I saw the new James Bond movie the other day. If you have even a remote love for Bond in your heart, this one is definitely worth seeing in the theaters. I’ve seen just about every movie in the series, including the weird ones like the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again, and I feel confident in saying that this new one ranks easily among the best. However, I’m here to talk about the music of Bond.
As even the most casual Bond fan knows, a major component of each movie is the opening theme song. Adele does justice to the legacy with her excellent song for Skyfall. Still, it’s hard to beat the queen of all Bond singers, Shirley Bassey. With three songs in the Bond theme repertoire, she sets the gold standard (get it?) that everyone else has to live up to. She manages to effortlessly combine sensuality, tongue-in-cheek playfulness, and power in her singing, all hallmarks of the Bond mythos itself. Other singers have managed to hit the mark on one or two of these, but with the possible exception of Tom Jones effort for Thunderball, only Bassey has managed to pull off the entire trifecta so well.
Here she is singing the song live at Royal Albert Hall circa 1964-65. She absolutely kills it.
I think for the majority of people, Grace Slick is the first and only person that comes to mind when they think of the voice of Jefferson Airplaine. My guess is this is because of the longevity of “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” on classic rock radio. It’s unfortunate, because her male counterpart Marty Balin (who started the band, incidentally) has his own fair share of great songs. Despite what thebandwouldbecome, the original incarnation had moments of real rawness and ferocity.
This is my favorite song of theirs, and this video is an absolutely blistering version of it. At first I thought that maybe the tape was sped up a bit, but comparing it to some other versions on YouTube, it seems like they are just really keyed up here. I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions as to why.
BONUS: Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy some of the band’s later hits. I think their many stylistic shifts from the ’60s until the ’80s are pretty bizarre, but I can’t fault them for doing what they had to do to stay viable as a band. I tend to think of each phase as almost a completely different band.
Here’s what’s probably the most bizarre moment in their history: an appearance in the abysmal 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. If you’re not familiar, go here first, then watch this video as the band is introduced by Art Carney (?!). Listen as Marty Balin struggles to hit some arena rock high notes while singing about vanishing “in a star-shaped object”. Shakespeare wept.
The incomparable Sam & Dave performing one of my favorite songs of theirs on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. The riff in the chorus is so boneheadedly simple and yet so perfect. Everything about this song is stripped down to the absolute essentials and executed flawlessly by an ultra-tight band. This is just a glimpse into what was apparently their legendary live show.
Larry Burrows is one of my favorite photographers. His photos of the Vietnam War are remarkable in every way, and are a sobering antidote to the romanticized version of the war that is generally seen in the movies.
On this day in 1965, LIFE Magazine published what is probably his most famous photo essay, “One Ride With Yankee Papa 13”, and today they’ve posted the entire essay on their website.
I know Christmas 2011 is dead and gone, but I wanted to post this and didn’t get a chance to until now. O Come, All Ye Faithful is my favorite traditional Christmas song, performed here by one of my favorite bands. It comes from a 1967 UNICEF TV Christmas special. Here’s a video of their entire performance, where they play “Barbara Ann” and “God Only Knows” in addition to the song above. This performance really highlights the greatest strength of the Beach Boys’ music: the vocal harmonies. I’ve had conversations (some may say arguments) with people over the merits of the Beach Boys, and most people who don’t like them can’t get past the corny lyrics of their most well known songs. I can’t defend the quality of the words to their songs, but admittedly I’m not a huge lyric guy. I don’t think you can dispute the quality and beauty of this performance, though. The harmonizing is so effortless, and their voices blend perfectly. My only problem with this video is it’s too short, but I’ll take it.
The Monkey’s Uncle by The Beach Boys and Annette Funicello
Last week I watched a great documentary called The Boys. It tells the story of Robert and Richard Sherman, legendary songwriters for many of Disney’s biggest and best films during their golden age. For all his accomplishments, Alan Menkin will forever write in the enormous shadow of these two.
I grew up watching these movies and loving the music. In the pre-Blockbuster era of the mid- to late-80s, my family used to rent video tapes from the library. The selection was limited, especially compared to today’s everything-all-the-time video options, but they did have a good selection of Disney tapes. We went through them all several times over. I remember a period of time where we must rented Bedknobs and Broomsticks several weekends in a row, at least. It wasn’t until much later in life that I even became aware the Sherman Brothers were responsible for the tremendous music, and even then, I knew very little of their story.
The movie is bittersweet. It was a joint effort between one of Robert’s sons and one of Richard’s sons, and they decided to make it to see if they could reconcile the estrangement between the two brothers and their respective families. Throughout the film, you see how drastically different the two brothers are, and how it eventually drove them apart on a personal level, if not a professional level. Robert went off to fight in WWII at a very young age, suffering injuries and seeing the horrors committed by Nazi Germany as his squad was the first to enter Dachau at the end of the war. In watching the movie, it’s clear that those early traumas never left him, and he has spent much of his life trying to shake them off. It’s ironic that a man who carries around such tremendous pain was able to create a body of work so full of joy and optimism.
This song comes from the 1965 film of the same name. I’d come across it before in my various YouTube travels, but I didn’t make the connection until it appeared briefly in The Boys. It’s credited simply to Robert and Richard Sherman, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Beach Boys, or at the very least Brian Wilson, contributed quite a bit to the arrangement. I’m not a huge fan of Annette Funicello’s vocals on this one, however. Her voice is so grating against the inherent sweetness of the Beach Boys. She certainly looks cute shimmying about, though, which was probably more important to the Disney executives backing the film.