I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen: Ten Songs About the Movies. Happy Birthday to Mel Brooks, 88 Today.

1.  Robbie Williams ‘I Will Talk and Hollywood Will Listen’

(from the album Swing When You’re Winning, 2001).

2.  Suede ‘Filmstar’

(from the album Coming Up, 1996).

3.  David Bowie ‘Drive-In Saturday’

(from the album Aladdin Sane, 1973).

4.  The Beatles ‘Act Naturally’

(from the album Help!, 1965).

5.  Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Californication’

(from the album Californication, 1999).

6.  Roisin Murphy ‘Movie Star’

(from the album Overpowered, 2007).

7.  Cornershop ‘Brimful of Asha’

(from the album When I Was Born for the 7th Time, 1997).

8.  Steely Dan ‘Peg’

(from the album Aja, 1977).

9.  Rufus Wainwright ‘Release the Stars’

(from the album Release the Stars, 2007).

10. Blondie ‘Fade Away and Radiate’

(from the album Parallel Lines, 1978).

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Seven). “Here’s Looking at You, Kid”.

“I was moved by your scream dream, celluloid pictures of living” sings Bryan Ferry in the opening lines of 2HB, from Roxy Music’s 1972 debut album, Roxy Music.  The screen dream that Ferry is reminiscing about is Casablanca (1942) and the song is a tribute to both that film and in particular, its star, Humphrey Bogart, with 2HB being an acronym for “To Humphrey Bogart”.  It is also interesting to note that 2HB is a grade of pencil.  Ferry studied fine art at University of Newcastle on Tyne, later becoming a pottery teacher at Holland Park School in London.  During this period, he began his quest for pop stardom, first of all forming the band Banshees, followed by The Gas Board and finally, Roxy Music.

2HB is Ferry’s tender tribute to his hero, including such lines as “Your death could not kill our love for you”.  Ferry paints pictures of scenes from Casablanca with cinematic scope, with lines such as “Take two people, romantic, Smoky nightclub situation, Your cigarette traces a ladder”, placing the listener in Rick’s Cafe Americain back in 1941.  The chorus, featuring the famous line from the film, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and later lines “Ideal love flies away now” and “You gave her away to the hero” beautifully capture the scene in which Rick forces Ilsa to board the plane to Lisbon with her husband, Lazlo, telling her that she would regret it if she stayed.

Ferry’s love for Bogart also extended to his wardrobe at the time, wearing similar outfits to the one that Bogart wore in Casablanca in live shows during the early 70s.  Also see the outfit that Ferry wears on his second solo album, Another Time, Another Place (1974) to see Ferry’s homage to Bogart’s style and then look at the line “White jacket, mmm, black tie wings too” in 2HB.  Ferry always looked like a 1940’s film star and crooned like the very best of the crooners of the era; you can very much imagine him as the suave debonair gentleman sitting in Rick’s Cafe Americain, romancing with his cigarette tracing a ladder as Sam plays the piano.

The music of 2HB is also indebted to Casablanca, with Andy Mackay’s saxophone solo being based on the melody of As Time Goes By, the song featured prominently in the film.

With the song’s lyrical content describing scenes from the movie and its music alluding the movie’s score, 2HB is possibly the greatest retelling of a movie in song form and Ferry’s wonderful tribute to his celluloid hero.  So important was the influence of Bogart on Ferry that he later resurrected 2HB on the B-side of his first solo single, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) and on his solo album Let’s Stick Together in 1976.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Six). “I Got Lost in the Sounds I Hear in My Mind …”

Fidelity, the opening song on Regina Spektor’s 2006 album Begin to Hope was written by the singer whilst watching the film High Fidelity (2000), which was in turn adapted from the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby (1995).  The film tells the story of record shop owner, Rob Gordon (played by John Cusack), his love life and break ups through his love of music.  Fidelity explores the apprehension of falling in love and worrying about the inevitable heartbreak that could arise from yielding feelings to another person.

