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The Sound of Spying

“My dear girl there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.” — James Bond, Goldfinger

When you think spies, chances are you think of James Bond. Unless, that is, you happen to be looking at deported Russian spy Anna Chapman’s photo spread for the Russian edition of Maxim (there’s a 99% chance that any article about these photos will be titled “The Cold War Heats Up”). There are plenty of elements that go into making and so have become defining factors of the Bond films. The clothes, the cars, the exotic locations, the women, the booze — and of course, the music.

James Bond without John Barry and Monty Norman’s instantly identifiable guitar theme might as well be that sad chap from Agent for H.A.R.M. Composer John Barry’s work on the Bond films created the audio template in which all future Bond composers would have to operate — even the ones who disco’d things up in the 1970s still stuck with many of Barry’s tried and true stylistic definitions of what the music for a James Bond movie should sound like. When the Bond films proved runaway successes in the 1960s, hundreds of movies were made by dozens of countries looking to cash in on the same basic formula. And each of those movies needed music. Usually breezy, swingin’ 60s style cocktail lounge music laced with the occasional twangy guitar. But outside the realm of film music, there was an equally gigantic cash-in industry of record labels releasing Bond and spy-themed albums not connected to any actual movie. Most of the albums are disposably enjoyable, offering up nondescript but professionally competent renditions of popular Bond movie theme songs, as well as music from assorted espionage television shows. Some also mixed in original compositions in the style of Bond music, and more than a few would throw a half-assed rendition of a Bond theme song onto an album full of otherwise espionage-unrelated easy listening tunes just so they could justify calling the album Music to Thrill By or something and put a picture of a dude with a Walther PPK on the cover.

Shaw. Roland Shaw

Towering above all others in the realm of Bond cash-in albums, however, was British composer 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 Bond 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. I swear I must have about a thousand different versions of those two themes.

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 of the same basic material. But the following run-down should cover the additions you need to make to your smooth spy lounge soundtrack.

Themes for Secret Agents

roland-shaw-secret-agents1This foray into the world of spy music sees the orchestra taking a more general approach than the orchestra’s all-Bond albums. This collection of brassy, bombastic themes 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 also several Bond themes, including “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and the themes from Goldfinger, From Russia with Love,Thunderball, and of course the original 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. I like this album for its more general survey of spy themes from the era. After all, a proper international man of mystery needs to be well rounded, and your world cannot consist of James Bond themes alone.

James Bond Thrillers

bond-themesShaw’s first foray into the world of pure James Bond music also happens to be the only one of his spy music recordings currently missing from my collection, but that’s neither here nor there. This album 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

more-aShaw’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’ barrel-chested vocal bravado), but after that, Shaw shies away from themes and instead serves up a host of 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 “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

rs-smallThis third volume of Bond music kicks off with a vocal version of what might be my favorite Bond theme of all time: You Only Live Twice. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this version is superior to the John Barry-Nancy Sinatra original, it’s still a great version and makes this album worth owning even if the rest of it wasn’t any good. Luckily, the rest of it is pretty good, once again following the trend of leaning heavily on music other than the themes — though you do get arrangements of the themes from Casino Royale 1967 (both the Herp Alpert instrumental and Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love” with vocals that obviously can’t match Dusty’s) 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.

The Return Of James Bond In
Diamonds Are Forever…And Other Secret Agent Themes

return_james_bond1This is a spectacular sampler of Roland’s work through the years, though it eschews his tendency to focus on non-theme music cues. I guess by 1971, with the negative reaction toward George Lazenby’s turn as Bond in 1969 and the questionable quality of Sean Connery’s triumphant return in the largely ludicrous Diamonds are Forever, background cues were simply too esoteric to make for a potentially successful release, and so they stuck to the big guns. Released in 1971, it repackages most of Shaw’s arrangements of the Bond themes up to that point and combines them with additional spy movie and TV show themes previously 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 alone make this album worth the repeated material, but you also get new tracks in the form of 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. Plus, there’s really no beating the album cover. I suppose if you were to seek out one Roland Shaw album, this would probably be the one to get.

Band on the Gun

Although he was the biggest, and the composer with the most direct tie to the Bond franchise, Roland Shaw was hardly the only game in town, although he had the most game by far. There were a lot of really great albums made to cash in on the popularity of music from the James Bond movies and other espionage related shows and films. 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.

