For many, the sound of John Barry epitomizes the sound of the spy thriller. It’s no surprise – with 12 James Bond films under his belt, the late, great British composer imbued his melodies with the right amount of adventure, humor, tension, sophistication, and well, sex. It’s fitting that Barry opens Ace Records’ superlatively entertaining new anthology Come Spy with Me: The Secret Agent Songbook, collecting 25 samples of swinging music from spies and secret agents (and even a handful of detectives!) released between 1962 and 1968, the heyday of the genre.
Come Spy with Me opens with “A Man Alone,” Barry’s 1965 instrumental theme to The Ipcress File. Perhaps his second-most recognizable spy theme after his arrangement of Monty Norman’s “The James Bond Theme,” it inventively utilizes the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer, to achieve its singular sound. Matt Monro had sung the first-ever vocal James Bond theme with Lionel Bart’s “From Russia with Love” as heard in the second 007 film, the first for which Barry provided the score. “Wednesday’s Child,” from 1967’s The Quiller Memorandum, is all the evidence one needs of the rich-voiced crooner’s deep affinity with Barry’s absorbing melodies. The lyrics, incidentally, were written by Mack David; his younger brother Hal would later collaborate with Barry on songs including “We Have All the Time in the World” from the Bond adventure On His Majesty’s Secret Service.
It was Barry, serving in the capacity of arranger, who gave shape to Monty Norman’s composition “The James Bond Theme” for Bond’s screen debut in Dr. No. It set the template for all spy music to come. While the original of the track, with Vic Flick’s indelible guitar part, isn’t here, a fine stand-in is Johnny and the Hurricanes’ 1963 surf-inspired version with prominent tenor sax and organ adding new colors. The most famous artist associated with the music of James Bond is Shirley Bassey. While her showstopping “Goldfinger” might be the quintessential spy song, she’s instead featured belting Lalo Schifrin and Peter Callander’s theme to “The Liquidator” in her most divinely bombastic style. Bassey wasn’t the only one to mine the success of “Goldfinger,” however. Susan Maughan’s “Where the Bullets Fly,” from songwriters Ronald Bridges and Robert Kingston, hails from the 1966 film of the same name, and incorporates about as much of “The James Bond Theme” and John Barry sound as the law would allow! This rarely-heard nugget is a fantastic treat.
Scott Walker not only sings, but co-wrote The Walker Brothers’ Barry-inspired “Deadlier than the Male” from the 1967 film of the same name which starred Richard Johnson and Elke Sommer. Walker’s resonant, haunting baritone meshes beautifully with Reg Guest’s evocative arrangement. (Spy music connoisseurs take note: Walker made a rare return both to traditional melody and the spy genre with his understated performance of David Arnold and Don Black’s sad, achingly gorgeous “Only Myself to Blame” in 1999. The song was written and recorded for the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, but was sadly unused in the actual motion picture; it did, however, appear on the soundtrack album.
Keep reading after the jump!
Bond – James Bond - is also represented via Dusty Springfield’s supremely sensual “The Look of Love” from 1967’s Casino Royale. (Tagline: “Casino Royale...is too much for one James Bond!”) Though the film was a spoof with multiple actors including David Niven and Woody Allen as 007, there was nothing comedic about Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s love theme – other than its originally having accompanied Ursula Andress’ onscreen seduction of Peter Sellers! Other spy satires and send-ups also get their time here. Vikki Carr belts Elmer Bernstein and Mack David’s theme to 1966’s The Silencers, which starred perennially cool Carr fan Dean Martin as the secret agent Matt Helm. James Coburn starred in Our Man Flint and its sequel as Derek Flint, and while the films were comedies, Jerry Goldsmith’s spot-on scores could have been featured in any of the more “serious” spy pictures. Billy Strange turns in a rousing rendition of the Flint theme here.
Marty Allen and Steve Rossi starred in the ‘66 comic caper The Last of the Secret Agents (tagline: “Is this the way the spy world ends – not with a bang, but with a YOCK?”) for which Nancy Sinatra sang the saucy, swinging title song written by Lee Hazlewood. Nancy, of course, went on to sing a James Bond theme the next year with “You Only Live Twice.” A fun rarity is The Supremes’ theme to 1965’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. It’s not exactly a Motown classic, but it’s still pretty delightful. Ditto for Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ 1967 “Come Spy with Me,” from the Troy Donahue movie of that title.
