Diving Into the World of James Bond Cash-In Albums
There are many elements that go into making and so have become defining factors of James Bond films: the clothes, the cars, the exotic locations, the drinks, the attitude—and of course, the music. James Bond without John Barry and Monty Norman’s instantly identifiable guitar and big brass theme might as well be that guy from Agent for H.A.R.M. John Barry’s work on the Bond films created the audio template in which all future Bond composers would operate. Even the ones who synth and disco’d things up in the 1970s and ’80s still colored within the lines of Barry’s style. As Never Say Never Again illustrated, James Bond without the James Bond sound was awkward.
When the Bond films proved runaway successes in the 1960s, hundreds of movies were made in dozens of countries, all looking to cash in on the same basic formula, and each of those movies needed music. What they came up with, often composed by exceptionally talented and creative artists, was usually breezy, swinging ’60s style cocktail lounge music laced with the occasional twangy guitar. Outside of film scores, there was an equally lucrative cash-in industry of record labels releasing Bond and spy-themed albums not connected to any actual movie—at least not officially.
Most of these albums were disposably enjoyable, offering nondescript but professionally competent renditions of popular Bond theme songs, as well as music from assorted espionage television shows. Some also mixed in original compositions done in the style of Bond music, and more than a few threw a half-assed rendition of a Bond theme song onto an album full of otherwise unrelated-to-spy-stuff easy listening tunes so they could justify calling the album Music to Thrill By or something and putting a picture of a guy with a Walther PPK on the cover.
There were a number of pretty great cash-in albums and cash-in composers sprinkled through the trend, the biggest of whom happens to have also gotten the closest to actually working on a James Bond film…even if it was 1967’s Casino Royale.
Roland Shaw: The Man with the Golden Horns
Towering above all other Bond cash-in album composers was Britain’s Roland Shaw, an accomplished musician who attended the Trinity College of Music and served in the Royal Air Force in World War II, where he lead the RAF No. 1 Band of the Middle East Forces. Shaw released a series of James Bond cash-in records that featured arrangements of 007 themes and background music that were often just as good as the originals, and in some cases, perhaps even better. His willingness to delve into the library of background music is what set Shaw apart from his contemporaries, most of whom were happy to simply churn out a thousand different covers of the themes from Goldfinger and Thunderball.
Recording for Decca between 1966 and 1971, Shaw and his orchestra released several James Bond themed albums, as well as one album of more general spy themes. Keeping the albums straight can be a chore, as in the true spirit of cash-in albums, they were re-released multiple times, often with different names and covers. Plus, Shaw’s previous releases were frequently reassembled by producers into wholly different albums. But the following run-down should cover the additions you need to make to your smooth spy lounge soundtrack.
Themes From The James Bond Thrillers (1964)
Shaw’s first foray into the world of all-007 music sets the tone for all of Shaw’s subsequent albums. It’s a mix of main themes (From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and the James Bond Theme and other notable cues from From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Dr. No. Most of the best songs on this collection would pop up on later Roland Shaw albums, but a couple — “Dr. No’s Fantasy” (from Dr. No), “Leila Dances,” and “The Golden Horn” (both from From Russia with Love) — I haven’t found on any other album but this one. Shaw’s arrangement of “007” is, in my opinion, even better than the John Barry original.
More Themes From James Bond Thrillers (1965)
Shaw’s follow-up to his first album of Bond music is another great one, partly because it sticks almost entirely to more obscure tracks and background music. There’s the obligatory arrangement of the theme from the latest Bond movie (Thunderball, with no one bothering to attempt a recreation of Tom Jones’ vocal bravado), but after that, Shaw shies away from themes and instead serves up great takes on the rest of what James Bond music has to offer: a few tracks from Dr. No (including a cover of “Underneath the Mango Tree” that has the first appearance of vocals on a Roland Shaw spy music album), From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. There’s not as much that’s as “iconic” on this album, though once again it’s very good and serves to create a more complete universe of James Bond music.
Themes From The James Bond Thrillers, Vol. 03 (1966)
This third volume of Bond music kicks off with a vocal version of the theme from You Only Live Twice. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this version is superior to the Nancy Sinatra original, it’s still an great version. The rest of it is pretty good as well, once again leaning heavily on music other than the themes — though you do get arrangements of the themes from 1967’s Casino Royale (both the Herp Alpert song and Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” with vocals that obviously can’t match Dusty) and Thunderball, just in case you didn’t have enough versions of the theme from Thunderball. The rest of the tracks are cues taken from Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale, From Russia with Love, and one more from Dr. No. All good stuff, but the theme from You Only Live Twice makes this one essential.
Themes for Secret Agents (1966)
This collection of brassy, bombastic themes ranges outside the James Bond canon and includes arrangements of music from The Man from UNCLE, The Saint, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Our Man Flint, I Spy, The Avengers, and The IPCRESS File. There are still several Bond themes, including “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and the themes from Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, Thunderball, and of course the James Bond theme. Shaw keeps things fast paced and upbeat. In particular, I love his versions of The Avengers theme, From Russia with Love, and “The James Bond Theme”—that last one will make you feel like going out and getting in a speed boat chase or leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of some dastardly assassin.
The Return Of James Bond In Diamonds Are Forever…And Other Secret Agent Themes (1971)
This is a spectacular sampler of Roland’s work, sticking primarily to main themes rather than highlighting lesser-covered tracks. Released in 1971, it repackages many of Shaw’s arrangements of the Bond themes and combines them with other spy movie and TV themes featured on other albums. New for this album are superb renditions of the themes from Diamonds are Forever and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as well as the song “Let the Love Come Through,” which Shaw originally wrote for the 1967 James Bond send-up, Casino Royale. Those three tracks make this album worth the repeated material, but you also get Mission: Impossible, Peter Gunn, and Wednesday’s Child. The orchestra’s “Diamonds are Forever Reprise” decides that nothing jazzes up a song quite like adding a bunch of funky wah-wah guitars.
