In 1973, Paul McCartney & Wings’ Live And Let Die became the first 007 song to be performed by the very people who wrote it, though, somewhat inexplicably, it took another dozen years before another band was invited to join the elite Bond theme club.
35 years ago today, none-more-‘80s pop tarts Duran Duran released the theme tune to the film that proved to be Roger Moore’s last gasp with the franchise… and the last hurrah of the group’s original Fab Five lineup for over 15 years. The only James Bond song to top the American Hot 100, you could say A View To A Kill is a memorable song from one of the series’ least memorable movies. But the Birmingham five piece weren’t exactly first choice…
By 1985, Duran Duran were jetsetting global superstars, MTV darlings, and popular enough to have sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden the previous year. On the charts, things were also doing just fine and dandy. The band hit No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic with 1984’s Nile Rodgers-rejigged The Reflex, while their most recent single, the pounding histrionic Wild Boys, had peaked at No. 2 in both countries.
Internally, however, the band was fracturing: Inflated egos and chemically enhanced debauchery were causing issues, and fatigue had set in from their whirlwind rise to fame. In fact, the Duran members had decided to explore divergent musical interests, in two separate groups. Vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, and drummer Roger Taylor teamed up in the arty synthpop group Arcadia, while bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor paired off in the funk-inspired The Power Station with Robert Palmer and Chic’s Tony Thompson, the idea for the latter band essentially forming when the Duranies attended a David Bowie after-show party in Sydney, from where I write this.
Duran Duran famously landed the Bond song gig after their impossibly chiseled John Taylor—or, more specifically, Taylor’s inebriated bravado sidled up to Cubby Broccoli at a bit of a sophisticated soirée in London. By his recollection, he was drunk at a midsummer party thrown to celebrate the end of the 1984 Wimbledon tennis tournament (hosted by “my name is” Michael Caine, no less), and spotted the Bond producer.
Taylor’s then-girlfriend, former Page 3 girl Janine Andrews, who had appeared in the previous instalment, 1983’s Octopussy*, introduced the two men, and the young upstart jumped at the chance to volunteer his band to record a Bond theme, brazenly but hilariously asking the six million dollar question…
“I said, ‘When are you going to have a decent theme song again?’” John Taylor wrote in his revealing 2012 memoir, In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, And Duran Duran.
I think Broccoli got the point, because he enquired of Taylor, “Well, do you want to write the next one?” The answer was, unsurprisingly, a resounding yes.
The bassist met up with the producer the next day and spoke with the notoriously prickly veteran Bond composer John Barry via telephone, who agreed to the pairing, albeit perhaps reluctantly. “John didn’t sound particularly overjoyed,” Taylor wrote, “but Cubby was firm about it. ‘I want you to make this work, John.’”
The Brummie quintet were in. For the band, doing the song was a dream come true. In a 1985 Good Morning America appearance to promote the tune (above), Le Bon noted he saw Thunderball on his sixth birthday with a group of friends.
Going one better, during the same telly spot, JT called himself a “total maniac, bit of a trivia freak” where Bond was concerned, and recalled seeing a formative double bill of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger on his fifth birthday. And coming after the tepid MOR schmaltz of Shirley Bassey, Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge, you can sympathise with Taylor’s fanboy frustrations, can’t you? I mean, they were following this…
When the band gathered with Barry in November 1984 to start work on the song, things didn’t come together quite so easily. In his own memoir, Wild Boy: My Life In Duran Duran, former guitarist Andy Taylor recalls that he and John Taylor “were both heavily into booze at the time” and corrupted Barry by “heavily leading him astray with more drink.
There was a great little pub just down the mews street from where [the composer] was based, and we would all disappear there for long afternoons.”
Things weren’t quite so collegial between Barry and kooky keyboardist Nick Rhodes: The pair clashed, often contentiously, because “they were both stubborn and had very specific visions of how things should get done,” John Taylor wrote in his memoir.
Andy Taylor elaborated on the friction in Wild Boy, revealing that Rhodes especially bristled when Barry confronted him about musical matters: “‘I’m fucking not doing that,’ Nick would say flatly. ‘You can say all you want, but I know what I am talking about and at this time, you don’t,’ said Barry in his posh voice. ‘I’ve worked with people like Shirley Bassey and Roger Moore, and this is my gig, young man.’”
Well, that may have been true to a point, though I should point out that the Duran boys bagging the theme was a randomly occurring incident that only happened after their idol David Bowie had withdrawn from the project, even though the fearless Grace Jones had already signed on to be the quick step sidekick.
A View To A Kill’s main villain Max Zorin was written with Bowie in mind. This was late ’83/early ’84, when the double whammy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bowie’s Let’s Dance and attendant Serious Moonlight tour of 1983 had just made two relatively old pros the biggest pop stars on the planet.
