The James Bond character is one of the 20th Century’s great fictional heroes. Ian Fleming’s literary conception of the character (Casino Royale, 1953) and, later, its cinematic adaptation (starting with Dr. No in 1962) galvanized the whole spy genre and captured the imagination of a modern, post-War demographic.
I’m not here to restate the Bond phenomenon’s cultural impact or argue its continued relevance, though. Written by British composer Monty Norman, and performed and arranged by his countryman John Barry, the “James Bond Theme” did as much to invent a whole new musical genre as Dr. No did to invent a silver screen archetype. Heavy on the brass, strings and high drama, Barry’s ‘60s Bond themes were agile and stylish, their moments of deadly surf guitar and churning organ suggesting motion, danger, and international hijinx.
A wave of Bond-inspired soundtracks albums logically followed, with unlikely artists from Count Basie (Basie Meets Bond) to Ray Barretto (Señor 007) all channeling their inner 007s and investing themes like “Thunderball” and “From Russia With Love” with their particular musical pedigrees. From R&B novelties and surf music to easy-listening instrumentals, Bond-inspired themes were everywhere in ‘60s pop. Office Naps dives into the great backwash of imitators this work.
1. Sounds Incorporated, Bullets (Columbia)
Sounds Incorporated formed in Kent, England, around 1960. Theirs from the start was an unenviable lot. An instrumental combo with a twin, saxophone-led sound, Sounds Incorporated were neither gritty enough to be absorbed into London’s R&B scene nor really modern enough for the British Invasion. They could claim a few minor hits in the UK, but it’s usually the group’s association with the Beatles (they shared manager Brian Epstein, opened for the Beatles on some mid-‘60s tour dates, and assisted the group on “Good Morning Good Morning”) and their backing work for touring Americans like Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis or Sam Cooke for which they’re best remembered.
In 1964, though, Sounds Incorporated stepped briefly from their role as arbiter of all things brassy, brash, and British, and into the spy netherworld of “Bullets.” “Bullets,” with its hipster aesthetic and Roland Kirk-style over-blown flute is exactly what you hear descending into that grotto nightclub at SPECTRE headquarters.
If they’d persisted a few more years, they might have been Britain’s answer to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, but, after several years of residency in Sydney, Australia, Sounds Incorporated called it quits in 1971.
2. Stan Kenton and His Orchestra, 007 (Capitol)
Kansas-born jazz bandleader, arranger, composer and pianist Stan Kenton formed his first big band in Los Angeles in the early ‘40s. Many of West Coast jazz’s young lions would come to pass through the Kenton Orchestra almost as a rite-of-passage, especially during its experimental and creative peak of the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Heavyweight soloists like Art Pepper, Bud Shank, and Shelly Manne and hip jazz arrangers/players like Bob Cooper, Gerry Mulligan and Bill Holman all cut their teeth on Kenton’s incongruous “progressive jazz” concept, which put across the harmonic innovations of bebop with a surprising measure of swing – and commercial success.
Changes in size and configuration notwithstanding, the Kenton Orchestra became less an innovative force over the following decades and more, somehow, like a transatlantic ocean liner: needlessly extravagant and decreasingly relevant. In the mid-‘60s, the orchestra still had at least one thing going for it, though: size. It was gigantic, almost ridiculously so, and still very much capable of the dizzying drama and bombast that it was renowned for.
It was an orchestra in search of the James Bond theme. Though I’m afraid this selection is as close as we’ll ever get. A few years later Kenton would be recording “Colored Spade” and “Walking in Space” for his 1967 version of the Hair soundtrack, but this is my favorite from what was turning into Kenton’s most crassly commercial years. Incidentally, 1965’s “007” is partly the handiwork of producer David Axelrod, the trademark psychedelic guitar and clear drum sound of his ’60s Capitol residency in full effect here.
3. The John Schroeder Orchestra, Agent 00-Soul (Cameo)
History, despite recent attempts to recast him as a sort of icon of mod cool, will mostly invoke John Schroeder’s name as part of the younger generation of producers and composers who reinvigorated British easy listening music for the Swingin’ ‘60s. Like other British producers, Schroeder had hipper tastes in American music than most Americans, and it was Schroeder’s good fortune as a popular producer to release numerous albums under his own name (as well as under the Sounds Orchestral and City Of Westminster String Band monikers) well into the 1970s. They had their odd and groovy exceptions, but these albums were generally comprised of pallid instrumental fare like Schroeder’s best-known hit, a cover of Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and polite covers of some American soul numbers like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Rescue Me.”
Schroeder’s 1965 version of Edwin Starr’s “Agent 00-Soul” is one of his better moments. Here he transforms – with an arranging assist from fellow British studio maestro Johnny Harris – this Detroit soul chestnut into a cheeky nightclub caper. If half the game in ‘60s instrumental pop was production, then Schroeder, clearly besotted with the possibilities of bottomless studio echo, was the right man for this job.