Music Should Be the Star Wars Toys of the James Bond Movies

By  · Published on September 8th, 2015

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

We won’t be hearing the new James Bond song until September 25th, but today it was finally confirmed that the theme for Spectre will be performed by Sam Smith. Titled “Writing’s On the Wall,” the track is cowritten by Smith and Jimmy Napes (Smith’s collaborator on the mega hit “Stay With Me” and others) and will be the first from a male solo British recording artist in 50 years – since the Tom Jones performance of “Thunderball.”

It’s also the third of four Daniel Craig era songs not named for the movie’s title. Considering how successful Adele’s “Skyfall” was, commercially and as the first Bond song Oscar winner, and how relatively unpopular were the other two (Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” for Casino Royale and Jack White and Alicia Keys’s “Another Way to Die” for Quantum of Solace), it’s surprising they’re not going with something titled “Spectre.”

Sure, that’s a difficult name, also the case for the movie itself (and I’m still unsure if we should be fully capitalizing it). It’s not easily lent to lyrics. Just try singing “Spectre” out loud, and you’ll find it doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “Skyfall,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and others, particularly the one-word titles, do. And try coming up with rhymes for the word “spectre,” as a number of fans jokingly tried to do to help Smith out. I particularly liked the idea of slipping in a Hannibal Lecter reference just because it fits.

Before the official reveal of Smith (and his Spectre ring tease yesterday), he’d long been rumored for the gig. But he regularly denied it, possibly because it wasn’t set in stone yet, much like a casting rumor being shot down until contracts are signed. There were also claims that Ellie Goulding was in the running, as were Radiohead, Ed Sheeran and, being called back, Adele. There was speculation, predictions, odds-making and investigations, such as with the “discovery” that Goulding had a secret song simply titled “Spy” registered with BMI.

The soundtrack secrecy is a phenomenon specific to the 007 franchise, but so is the significance of having new theme songs for each movie itself. You’d think they were ever “plot songs” (tunes like “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters 2 where the lyrics involve plot elements from the movie) that might spoil something of the story and therefore need to be kept under wraps. The mystery and the anticipation sometimes seem on par with that of Star Wars toys and the potential plot reveals that can come with those items.

That’s not a strange analogy, since initially the Bond producers looked to the movies’ soundtracks as their best bet for additional income since Ian Fleming forbid a lot of potential merchandising opportunities (not that all of these rules stuck). But if this is the case, I think today’s announcement is rather underwhelming. Not because, as some feel, Smith isn’t right for the franchise, but due to the fact that we still have to wait half a month for the actual product (interestingly enough, we have to wait until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens before hearing John Williams’s new score). What good is an artist and song title reveal without the song itself?

Maybe we don’t need anything along the lines of Force Friday, but if the general audience for Bond movies isn’t going to be excited about a lot of the rest of the cross-promotion, as in the luxury item merch we regularly get with this franchise – like the limited edition Spectre tie-in Aston Martin that costs $250k, making the popular $150 BB-8 toy from The Force Awakens look like a piece of dollar-store crap – there should be even more of an emphasis on the excitement of a new theme song.

As it is today, the Smith announcement appears to have been met mostly with a shrug, whether because there’s nothing more than a name or because it was so expected. But I guarantee enough people are looking for more information than we’ve been given, searching for the track itself and coming up either empty handed or with the fakes. Parodies and pretend Spectre songs have been online long before today, but you can bet they’re now getting more hits than they have previously.

Well, we’d like to save you the trouble of Googling the song before the 25th. None of the following are the actual theme song for Spectre:

Now that we know neither Radiohead nor Goulding, nor the both of them together, got the gig, we can rule out the above fake song, in case we couldn’t already tell that it sounds nothing like them.

We can also dismiss the above wannabe Bond movie track by Marianna Fox, J. Carter Tutwiler and The New Modern Criminals.

Same goes or the above song by The Dancing Monkeys, which really drives home how bad the word “spectre” is for song lyrics.

It’s also definitely not that parody of the Inspector Gadget theme song redone to fit the Spectre title.

Looking for “Writing’s On the Wall” will bring you to songs of the same name (or close enough) by OK GO, George Harrison, George Jones, Plan B, Three Dog Night, Social Distortion and many others, proving how indistinct the title is, especially relative to other Bond song titles.

We can assume that Smith and Napes have done their best to avoid accidentally sounding like another Tom Petty tune, so we shouldn’t expect “Writing’s on the Wall” to be anything like The Heartbreakers’ Bond movie-like track “All or Nothing.”

In fact, I’m almost surprised Smith wanted anything to do James Bond, since Petty’s band has covered “Goldfinger.” That’d be close enough to being uncomfortable for any artist who went through what he had to with the “Stay With Me” plagiarism claims.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.