Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why Sam Smith's New Song Is the Worst James Bond Theme Song Ever


Three years ago at this time, Adele's "Skyfall" -- the theme for the new James Bond movie in 2012 -- was getting lots of radio play. I remember it took a few listens for me to warm up to it, but all in all it turned out to be a fine modern addition to the Bond theme song legacy. Not one of my favorites, especially as I prefer the themes from the '60s through the '80s, but certainly not one of the worst.

Then I heard Sam Smith's "Writing's On the Wall" for the upcoming Bond film Spectre. Surprisingly (or maybe not) there's been little PR and airplay surrounding this composition. Maybe it's because -- to put it bluntly -- it...well, it sucks. In my honest opinion anyway. 

To make sure that I wasn't being unfair, I posted a link to the song on Facebook and asked others what they thought. It was unanimous. Everyone who commented thought it was awful, too. 

I should probably preface this by saying that I'm just not a Sam Smith fan. I find his music too slow and ponderous and I think it's safe to say that he (if even unconsciously) ripped off Tom Petty when he released "Stay With Me" and plagiarism just isn't cool. (For those who weren't in the loop, Tom Petty sued Smith last year because "Stay With Me" sounded too much like Petty's "I Won't Back Down." The two musicians reached a settlement out of court.)

But despite that, I was ready to give him the benefit of a doubt here and I was open minded to hearing the song, because it isn't that often a modern musician strikes a chord with me. Here's the song, by the way, if you want to listen to it first before hearing my further thoughts...



For starters, it's too painfully slow. The opening orchestra sweep at the beginning certainly sounds like a 007 theme. But then that droning piano makes me impatient. You would think after "Skyfall" the Broccoli family would have asked for a more upbeat theme, like "You Know My Name" from Casino Royale and "Another Way to Die" that accompanied Quantum of Solace. I nearly dozed off listening to "The Writing's On the Wall" until...

That falsetto begins. Sweet Lord, are my ears really hearing a falsetto in a Bond theme song? I have nothing against falsettos as long as they're appropriate for the song; Mick Jagger can rock (key word: rock) a falsetto on many Rolling Stones songs, and Prince made the singing style his trademark. However, it just doesn't work on a Bond song. A man like Bond is worthy of a deeper, majestic baritone singing his theme song, like Tom Jones did on "Thunderball", not someone who sounds like Barry Gibb. 

And the falsetto gets repeated...and repeated...and repeated...throughout the song. 

I get that the producers like to keep up with the times and have a modern singer record the Bond theme songs, but this one seriously left me craving the classics from previous decades. Something interesting to note: the original motion picture soundtrack for Spectre contains only the instrumental version of the Sam Smith composition; not the sung version. Hmmmm. 

At the end of the day, I suppose it doesn't really matter what gets used for the opening theme song or who sings it when all I care about is the movie itself and if it's entertaining and well done. But considering that Daniel Craig has been hinting in interviews lately that he's about ready to leave the Bond role, maybe this is a sign that some things in Bond's current world are getting tiring and need some rejuvenating. 

And call me crazy, but if I'm not mistaken, I thought there was a rumor quite a ways back that Depeche Mode was going to record the theme song for Spectre. "Personal Jesus", anyone?

I sincerely don't mean to offend the Sam Smith fans out there. The tune just isn't my bag. Nonetheless I'm interested in hearing your opinion -- leave a comment and let me know what you think of it. 

11 comments:

  1. I didn't bother to see if this was the Intro song to "Spectre"? I hope not! I mean my favs Jones' Thunderball(!), Carly Simon, Duran Duran, and even Glady's Knight's License to kill were BOLD. Pam said "...maybe this is a sign that some things in Bond's current world are getting tiring..."; agreed - the falsetto, this song also makes me think Bond is tired, ready to fold it up; maybe a plot device to make you believe this? I can only hope so.
    SAHD

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  2. SAHD - it is indeed, sadly, the theme for "Spectre." Kind of interesting that (from what I could see on Amazon) only the instrumental version is on the soundtrack album. Nonetheless I think I can survive suffering through it when I go see the movie opening weekend.

    Thanks as always for stopping by and commenting!