Regina Spektor takes High Fidelity’s theme of pondering life, love and relationships through music, with lines in Fidelity such as: “I got lost in the sounds, I hear in my mind, All of these words, I hear in my mind, All this music, And it breaks my heart …”   Spektor is living life through the music that she makes, much like the way in which in High Fidelity, Rob Gordon lives his life through the music he listens to.

In the second verse of the song, she sings “Suppose I never ever met you, Suppose we never fell in love, Suppose I never ever let you, Kiss me so sweet and so soft, Suppose I never ever saw you, Suppose you never ever called, Suppose I kept on singing on love songs”.  Here, Spektor is contemplating what her life would have been like if she had not met the male figure she is talking about and kept on living life through the love songs she sang rather than experiencing real love, much like the way in which in High Fidelity, Rob Gordon contemplates the effect music has on him:

“What came first, the music or the misery?  People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over.  Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss.  Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

Fidelity became one of Regina Spektor’s most popular songs.  In 2006, she told Entertainment Weekly that she wasn’t surprised at the song’s international popularity:

“When we were recording, it just felt nice, like in my body.  I thought, ‘This is delicious’.  So much of listening to music is physical.  It starts in the stomach and it needs to travel up to the lungs in this specific way.  When that doesn’t happen, you just feel it, you know when it’s not right.  It’s very much a body experience.  To me, Fidelity felt really good in my body when we were finished.  I guess people’s bodies are the same in those kinds of ways.  Sometimes songs just feel nice”.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Five) “The Paranoid Great Movie Queen …”

The final song on John Cale’s 1973 album Paris 1919, Antarctica Starts Here pays homage to the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard and in particular the main character of Norma Desmond.  The inspired casting of the film placed Gloria Swanson in the somewhat autobiographical role of Norma Desmond (“The paranoid great movie queen”), a deluded, tragic and ambitious actress whose film career declined with the advent of the talkies (“Lines come out and struggle with, The empty voice that speaks”).  Cale’s hushed singing tone in the song reflects these lines.  We can look at Antarctica Starts Here as being sung from the perspective of Joe Gillis, played by William Holden in the film.  Gillis is an unsuccessful screenwriter who is lured into Desmond’s fantasy world where she dreams of a triumphant return to the stage.

Antarctica Starts Here makes full use of the scenes in the film in which Norma Desmond dresses up and acts out here her former glories to her captive audience, either by acting and reciting lines to Joe Gillis or by putting on her old films.  This is reflected in Antarctica Starts Here with the opening lines: “The Paranoid great movie queen, Sits idly fully armed, The powder and mascara there, A warning light for charm, We see her every movie night, The strong against the weak”.

In the second verse of the song, we are given a snapshot into Norma Desmond’s character, that of the vain faded movie star, weary of her enduring struggle to return to past glories:  “Her heart is so tired now, Of kindnesses gone by … The vanity, insanity her hungry heart forgave, The fading bride’s dull beauty grows just begging to be seen”.  The lines “Like broken glasses in a drain, Gone down but not well spent” are evocative of the end of a party – the end of the era in which the actress thrived.

The final verse of the song features the line, “Her schoolhouse mind has windows now”, perhaps reflecting the way in which the actress is a controlling influence on Joe Gillis, a teacher giving her pupil a history lesson, but one about herself.  The line “Where handsome creatures come to watch” is perhaps a reference to the scene in which Norma Desmond is playing bridge with her friends, “dim figures you may still remember from the silent days.  I used to think of them as her Wax Works” as the narrator says in the film.  The final lines, “The anaesthetic wearing off, Antarctica starts here” are probably the most curious lines in a song full of curious lines, but ones that make for a wonderful ending to both the song and the album.  They perhaps denote Joe’s realisation that he has been lured into Norma Desmond’s world and the oddness of it, the doping effect of the many gifts she lavishes upon him to keep him under her spell becoming apparent and his need to escape.