Ray Martin & His Orchestra
Goldfinger and Other Music From James Bond Thrillers

GoldfingerThough not as prolific as Roland Shaw, Ray Martin spent a fair share of time in the world of James Bond covers and inspired music and is often very nearly as entertaining. His cover of Goldfinger sounds like John Barry collided with Nelson Riddle and the theme from the old Batman TV series, complete with chorus girls ooh-ing and ahh-ing while trumpets blare. The girls stick around, with their wordless vocals taking over the duties of the guitar in “The James Bond Theme,” and it’s just fantastic (my heart breaks that my copy of the LP skips during this song). Ray Martin delivers by far the most go-go style of Bond music, veering occasionally into the world of surf guitar and space age bachelor pop. This is Bond music run through the Eurospy processor. Other than the Shaw records, if there was one to track down, it would be this one.

It’s no surprise that Martin is, along with Roland Shaw, my favorite of the unofficial Bondian composers. He and Shaw had very similar professional roots. Martin, a violinist by training, studied at the State Academy of Music and Fine Arts in Vienna before moving to England, where he worked in vaudeville before enlisting in the armed forces. His proficiency in several languages got him assigned initially to intelligence work, and he eventually found his way into the Royal Air Force Central Band (Shaw also performed in an RAF orchestra). After the war, he launched a prolific career as a performer and composer, working with everyone from Julie Andrews to scoring Diana Dors movies to arranging his own group, Piccadilly Strings. In 1957, he relocated again to the United states and began a career as a musician who put his unique spin on everything from John Barry to Henry Mancini compositions. He also started experimenting with mood albums, incorporating sound effects and samples into his music to create “cinematic” listening experiences, most notably on The Sound of Sight: Music for an Experiment in Imagination.

Ray Martin & His Orchestra
Thunderball and Other Thriller Music

7122343697_f3cf6bd2b2_bOnce wasn’t enough for Ray Martin, so he clocks in with another album full of spy music, this time bringing his wild mix of go-go music and wordless female humming and za-zooming not just to a selection of Bond themes, but also to music from other popular spy features and television shows, including The FBI, The Man from UNCLE, and Honey West. It’s pretty much more of the same, perhaps even more upbeat than his Goldfinger album. I particularly like his take on “The Knack,” “A Man Alone,” and “Theme from The Man from UNCLE.” And is it just me, or did he mix “The James Bond Theme” into his arrangement of the Honey West theme? That’s multi-tasking! As with the other Ray Martin album mentioned, this one is essential, well worth the effort it takes to track it down.

Billy Strange
James Bond Double Feature

7753978680_027e32a76a_bBilly Strange is another guy who worked a lot in the Bondosphere, and his sound is somewhere in the orbit of a gy like Al Ciaola, with a lot of reverb and twangy guitar. Sort of like surf music layered with lush orchestration, maybe a dash of Ennio Morricone’s work on spaghetti western soundtracks. His James Bond Double Feature actually doesn’t spend a lot of time on James Bond, though it does give us a pretty great version of the theme from You Only Live Twice. After that, Strange is just as happy to cover the theme from Alfie, For a Few Dollars More, In Like Flint, or even make up a few originals. He also seems to have an affinity for Herb Alpert, as that style of Mexi-brass lounge music asserts itself not just on the cover of Alpert’s own Casino Royale theme, but also in a few other places.

Strange stands out from the crown for his willingness to stray from the formula and mix things up a bit. His background was actually in rock and roll (which comes through from time to time), and he’s best known as the writer of a number of Elvis songs, including themes for Charro! and the soundtracks for Live a Little, Love a Little and The Trouble with Girls. He also worked with Nancy Sinatra on her non-soundtrack single version of You Only Live Twice. The guitar-driven nature of his compositions seems obvious when you look at the roster of groups with which he’s worked: Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Wanda Jackson — and again with Nancy Sinatra on one of her most famous songs, “Bang Bang.” He worked with the Rat Pack, Lee Hazelwood — pretty much everyone who was anyone at the time had Strange writing for and playing with them. He’s even in The Rockabilly Hall of Fame, which better be housed in a series of connected Airstream trailers.

