“This dream is for you, so pay the price
Make one dream come true, you only live twice”
It’s time for another 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This week, it’s time to talk about the music to the lovely You Only Live Twice. I’ll go ahead and give you fair warning now, this is some of the most beautiful music of all the Bond films in this humble author’s opinion.
Let’s dive right in…
Unlike with Thunderball, there is a much more direct path from prepping the musical feel of You Only Live Twice to the final theme song for the film, but, as with anything Bond, there is still some intrigue.
John Barry worked with his usual lyricist, Lelsie Bricusse, to form the theme song as heard below. There’s an obvious and overt tie to oriental style and sound, but that almost entirely lives in the actual Barry score. Bricusse just took that melody and formulated some lyrics. Nancy Sinatra was chosen to sing the song – but it was originally offered to her father, Frank. She admitted to being rather nervous while in the studio and nearly left because of it. She also claimed she sounded too much like Minnie Mouse, but eventually, a song was formed out of what was recorded.
I say it like that because Barry says the final song took elements from a whopping 25 different takes.
Even if it did take 25 takes to create the above theme song, I don’t care. I think it is incredibly beautiful. The Asian style strings and melody is almost dreamlike to me. I can’t quite explain it, but the song is so damn beautiful that it nearly chokes me up every time I hear it. There are few songs that have that kind of power. Considering the themes of the movie, I feel like they are closely mirrored in the theme song. Ideas of living, dreaming, love, and adventure in a strange and new place are evoked in the lyrics. The backing music makes the listener float as if in a dream where you can see the whole of life with those themes from the lyrics, but also feel the pleasantness of peacefully passing along in life.
For more on that intrigue of this theme song, the soundtrack version of this song turned out to be a hit. Sinatra did record a second version of the song arranged by Billy Strange. The idea was that to have a true hit in the US, you had to take out the oriental sound of it. So at one point, there were two versions of this song simultaneously playing, but to me, taking out the strings and replacing it with a brass sound with a jazz guitar removes a lot of the emotional impact and tie to the movie. The song itself with the different arrangement isn’t necessarily bad because the melody is still there, and that is a really powerful one, it’s just the Japanese/Asian element is missing. As a big fan of the movie, that’s disappointing. There is a second song that was written originally for this movie but discarded which can be found on an old 90s compilation set for Bond music, but this song… This one is great.
To me, there is really only one Bond theme with more emotional power than this one. This is top 3 kind of stuff right here.
Barry’s score, which is heard backing the theme song above, is entirely inspired by what he called the “elegance of the Oriental sound.” Much like the theme song, you get a very imaginative experience while listening to the score. It’s a gorgeous, sweeping melody that almost makes you want to swing your hand like a conductor just from hearing the distinctive cascading strings as well as the light harp used sparingly throughout the tune.
The final track on the soundtrack that is used to close the movie utilizes a slightly slower tempo version of the theme’s instrumental which also repeats on the Blu Ray menus of the movie. It’s something I could listen to for hours on end. As a whole, this is very likely my all time favorite Bond score – and one of my very favorite John Barry scores too. That is really saying something considering what else he’s done (I’m also a very, very huge fan of his scores for the 1976 King Kong and his Oscar winning score for Dances with Wolves).
The Opening Title Sequence
I love how the movie opens. First, space. Second, Bond’s fake death. It’s the fake death that, for me, adds to Maurice Binder’s opening title sequence.
Seeing Bond dead in bed in a pool of his own blood then for it to lead into that deep cello opening to Barry’s instrumental portion of the “You Only Live Twice” song builds some tension and some mystery around what the heck is going on. As the song settles in and the titles ultimately borrow from, you get this very exotic feel. Binder opts to go more for actual images of Japanese women in traditional makeup and adorned with jewels and such while also using fiery imagery of lava (foreshadowing the location of SPECTRE’s base in the movie). The lava’s red behind the silhouettes remains on theme of the colorful opening credits of all the films in the series. However, the imagery of a Japanese parasol’s wooden skeletal bits in red also conjures the Japanese “rising sun” on their flag.
It’s all very exotic which also plays nicely to the dreamlike melody of the song itself.
Now, of course I mentioned previously that Binder would often use nudity in a very interesting way with the silhouettes in the title sequences. You may be thinking that with actual images of Japanese models’ faces and such that there’s no way that he could still have that overtly sexual imagery in these titles. Oh think again… Around the 2:19 mark in the above video, you see four women in what appears to be a traditional Japanese spa or bath house. The lady on the far left is 100% naked for her silhouette. You can probably see it well enough on YouTube, but on the Blu Ray, her nipple is so clear, even in complete blackness, that it’s almost more unsettling than just seeing her actual exposed nipple in full view. It’s all a part of the sexiness of the series and what envelopes everyone involved in the production was willing to push.
And, yes, I totally was looking for it so I could mention it here in this piece.
Join me next week for a look at the sixth Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.