Bond Songs 25: The not-quite canon songs

[Later edit: After posting this I learned that Monty Norman, who composed the original and still iconic Bond theme died on Monday at age 94: ]

Numerous parody Bond films and comedic spy films touch on Bond film tropes. However, this post is not directly about them or their songs. Instead, I’m looking at three films (and their songs) that are adjacent to the canonical Bond films. One of them is a parody, another is a remake of a canonical film and the third isn’t a Bond film at all but has so much in common with the canonical films that it may as well be

  • Song/Theme: The Look of Love
  • Created by: Burt Bacharach and Hal David
  • Performers: Dusty Springfield
  • Who is it about?: Vesper Lynd and James Bond (sort of)
  • What’s it about?: Anticipating a lover’s embrace

The opening titles to the 1960’s Bond parody Casino Royale, is an instrumental played by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (there’s a version with lyrics at the end). That’s exactly what it sounds like. A more significant song from the film is Bacharach & David’s The Look of Love. The song, sung by Dusty Springfield, plays as Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd is out to recruit Peter Sellers, whose character is an expert baccarat player, to be a new James Bond stand-in. It’s a non-Broccoli Bacharach baccarat Bond song.

Of all the songs we’ve covered, this one probably has the most substantial recognition wholly separate from its origin in a Bond film. I say that based on only working out that it is technically a Bond song this week. It’s an absolute classic both as part of Dusty Springfield’s set of songs and also as part of Bacharach & David’s impressive discography.

Soft verses lead to a more orchestrated upbeat chorus:

“I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don’t ever go”

There’s nothing obviously Bond-ish to the lyrics but then again many of the Bond songs are just generic love/sex songs. With different orchestration and with a few Bond motifs thrown in, you can imagine it as the title song of a genuine Bond film.

  • Song/Theme: Never Say Never Again
  • Created by: Michel Legrand, Alan & Marilyn Bergman and Herb Alpert
  • Performers: Lani Hall
  • Who is it about?: Bond
  • What’s it about?: Getting mixed up with a man who says never

Speaking of Herb Alpert and speaking of generic love songs as Bond themes…

1983 saw the return of Sean Connery as James Bond via a quirk in the ownership of some film rights that allowed a different film company to remake Thunderball.

The theme song was performed by Lani Hall, and her husband Herb Alpert co-produced it.

“To get mixed up with a man who says never
May be big trouble, but then
I just could be the woman to take you
And make you never say never again”

I’ve heard worse songs. It’s very 1980’s and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before (although I think I’ve seen the film and marvelled at Connery’s toupee).

Well, lesson learned I suppose: if it’s not Broccoli then it’s not really a Bond film.

But wait…what about the flip version of that? What if it IS Broccoli but it’s not really a Bond film? What if…what if…it was a Disney-style musical extravaganza?

  • Song/Theme: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Created by: Robert and Richard Sherman
  • Performers: Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes
  • Who is it about?: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • What’s it about?: a curious name for a motor car

The Sherman Brothers (Robert and Richard) had created music for Disney features including Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book and were the perfect choice for a strange project. A Disney-like musical live-action fantastical film with all the DNA of a Bond film.

Ostensibly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (not to be confused with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s children’s book of the same name. The film itself is something else. The script by Roald “You Only Live Twice” Dahl has a frame story about a widower (Caractucus Potts played by Dick Van Dyke) and his two kids who buy an old racecar from Mr Coggins (Desmond Llewelyn aka Q) and renovate it. In the process, Potts meets the beautiful Truly Scrumptious (Sally Anne Howes with a character name that’s like a wholesome version of a Bond-girl name). A minor rom-com plot ensues involving novelty confectionary. So far, so sweet and not very Roald Dahl.