Billy Strange
The Secret Agent File

strange-fileStrange returns for another wax platter full of espionage themes, kicking off with a pretty rollicking version of Thunderball before moving on to another of my favorite songs to collect versions of, the theme from The IPCRESS file. Other highlights from a very solid album include themes from I Spy, The Man from UNCLE, Get Smart, and Our Man Flint. I’m a little bummed there was no cover of Laurie Johnson’s theme from The Avengers, because I think Strange would have delivered a pretty great version. But hey — at least we get “007.” The rest of the Bond stuff is pretty straight-forward, with a little bit more rock influence, as you would expect from someone with Strange’s background. Overall, a pretty good collection of songs with a great spy/surf guitar vibe and lots of energy.

David Lloyd & His London Orchestra
Confidential: Sounds For A Secret Agent

7131676985_108501312c_bThe 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 for 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 rather than the James Bond movies. 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. Again, this version is pretty good, but I can only listen to “Goldfinger” and “007″ so many times. Lloyd’s arrangement of the From Russia With Love theme itself is also 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, and while I can’t say any of it is overly catchy and memorable, it’s all decent, and if nothing else, it’s fun to hear what Lloyd imagined as the theme song then compare it to what became the theme song for the eventual movies by the same names. For the most part, John Barry’s job was never in question, but I like most of Lloyd’s ideas, though an intrusive sax makes itself known from time to time. It’s light and airy, and more loungy than Barry’s signature brass assaults would be, though “Live and Let Die” gives off a more sinister aura. It sounds like something Lloyd wrote while watching lots of Peter Gunn.

Count Basie
Basie Meets Bond

count-basie-basie-meets-bondThe fact that someone as high profile as Count Basie cut a Bond cash-in album should give you an idea just how massive the trend was. Basie’s take on the music of James Bond is suitably big band flavored and boasts more complex and swingin’ arrangements than most albums. It’s close in overall sound to John Barry, but with a slight air of the older fashioned about it — not a criticism, by the way. After all, Bond was as adept cutting a waltz on the ballroom floors of the world as he was killing a Russian spy in between songs. Basie Meets Bond opens with a cover of the ubiquitous “007” then moves into swing era versions of songs like “The Golden Horn” and, of course, the themes from Thunderball and Goldfinger. It’s a thoroughly pleasing album if a little lightweight. Basie just doesn’t summon the hard edge a guy like Roland Shaw conjures. This is the most light-hearted and finger-snappy “Thunderball” has ever sounded. But if you want to spin a platter full of breezy swing takes on Bond, it goes without saying that Count Basie delivers.

Russ Pay
Double O Heaven

product_image_872463The soundtrack for From Russia With Love featured a track called “Gypsy Camp,” which as you might guess, is an acoustic guitar driven piece that accompanied Bond’s visit to a Turkish gypsy camp, where among other things, he had to endure such horrifying trials as drinking a lot and watching a semi-nude catfight between Martine Beswicke and Aliza Gur. Man, Aliza Gur…ummm, wait? What was I talking about? Oh, OK. Anyway, I can’t say for sure that “Gypsy Camp” inspired Russ Pay to record this strange but entirely enjoyable album full of swanky guitar covers of Bond themes, but it was a way for me to mention Aliza Gur, so I went with it. Double O Heaven features ten tracks — nine familiar Bond themes plus one additional song called “Sean’s Theme” — consisting of Pay’s guitar and, from time time, lush background accompaniment. There’s a lot more work put into these arrangements than you would get in an album you could dismiss as a novelty. I particularly like his versions of “We Have All the Time in the World” (especially since that song gets so little attention), “Goldfinger”, and “You Only Live Twice.” But then, “You Only Live Twice” (not to mention “Nobody Does It Better”) is pretty much custom made for this type of treatment. You can even throw it on for a romantic dinner, if regular Bond soundtracks seem too nerdy and/or bombastic to facilitate a swank, candlelit evening filled with champagne and ending no doubt with a close up of a woman’s abandoned high heel shoe as the two of you fade out of focus while lying down on a fuzzy carpet.

Cheltenham Orchestra & Chorus
Songs from Goldfinger

5621854652_005202f974If 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 of men and women hitting you with lots of “zu zu zu za wow!” style singing. If you can imagine that sort of lounge pop choral group doing Bond themes, then you can begin to grasp this thoroughly weird record. Four songs isn’t really enough for me, but then again, maybe it is, because at just four tracks of Ray Conniff Singers collides with small-size big band manages to be entertaining and even goofily 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 frat party movie soundtrack. It sounds sort of like a messy melding of beach party music with some jazzy Eurolounge stuff. Doesn’t fit at all with the other three tracks, but it’s fun regardless.

