45 at 45: The Spy Who Loved Me? Carly Simon reckons Nobody Does It Better

Nobody Does It Better? Well, that’s why we’re here, right?

It may seem a distant or non-existent memory for most, but it’s almost impossible to get over just how huge Carly Simon was in the 1970s.

Possibly the greatest white female singer-songwriter America has ever produced, her songs – among them That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be, Anticipation and of course the deliciously catty You’re So Vain – soundtracked the lives of an entire generation. With 1975’s Attitude Dancing she also sort-of invented voguing, a full fifteen years before Madonna, and in 1977 she recorded one of the best loved Bond themes, the elegiac, exceptional Nobody Does It Better.

Nobody Does It Better was the main theme from the tenth James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, though both song and score were the work of Pulitzer Prize–winner Marvin Hamlisch, with the soundtrack being one of the few non-Barry scored movies before the 1990s.

Now 77 herself (or 79 according to some reports), the lyrics were, atypically, not by Simon but the future Mrs. Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, who was romantically involved with Hamlisch at the time. That intimate element seeped into the song, though the gentle piano of the opening bars (based on an unspecified Mozart riff, according to Hamlisch) is a tad misleading, disguising a lust-drunk power anthem about a mythic lover that deceptively builds with an orchestral climax that is essentially about sex. Or as the appropriately named Roger Moore said at the end of the film, “Keeping the British end up.”

Nobody Does it Better is the favourite of many 007 aficionados, but, great song that it is, it doesn’t actually sound much like a Bond theme. Though unlike Goldfinger, at least this one is actually about our hero — he’s so vain he probably thinks this song is about him — and he’s right: no other 007 tune captures the spirit of the character himself, while still managing to pull off a certain universality. It’s the song that, if he were real, would be played at Bond’s funeral while all his friends and discarded lovers got teary-eyed together.

In fact, he probably would have insisted on it, and then jumped out of the coffin, and skied down an exploding mountain. Just for kicks.

The song has the distinction of being the first Bond opening theme to to avoid eponymous titling since… well, since the not-quite-settled-on-the-formula-yet series opener Dr. Though it’s a matter of intrigue that as they managed to shoehorn “But like heaven above me/The spy who loved me” into the lyrics anyway, why just name it after the movie anyway?

After all, David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody did just fine without their titles being mentioned at all.

At that time, it was also the only theme tune in the series that was expressly about James Bond. In 2004, the song was honoured by the American Film Institute as the 67th greatest song as part of their 100 Years Series.

No matter. Nobody Does It Better was so successful that its title has become a significant part of James Bond universe phraseology. A huge worldwide hit, the song charted for a whopping six months on the Billboard Hot 100, even longer than Carly Simon’s notorious You’re So Vain. In Britain, it peaked in seventh place in mid- September 1977 as the newly dead Elvis Presley was sitting pretty at the top of the charts with Way Down.

The song’s been much covered too — everyone from Radiohead to Julie Andrews to Bobby Brown — and has appeared in everything from Lost In Translation and Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason to bridal showers across the world — and it might be a hotel lobby staple if not for the smuttiness of its lyrics. “There’s some kind of magic inside you/That keeps me from runnin’/But just keep it comin.” Hair metal bands who could learn a few things from this.

Of all the odes to Bond’s legendary sexual prowess (and there were a lot of them), Simon’s is the most satisfying, because nobody, and I mean nobody, plugs it better.

Steve Pafford

An earlier version of this article appears here

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