Pin It
Thom YorkePhotography Rankin

10 rejected James Bond themes by surprisingly great artists

Billie Eilish isn’t the only leftfield musician to write a Bond theme – Radiohead, Blondie, and Scott Walker all pitched songs for the franchise

Billie Eilish had a pretty successful evening at the BRITs last night, with the 18-year-old artist adding the Best International Solo Female Artist award to her already large pile of Grammys (before having a backstage interview interrupted by a gushing Stormzy afterwards). But Eilish’s highlight of the ceremony was surely her performance of her newly unveiled James Bond theme, “No Time to Die”, which comes ahead of the film’s release in April. Reportedly written and recorded in a tour bus in Texas over just three days, the finished track was ‘Bondified’ live by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and composer Hans Zimmer (both responsible for the film’s score), who formed a band along with Eilish, her brother Finneas, and a full orchestra.

Given the franchise’s tendency to ask generally established and uncontroversial singers like Adele or Sam Smith to perform Bond themes, the unorthodox Eilish seems like a bold choice – but it’s in keeping with other ways the studio seem to be shaking up Daniel Craig’s final film as Bond, with Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge becoming only the second woman to be credited on a Bond movie script, and True Detective director Cary Fukunaga the first American filmmaker to take the helm.

Eilish, however, is not the only artist out of left field to vie for title honours in the Bond universe. In fact, there have been plenty of unusual pitches over the years, with everyone from Pulp to Blondie to Radiohead contributing song pitches to the franchise, only to be rejected by the studio. These offerings might have changed the way we viewed those films, but instead, they have been for the most part forgotten. But is that a fair fate? We pondered what could have been, looking at the series’ ten best unused theme songs.

Johnny Cash, “Thunderball”

Which film?: Thunderball, 1965

What they went with: Tom Jones, “Thunderball”

Shirley Bassey penned the original theme to Sean Connery’s fourth outing as Bond, as she aimed to capitalise on the success of her iconic “Goldfinger” in 1964. She offered up a track called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, named after an unofficial title for the British spy coined by a European journalist. The studio, EON Productions, apparently rejected the track, unsure whether a track that didn’t include the film’s title in its name would work. American country singer Johnny Cash saw his chance, and pitched his own appropriately titled, Western-themed number for consideration. The studio reportedly never really considered it, but it is, at least, a statement of the global stature of the series that by 1965 some of the globe’s biggest stars already wanted in.

Blondie, “For Your Eyes Only”

Which film?: For Your Eyes Only, 1981

What they went with: Sheena Easton, “For Your Eyes Only”

New wave icons Blondie released two classic albums, 1978’s Parallel Lines and 1979’s Eat to the Beat, before taking a hiatus in 1981 – just prior to Roger Moore’s penultimate outing as Bond. This synth-pop track was originally commissioned for the film, but instead ended up appearing on the band’s poorly-received album The Hunter when they came back in 1982, which pre-empted their break-up by barely six months.

Singer Debbie Harry is rumoured to have pulled out of For Your Eyes Only after the film’s producers suggested she drop the rest of her bandmates in Blondie to perform the track with composer Bill Conti. Fair play to her – that dubious honour ended up going to Sheena Easton, who did her best with that film’s dull and languid theme after the original target, Donna Summer, passed on it.

Pet Shop Boys, “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave”

Which film?: The Living Daylights, 1987

What they went with: A-Ha, “The Living Daylights”

Rumour has it that the Pet Shop Boys were keen to record an entire score for Timothy Dalton’s first outing as Bond before the studio opted to go with original composer John Barry, who handed the title song over to Norwegian pop group A-Ha. The Pet Shop Boys recorded multiple instrumental tracks as “a musical exercise” for use in the film, which all exist on the web as electronic demo recordings that have little in common with a bombastic Bond outing. The layered synthesisers, drum machines, and electronic sounds are charming, though, and the band did right to refurbish the demos for the track “This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave”, which featured on 1990 album Behaviour.

Motiv8 & Kym Mazelle, “Searching for the Golden Eye”

Which film?: Goldeneye, 1995

What they went with: Tina Turner, “Goldeneye”

After Timothy Dalton’s final outing as Bond in 1989’s License to Kill, there was a six-year hiatus in the film series – the longest gap between Bond films to date. During this short period, the world saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, while the UK saw one of its most influential musical subcultures emerge from the underground, hit the charts, and subsequently be outlawed by the government. While it might have been fun to see rave music reach the Bond universe, this Eurodance pitch from producer Motiv8 and veteran house vocalist Kym Mazelle didn’t quite make the cut. They weren’t the only ones to miss out that year: Ace of Base’s entry was withdrawn by their label as they believed the series would never recover, while Bono’s original version of the Goldeneye theme would end up being sung by his then-neighbour, Tina Turner, instead.

Things might have been different if Dalton had managed to get a third shot at the franchise in the early 90s. You can almost picture his gritty incarnation of Bond hitting the M25 in the Aston Martin while blaring out some pumping acid house and munching E’s... on second thought, maybe the franchise needed a break.

