCA Records vaults in the 1980s and subsequently released as a single, has recognisably Bond-like motifs running through it. Nancy Sinatra would eventually get the job and Chandler’s track would become a surprise hit on the Northern Soul scene.
Julie Rogers (You Only Live Twice)
Another of the rejected iterations of the You Only Live Twice theme was this one by Julie Rogers, which ultimately appeared on the 30th anniversary edition of compilation album The Best of Bond... James Bond in 1992. It also lost out to Sinatra, for whom Barry and Bricusse composed a completely different song, borrowing just two lines from this version.
Alice Cooper (The Man With The Golden Gun)
Alice Cooper is not the most obvious of James Bond theme tune choices, but he had a go at producing one for 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. It’s a solid tune that feels quintessentially Cooper, albeit slightly odd for Bond. Lulu’s track was eventually given the nod, perhaps because Cooper didn’t feature nearly enough Carry On-style references to “powerful weapons”. Cooper’s version turned up on his 1973 album Muscle of Love.
Blondie (For Your Eyes Only)
Blondie were at the height of their fame when they were approached to sing the title track for the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only. They submitted this track of their own, but it transpired producers were keen for Debbie Harry to sing the song they already had, written by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson. Sheena Easton would ultimately perform that track for the movie, while Blondie released their song on 1982 album The Hunter.
Pet Shop Boys (This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave for The Living Daylights)
While British synth-pop duo The Pet Shop Boys never actually completed a James Bond song, they did submit several instrumental pieces. One of those demos became This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave, which appeared on the 1990 album Behaviour. It’s a strange, atmospheric song that, in its current form, is tough to imagine ever being a Bond theme. Norwegian pop group A-ha ultimately recorded The Living Daylights, though even they had disputes with Bond veteran John Barry over the final arrangement.
Ace of Base (GoldenEye)
It was the record label Arista which put paid to the idea of Ace of Base recording the title song for GoldenEye. Reportedly, they believed that the movie wasn’t big enough for the band, who were riding high at the time. They would later simply change the words “golden eye” in the song to The Juvenile and the track appeared on their 2002 album Da Capo. A cunning disguise.
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The final theme tune was penned by Bono and The Edge of U2, with Tina Turner recording the vocals in true Bond ballad style.
Pulp (Tomorrow Never Dies)
There was something of a free-for-all around the title track for Tomorrow Never Dies, with the producers casting the net wide and asking for submissions. One such submission came from rockers Pulp, and it’s very much a reflection of their sound more than that of a Bond theme tune. It would end up as a bonus track on their 1998 album This is Hardcore, under the rather unsubtle new title Tomorrow Never Lies.
Sheryl Crow got the gig and, it’s fair to say, hers is not among the most acclaimed James Bond songs of all time.
Swan Lee (Tomorrow Never Dies)
Danish band Swan Lee were among those who took advantage of the open nature of the race to soundtrack Tomorrow Never Dies, seizing upon an opportunity that could’ve been huge for their careers. Their song didn’t make the cut, but they released it on their 2001 album Enter and it would later show up on a soundtrack — albeit for video game Hitman: Blood Money rather than Bond.
Saint Etienne (Tomorrow Never Dies)
Tomorrow Never Dies could’ve ended up with an indie-dance flavour if this offering from Saint Etienne had made its way to the big screen. In the end, it was another one of the casualties of the Tomorrow Never Dies theme tune bloodbath. The track ultimately arrived on their 1999 fan club exclusive album Built on Sand.
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Straw (The World Is Not Enough)
Britpop band Straw are certainly one of the more obscure collectives on this list, having only really been active for three years between 1998 and 2001. Interestingly enough, they were signed to Arista — Ace of Base’s old label — when they submitted a very solid track for Pierce Brosnan Bond adventure The World is Not Enough. It was eventually Garbage who recorded the track. Straw released their song on 1999 EP Soundtrack of the Summer and then disappeared without a trace soon afterwards.
Shirley Bassey (No Good About Goodbye for Quantum of Solace)
There’s a bit of a debate about this one. Officially, this track from Shirley Bassey’s 2009 album The Performance has nothing to do with the 2008 Bond film Quantum of Solace. However, given the fact that Bassey is the only three-time Bond theme tune singer and the lyrics open with a hint at the title (“Where is the solace that I crave?”), it’s not a stretch to suggest there might be something going on here.
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The song was penned by Quantum of Solace composer David Arnold, along with regular Bond theme lyricist Don Black, and elements of it appear in the movie’s score. Whatever its origins, it’s clear the song was never really in the frame to take centre stage in Quantum of Solace. With that said, it’s a lot better than the Alicia Keys and Jack White song they used.
Muse (Supremacy for Skyfall)
This was more a case of a band really wanting something to happen than it was the result of any behind the scenes action. Muse lobbied the James Bond producers to use this track from their 2012 album The 2nd Law for Skyfall and it certainly feels like a Bond song in a lot of respects.
Ultimately though, it was Adele’s powerhouse vocals that wowed Eon and the result was one of the most acclaimed Bond themes of the modern era. Supremacy, meanwhile, did make it into one of the trailers for Skyfall.
For a long time, it seemed like a given that Radiohead was recording the theme for Spectre. Bookies William Hill even suspended betting when someone tried to put £15,000 on the group. The band originally submitted track Man of War, but it was rejected as it was not written for the film and would therefore be ineligible for the Best Original Song Oscar. They went back to the drawing board and produced this song, which was dismissed as “too melancholy”.
The Bond team would opt for Sam Smith’s Writing’s On the Wall instead and director Sam Mendes tried to incorporate Radiohead’s track elsewhere, but couldn’t make it work. The director described the situation as an “utter nightmare” and said the song was “beautiful”. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich later said the time working on Bond was a “waste of energy” for the group.
Spectre would see the light of day on Christmas Day in 2015, when Radiohead released it as a free download.
No Time to Die is in UK cinemas from 3 April.