Jack White grew up dreaming of writing a James Bond theme, and in 2002 he did precisely that. “I was a big fan of John Barry, Shirley Bassey,” is how the White Stripes chief would later characterise his love of 007. On one other event, he expressed the want to “join the family of Barry, Bassey [and] Connery”.
Unfortunately, the franchise’s custodians at Eon Productions weren’t at the moment in the marketplace for a 007 track by a scruffy bluesman from Detroit. So White tweaked the tune and, as an in-joke, named it after his childhood pronunciation of “Salvation Army”. Released the following 12 months, “Seven Nation Army” turned the White Stripes into worldwide stars and went on to be embraced as a terrace anthem round the world.
Yet for all that success, White by no means let go of his ambition of inscribing his identify into the Bond historical past books alongside Shirley Bassey, Adele, Duran Duran and others. And then, in 2008, the alternative to do exactly that fell into his lap throughout the chaotic manufacturing of Bond 22, Quantum of Solace. That’s how he and R&B famous person Alicia Keys got here to collaborate on one in every of the strangest ever 007 themes: the bonkers and baffling “Another Way to Die” – or, because it actually must be referred to as, “Seven Nation Barmy”.
As James Bond prepares to belatedly swoop again into cinemas, with the much-delayed No Time to Die having its premiere on Tuesday, it’s straightforward to consider 007 as cinema’s final bluechip model. In reality, James Bond has had his share of embarrassments down the many years, whether or not that be the invisible automotive in Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day or the invisible charisma of Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights.
That has been as true of Bond’s theme music as of different features of the collection. Bond themes have traditionally fallen into a number of classes. There are the indeniable classics: Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever”, Wings’s “Live and Let Die”, Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better”. The close to misses: the U2-penned, Tina Turner-performed “GoldenEye”, Billie Eilish’s enigmatic “No Time to Die” from the new movie.
And there are the “what were they thinking?” ones. This is a surprisingly broad subject, together with the Bond-goes-grunge Chris Cornell dirge “You Know My Name” (from Casino Royale), Garbage’s clattering “The World Is Not Enough” and “A View to a Kill”, the Duran Duran theme virtually as ridiculous as the Roger Moore caper of the similar identify.
But when it comes to weirdest Bond theme ever, there might be just one. “Another Way to Die” will not be, in any typical sense, a horrible track. It’s too unusual for that. Instead, it’s the sound of two wildly incompatible artists performing completely totally different compositions in the similar neighborhood.
White squawks and does his retro blues factor. Keys performs piano and croons and customarily pretends the whole lot is okay (she is aware of the whole lot will not be high-quality). At no level is there any hazard of their two mutually unintelligible types cohering. The result’s a wacky ejector seat of a hodgepodge, taking you locations you by no means wished, nor have been meant, to go.
The sense that issues usually are not fairly as they need to be extends to the video, wherein White, with a white shirt and open tie, clothes like James Bond if James Bond had been mugged on his manner dwelling from an all-night vodka binge.
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Keys, in contrast, seems not to have obtained the “pretend you’re in a Bond film” memo and turns up in a nondescript frock. And when she and White howl the refrain – “A door left open/ A woman walking by/ A drop in the water/ A look in your eye” – their lack of chemistry pulsates like a black gap, threatening to vaporise the whole lot round it.
“Another Way to Die” was rapidly forgotten by Bond followers. Its obscurity could have one thing to do with the incontrovertible fact that Quantum of Solace was itself charmless and complicated – simply the worst of the Daniel Craig Bonds. No matter how dazzling the theme track, it might not have rescued Quantum. So in a manner it didn’t matter that it was so weird.
Or so it would have appeared to the outdoors world. Within the Bond brain-trust, although, there are causes to suspect this anomaly prompted a substantial diploma of soul-searching. Shaken and stirred by “Another Way to Die”, it’s tempting to conclude that Eon swore a blood oath to by no means once more push the Bond theme outdoors its John Barry/Shirley Bassey security zone. Ever since Bond songs have caught to the breathy diva formulation, as interpreted by Adele, Sam Smith and now Billie Eilish.
“Jack White and Alicia Keys actually approached Sony about a song, as White was a big Bond fan,” says Jon Burlingame, writer of The Music of James Bond, the definitive examine of Bond themes. “Certainly the Bond producers were running out of time, as it was already summer and the movie was to be released in October. They all rolled the dice on the White-Keys collaboration.”
“Unfortunately, what they delivered was a disappointment, creatively. The song is not very interesting, either musically or lyrically, with cliches like the rat-a-tat brass and lines like ‘shoot ’em up bang bang’. It had neither the flash or the class that is generally associated with a Bond song. It’s both lame and tedious, and a majority of Bond fans felt this and lashed out against it.”
