James Bond, John Barry, Monty Norman, No Time To Die, Starbelly, The Outta Sites, The Shambles, The Surf Trio, The Tearaways, The Weisstronauts
With No Time to Die finally in theatres it seems timely to revisit the exquisite pleasures of 1960s-derivative spy music. The genre and its distinctive vibe was arguably invented when British session guitar player Vic Flick was invited to add some ‘punch’ to Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” before the release of the first Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No. With the addition of John Barry’s horn arrangement and Flick’s instantly recognizable rumbly guitar hooks, the track is as much a brand for the franchise as Moneypenny and the Walther PPK. Since then the song has appeared in all 25 official Bond films and, according to the website SecondHandSongs, been covered more than 153 times. Lanny Flowers produced a killer version for the superb Curry Cuts powerpop collection of Bond covers, Songs, Bond Songs, reviewed in detail here. But we won’t limit ourselves to just the double-O ranks in taking up our spy music theme. Flick’s guitar sound became synonymous with spy music more generally in the 1960s, which means it’s all pretty groovy.
Of course, we have to begin with the Bond theme, this time from Boston’s premier twang band The Weisstronauts. The take is pretty traditional, except when it’s not. Check out the intriguing guitar counterpoint that surfaces early in the tune or the brief Hawaiian guitar flourishes. It’s from the fab wiaiwya Bond songs covers album, A Girl and a Gun. Next up, the inspiration for this spy-themed post, The Outta Sites stunning spy song EP, Shaken Not Stirred: The Secret Agent Sessions. The band offer up covers of classics like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “You Only Live Twice” as well as more off-the-beaten-track – but still great – material like the “Theme from Our Man Flint,” James Coburn’s satiric take on Bond from 1966. But the price of admission is paid entirely with their “Secret Agent Medley” combining elements of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” “The James Bond Theme,” “Goldfinger,” and “Live and Let Die.” “Double Agent” is also a treat with its relentless organ-driven sense of panic and excitement. Sticking to the instrumental side of spy music, San Diego’s The Shambles serve up a rare non-vocal track with “A Girl to Kill For,” the b-side to their 1995 single “(We’ve Got a) Groovy Thing” and deep cut on their 1996 album Clouds All Day. The song packs the requisite degree of guitar-driven ominous dread in a concise 2 minute workout.
Sometimes people like to sing about spies and spying. Like when Starbelly admit to some on-the-side employment in “I Am a Spy,” one of a load of bonus cuts that appear on the 2012 reboot of their 1998 album Lemon Fresh. The song has the cool melodic bite of any of The Odds 1990s material, with the spy guitar shots just an added benefit. Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways tell Bond’s story in musical form on their “James Bond.” The track is a supremely pleasant poprock tune with maximum Bond film-title name-dropping exposition. Now if you want to dig back into more historical spy song treatments, check out Ace Records fantastic collection of 1960s tunes, Come Spy With Us: The Secret Agent Songbook, featuring John Barry, Dusty Springfield, the Supremes, Nancy Sinatra, and many more. As you leave this post and the credits roll, taking us out are The Surf Trio’s “Cocktails with Bond,” basically a languid cocktail interpretation of the Bond theme, from the Exotic Guitars compilation.
The Cold War may be over but our nostalgia for the combination of international people of mystery and rumbly guitar lives on. Bond will return, undoubtedly inspiring another wave of cool tunes and covers.