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Nobody does it better: James Bond expert explores meaning behind title songs

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Published on 04 December 2019

James Bond workshop
James Bond workshop

From Goldfinger to Skyfall, the title songs in the James Bond film series have defined a generation.

Sitting alongside some of the most innovative and pioneering title sequences in the history of cinema, the music is often as hotly anticipated as the movies.

Now, a lecturer and self-confessed Bond fanatic from the University of Sunderland is preparing to explore the meanings behind the songs and titles as part of a workshop.

John Paul Green, Team Leader for Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, will examine the songs themselves, from the brassy belter Goldfinger in which Shirley Bassey defined, for many years, how a Bond song should sound, to those that didn’t quite make the grade, think Madonna’s Die Another Day.

The lecturer will also discuss how the songs and title sequences reflected the issues of the day, from gender stereotyping to political revolution.

John Paul said: “Goldfinger has been referred to as “the song every other Bond song would try to sound like”.

“By the 1970s the songs ran the gamut from rock - Wings’ Live and Let Die - to the romantic ballad, Nobody Does it Better and For Your Eyes Only.

“The 1980s moved towards using successful pop-rock bands such as Duran Duran and A-ha, while Gladys Knight tried to recapture the Bassey sound for 1989’s Licence to Kill.

“These later songs had an eye on the pop chart as much as they did on accompanying the Bond title sequence and this move to using successful contemporary artists continues in recent years with a return to the ballad, with the likes of Adele and Sam Smith’s laments Skyfall and Writing’s on the Wall respectively.

“No matter how the songs themselves change, from singing about the villains, the stories or Bond himself, they each have that hard to define yet instantly recognisable ‘Bond’ sound. They have an epic quality that matches the spectacle of the movies. If the songs are themselves lacklustre, it can set the films up for a fall.

“On occasion artists and composers have failed to capture that sound – Madonna’s Die Another Day and Jack White’s Another Way to Die spring to mind, they were efforts to sound fresh and in tune with current musical trends, and they forgot to be Bond songs.”

John Paul will also discuss the title sequences which have evolved over the years to fit the changing social and political climate.

The lecturer will discuss six of the most famous title sequences, from the classic Maurice Binder title designs of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Licence To Kill, to the more recent work of Danny Klienman’s Goldeneye and Casino Royale.

John Paul added: “The interactive lecture will revisit an example from each iteration of James Bond, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig to help map changes of attitudes towards amongst other things, gender, nationality and indeed politics.”

In addition to the analysis of the title sequences, the workshop will also provide a brief history of the James Bond phenomenon, from page to screen and hopefully whet the appetites not only for the forthcoming No Time to Die - the twenty-fifth official Bond film - but for the study of popular culture and fictional heroes.

The Finding Meaning in James Bond Title Songs workshop takes place on Thursday, November 14 as part of the University of Sunderland’s Creative Industries Week.