White and Keys had not initially been on the radar of Quantum of Solace producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson. The first alternative was Amy Winehouse, working together with her common producer Mark Ronson. However, Winehouse’s dream of taking on her place alongside Shirley Bassey, Carly Simon and many others had come unstuck amid her dependancy points and declining well being.
“They asked Amy. So hopefully something will come of it,” her long-suffering producer Ronson instructed BBC Music Week in April 2008. “The demo sounds like a James Bond theme.” But he later admitted the tune would solely come about by “some miracle of science”.
“There was no melody or lyric, just a chord pattern and groove that Amy was meant to write alongside,” David Arnold, who composed the score for every Bond from 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace, subsequently clarified. “None of these were presented to the producers of the movie as there was nothing of substance to play anyone.”
Winehouse later accused Bond’s producers of missing endurance. “I do think they could have waited a bit,” she stated to New Magazine. “If they want a worldwide hit I have them all up here in my head. I guess they are going for clean-cut and boring.”
By then it was too late. White and Keys, who had spoken for years about collaborating, had gone to Broccoli and Wilson with their pitch. With the clock ticking, the producers trusted it might be all White on the evening.
They could have felt they’d little alternative. Quantum of Solace was already unravelling thanks to a Hollywood writers’ strike, which meant manufacturing had commenced with a half-written script. They despatched White and Keys the screenplay (such that it was) and instructed them to do their greatest.
In going for a blues-R&B hybrid, White could have felt he and Keys have been giving Bond precisely what they wished. Though current Bond themes have been lush retro affairs, that wasn’t in any respect the case as Daniel Craig made his first forays into the franchise.
Garbage and Madonna had already introduced their very own up to date spin to 007 throughout the Brosnan period. The former’s “The World Is Not Enough” from 1999 integrated trip-hop components. Madge’s “Die Another Day” (2002) was a full-ahead pop banger.
Craig’s first Bond, Casino Royale, had in the meantime launched itself through the musky intonations of Soundgarden and Audioslave singer Chris Cornell crooning “You Know Your Name”. These tracks might be seen as representing a calculated break from the previous. In the case of the Cornell track, the thought was to distinguish Craig’s sinewy new Bond from his predecessors by utilising a sonic palette markedly totally different from that of “Golden Era” 007.
“‘Die Another Day’, ‘You Know My Name’ and ‘Another Way to Die’ were meant to update the sound, to find a sonic vocabulary for the supposedly new, post-traumatic Bond,” says Adrian Daub, professor of comparative literature and German research at Stanford University and co-author of The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism. He’s referring to the seemingly PTSD-affected Bond that Craig has performed – the place you possibly can see the scars of all his points down the years.
This method has modified with the more moderen Craig outings, he feels. “From ‘Skyfall’ on, it was a chance for young millennials or Gen Z to cosplay as Shirley Bassey. I think that what accounts for some of the hate the White/Keys effort has received was that it came on the heels of a bunch of songs that seemed keen to be done with the formula. And it turns out fans really clamoured for the formula.”
“The reason why ‘Another Way To Die’ didn’t work as a Bond song was because it was such an odd duet pairing,” provides Sean McCabe of the Time To Bond weblog. “It would have been like teaming up Shirley Bassey with Simon Le Bon. I personally don’t hate the song as much as other Bond fans/experts. I have it ranked somewhere in the middle. Ironically, ‘Another Way To Die’ is a better title for the film than “Quantum of Solace”.
Another subject with “Another Way to Die” is that it prioritises White’s musical imaginative and prescient over that of Keys. She has offered significantly extra information than the White Stripes man. Yet in each track and video, she takes a backseat as his “genius” is allowed to shine.
“It doesn’t demonstrate the Bond-ballad formula, but what it does demonstrate, alas, is the franchise’s ham-handed ways of interacting with Black women and Black musics,” says Charles Kronengold, assistant professor of musicology at Stanford and co-author, with Adrian Daub, of The James Bond Songs.
“What bothers me about the song is the way its style and sonics kind of assume that White is the auteur – it’s his sound and approach interacting with the Bond-song formula – while Keys is just the hired voice.”
Still, it might be incorrect to be too harsh on White and Keys. They tried one thing totally different and gave 007 its first (and presumably solely) lo-fi gutbucket blues duet. Where, furthermore, could be Bond be with out its wonderful failures?
One of the causes the franchise is so beloved, it may be argued, is that it offers itself permission to lose the plot now and again. How uninteresting Bond could be if each 007 tour was a Goldfinger or Skyfall. Bond wants its Moonraker (Bond in Space) and its A View to a Kill (Bond midway up the Golden Gate Bridge).
“Another Way To Die” is a part of that wealthy, outlandish tapestry. Most Bond followers may simply undergo the remainder of their lives with out ever listening to it once more. And but a little bit a part of them have to be happy it exists – if solely as a result of it permits us to recognize actually nice Bond themes comparable to Adele’s “Skyfall” all the extra.
No Time to Die is launched on 8 October