Though associated with the John Barry style, spy music took all shapes and forms. Astrud Gilberto’s detached, cool bossa nova style is showcased on Quincy Jones’ theme to the 1966 British thriller A Deadly Affair, based on John LeCarre’s Call for the Dead. Brazilian organist Walter Wanderley is practically a duet partner on this refreshing bossa ballad, with lyrics by Neil Sedaka’s usual partner at the time, Howard Greenfield. Other jazz performers here include pianist Wynton Kelly (“Theme from Burke’s Law”), organist Jimmy Smith (“Theme from Where the Spies Are”) and the eternal “Sassy,” vocalist Sarah Vaughan. She’s heard on the rare vocal version of Henry Mancini’s famed Peter Gunn theme (lyrics: Jay Livingston and Ray Evans). The character of Peter Gunn wasn’t a spy or a secret agent, but Ace makes an exception for the detective; similarly, The Ventures’ recording of Mancini’s Arabesque theme is also here, but that wasn’t quite a spy/secret agent film, either!
From the small screen comes a couple of Edwin Astley’s themes for Patrick McGoohan’s Danger Man, performed by Red Price and His Combo and Brian Fahey and His Orchestra, plus guitarist Al Caiola’s groovy, twangy version of the P.F. Sloan/Steve Barri “Secret Agent Man,” written for its American broadcast as Secret Agent. A delicious oddity is the theme to Mel Brooks’ and Buck Henry’s TV comedy Get Smart as performed by Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra!
Other than “The James Bond Theme,” the most famous piece of music here is a television tune: Lalo Schifrin’s indelibly pulse-pounding theme to Mission: Impossible; the recent series of hit movies starring Tom Cruise have proved that Schifrin’s bold and brassy music can still raise the hairs on one’s neck! And that’s what the best and most effective film music can do, and what much of the music featured on this compilation also can do. The lack of any original James Bond music might keep this from being a definitive look at the genre, but as usual, the clever folks at Ace have made worthwhile substitutions.
Come Spy with Us is packaged in a wonderfully-designed booklet courtesy of Niall McCormack and includes detailed track-by-track liner notes from producer/compiler Tony Rounce. Nick Robbins has splendidly remastered each song. The “spy craze” didn’t last long, but this compilation leaves no doubt that much of the music it spawned is wholly enjoyable in its own right. Martinis (shaken, not stirred – how else?) are optional for your maximum enjoyment!
Various Artists, Come Spy with Me: The Secret Agent Songbook (CDCHD 1392, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- A Man Alone (Theme from The Ipcress File) – John Barry and His Orchestra (CBS single 201747, 1965) (*)
- Deadlier Than the Male – The Walker Brothers (Philips BF 1537, 1966)
- Arabesque – The Ventures (Dolton 321, 1966) (*)
- The Look of Love (Theme from Casino Royale) – Dusty Springfield (Philips BF 1577, 1967)
- Theme from Danger Man – Red Price and His Combo (Parlophone R 4789, 1962) (*)
- The Silencers – Vikki Carr (Liberty 55857, 1966)
- Secret Agent Man – Al Caiola (United Artists LP UAP 6435, 1965)
- Who Needs Forever (Theme from The Deadly Affair) – Astrud Gilberto (Verve 10457, 1966) (*)
- Theme from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – The Challengers (GNP Crescendo 362, 1965) (*)
- The Last of the Secret Agents – Nancy Sinatra (Reprise 0461, 1966)
- Mission: Impossible – Lalo Schifrin and His Orchestra (Dot 17059, 1968)
- Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine – The Supremes (American International 65-1335, 1965) (*)
- Our Man Flint – Billy Strange (GNP Crescendo 367, 1966) (*)
- Wednesday’s Child (Theme from The Quiller Memorandum) – Matt Monro (Capitol 5823, 1967)
- Theme from Get Smart – Bob Crane, His Drums and Orchestra (Epic 10038, 1965)
- We Should’ve (Theme from Modesty Blaise) – Cleo Laine and Ray Ellington (Fontana TF 704, 1966) (*)
- The James Bond Theme (Dr. No) – Johnny and the Hurricanes (Big Top 3146, 1963) (*)
- Burke’s Law Theme – Wynton Kelly (Verve LP V6-8576, 1963)
- Where the Bullets Fly – Susan Maughan (Philips BF 1518, 1966) (*)
- High Wire (Theme from Danger Man) – Brian Fahey and His Orchestra (Columbia LP TWO 175, 1967)
- Bye Bye (Theme from Peter Gunn) – Sarah Vaughan (Mercury 72417, 1965)
- Theme from Where the Spies Are – Jimmy Smith (Verve 10382, 1966)
- The Liquidator – Shirley Bassey (Columbia DB 7811, 1966) (*)
- I Spy – Roland Shaw and His Orchestra (Decca LP PFS 4094, 1966)
- Come Spy with Me – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (Tamla 54145, 1967) (*)
All tracks stereo except those indicated (*) are mono
I would recommend the following excellent spy ( & cop) theme compilations:
Thriller Jazz: http://www.discogs.com/Various-Thriller-Jazz/release/688273.
Music to Spy By: http://museummusic.com/musictospyby.aspx
Chaquito/John Gregory: http://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/proddetail.asp?prod=CDSML8465
Should have included Johnny Rivers just for good measure.