Monday, April 1, 2013

James Bond and Scott Walker: You Only Live Thrice

In 1967, The Walker Brothers were superstars in Britain. Their concerts seldom lasted very long because raging hordes of English teenage girls stormed the stage and tried to love them to death.

The fact that they were American boys who had chosen England as their adoptive country made them mysterious, the deep moodiness of their balladry opened other unlocked secrets in the hearts of these mostly female followers. They were a band but they weren't really rock and roll. They weren't rough and rowdy but there was something dark and dangerous about them all the same.

So it wasn't surprising when the James Bond team of MGM, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman asked the band to sing the title song of the next James Bond flick, which was to be titled "You Only Live Twice".

The Walker Brothers declined.

On listening to Nancy Sinatra's version, it is now impossible for me to stop imagining what this song would have sounded like with Scott Walker's airless croon instead of Nancy's perfectly acceptable but pedestrian performance. Take a listen to the theme song to You Only Live Twice with it's incredible and instantly recognizable violin decrescendo.

The match of material to talent would have been electric. If The Walker Brothers had decided to record "You Only Live Twice" for the film they might have shot to international superstardom. Why did they say no? I have only read one book on The Walker Brothers called "The Impossible Dream" which is full of anecdotes but when it comes to the real inside scoop it seems to be as in the dark as we are.

Stranger still is the fact that that same year a film was released starring Elke Sommer called "Deadlier Than The Male". Scott Walker wrote the theme song of the same title. The movie is about a female spy. This song is also fantastic. In some perfect universe this film would have been a box office smash in the United States and the song would have broken the group in their homeland. But, as you can see from the opening sequence, "Deadlier Than The Male" has only one good thing in it. The song.

So. One year. Two spy movies. The Walker Brothers turned down covering "You Only Live Twice" to sing an original song for "Deadlier Than The Male." All in the same year.

It would be 32 years before James Bond and Scott Walker crossed paths again.

1999. David Arnold is putting together the soundtrack for "The World Is Not Enough" with the fantastic title track by Garbage. He writes a song called "Only Myself To Blame" and seeks out Scott Walker to sing it. In Arnold's mind, this song was the fitting conclusion to the failed romance between Bond and Elektra King, who winds up trying to kill 007.

Arnold saw the song as the finale. Director Michael Apted felt it was TOO somber, too down. The song is relegated to the soundtrack. Once again, the blast of recognition and distribution that normally accompanies a song from the Bond canon eludes Scott Walker. In fact, so obscure is the track that I just tried to find a youtube link to a video with the song and it is blocked by Sony in a copyright dispute.

It is worth the .99 cent download to hear Scott Walker sing a terribly sad song over a piano, an upright bass and a delicately brushed snare drum. He seems to be singing back to his younger self, back to that strange time when his band turned away from the spotlight and refused to become part of film history. They would never come that close again.

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