While I prefer the title songs like “A View to A Kill”, “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale, “Licence to Kill” with a TKO vocal performance by Gladys Night, and hold these in as high regard as “You Only Live Twice” and “Goldfinger”, I’m not averse to hearing new dimensions on a Bond title song. The trick to Bond title songs isn’t whether they can live outside the movie as a hit- some of them are so designed to be that they don’t work on that capacity or within the film.
The trick is whether they work in thefilm and are memorable enough that audiences want to hear the song again as a part of their consumption of the film as entertainment. That will drive whether or not a Bond title song is popular as “Skyfall” seemed to be.
I was not a fan of Adele’s “Skyfall” because I felt the lyrics were trite and had no depth. Adele is a FANTASTIC singer, I will admit as someone who isn’t a hater, but not a fan. There seems to be several categories for fans when it comes to Bond title songs, for me it’s Good, Classic, Memorable, and OUCH. “Skyfall” as a title song is somewhere between good and OUCH. Musically good, good on vocal performance, but OUCH on lyrics.
Some prefer Skyfall as it sounds like what Bond is to them – some people can’t get away from Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” (which contains some of John Barry’s most classic of Bond music, but his vocal performance is cringe-worthy for me). Classic Bond is so canonical that it can become stifling to experience; it’s like being stuck with the plot lines of Star Wars or Star Trek, it leaves you with no room to go new places and try new things. Then again, people can be very frightened of something new and of change itself.
Here’s the thing with me, for what it’s worth: I prefer a song that has been co-written with the composer of a Bond film’s score, because on the occasions where that has taken place, it gives the film an identity. John Barry did this well on several occasions (A View to A Kill my personal favorite example), even Bill Conti managed to get that right with For Your Eyes Only. The right hook on a song can make it memorable; the right melody, embedded in the song, tied to moments underscoring favorite scenes in a Bond movie can make one want to hear the song just to relive those moments even more. It sells the whole soundtrack, rather than just a single. This is certainly a challenge, given the stranglehold of the single driving digital music sales.
Though Sam Smith’s work here may not necessarily embedded with Thomas Newman’s score for Spectre, and time will tell which way that turns, but it is a solid Bond film song. The lyrics, while at times a bit on the nose, are VERY good and musical structure is effective. Smith’s performance here is equally stunning and very much in the vein of his “blue-eyed soul” that many British artists like him are excellent at performing.
When I first heard Sam Smith, I misjudged him as sounding weepy and co-dependent with “Stay With Me”. “Latch” with EDM duo Disclosure changed my mind because it wasn’t like Stay With Me at all. Smith vocal performance on Writing’s On The Wall is more like Latch. The delivery has no drums; it’s classic- just Smith and an Orchestra. As a Main Title song, it may fall short for this reason, perhaps, because it doesn’t have a crescendo that drums, bass, and guitar can add with certain arrangements.
To be fair, it’s important to note that this is judging the song outside of the context of the film “Spectre”. However, as much as I have enjoyed this song, I’m certainly excited to see how it is used in the film. It’s no “You Know My Name”, which I thought was one of the best Bond songs ever, but certainly gives Tom Jones’ “Thunderball” a run for its money. Bottom line – this one’s not only a buy, it’s a repeat play – even if it’s only for Bond fans.
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