Watch the James Bond movies in order is an experience akin to taking a time machine through the last 60 years of pop culture. This is reflected in both the cinematic quality and content of the adventures of 25,007, as well as the theme songs that announced each film’s arrival.
It’s part of what makes the alternate history of Bond songs so interesting to see, especially with stories of artists like Frank Sinatra who almost landed two Bond songs. Although in this case history has taught us the whole lesson of how Paul McCartney’s song for Live and Let Die almost never happened.
It’s not that the song itself was frowned upon; quite the contrary. In the First video (opens in a new tab) documentary The sound of 007, we learn that producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman actually asked about Sir Paul’s songwriting talents by name. But as interviews with composer/producer Sir George Martin revealed, as well as McCartney himself, the process took some interesting turns. Here’s what the team had to say:
“Sir George Martin, composer/producer: Broccoli and Saltzman said they wanted a good theme. A crew member asked Paul McCartney if he would write a song.
Sir Paul McCartney, artist: I said, ‘Okay, send me the book.’ They didn’t have a script at the time, I don’t think. He sent me Ian Fleming’s book, and I read it. I read it, thought it was pretty good, and that afternoon I wrote the song. It was co-produced with George Martin. I worked with George, which I hadn’t done since the Beatles. George pulled out an acetate of it, I think it was in the Bahamas, where they filmed it. He took it to Harry Saltzman.
Martin: And I thought, ‘Well, he’s going to examine me.’ And at the end he said, “By the way, who do you think we should sing the song?” I said, ‘Well, you have Paul McCartney,’ [and he said] ‘Yeah. Yeah. What do you think of Thelma Houston?’ I said, ‘I think she’s great, but Paul…’ [Harry continued] “And Aretha Franklin? I said, ‘Fantastic.’ But Paul and I suddenly realized that I had to tell him, as gently as possible, that if he didn’t take Paul, he wouldn’t get the song.”
To say that “Live and Let Die” could have gone down in the history of alternate Bond themes if it weren’t for the fact that 007 producer Harry Saltzman couldn’t relate. Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Live and Let Die” is still a fantastic release that went into the history book for a reason. However, having a black artist singing a song that ends in a Harlem nightclub is kind of a requirement.
In a sense, Saltzman and the Bond franchise need to have their cake and eat it too. Paul McCartney and Wings were able to perform the main version of Live and Let Die signature track, but another version also ended up on the film’s soundtrack. Since it might have been awkward for a former Beatle to perform the song at Harlem’s Filet o’Soul nightclub, a different take was performed by artist BJ Arnau in the film, which you can listen to below:
The first entry into the Roger Moore’s James Bond movies, Live and Let Die has one of the most memorable songs to kick off a 007 adventure. It’s definitely not an easy act to follow Diamonds are forever, a statement that applies at two distinct levels. As Sir Roger stepped in after Sir Sean Connery’s surprise return, McCartney’s tune followed the second time Dame Shirley Bassey scored one of Connery-era title themes.
Sir Paul McCartney’s rock and roll track undoubtedly came at the right time. Transition of the James Bond saga from the swing 60s to the hard rock 70s, Live and Let Die the title track was purely a product of its time. Not to mention, it also helped close the gap even further between the 007 tradition of scoring a chart success that also ties into the plot and promotion of the newer film.
As the section of The sound of 007 dedicated to the ongoing song, some highlighted comments came from both franchise producer Barbara Broccoli and The man with the golden gun the singer Lulu. Their thoughts on the track were as enthusiastic as they were wonderful to see:
“Lulu: It was rock and roll. You hadn’t had a Bond song that sounded like that. It almost knocked me out of my seat.
Barbara Broccoli: I remember dad was playing that Paul McCartney song, he had big speakers in the living room. My sister and I are going crazy. To go completely insane.”
Pop culture history could have changed a lot if Paul McCartney Live and Let Die the title tune ended up becoming an alternate take relegated to the same sort of fate as Alice Cooper’s song for The man with the golden gun landed. That’s a story for another time, as fate led to a smash hit for the ages, as well as the first Oscar nomination for a James Bond song.
With these accomplishments under its belt, the 007 series would establish a new era of lore for the then fledgling films. You can learn more about the franchise’s 60-year musical history in The sound of 007. The documentary and its special highlight concert are currently available on Steam, provided you have a Prime Video Subscription.