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  3. Good song - but not for James Bond. It just doesn't fit the iconic image. But James Bond is getting so watered down these days to appeal to modern tastes that this song just doesn't surprise me. Anti-smoking, love not lust, and Heineken - not Martinis. When I think James Bond theme song, I think power. Pretty, but this just isn't powerful.

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  4. So, I listened to this for the first time just now, intentionally just listening and scrolling up so I wouldn't see the video, so it would not influence how the song played.

    Well, yeah, it's pretty awful. I had to stop it 2/3rds in. Bouncing back and forth between sleepy tenor and hyper faux-soprano is not only exhausting but tedious. Nope, not a great one by any means, but it will probably be nominated as best original song for an Oscar anyway because that's how Hollywood works.

    This being said, I don't think it's the worst Bond song ever. That dishonor would have to got to 'All Time High' sung by Rita Coolidge for Moonraker (Aaaaaauuuuggghhhh!) Maybe this would be better with a different performer; maybe Prince could make it work?

    My favorite Bond Themes are from You Only Live Twice, Thunderball, Goldfinger, and Live and Let Die, and The Spy that Loved Me. I saw a mash-up once of the opening credits for (Daniel Craig's) Casino Royale with George Harrisons "The Art of Dying" -- It worked beautifully! That song would make a great Bond Theme!

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    Replies
    1. "All Time High" was actually in the movie OCTOPUSSY. The song from MOONRAKER is a title song sung by Shirley Bassey. And to me personally, they both were great songs.

      Honestly, my least favorite Bond theme definitely has to be "The Man with the Golden Gun". A pretty annoying song indeed.

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  5. Therese...holy &*%$! What a brilliant choice for a Bond theme! Can't believe I never thought of that one before...couldn't find the mash up online but had to listen to the Harrison track. Perfection!

    Reviews of the film are mixed...it sounds like the franchise is getting old and could use some sort of reboot. However, I have disagreed with the mass of critics before and am still looking forward to seeing the film on Sunday. I guess I'll just have to suffer through the awful opening theme.

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  6. His "I'm not the only one" was a good song, but otherwise he's too weepy. not right for James Bond, but then neither was Adele.

    Plus, he looks like a muppet.

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  7. Now hold on a mo. I thought the song was pretty good! Wanna know how I can tell? Because every time it's finished on YouTube, I instantly replay it again. And again and again and again... (Oddly enough, I did that to another song, "Manta Ray", a song that was in competition with the SPECTRE theme for the Oscar).

    Wanna know how else I can tell? My brother, who's not a big Sam Smith himself, actually find the song to be listenable and way better than Adele's "Skyfall" (though that's a sentiment I totally disagree with).

    Still, agree to disagree... :)

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    Replies
    1. Nothing wrong with disagreeing. I did like "Skyfall" and could tolerate "The Writing's On the Wall" a little better when I saw SPECTRE in the theater and it was played over the opening credits, but I can't say I found myself wanting to listen to it again and again. By the way, I like the theme to "The Man With the Golden Gun." I wrote a blog post last summer/fall about my favorite Bond themes and that one did make my list.

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    2. Yeah, within the context of the bizarre opening sequence (those tentacles were outlandish!), the song is just absolutely perfect!

      By the way, I checked out your James Bond theme song list. Excellent choices! Never would forget the first time I heard "For Your Eyes Only"! It actually nearly brought me to tears.

      What I would love to see is a blog post of your top ten favorite Oscar-winning songs. I have been listening to pretty much all of them (except for the two songs I can't find) from 1934 to 2015. Makes one heck of a playlist, huh? :)

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  8. Now hold on a mo. I thought the song was pretty good! Wanna know how I can tell? Because every time it's finished on YouTube, I instantly replay it again. And again and again and again... (Oddly enough, I did that to another song, "Manta Ray", a song that was in competition with the SPECTRE theme for the Oscar).

    Wanna know how else I can tell? My brother, who's not a big Sam Smith himself, actually find the song to be listenable and way better than Adele's "Skyfall" (though that's a sentiment I totally disagree with).

    Still, agree to disagree... :)

    ReplyDelete

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