Mike Boldt
James Bond and Beyond

41V702PVWPL._SL500_AA300_Electronica cash-ins on Bond music were a dime a dozen in the 1990s, and with not more than a few exceptions, most of them were as bland and forgettable as Timothy Dalton’s wardrobe in his two Bond films. Mike Boldt’s tribute to Bond electronica sounds like one of those CDs of “spooky” synthesizer music you buy at Toys R Us around Halloween. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded on cut-rate Casio equipment in Boldt’s bedroom, which in and of itself is not an insult, at least not coming from me. Boldt doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with the material, though, and it comes out sounding sort of tepid and forgettable. He hits most of the requisite themes — Bond, Flint, Mission: Impossible, The Man from UNCLE, Get Smart, and Wild Wild West, and fleshes out the run time with a few originals, and one song — “007 at Casino Royale” — that is executed in such a weird fashion that it basically becomes an original song. If you like analog synth music, you might give this one a whirl for that track alone. Otherwise, this is spy lounge done in the style of a lone keyboardist closing out the threadbare bar at a Holiday Inn during the off season.

Harry Roche Constellation
Casino Royale & Other Hip Sounds

harry+roche+casino+royaleFirst 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 int he 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. Oh, who am I kidding. There’s no such thing as a cocktail dress that is “just a little bit too short.” But 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 very little in the way of Bond or other spy themes. You get a decent instrumental version of “The Look of Love,” which for my money is really the only way to appropriately cover the song. Because frankly, unless you’ve got Dusty Springfield doing the vocals, well…what the hell is the point? The Constellation (I love that they’re called The Constellation instead of the Orchestra) 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 just cocktail lounge standards, all of them professionally if unspectacularly executed. If you’re looking for spy anthems, you won’t really find them here, but if you’re int he 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 James Bond Sextet
The James Bond Songbook

CDBGPM-179aIf I had to guess, I’d say that The James Bond Sextet was a bunch of talented session musicians with a little free time on their hands, so they decided to crank out a jazzy album’s worth of James Bond covers. In fact, the primary arranger here is Jimmy Bond — no relation — a well-known jazz and session musician. What he gives are pretty straightforward jazz interpretations of a host of Bond covers — oh yes, there is a version of “007.” The other covers are serviceable interpretations of From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. But then we get into uncharted territory, with Bond serving up original compositions based on the Ian Fleming books. Titles like The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Live and Let Die, Diamonds are Forever, and You Only Live Twice — these had not yet been adapted into movies, and so the themes The Sextet gives us are their own. Ultimately, this isn’t one of my favorite Bond cash-in albums, but it’s still quite enjoyable and perhaps the one that would appeal most to straight up jazz lovers.

Various Artists
Music to Read James Bond By

bond2The two volumes in this collection pay tribute, or so they say, to the act of reading Ian Fleming’s novels rather than watching the movies. Coincidentally, reading the novels often sounds exactly like watching the movies, so we all got lucky there. Rather than being an album composed from start to finish by a group of session musicians, this is a various artists compilation and includes a number of high profile artists well known in cocktail culture sectors — Ferrante & Teicher, Perez Prado, Al Ciaola, Leroy Holmes, Count Basie — as well as some film soundtrack originals by the likes of John Barry and Monty Norman. You even get the actual Goldfinger theme by Shirley Bassey (as well as covers by Ferrante & Teicher and Perez Prado). There’s also a lot of performers on here I probably should know but don’t. Sir Julian, who I know only from an appearance on the Ultra Lounge: Organs in Orbit comp, turns in a Hammond and brass driven number called “Black on Pink,” which would be pretty good for showing off on the ballroom floor. A group called The Leasebreakers Dixieland jazz things up (presumably for your visit to New Orleans whilst reading Live and Let Die), and Dick Ruedebusch provides a swinging number and should probably hook up with Pussy Galore. These two albums are by far the most loungey of everything here. If you are a fan of the long-running Ultra Lounge series, then Music to Read James Bond By is the collection for you.