And They Strike…!
There were a lot of other great albums made to cash in on the popularity of music from the James Bond movies. There were even more passable but forgettable albums, and more than one or two terrible ones. And then there were a few that were, for one reason or another, completely weird. A lot of the people working in the field of cash-in albums were legitimately talented musicians, so the urge to tweak the formula and get a little bonkers must have been overwhelming.
While by no means the “weirdest,” here are some of my favorite variations on the spy lounge theme.
Cheltenham Orchestra & Chorus
Songs from Goldfinger (1964)
If you have at least a passing familiarity with cocktail lounge music, you’ve probably run across the New Classic Singers and their version of “Call Me.” Even if you don’t know them, you know the sound, because it’s the very typical lounge sound you’d think of: lots of strings, and a chorus hitting you with lots of “zu zu zu wow!” singing. If you can imagine that sort of lounge pop choral group doing Bond themes, then you can begin to grasp this record. Four songs isn’t really enough, but then again, maybe it is, because at just four tracks, it manages to be entertaining and even charming without the novelty wearing thin. Three of the songs are Bond themes: From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and the “James Bond Theme,” which is a pretty small offering of Goldfinger songs for an album called Songs from Goldfinger. The fourth is a track with the rolls-off-the-tongue title of “Theme For Guitar – Fran – Chucks Monster – Riff – Funky.” It’s a little…you don’t want to call this sort of bubblegum cocktail pop “edgy,” but let’s just say it eschews the soothing singers in favor of electric guitars, wild drums, and a sax player who apparently wandered in from a 1960s burlesque club.
David Lloyd & His London Orchestra
Confidential: Sounds For A Secret Agent (1965)
The thing that makes this album weird isn’t the arrangement or style of the music. It’s pretty straight forward cocktail stuff. No, it’s the fact that almost all of these “themes” are original pieces. You should be clued in almost immediately by the fact that the album features themes based on Bond stories that wouldn’t be made into movies for years yet. So what you have, then, are original themes written by David Lloyd for the Ian Fleming books, though a few movie themes make it in. Just in case you didn’t already have 10,000 versions of Goldfinger, you get another one here, and it’s pretty good. Also, you probably needed one more version of “007” from From Russia With Love, so here you go. Lloyd’s arrangement of the From Russia With Love theme is nice, with a lot of strings and even an accordion because, well, why the hell not? It’s like a version you’d here by a band of talented French musicians pestering you outside a cafe while you’re waiting to exchange microfilm with a beautiful Eastern European spy. After those selections, and the obligatory “James Bond Theme,” you get into the original stuff. While I can’t say any of it is overly memorable, it’s all decent, and if nothing else, it’s fun to hear what Lloyd imagined as the theme songs then compare it to what became the theme song for the eventual movie. John Barry’s job was never in jeopardy, but I like most of Lloyd’s concepts.
Harry Roche Constellation
Casino Royale & Other Hip Sounds (1967)
First of all, the fact that they refer to their songs as “hip,” even when it was hip to call things hip, means that you’re pretty much guaranteed something decidedly unhip. That said, this album opens with a decently danceable arrangement of “Strangers in the Night” that would play well if you’re looking to take a slightly tipsy dame in a “just a little bit too short” black cocktail dress onto the dance floor at a decent hotel bar. That song sets the mood for the rest of the album: hardly hip, but perfectly serviceable for a boozy night of cocktails in the lounge. Despite invoking the name of Casino Royale, there’s little in the way of Bond or other spy themes. You get a decent instrumental version of “The Look of Love.” The Constellation also turns in a fair enough rendition of the Tijuana Brass’ Casino Royale theme, this time with female vocals. The rest of the album is cocktail lounge standards. If you’re looking for spy anthems, you won’t really find them here, but if you’re in the mood for an undemanding collection of easy listening tunes that are, true to the genre, easy to listen to as background music, then you’re in pretty safe territory here.
The “Sleepwalk” Guitars Of Dan & Dale
Theme From Thunderball And Other Themes (1965)
Other than the Roland Shaw albums mentioned above, if you were to seek out one James Bond cash-in album, it should be this one, because not only is the music pretty oddball, it has by far the most interesting backstory. Dan and Dale was a studio-only group made up of guitarists Danny Kalb and Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Backing them up on organ, sax and other instruments were ultra-outre avant garde jazz musicians Sun Ra, Al Kooper, and other players from Sun Ra’s bizarre Solar Arkestra. Sun Ra and the Arkestra are best-known for discordant free jazz heavily influenced by Sun Ra’s personal mythology about space aliens, alternate dimensions, ancient Egypt, and Black empowerment. However, they were adept at a wide range of styles, so it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds to hear them earning a paycheck playing on album of James Bond covers and original spy-inspired compositions.
Everything here is a winner, leaning very heavy into the surf guitar sound that would become increasingly identified with espionage movies. There’s also more than a little exotica and Polynesian pop in the mix. Never has the “Spectre Theme” made the amoral organization seem so languid and ready for a luau. But then it gets stranger, because in 2021, the record was released as an mp3 album, but with a near-totally different line-up of songs. Except they’re not different songs; they’ve just been retitled by…who exactly is even responsible for the mp3 version (which is available through Amazon)? No idea, but by any name the songs are supremely weird and amazing.
James Bond cash-in albums will return in…
You Only Listen Twice:
Further Sounds from the J*MES B*ND Hi-Fi!