Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Are You Willing to Die?"

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can't deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?
The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name

- Chris Cornell, "You Know My Name," Carry On (Suretone/Interscope, 2007)

Chris Cornell is, in my view, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. With a somewhat nasal distinctiveness, a soaring range, and the ability to both shriek and serenade, Cornell has fronted the bands Soundgarden (one of the 1990s' best), Audioslave (with former Rage Against the Machine members), and Temple of the Dog (with members of Pearl Jam) as well as a respectable solo career ("Can't Change Me" was actually the first time I ever heard of Cornell back in middle school).[1] As you can guess, I was ecstatic that he was chosen to pen the theme song to 2006's Casino Royale.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, John Barry composed a brilliant instrumental theme specifically for the film. Casino Royale composer David Arnold viewed this as the model for "You Know My Name":

The whole thing with the match on On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the idea of how do you write a Bond score without using the Bond theme as such, like kinda writing a new Bond theme. You Know My Name would be the theme that represented James Bond in this film, whilst the James Bond Theme crept up behind it and appeared at the end. It shared the same DNA, the same kind of harmonic basis. You can play the Bond theme over the course of You Know My Name in a certain way - there's a (specific) way of doing it – and it kinda pokes into your memory and all the history of that piece of music without stating it that blatantly. What I wanted to do with the song, is make it feel like at the end of that song, it was like "here's James Bond". It was almost like the prequel to the James Bond thing; almost. And then he arrives and then he's there, it all makes sense. It was like Batman Begins in music form [laughs].

Arnold acknowledged that "the DNA of the James Bond music" could be found within the theme, to the point that "they kind of sit on top of each other" in an "interesting and quite effective" way. "For instance, in the dinner jacket scene," said Arnold, "when he puts the tux on for the first time and we get that murky bass that opens up the James Bond theme."[2] This pre-Bondian musical approach eventually reaches crescendo at the end of the film with the delivery of the line, "The name's Bond...James Bond."[3] Arnold waited until the entire score had finished recording before playing the James Bond Theme. The orchestra was "geared up" after a week of waiting and delivered a "powerful and lively" rendition. "Everybody was waiting for the Bond theme," recalled Arnold. 

All of a sudden the studio filled up with people who were visiting. We felt that we had come to the end of it, the film had arrived, the score had arrived, here we were, here is Daniel – this new brilliant James Bond and it was the first time we were going to hear the theme with him in front of us. The orchestra played with such vigour and enthusiasm, everybody stood up and clapped. It was quite extraordinary. It was such a lively performance – which makes it great on the record. It went back to the John Barry orchestration; it was much simpler and raw. It was like Daniel: meaner, leaner, more muscular, and tougher and had a lot of attitude.

James Bond had returned.

1. Not to mention his impressive covers, including Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" (which was featured on American Idol) and Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." 

2. Arnold took a similar approach in Tomorrow Never Dies when he wrote k.d. lang's "Surrender," which was later moved to the end credits and replaced by Sheryl Crow's rather lame "Tomorrow Never Dies." Arnold had "incorporated ["Surrender"] into the score both as an action theme ("White Knight") and as a secondary romantic theme ("Kowloon Bay"), forming a close musical tapestry." (Hubai Gergely, "Recapturing the Midas Touch: A Critical Reading of the Bond Songs' Chart Positions," in James Bond in the World and Popular Culture: The Films Are Not Enough, eds. Robert G. Weiner, B. Lynn Whitfield, Jack Becker. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010, 137)

3. The ending of Casino Royale is, in my view, the greatest ending of any James Bond film.

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