Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Bond Themes Prove the 80s Sucked

Roger Moore plays Bond playing a clown, a pretty good metaphor for the franchise in the 80s

Lately I have been on a real film music kick, which has coincided with my revisiting 1960s James Bond flicks.  (For some reason I always seem to go back to Bond this time of year.)  I've been listening to a lot of the Bond theme songs, and noticed evidence for a certain hypothesis of mine: the 80s sucked.

Of of course there was good stuff, like The Smiths, Public Enemy, Prince and the Indiana Jones movies.  However, I am of the opinion that popular culture writ large started turning into the boring, corporatized gloop that it has become today.  (This is especially the case with cinema, just compare the glory days of 1971-1977 to today.)  While Connery left the role to one timer George Lazenby and then to walking self-parody Roger Moore, the music in 70s Bond films still kept the pace.

In the sixties John Barry composed the deathless Bond theme, as well as the wonderfully bombastic "Goldfinger" and "Thunderball."  He could also take things down a notch, with the absolutely mellow, shagadelic "You Only Live Twice."  While the Bond themes of the seventies (like the movies) were mostly not of the same quality, they were still pretty damn good.  Shirley Bassey proved she could still belt it on both "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker."  Of course, that decade also brought us arguably the best Bond theme, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me. 

And then came the 80s.

The decade began with Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only," an example of the quivery, schmaltzy easy listening shite I had to endure in every doctor's office and grocery store I ever visited in the 1980s.  It is limpid, uninteresting, and totally representative of its time.  Oh, but it gets worse, so much worse.  In 1983 Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" opened up the hilariously named Octopussy.  Kenny G-style sax? Check.  Cheesy, cliche-ridden lyrics?  Check.  Complete lack of emotional connection despite the distractedly emotive singing?  Check.  In 1985 things got (slightly) better with Duran Duran's "View to a Kill," which replaced the godawful schmaltz with a less convincing, less interesting version of their sound, which by this time was already past its expiration date.

Speaking of past its expiration date, 1987 brought Norwegian one hit wonders A-Ha's "The Living Daylights."  By this point the aging Moore had been replaced by Timothy Dalton, a man great for the role but given the unenviable task of livening up a tired franchise relying on crap scripts and ideas.  A-Ha's song is just as tired, an amalgam of overproduced 80s music cliches (obvious drum machine beats, a reverb drenching of everything, chiming synthesizers, and overall mechanical, inorganic feeling.)  In 1989, the crimped-hair apotheosis of the spandex decade, things reached an all-time low with Gladys Knight's "License to Kill."  Replacing overwrought New Wave bands with an over the hill soul singer didn't help things.  Don't get me wrong, I love Knight's early work, but this piece of crap borrows the melody from "Thunderball," but none of its immediacy.  This song is what they play in hell's dentist office.

The schmaltzy, overwrought and overproduced Bond themes of the 1980s fit that decade pretty well.  It was a time of studied artificiality like no other before or since.  Anyone who wants to engage in 80s nostalgia needs to be forced to sit down to listen to the Bond themes of the era, which I am sure can change their minds.

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