It’s not known exactly when Bowie pulled out of the film, but that spring Eon Productions, the owner of the franchise, were so certain of nabbing Bowie that they even released a slightly self-congratulatory statement from Broccoli announcing that “David would make the perfect villain. We plan to exploit his unique physical oddity – his different coloured and different sized eyes.
The deviant sexual dynamic between Zorin and his hench‘man’ May Day, played with relish by Grace, would have been doubly mesmerising with The Man Who Sold The World in the role of the biological freak, that’s for sure. In the end he was replaced by the similarly Aryan blond Christopher Walken.
So, get chronological for a second, Michael Caine’s Wimbledon party was almost certainly July. And in September it was confirmed to the NME’s Charles Shaar Murray that Bowie doing Bond was no longer a thing.
“Absolutely out of the question. Yes, I was offered that. After Sting? I rather think it was the other way about. I think for an actor it’s probably an interesting thing to do, but I think that for somebody from rock it’s more of a clown performance. And I didn’t want to spend five months watching my double fall off mountains.”
While it’s certainly true that the Thin White Dame hadn’t mentioned the theme song specifically, two decades later he suggested during a question and answer session in 2003 that Eon had indeed offered him exactly that in a twofer tie-in deal similar to Madonna‘s monstrosity for Die Another Day.
“I was asked to do both, but to be honest I haven’t watched a James Bond film since Sean Connery was in them.** I don’t really like them.”
Quite why no one thought to give the job to disco diva Grace Jones, who had already signed on to the film, and would score a huge hit with Slave To The Rhythm later that year, is truly baffling. No matter, because Duran more than live up to their Brummie brashness. To illustrate that, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone like Pete Burns would have given the band the sharp end of his famous tongue rather than the time of day, but the lippy Dead Or Alive frontman actually admired Duran Duran because “they always go for the jugular.”
And in this song they really are in for the kill. Literally.
The creative tension between the genteel Bond musical tradition and Duran Duran’s modern, youthful sound proved to be fruitful. A View To A Kill is the most successful example of melding a zeitgeisty band of the moment with Barry and Bond (hi a-ha!), turning out one of the more purely danceable, enjoyably sleazy numbers in the 007 canon
While its lyrics convey shadowy intrigue and hint at dangerous romantic dalliances, two things intrinsic to Duran Duran’s appeal, Le Bon’s vocal delivery was urgent, mysterious and cinematic, crucial elements for a Bond theme. Moreover, Rhodes’ keyboard parts ended up being the most prominent, magnetic aspects of A View To A Kill: Dense synth programming zigs and zags high in the song’s mix, while ice-pick-sharp keyboard stabs and futuristic stutters add dramatic flair. More important, there’s enough enigmatic drama built in to keep the tune fresh. Powerhouse drummer Roger Taylor also offered his recollections in 2015:
“It’s not every day that you get asked to write and record a James Bond theme, but thanks to our somewhat cheeky bass player, we were in the position – and in a very short space of time. Nile Rodgers was busy, so who do we call next?…Bernard Edwards! He had just produced the Power Station with John and Andy, we loved the drum sound on that, so the perfect choice, and another hero to boot!
“I set my kit up in the mirror lined drum booth at Maison Rouge studios in London, hit the drums…Blat! Boosh!!Thwack!!! Enormous ambient sounds..”Just what we were looking for” says the sound engineer Jason Casaro. JT comes in, sets up his bass, and Bernard says, “Come on guys, hit me with a killer groove.” Shit! This is the already legendary bass player from Chic…he’s played a great groove or two in his time! John and I look nervously at each other, fear coursing through our veins, and the phrase “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into” coming to mind!
“John says, “Hey Rog, what’s the beat from Honky Tonk Women?” A-ha! I play it since I know it from my school band days, it sounds great as JT kicks in with the now familiar delay effected bass line. Bernard puts his head round the door “Yeah! Great! But come on Roger, give me some f*****g creativity dude!!!” he says fiercely in his native Brooklyn twang…so I unpack my Octobans (the long thin drums that feature in Wild Boys) and I somehow work them into the song.”BOOM!” says Bernard, “we got it!”
“Massive relief ensues all around the rhythm section. John Barry , who was famous for writing and orchestrating all the greatest Bond soundtracks came onto the scene a couple of days later. I remember him mostly for his beautiful ‘70s style velvet jacket he wore while sitting at the piano trying to work the most outrageous chords into the song, whilst speaking with his lovely northern lilt.
“It all somehow juxtaposed with what we were doing and actually worked, creating one of our most original and interesting songs – and to this day, I believe that it’s the only Bond theme to hit number one in the U.S. (the song also reached #2 in the UK), quite an achievement we are all still proud of.”
Singer Simon Le Bon also offered his assessment of veteran composer John Barry:
“He didn’t really come up with any of the basic musical ideas. He heard what we came up with and he put them into an order. And that’s why it happened so quickly because he was able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones, and he arranged them. He has a great way of working brilliant chord arrangements. He was working with us as virtually a sixth member of the group, but not really getting on our backs at all.”