Pulp, “Tomorrow Never Lies”

What film?: Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997

What they went with: Sheryl Crow, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

Johnny Marr isn’t the first indie superstar to work on a Bond score – though it seems that Pulp’s pitch for a theme in 1997 was rejected as swiftly as the film’s original title. Jarvis Cocker wasn’t too happy about it, either. Speaking to Bond fan site MI6 in 2008, the Britpop singer described how the studio “set up a kind of American Idol situation, where they asked about nine different artists to come up with a Bond song… I was really pissed off when they went with Sheryl Crow instead.” We’d argue that Sheryl Crow’s moody ballad is actually one of the best of the series, but that’s not to say that Pulp’s entry wasn’t a worthy effort too. Fortunately, it ended up appearing on the expanded version of arguably the band’s finest album, This is Hardcore.

Saint Etienne, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

What film?: Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997

What they went with: Sheryl Crow, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

As Jarvis Cocker explained, Pulp were not the only band booted off the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack. Another notable omission came from alternative dance trio Saint Etienne, who had scored their highest-charting single, “He’s on the Phone”, two years prior to the film’s release – but, crucially, hadn’t released another since then. As scholars of 60s pop music, the band would have otherwise been perfectly poised to pull of a vintage Bond feel within a modern musical context. Their fusion of flower-pop with 90s electronica on the pitched “Tomorrow Never Dies” could have made for a poignant rendition of the series’ legacy, but it ended up only appearing on a rare ‘fan-only’ album, Built on Sand, in 1999. In the liner notes, they would claim that Pierce Brosnan kept the master tape of their track. Interestingly, Saint Etienne would reference Bond’s most famous adversary later in their career, with the track “Blofeld Buildings” appearing on 2000’s ambient album Sound of Water.

Duran Duran, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

What film?: Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997

What they went with: Sheryl Crow, “Tomorrow Never Dies”

The 18th Bond film was really an apex of musical possibilities for the franchise – never again would there so many artists be solicited to write a potential title track for a Bond film as on Tomorrow Never Dies.

Joining The Cardigans, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, and the aforementioned Saint Etienne and Pulp, was Duran Duran, swooping in for a second bite of the cherry after having successfully nabbed the title theme for 1985’s A View to a Kill. Their 1997 attempt was a bold one – the demo version is fuelled by a drum’n’bass beat and industrial electronics, bearing more in common with Marilyn Manson than it does with 80s pop efforts like “Rio”. The track would later ditch the revved-up rhythms in favour of somewhat less adventurous hard-rock guitars when it was reworked as “Last Day on Earth”, which appeared on the band’s polarising 2000 album Pop Trash.

Eurythmics, “I Saved the World Today”

Which film?: The World is Not Enough, 1999

What they went with: Garbage “The World is Not Enough”

This trip-hop-inspired 1999 single from Eurythmics was used to memorable effect in an episode of The Sopranos, but not in a Bond film, which is what the duo were reportedly gunning for. Despite their absence from the The World is Not Enough soundtrack, the final title song by Garbage does share a lot in common with the chart-busting 80s synth-pop act’s superior style.

Singer Annie Lennox has long been linked to the Bond franchise. She donned a headdress from 1983 Bond flick Octopussy for the cover of her debut solo album Diva in 1992, and she was rumoured, along with Mark Ronson, to be doing the theme for 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Later, in 2011, both Daniel Craig and Judi Dench appeared as their respective Bond characters in a campaign by Lennox’s charity group Equals, to raise awareness of gender inequality for International Women’s Day. Lennox’s Eurythmics bandmate Dave Stewart, meanwhile, co-wrote the song “I’ll Take it All” with Joss Stone for the 2010 Bond video game 007: Blood Stone.

Scott Walker, “Only Myself to Blame”

Which Film? The World is Not Enough, 1999

What They Went With: Garbage, “The World is Not Enough”

After the success of his 1997 covers album Shaken & Stirred: the James Bond Project, which included collaborations with the likes of Iggy Pop and Leftfield, composer David Arnold would go on to score five James Bond films. This marked him out as one of the franchise’s longest-running collaborators – but he should also be remembered for being the man who brought Scott Walker along to the spy party in 1999.

Walker was criminally overlooked for a shot at the title theme in the 60s, a period where his dark, crooning vocal would have been a perfect fit for the franchise. Justice was nearly served three decades later when “Only Myself to Blame” was pitched for The World is Not Enough. Originally intended for the closing credits, the downbeat jazz number was replaced instead by a techno remix of the James Bond theme after director Michael Apted decided it was “too much of a downer for the end of the movie” (it did, nonetheless, end up on the movie’s official soundtrack release). A shame, as “Only Myself to Blame” was one of Walker’s most straightforward songs in an era where he was mostly embracing the avant-garde.

Radiohead, “Spectre”

Which film?: Spectre, 2015

What they went with: Sam Smith, “Writing’s on the Wall”

Radiohead were in the middle of recording their ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, when 007 came knocking in 2015. They’d previously recorded a version of Carly Simon’s The Spy Who Loved Me theme “Nobody Does It Better” in 1995, but their contribution to the Spectre soundtrack was ultimately deemed “too dark”. You have to question what the producers were expecting in the first place when they popped the question to Oxford’s gloomiest.

The band shouldn’t be too bothered about the outcome, because the track got the attention it deserved when it was released to critical acclaim on Christmas Day in 2015. While they lost out to a credible effort from Sam Smith, the “Writing’s on the Wall” singer didn’t exactly paint a modest picture of himself when he publicly claimed he didn’t know who Thom Yorke was, before appearing to belittle the band’s pitch for the title track. Still, at least neither party was as foolhardy as one Middlesex resident, who attempted to place a £15,000 bet on the outcome at a branch of William Hill before the bookmakers decided to suspend betting.