Eric Winstone
Plays 007

007Eric Winstone is another high profile English big band leader, best known perhaps for a public legal spat with Diana Dors. he also seems to have been something of a nutcase in other aspects of life, even at one time having a giant “iron curtain” built in his home to separate him from his wife and child. I thought that sort of thing only happened in bad sitcoms. I expected this album to be a pretty straight forward big band twist on the usual Bond theme suspects, and while we do get the tracks one expects — with the shocking exception of 007 for possibly the first time ever on any of these albums — the arrangements caught me off guard. There is a bit of Winstone’s big band background from time to time, but we have here is much more, believe it or not, disco funk. Lots of wah-wah guitar, snare drum, and cheeseball 70s sounding sax. I can’t claim to be a fan of this album exactly, but it’s just so weird that neither can I in good conscience dismiss it as terrible. It’s a Bond cash-in that has traded miniskirts and martinis for flared slacks and Harvey Wallbangers. I guess that makes it appropriate for the safari suit clad Roger Moore years.

Danny Davis & His Orchestra
James Bond and Other Secret Agent Themes

5049629990_e653b9767f_zIf you’re a fan of the Hammond organ, Danny Davis is going to make you happy, as the instrument gets a workout on his inevitable version of the theme from Goldfinger. Davis was an accomplished country musician, at one time producing Connie Francis albums and at another time forming The Nashville Brass, and eventually even performing as a member of the Million Dollar Band on Hee-Haw. His arrangements of Bond themes on this album are solid but unspectacular, predictable but competent and enjoyable. The thing that sets this album apart from other Bond bait is the unconventional definition of “other secret agent themes” promised in the title. Sure, you get a decent version of “The Peter Gunn Theme,” with some nice bongo action and cool wordless female vocals, but other than that Danny Davis seems to define secret agent films as horror films, making this the only Bond cash-in record with covers of things like “Chamber of Horrors” and the spooky, sound effects laden “Monster Meeting,” which sounds like something Les Baxter would have written for an AIP horror film. “Red Eye Rats” is another really strange mood piece, somewhere between film noir, horror, and one of those songs where Serge Gainsbourg would just record a woman having an orgasm. And then she is apparently torn apart by rats. What the hell??? This album was also released under the title Music Of Mystery Mayhem And Murder, which makes a little more sense.

Film Festival Orchestra
Music From The Spy Who Loved Me & Other Great James Bond Thrillers

spy_love2Cut to correspond with the release of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, this album by the non-existent Film Festival Orchestra (one of those assemblies of session players thrown together purely to record a couple movie theme cover albums) is a pretty late comer to the Bond cash-in album craze. if nothing else, that allows it to include material beyond the usual collection of themes from the 1960s movies, though those are certainly represented here. This album’s version of “Nobody Does It Better” is actually pretty good. “You Only Live Twice” is nice and breezy, but I wish they’d gotten the woman who sang on “Nobody Does It Better” to do vocal duties here as well instead of making it an instrumental. That’s also true for me on the cover of “Live and Let Die,” which is a pretty hilarious blend of disco, big band, and rock. The rest is pretty much business as usual, not essential but worth having for the version of “Nobody Does It Better” and a pretty killer rendition of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

Dan & Dale
Thunderball and Other Dan & Dale Originals

4100726723_0a80059fd3_zLove the title, first of all, which reminds me of those old K-Tel compilations featuring “Top Hits By The Original Artists!” which were then all cover versions of pop songs by a group called The Original Artists. Actually, I think that was an urban legend, but the comparison still stands, Dan & Dale and your originals that are not Thunderball. This is another really strange one, kicking off with a version of Thunderball that employs a Morricone-esque spaghetti western beat and guitars…but also accordions. That’s followed by the “SPECTRE Theme,” which is a mad mingling of Polynesian exotica and more polka accordions (or squeeze boxes, whatever). The rest of the songs keep pace — slide guitars, accordions, surf guitar, maybe the occasional organ or a kazoo? Hard to tell. It’s like Arthur Lyman, Dick Dale, and a French organ grinder with one of those monkeys in a bellhop suit got together to cut an album. It has very little of the Bond vibe to it, but if you are just looking for an exceedingly odd exotica album, this one does the trick. And it gets even weirder when you unravel who Dan & Dale, most famous for a single they recorded inspired by the Batman TV show, actually were: moonlighting members of avant garde jazz legend Sun Ra’s Solar Myth Arkestra — including, apparently, Sun Ra himself! That alone makes this album worth tracking down, even if the music itself is just too silly to really make for a great Bond cash-in album. But then, they also have a song called “J&B On the Rocks,” which pretty much makes this one a must-have.