After the stunning commercial success of Thunderball, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman initially turned to Ian Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for the fifth instalment in the film franchise. However, problems with finding suitable locations for the book’s wintry setting led them to turn to Fleming’s twelfth novel, You Only Live Twice.
With a story that bore very little resemblance to Fleming’s book, and with Sean Connery having already announced that he would not be returning as James Bond in future movies, the cast headed to Japan where the main action of You Only Live Twice takes place.
After composing a predominantly underwater action soundtrack for Thunderball, John Barry decided to take a different approach to You Only Live Twice. Having once again teamed up with the lyricist Leslie Bricusse (as Barry had on Goldfinger and on the unused Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang from Thunderball) the theme song for the 1967 film was recorded as early as January 1st 1966.
Recovered from the vaults in the early 1990s, the first version of You Only Live Twice was described by the Cine-Tele studio logbook as You Only Live Twice (demo title). Other than the date of recording, little is known about the tune although it is believed an uncredited Julie Rogers sang on the track. It has an extremely Japanese flavour to it, with different music and some alternative lyrics (it ends with the couplet “good luck with the dice/you only live twice”).
You Only Live Twice (1967)
1. You Only Live Twice – Main Title
2. Capsule In Space
3. Fight At Kobe Dock – Helga
4. Tanaka’s World
5. A Drop In The Ocean
6. The Death Of Aki
7. Mountains And Sunsets
8. The Wedding
9. James Bond – Astronaut?
10. Countdown For Blofeld
11. Bond Averts World War Three
12. You Only Live Twice – End Title
13. James Bond In Japan
14. Aki, Tiger and Osato
15. Little Nellie
16. Soviet Capsule
17. SPECTRE And Village
18. James Bond – Ninja
19. Twice Is The Only Way To Live
The RCA vaults also uncovered an alternative version of You Only Live Twice in the early 1990s. This version, sung by Lorraine Chandler, became popular in Northern Soul clubs and appears on several RCA soul compilations.
The version that was eventually used for the film was the instantly recognisable violin and French horn melody we know today. Sung by the up and coming star Nancy Sinatra, she revealed in the album notes for her 1967 album Nancy in London that she was ‘scared to death’ to record You Only Live Twice, asking the producers ‘are you sure you don’t want Shirley Bassey?’ Two versions of the theme were recorded – the lush orchestral version that appears in the film and on the soundtrack and a more guitar-based version that was used on her double A-sided single.
Of course, the theme from You Only Live Twice has become one of the most loved of all Bond themes, and one of the most covered. Coldplay, Soft Cell, Natacha Atlas and Bjork are amongst the artists who have recorded this track, and Shirley Bassey finally got round to recording her version of You Only Live Twice on her 2007 album Get The Party Started. The main orchestral theme from the song was also famously re-recorded for use on Robbie Williams’ 1998 UK number One hit Millennium.
Whilst Barry may have toned down the use of Japanese instrumentation on the eventual theme song for You Only Live Twice, he did the reverse on the soundtrack. Once again, the composer used the main melody from the theme song and wove this into the soundtrack using many Asian instruments. The beautiful Mountains and Sunsets showcases the melody perfectly (arguably better than the theme track itself) and the final song on the UK edition of the album, Twice Is The Only Way To Live, is also a charming piece. It is this song which segues into the James Bond Theme whilst Bond is being pursued by SPECTRE helicopters whilst flying the portable autogyro Little Nellie towards the climax of the film.
Whilst From Russia With Love might have seen Barry create his own ‘Bond theme’ with the terrific 007, You Only Live Twice sees the debut of probably the most recognisable piece of incidental music Barry composed for the Bond series. Capsule In Space – a rhythmic brass or string melody over a stunning, pulsating theme for a full orchestra – provides a terrific accompaniment to the space sequences in the film including the abduction of the superpower spacecraft. This similar, moody incidental music is also used to great effect on James Bond – Astronaut? and Soviet Capsule.
After the wishy-washy soundtrack to Thunderball, You Only Live Twice is a return to form for John Barry. The composer maintains the drama throughout with tracks such as Bond Averts World War Three and Countdown For Blofeld as Bond finally comes face to face with his nemesis. This soundtrack includes an instantly recognisable and iconic theme tune, the terrific incidental space music and some driving, pulsating action music that was largely lacking from the Thunderball score.