Mind you, grizzled old buffoon Pat Boone, America’s evangelist answer to Cliff Richard, was certainly on the band’s backs, reviling them as satanists for the line “Dance! Into The Fire.” I bet the silly old fool was spitting feathers when the track rose all the way up the charts to No.1 in his homeland then. The resulting publicity from calling it “the work of the devil” probably aided sales too.
In fact, in America A View To A Kill arguably stands as the most successful song in the franchise — it might not have the Oscars afforded to Adele and Sam bloody Smith but Duran’s is the only Bond theme to top the Billboard Hot 100. So far. Just don’t mention the moment at Live Aid when poor Simon’s voiced cracked on the high note. It’s not like I’ve helpfully cued it up in exactly the right spot or anything.
Personally, the only very very slight negative doesn’t regard the song as such, but I know its corny/fun promotional video so well that whenever I hear the song shorn of the visuals I still have Roger Moore’s corny old groan straight after the second verse line “Between the shades assassination standing still” running through my head, just as he’s being garrotted up the Eiffel Tower by a demonic Miss Grace Jones.
In a brilliantly tangled thicket of half-sketched storylines directed by Godley & Creme, the fantastically tongue-in-cheek romp cast the Brummie boys as a quintet of gorgeous, glamorous (Well, except the soon to depart Andy Taylor) spies who swarm and scamper all over the Paris landmark trying to bump each other off as Le Bon wanders about, using a portable cassette player to set off a series of explosions elsewhere in the world. These shots are “cleverly” intercut with scenes from the movie, so that it appears the actors and the band are participating in the same storyline.
Conceptually, it’s a goldmine. It even ends with a parody of Bond with the Duran frontman smarmily introducing himself as “Bon. Simon Le Bon”, which I thought was really amusing. Very modern of him to have taken his wife’s name. The execution, however, would have been better if it wasn’t afflicted by clips of the superannuated leading man hamming his way though the piece. You could almost hear his bones creak throughout the movie.
Soon after, 58-year old Moore—more olden spy than GoldenEye—would announce his retirement as 007 at least two films too late. At my local cinema in Bletchley, the Duran video was played prior to the film proper, and quite honestly, maybe the song was actually the best thing about A View To A Kill. Hearing Roger Taylor’s solid Chic-like drumming and John Taylor’s funky bass lines pulsate in surround sound was worth the cost of admission alone. Last word to the ballsy bassist that got them rolling then.
“We were just so lucky to work with John Barry,” the Aston Martin-owning Taylor told the AV Club in 2012. “To see your song up there… I mean, I didn’t like the film, but I’ll tell you, when those titles came up… Maurice Binder was the guy who did all the early James Bond title sequences, and if I wanted to see something to do with the song, rather than watch that horrible video on the Eiffel Tower, I’d take Maurice Binder’s title sequence any day. It was a big deal, and it was a big song. But Bond songs have to be big songs, don’t they? They have to have the grandiosity. It’s like designing a Rolls-Royce. You want it to be completely state of the art, but it’s always going to have the honking great radiator grill on the front. There’s certain criteria that have to be fulfilled. But I think we nailed it with that song. We really did nail it.”
BONUS BEATS: In a footnote that’s always mystified fans, however, there wasn’t a commercially released 12-inch remix of the song. This was certainly odd for the time—and it was especially out of character for Duran Duran, who were known for their transformative remixes. In a 2014 response in the band’s “Ask Katy” question-and-answer section, John Taylor admitted that he was responsible for the lack of an extended re-do. “I wanted to keep a certain purity to the three-minutes-plus of [the song]. Some of the recent remixes had been rubbing me the wrong way. I was adamant about it—that there should be no ‘extended versions’ or remixes. It was shortsighted of me, I have since regretted it.” Yeah, in particular how the lack of alternative formats probably was a factor in the track stalling at No.2 in Britain, behind Paul Hardcastle’s sample-laden 19.
Later the same year, however, a seven-minute version of “A View To A Kill” surfaced and was certified authentic by co-remixer Stephen Thompson, who noted the re-do was completed in Paris with every member of Duran Duran but John Taylor.
*In 1983, remember going to stay with my aunt Julia in that bastion of English middle-class suburbia, Tunbridge Wells, in the summer holidays, and catching Octopussy at the local Classic Cinema.
I didn’t know it at the time but it turns out that this was the former Ritz picture house where David Bowie’s parents had met just after the war, and freakily, at the time we were perusing Octopussy, the Broccolis were trying their damnedest to lure Dame David into playing the villain in their next instalment of the franchise.
**David Bowie never let the truth get in the way of a good quote, and here he is with Macca himself attending the premiere of Live And Let Die in 1973, Roger Moore’s first film as Bond. Doesn’t he look thrilled.