Part of the charm of the Bond series is that although the basic ideas and characters have remained consistent throughout, aspects of the films have changed during its unprecedented forty year success.
This was certainly the case in 1973. Not only did the Bond series welcome a new lead actor in Roger Moore, but for the first time since Dr No, the producers also had to make do without John Barry’s musical contribution.
Live and Let Die (1973)
1. Live and Let Die (Main Title)
2. Just A Closer Walk With Thee/New Second Line
3. Bond Meets Solitaire
4. Whisper Who Dares
5. Snakes Alive
6. Baron Samedi’s Dance Of Death
7. San Monique
8. Fillet of Soul – New Orleans/Live and Let Die/Fillet of Soul – Harlem
9. Bond Drops In
10. If He Finds It, Kill Him
11. Trespassers Will Be Eaten
12. Solitaire Gets Her Cards
14. James Bond Theme
16. Bond To New York
17. San Monique (Alternate)
18. Bond and Rosie
19. The Lovers
20. New Orleans
21. Boat Chase
22. Underground Lair
With Barry committed to working on his stage musical Billy, the producers had to look elsewhere for a composer. Fortuitously for producer Harry Saltzmann, their job was made easier thanks to one of the twentieth century’s leading songwriters. On location in New Orleans before the shooting of Live and Let Die had even started, director Guy Hamilton was invited by producer Saltzmann to a small recording studio. There, he was played what he called a ‘tremendous arrangement of Live and Let Die complete with vocals care of Paul McCartney’.
When asked his opinion on the song, Hamilton replied that it ‘wasn’t his normal bag’, but coming from Paul McCartney it would be idiotic not to use it. Saltzman agreed.
Written by Paul and Linda McCartney, Live and Let Die was also the first Bond theme song to be written by the performing artist themselves, not by the soundtrack composer. Having paid for an orchestra to record the song, McCartney called on his old Beatles producer George Martin to orchestrate it and to conduct the recording session. The pair had last worked together on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album in 1969.
Whilst Barry’s previous Bond themes – particularly You Only Live Twice and Goldfinger –had become modern song standards, having Paul McCartney and Wings on board meant that Live and Let Die became the first pop charts smash. The song reached number Two on the American Billboard charts and number Nine in the UK – the highest chart position to date for a Bond theme.
As the death of a secret service agent segues into Maurice Binder’s superb opening credits sequence, the gentle piano-led introduction of Live and Let Die, with McCartney’s distinctive vocals, works perfectly. It’s one of the most memorable and well-loved Bond themes of them all, having been covered by artists as varied as Chrissie Hynde and, famously, Guns‘n’Roses in 1991. McCartney himself continues to make the song a centrepiece of his live performances and he sang Live and Let Die at his Superbowl appearance in 2005.
Impressed with George Martin’s orchestration on the title song, Saltzmann approached Martin to score the soundtrack. An initial disagreement about who should perform the title tune threatened to derail the relationship, as Saltzmann argued that a black soul singer should perform Live and Let Die to keep in line with the themes in the film. However, Martin insisted that McCartney’s version was used over the opening credits, agreeing to have a different version of the theme performed by singer B.J. Arnau in a nightclub sequence in the film.
Martin’s soundtrack mixes a number of different styles, much as Monty Norman had done on Dr No. As well as the lush, orchestral arrangements found on Barry’s soundtracks, Live and Let Die includes some Caribbean and jazz influences. The setting of the film in New Orleans and San Monique clearly informed Martin’s choice of style, and it results in jaunty pieces such as Baron Samedi’s Dance of Death and San Monique which are a far cry from Barry’s structured, orchestral scores.
Where Martin’s compositions do work, however, is where he mixes his own compositions with both Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and McCartney’s Live and Let Die. The James Bond Theme sounds great in Bond Drops In and Trespassers Will Be Eaten, and the dramatic way in which Live and Let Die builds is used to great effect on Bond and Rosie, Boat Chase and New Orleans.
Martin’s orchestral adaptation of McCartney’s theme is often heard in the film during moments of peril. Both the death of Rosie (killed by Kananga’s scarecrows) and the scene where Bond’s arm is cut by Kananga before he is fed to the sharks are underscored by an orchestral version of the Live and Let Die theme. BJ Arnau’s version of the song also sounds great in the context of the movie.
The original Live and Let Die soundtrack was an odd assortment of influences and styles. However, the remastered version of George Martin’s score, featuring eight bonus tracks, is a triumph. The additional material is, largely speaking, brash orchestral arrangements of the superb Live and Let Die theme which work to stunning effect.
According to director Hamilton, George Martin did ‘a wonderful job orchestrating Live and Let Die throughout the picture and the incidental music and using the Bond themes as well. Musically, it was a very happy exercise.’