Live And Let Die soundtrack

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
13. Sacrifice
14. James Bond Theme
15. Gunbarrel/Snakebit
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.’


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7 Responses to “Live And Let Die soundtrack”

  • Arthur

    Definitely one of the best, from the fifth Beatle, himself. The bonus tracks make this a must-have, especially the tracks Snakebit and the full version of Baron Samedi’s Dance of Death. Prior to this the best we had was the mono music-only track on the laserdisc release.
    As a Beatle fan, I have to mark L&LD the best Bond title track of all, only just beating out Tomorrow Never Dies.

  • Ap

    Hi M,

    Thanks for another great recommendation. Live and Let Die is a great theme song and a great soundtrack.

    Incidentally, before (and indeed after) he produced the Beatles, George Martin was a well-established arranger outside the rock genre, who worked extensively with another key player in Bond theme history, Matt Monro.

    I just have to quibble a little with you, though, when you say that McCartney’s great song achieved “the highest chart position to date for a Bond theme”.

    Surely this accolade goes to Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”? It reached No.1 in the US and No.2 in the UK.

    I haven’t had time to check the US chart highs for all the Bond themes, but as far as the UK charts go, I reckon there have been no fewer than eight Bond songs which climbed higher than Live And Let Die, as follows:

    A View To A Kill – Duran Duran – No.2

    We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong – No.3 on re-release in 1994 (the purists amongst you may want to disregard this as it didn’t chart at all on initial release in 1969 and, of course, it wasn’t strictly speaking a Bond theme as OHMSS opened with John Barry’s great instrumental track)

    Die Another Day – Madonna – No.3

    The Living Daylights – A-Ha – No.5

    Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight – No.6

    Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon – No.7

    You Know My Name – Chris Cornell – No.7

    For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton – No.8

    Not all of these did as well as Live And Let Die in the US charts, it’s true, so in combined terms Macca’s effort has to be placed higher up the list, but the fact remains that AVTAK’s overall feat of US#1/UK#2 remains the yardstick and will stay as such until the great day comes when a Bond theme tops the charts on both sides of the pond.

  • M

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Ap – I read “to date” meaning at the time of its release rather than “to date” meaning now :)


  • John Caruso

    Live and Let Die made me a Paul McCartney fan. One of my favorite songs period

  • Arthur

    I hate even mentioning the Die Another Day song in the same breath/list of all the others; it is utterly horrible. Madonna single-handedly destroyed a 4-decade tradition of the instant Bond classic theme song, IMO. The only review that I agreed with said “Madonna fans will love it; Bond fans will hate it.” I’m not a Madonna fan but I do like some of what she’s done.
    I hated the whole title sequence to that film as well. Not only was it garish and not the pleasant feast for the eyes (and ears) that the title sequences usually are, but it was a poor substitute to the narrative of the physical torture that Bond endured for all that time–a cop out.

    I find it difficult to imagine that A) they would re-issue the Louis Armstrong track in 94, and B) it would do that well, being something very different from its chart mates. If it did, it did.

    I also hate this whole “I’m so above it all” attitude that guest singers have that means their title song is too good to be included on the actual Soundtrack album.

    George Martin also did the excellent score to the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine and Paul’s The Family Way. And yes, he produced Matt Monroe, but he also produced Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger as well.

  • Ap

    @M – point understood!

    @Arthur – Yes, good point about George Martin producing the Goldfinger theme.

    I personally agree with you re Madonna’s Die Another Day, but my point wasn’t about the musical merits of each theme, just about their chart performance. Yes, it *is* difficult to see it listed there with greats such as Live And let Die, Nobody Does It Better, etc, and it would never make my list or your list if the criterion was musical quality, but in this context the facts are the facts – AVATK is the only Bond theme ever to do better in the UK charts, and in the US charts DAD equalled AVTAK’s feat and got to #1. Unpalatable for both of us, but it’s a fact. At least it’s now only the second worst Bond theme ever in my opinion, since the monstrosity that Jack Black and Alicia Keys came up with for QOS.

    Would I be right in guessing you are either not from the UK or else if you are British you are in your early 20s or less, because otherwise you would certainly *not* find it difficult to imagine that the great Satchmo rode high in the British charts with WHATTITW back in ’94! The song was everywhere, thanks to being used for a Guinness commercial. Personally I was delighted that justice had been done at last for such a beautiful song.

    If you don’t believe me, here’s a bit of extra info:

  • Arthur

    I am not from the UK, correct. I just find it hard to believe that quality music registers at all on today’s techno/dance-centric music-buying public and thus the charts.
    I don’t mind View doing as well as it did. I’m not a huge Duran Duran fan but I don’t mind the song and it still SOUNDS like a bond theme with John Barry’s hand in it. DAD has no such merits whatsoever. Still, I think a decent producer, going in with a skilled drummer and removing all the techno bits MIGHT be able to make that theme listenable, but we’ll probably never see that.

    Now, if only they’d come up with expanded deluxe editions of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, the latter’s existing soundtrack has almost nothing to do with the music from the actual film.

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