As a teenager, I was enchanted by both the ambition and the sexual decadence the songs written for James Bond expressed. A beautiful woman sang of her unrequited love for Goldfinger. Nobody could do it better (than Bond, I assumed). Ingrained in the singers’ desire for powerful men was the desire not only to be in a man’s power, but also to be part of it.
In Goldeneye Tina Turner sings of a man who becomes a weapon for her revenge ‘but a bitter kiss will bring him to his knees’. Men and women in James Bond songs are involved in a constant jostle for power. Women are attracted to Bond because he is supposedly able to protect them. In fact, James Bond’s women all too often seem to oscillate between him and his archnemesis: the strongest and most powerful male gets the female. In Goldfinger the famous girl covered in gold is a victim of Goldfinger’s revenge, because she betrayed him for Bond. As the Shirley Bassey song goes:
For a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her
It’s the kiss of death …
From Mister Goldfinger
In a more recent example of a Bond song. ‘The World is not Enough’ the female singer declares ‘I know when to touch and I know when to kill’ The ability to unite sexual and physical prowess is, in fact, the trademark of James Bond. His women may ‘know how to touch’, but they get killed. Sex and death are inextricably linked.
The triumph of passivity and its sexual connotations have a special place in the music of Lana Del Rey. Her love stories don’t usually indulge in happy endings. Yet she luxuriates in the misery of unrequited attachment to all-powerful men. The men she typically sings about are exactly like James Bond: mad, bad and dangerous to know.
I don’t know how you get over, get over
Someone as dangerous, tainted and flawed as you
How did you get that way? I don’t know
You’re screwed up and brilliant
You look like a million dollar man,
So why is my heart broke?
The song already sounds like an advertisement for either James Bond or his main antagonist, especially as it continues: ‘You got the world but baby at what price?’
Now, I’m not saying that all the recent Bond songs have been fiascos. Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’ was truly excellent. I even quite enjoyed Alicia Keys and Jack White’s ‘Another Way to Die’. But both the theme of Skyfall and Spectre is that both seem to imply that a James Bond film involves true love. The ‘Skyfall’ lyrics go:
Where you go I go
What you see I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand
I have no problem with Adele’s vocals: it’s just that as we all know, James Bond is not well-known for keeping his women safe or staying by their side. At least in Adele’s song the man keeps the woman safe. Sam Smith’s lyrics are still worse. The male singer goes:
How do I live? How do I breathe?
When you’re not here I’m suffocating
I want to feel love, run through my blood
Tell me is this where I give it all up?
For you I have to risk it all
Cause the writing’s on the wall
This is a perfectly good love song, expressing need for companionship and support. But that’s it. It’s a love song. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Bond. Not with female passivity, not with sex, not with power struggle.
So this is an appeal to Lana Del Rey: please come and teach the modern Bond singers how one conveys female desire for destruction in the arms of a powerful man. Bring the sexy Bond back, please.