Billie Eilish And The Long Line Of James Bond Theme Songs

Jan 15, 2020
Originally published on January 15, 2020 8:03 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Billie Eilish, at just 18 years old, is already one of the world's biggest pop stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GUY")

BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) I'm the bad type, make your mama sad type, make your girlfriend mad type, might seduce your dad type. I'm the bad guy.

CORNISH: News broke that Eilish will compose the theme for the next movie in an iconic franchise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTY NORMAN'S "JAMES BOND THEME")

CORNISH: It will be for the new James Bond film, "No Time To Die." NPR music critic Stephen Thompson joins us now to discuss Bond songs and Billie Eilish.

Welcome back, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: It's great to be here.

CORNISH: Let's start with the Bond side of this. What makes for a good theme?

THOMPSON: Well, you want to capture the spirit of the James Bond movies, which, itself, has evolved over the years. It never hurts to have a certain amount of, like, sexual suggestiveness in the lyric. But also, you want a sense of action and danger with a little bit of drama thrown in.

CORNISH: And when we talk Bond themes, we're also talking about legacy, right? At what point did getting this gig become a coveted one for pop stars?

THOMPSON: Well, I think once you had a few iconic James Bond songs, everybody's trying to match that. And, you know, I think of the gold standard of James Bond song singers as Shirley Bassey, who, in 1964, I think, really kind of set a standard with "Goldfinger."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDFINGER")

SHIRLEY BASSEY: (Singing) Goldfinger, he's the man, the man with the Midas touch.

THOMPSON: So once you have "Goldfinger," then you start to roll in some pop stars, everybody from Nancy Sinatra with "You Only Live Twice," Carly Simon with "Nobody Does It Better." You have these huge, huge songs that are now best-known as James Bond songs.

CORNISH: All right, Stephen, you're talking about the gold standard, so to speak. But are there any themes that didn't quite come together?

THOMPSON: Well, you mentioned the songs reflecting the eras in which they're made. I'm on record as a fan of the '80s pop band A-ha. "Take On Me" is a classic. But A-ha was commissioned to write "The Living Daylights," which came out in 1987.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS")

A-HA: (Singing) Comes the morning and the headlights fade away.

THOMPSON: And you listen to the song, and it's like 1987 threw up all over it.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: It's just full of all those synths, that kind of tinny production. And it's not a hugely memorable song. You have some kind of misfires, I think. Like, in 2008, for the movie "Quantum Of Solace," they paired up Alicia Keys and Jack White to do a song called "Another Way To Die."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER WAY TO DIE")

ALICIA KEYS AND JACK WHITE: (Singing) Yeah, a door left open, a woman walking by, a drop in the water, a look in the eye.

THOMPSON: And it's just not really a coherent version of either of them. It doesn't feel natural. So as these movies roll out, the kind of expectations and standards get bigger and bigger.

CORNISH: Now we've got Billie Eilish singing this year's Bond theme. How does her style of music, though, fit into the Bond tradition?

THOMPSON: Well, it's interesting. I think she fits perfectly into where James Bond is now. I think no current artist, other than, like, Lana Del Rey, really fits the mold quite like her because her songs have this mixture of kind of darkness and menace with a little bit of softness to them and...

CORNISH: And smirk, right? She's got a sense of humor.

THOMPSON: A little bit. And I think this particular Daniel Craig version of James Bond is a little bit more wounded, is carrying around more pain and a little more anguish. So you want to have this kind of undercurrent of melancholy to go with all that swagger. And I think Billie Eilish is perfect for that.

CORNISH: That's NPR music critic Stephen Thompson.

Stephen, thanks so much.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYTHING I WANTED")

EILISH: (Singing) And if I'm being honest, it might've been a nightmare to anyone who might care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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