Saturday, February 13, 2016

Music to Read James Bond By

Lately I've been going through all of my old LPs, which have been in boxes in the garage since we moved into our house thirteen years ago (and before that were in boxes in the garage of our townhouse since we moved to California twenty years ago). I used to have a very large and eclectic record collection. I gave away a good portion of it, but there were some records I just couldn't bear to part with, like this one:

It's an odd record, but it will always have a special place in my heart, and I wanted to share it. Since it doesn't do much good to tell someone about music unless they can hear it, I figured I would find the album on YouTube and link to it. You can find anything on YouTube, right? Wrong. I could not find Music to Read James Bond By (although oddly enough, I could find Music to Read James Bond By Volume Two).

I discovered the reason when I made my own video and tried to post it. YouTube immediately identified each of the music tracks and informed me that two of the songs had to be removed due to copyright infringement (which was a bummer, but demonstrated some pretty impressive programming on YouTube’s part). I remade the video, substituting different versions of the two offending songs from another favorite album, The Music of John Barry.

Now if I did everything right (and there is no reason to suppose I did), you should be able to click on the play button below and listen to the music from Music to Read James Bond By (well, most of it) while you read about Music to Read James Bond By.

Did it work? Good! First, a little background:

It's 1965. Ian Fleming's final James Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, will be published posthumously this year, Fleming having died the year before. Only three Bond movies have been released: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. Eight of the twelve tracks on MtRJBB are from those movies: either original soundtracks or covers by UA artists. The other four tracks are original music, composed just for the album—to quote the liner notes, "music in the James Bond mood." We'll see about that.

One more thing: this album was my introduction to James Bond. I was ten years old in 1965—it would be at least two years before I saw my first Bond film or read my first Bond novel—but my aunts had this album, and I was obsessed with it (and not just because of the picture of the naked girl on the cover). I loved the music, and years later I found my own copy in the bargain bin of a record store in Chicago.

Here are the tracks:

The James Bond Theme (Ferrante & Teicher)

This is the iconic theme that has been used in every James Bond film since the beginning. Monty Norman composed it, but it's John Barry's arrangement that makes the song. I have the original Dr. No soundtrack LP, and this song isn't even on it. The "James Bond Theme" on that album sounds like surf music from a beach movie. For years I wondered why, and I finally found the answer. (And if you want to know what the original theme sounds like, here's a variation of it from the original soundtrack, called "Twisting with James.")

This version is not bad. It's by Ferrante and Teicher, a piano duo who were popular in the 1960's for their covers of movie themes, show tunes, and light classical music.

007 (John Barry)

John Barry composed the "007" theme for From Russia with Love, and he used it again in Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever. After the "James Bond Theme," it’s probably the second most iconic piece of Bond music. It’s also one of the tracks YouTube forced me to remove. MtRJBB includes the original soundtrack version from From Russia with Love. The version I substituted, from The Music of John Barry, is not exactly the same, but it's pretty close.

Underneath The Mango Tree (The La Playas)

A calypso-style song composed by Monty Norman for Dr. No. In the movie, you hear it over and over again, ad nauseum, because Jamaica. I could find no information about "The La Playas," but "La Playa" is Spanish for "the beach," so I guess their name translates to "The The Beaches."

Black On Pink (Sir Julian)

This is the first piece of original music on the album, and it's not bad. The title comes from a chapter in From Russia with Love (Fleming wrote some great chapter titles), and it's the sort of bluesy, sleazy jazz you could imagine playing in the background at a bar where Bond picks up a beautiful woman who, after sleeping with him, will either a) be rescued by him, b) fail to be rescued by him, or c) try to kill him. "Sir Julian" was actually Julian Gold and not, I am sorry to say, a real knight.

Goldfinger (Perez Prado)

Okay, here's where MtRJBB starts to get a little weird. A mambo version of the Goldfinger theme? Goldfinger had just been released, and the theme was very popular. So was mambo, so why not? Perez Prado is the composer of such well-known and imaginatively-titled pieces as "Mambo No. 5" and "Mambo No. 8."

Living It Up (The Leasebreakers)

And here's where it gets really weird. The title comes from a chapter in Goldfinger, but that's the only thing that says "Bond" about this piece. I can't find any information on "The Leasebreakers," but they sound like the Dixieland band that plays at Disneyland, complete with banjo. "Music in the James Bond mood?" One can only imagine that a horrible mistake was made.

From Russia with Love (Al Caiola)

I have nothing negative to say about this arrangement of John Barry's theme from From Russia with Love by Al Caiola, a popular guitarist of the era. Groovy.

Jamaica Jump Up (Monty Norman)

"All the people go Jump Up!" Another Monty Norman song from Dr. No, which was set in Jamaica and was actually filmed there. (Side note: I visited Jamaica with my family in the 60's, and I can assure you that none of the people were going "Jump Up.")

Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)

Arguably the best Bond song of all time, certainly the best song on this album, and Shirley Bassey's only big hit this side of the pond. Of course, it’s also the other track YouTube forced me to remove. I’ve substituted the instrumental version from The Music of John Barry, but if you’ve never heard it, you really should listen to the vocal version. Here’s a link to a video that YouTube has not taken down—yet.

Golden Girl (LeRoy Holmes)

This original piece sounds like stripper music to me—a little weird but I will allow it, as I'm sure James Bond has been to a strip club or two. LeRoy Holmes was a composer and arranger who worked with lots of band leaders and singers—including Shirley Bassey, which is probably how he got this job. He composed all of the original music on the album.

Girl Trouble (John Barry)

An excerpt from John Barry's soundtrack to From Russia with Love, for a scene in which Bond is forced to watch two Gypsy girls tear each other's clothes off. It's tough to be a spy.

The Elegant Venus (Dick Ruedebusch)

The last song on the album is also the last piece of original music “in the James Bond mood.” Its title is taken from a chapter in Dr. No, and has a dual meaning: it refers to the common name of the shellfish Honeychile Ryder is collecting when Bond finds her on Crab Key; it also refers to Honey herself, whose appearance on the beach reminds Bond of Botticelli's painting, "The Birth of Venus." Ursula Andress portrayed Honey in the movie, and if any music says "Ursula Andress in a bikini," this brassy big-band number does. According to Wikipedia, "Richard Lowell Roudebush (January 18, 1918 - January 28, 1995) was a U.S. Representative from Indiana…" No, wait. I'm sorry. That's Dick Roudebush. There is no Wikipedia entry for Dick Ruedebusch. I think he was a trumpeter.

I will end with a quote from the MtRJBB liner notes: "The truly avid James Bond fan will perhaps cleverly take a tip from his idol, 007, and embellish the novel and this exciting music with a tasty martini, gently stirred and not shaken. Now settle back and enjoy a delightful evening."

No comments:

Post a Comment