00 Saturdays Week #8 – Thunderball Music Review

“He looks at the world and wants it all
So he strikes like Thunderball”

Welcome to week #8 of 00 Saturdays here on Film Seizure.  Last week, I talked about the 1965 film that I say is my favorite Connery Bond film of the era, Thunderball.  This week is the music’s turn…

The soundtrack to Thunderball, like the film itself, has that unenviable task of following Goldfinger.  Once again, the task of scoring the film would go to John Barry, but the rushed production to get the film out by Christmas 1965 and a canceled theme song proved to make things a little more difficult for Barry as you’ll soon find out by reading on!

Theme Song

The theme song for Thunderball would be a peculiar situation for John Barry.  Initially, Barry and lyricist Leslie Bricusse planned to use a song they wrote called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” which was a nickname an Italian newspaper gave to the character of James Bond.  Barry thought it would make for an all around better piece to not write a song that was about a vague title that is not well revealed in the movie itself.  Instead, why not a song about Bond himself?

The first version of that song was recorded by Dionne Warwick, but concern over her delivery of the lyrics caused Barry to bring back Shirley Bassey to record the most recognizable version of the song.  United Artists would eventually reject the song and request a theme be written that uses the title of the movie.  This left Barry rushed to get a new song written so Don Black came in to write new lyrics.  Finally, pop singer extraordinaire Tom Jones was brought on board and recorded the now final theme song.

If you ask me, this is a superior song to “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” by a country mile.  It’s not like the original song is bad.  It could have played anywhere in any movie, but “Thunderball” is better and more in line with the two previous title songs.  In fact, I’d say it is a pretty good melding of “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger” while actually not being quite as good as either.  It’s still a great song, and much more fitting than “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, but it is hard to compare this song to the other themes and not see that it lacks the consistent punch of Bassey’s belting “Goldfinger” or the emotional and melodic “From Russia with Love” through Monro’s silky smooth voice.  It also feels much shorter than the other songs.  It’s only a couple verses and a really long end note.  I never actually realized how short it is in the lyric department until I looked them up.

A couple interesting pieces of trivia with this.  First, that really long note at the end of the song?  Legend has it that Tom Jones sustained the note so long, he fainted.  He claims, “I closed my eyes and held the note as long as I could, and when I opened them again, the room was spinning.”  Second, Johnny Cash submitted a theme song for the movie that describes the plot of the movie.  The song sounds nothing like any other Bond song ever, but it is a fascinating idea to have done the theme in a more of a western style country song.  It’s a good song too.  I maybe like it more than the song that was actually used.


For the score, what’s interesting is that Barry was kind of undaunted by losing the battle to use “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” as the theme.  He was able to incorporate its melody into much of the score of the film.  While he would also use the final theme song’s music in a slower, orchestral version, he still had his “007” composition available to him as well.

What’s great about the Thunderball score is that the film flexes John Barry’s broad musical knowledge and taste nicely.  He takes the theme and mellows it out into a more easy listening style.  He has “007” playing over the action scenes in the climax in several places.  But Barry also use some island sounds with a cha-cha sound with heavy bongos that follows a much more jazzy quartet piece that uses a guitar, drums, vibraphone, and bass.  It’s a varied score that has lots to offer the ears.

After the bombastic soundtrack for Goldfinger hit #1 earlier in the year, it is interesting that Barry opted for the Thunderball soundtrack to be much mellower and softer.  It’s often considered one of Barry’s finer and subtler scores and I have to agree.

The Opening Title Sequence

Thunderball brings Maurice Binder back after missing Goldfinger.  He’ll be back all the way through Licence to Kill in 1989.  I want you to watch the titles below so you can see why this is actually quite interesting and sets a precedent for many years to come.

There are, essentially, three main things that will carry on so long that opening titles still do it to this day.  First, the background colors are bright.  While the colors often shift, they are always some sort of rich color.  In addition, they usually will have something to do with the plot of the movie, but that’s a larger idea I’ll get to momentarily.  For the purpose of this first thing to note, cooler colors tend to stick out more because it’s meant to simulate water.  But again, more on that in a moment.

The second and third things are connected.  Instead of having the credits or scenes from the previous movies playing over a body, now we have silhouetted bodies over the credits and colorful background.  The bodies are basically doing underwater things – swimming, scuba diving, harpooning, etc.  So that ties the credit sequences back to what I said about it tying into the plot of the movie.  However, unlike, the opening titles to Dr. No, the silhouettes are not the colorful bits, they are stark black.  Sometimes this stays around in openings, sometimes you see detail from the figures shadowed and washed in the background color.  Also, unlike the last two movies, the women swimming around in silhouette are most definitely implied to be nude.  There are jiggles and moves in the ladies’, erm… bodies that heavily imply nudity.

It definitely adds a new layer to the credits.  If you thought “007” projected on shaking boobs was fun or a golf ball sinking into a woman’s cleavage was perfect, then just think about how you would believe breasts would move in water if not held down by bathing suits.  Or realize you don’t see ridges on the silhouettes that would be from seams on bathing suits or clothing…  Suddenly you realize things are going to get sexier and sexier as the 60s continue and sexuality and sensuality becomes more and more liberated.

Sure enough, from this point forward, the opening title sequences get more and more elaborate for years to come.

Join me next week for a look at the fifth Bond film, You Only Live Twice.

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