The middle of the film is something else. A story within a story ensues involving the villainous Baron Bombast who seeks to capture Potts and his inventions but kidnaps his father instead (Lionel Jefferies). Voila! A Bond plot ensues, as our heroes have to infiltrate the villain’s lair and rescue everybody, foil the plot etc etc. Great stuff and for extra messed-up Roald Dahl darkness, we have easily the most sinister henchman in Bond film history with Sir Robert Murray Helpmann’s role as the cause of a million nightmares: the Child Catcher. He’s like an avatar of Qanon paranoia.

Oh no! (hiding behind the couch now)

And Baron Bombast? Who else but Auric Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe. Wonderful.

I rewatched it a few years ago and frankly, I had no idea how LONG this film is. There are two plots and multiple musical numbers, as well as an overture and an intermission. I love it though, it’s just nuts and has all the anarchic energy that you might expect from an action movie franchise trying to do a musical. What would be a modern equivalent? Fast & Furious doing a remake of the Sound of Music?

The signature song needs no description: as soon as you read “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” it was already playing in your head. Altogether now…


15 responses to “Bond Songs 25: The not-quite canon songs”

  1. I watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Doctor Dolittle multiple times as they were both playing repeatedly on the ocean liner my family took from the UK to the US. That’s an interesting analysis.
    I had no idea Never Say Never Again even had a theme song.
    I do love Edward Fox as M in that film. His lines are written as “buffoonish bureaucrat” but he delivers them with this air of “They swore this would be a serious, Le Carre role! Why am I in a ghastly farrago involving severed eyes bypassing retina scanners?”

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  2. The best part of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in connection with Bond is that the book that the movie’s based on is written by none other than Ian Fleming.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang has at least two musical numbers and several lengthy non-musical scenes before the kids even encounter Chitty, which adds considerably to the length of the film. It’s rather like how much of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” takes place before Charlie gets to the /f/i/r/e/w/o/r/k/s chocolate factory and how much of the Wizard of Oz takes place before Oz turns up

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  4. Lol, that’s quite a collection. The Casino Royale parody film used to be a favorite of mine; I was always fond of David Niven. The theme music was a big hit at the time because of Herbert Alpert being a big hit and also the thing is an earworm that burns into the brain. The Look of Love was also a big hit and kind of works as a Bond song, but I’ve never been a big fan of it. I don’t know that it counts even as an outlier one as it isn’t the official opening song of the film.

    Never Say Never Again was a really silly Bond film that I barely remember but it did let Connery close the books on Bond on his own terms. The song went nowhere and is kind of too sharp and high pitched to really work as a Bond song. As an also ran, it doesn’t really rate high on the Bond songs list.

    The film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a favorite of mine as a kid. But it bears very little resemblance to the Fleming novel. The novel is apparently much more Bond-like — Potts, a married sweets inventor, buys the car which turns out to be a sentient magic flying car. The family ends up flying to France, finds an ammo stash of French gangsters on a beach, blows it up, has the gangsters kidnap the kids in revenge and try to force them to steal and then ends up getting the gangsters properly arrested. No grandpa, no weird island kingdom, no child catcher, no Truly Scrumptious. That was all stuff that came from Dahl’s baliwick, and so it’s really closer to the musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory adaptation of Dahl’s novel than it is to Fleming’s spy and adventure stories. The songs were popular as part of a musical but none of them were pop hits. And none of them, especially Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, share any of the usual traits of Bond songs.

    But I will accept that Truly Scrumptious is a bit of a Bond girl.

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    • I read the book as a smol person after I’d seen the movie. It was my introduction to how the books and movies adapted from them can differ a LOT.

      Both the tunes from “Casino Royale” are much more known than the movie. I read the title here and my brain started up with perky trumpets. (Mom was a big Tijuana Brass fan). And of course I know the Dusty song — which I had entirely forgotten was even Bond-adjacent!

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    • (Or, as a certain Mr. Ford commented upon the dialogue he was attempting to deliver in a certain movie: “You can type this shit, George, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”


  5. Good godamighty! Why did you put Chitty Chitty Bang Bang back in my head? It took 50 years to get that shit out, and now it’s all Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Friend rattling around in there. Thanks bunches!

    Liked by 3 people

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