Antarctica Starts Here is, just like the other songs on Paris 1919, an odd song filled with lyrics that can be read in a number of ways, such is the genius and complexity of Cale’s song writing.  Just as with his other material, one can sit and ponder upon what a single line may mean for hours and the fact that Cale rarely discusses what his lyrics are about just serves to keep us guessing.  There are many twists and turns in Antarctica Starts Here, such as the way in which Cale manages to fit lyrics based on a film character around the themes on the album.  A main theme on the album is war, with references to places of battle littered throughout.  In Antarctica Starts Here, the line “The road that leads from Barbary to here” refers to the Barbary Wars.  The juxtaposition of lyrics about a faded Hollywood star from a film and lyrics alluding to a war in a completely different era make for an odd but brilliant and truly unique combination which ends a stunning album beautifully.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Four). “And Here’s to You, Mrs Robinson …”

Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel, from the album Bookends (1968) is famous for its inclusion in the movie The Graduate (1967) and has become inseparable from the character in the film.  However, the roots of Mrs Robinson came from a song completely unrelated to the movie that Paul Simon had written called Mrs Roosevelt, about Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the years previous to The Graduate, Simon & Garfunkel had risen to national fame in the United States touring colleges and releasing a string of hit singles and albums.  At the same time, director Mike Nichols was in the early stages of making his movie, The Graduate.  Nichols had become an instant fan of the duo, listening to them constantly before and after filming.  So infatuated with the duo was Nichols that he met with Columbia Records chairman Clive Davis to ask permission to use their music in his new film.  Davis saw the idea as potentially lucrative and envisioned a best-selling soundtrack album.  Paul Simon, however, was dubious, considering movie soundtracks to be selling out.  After careful consideration and being impressed by Nichols’ wit and script, the songwriter agreed to write at least one or two songs for the film.

After a few weeks, Simon presented two new tracks, Punky’s Dilemma and Overs, neither of which particularly impressed Nichols.  Nichols asked the duo whether they had any more songs to offer, and after a break in the meeting, they returned with an early version of what would become Mrs Robinson, then still named Mrs Roosevelt.  Nichols was instantly ecstatic about the song and could envision its use in the film instantly.

Of the song’s content, the “dee de dee dee de dee dee dee” section of the introduction of the song occurred when Simon and Garfunkel presented the unfinished song to Nichols and didn’t have lyrics to sing over the music.  Nichols suggested that this should be part of the finished song and Simon used it in the introduction.  Similarly nonsensical is the inclusion of the “coo-coo-ca-choo” phrase in the chorus, which is Simon’s homage to The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus, which was also released in 1967.

Parts of the song are very much still in line with the original subject matter of the song, Eleanor Roosevelt. Wife to US President Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt survived an orphaned and loveless childhood, a faithless husband and domineering mother-in-law, emerging as an independent personality after her husband was paralysed from the waist down after contracting polio in 1921.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and the many bouts of ill health which he had suffered from birth, the First Lady was transformed from shy wife into an autonomous public leader due to having to serve as her disabled husband’s eyes and ears.  This triumph of what women were capable of in a time when women were expected to be subservient to men came into even fuller effect in 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt’s death and was sustained through worldwide acclaim until her death in 1962.

In the first verse, lines such as “We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files, We’d like to learn to help you help yourself” could refer to Eleanor Roosevelt in conversation with her psychiatrist.  Eleanor Roosevelt suffered from depression throughout most of her life, mostly stemming from her tragic childhood.  Her mother had died from diphtheria when Eleanor was just 8 years old and her brother Elliott Jr died from the same disease just 5 months afterwards.  Her father was an alcoholic who was confined to a sanatorium and died just two years after Eleanor’s mother after he jumped out of a window during a fit of delirium tremens.  He survived the fall but died after suffering a seizure shortly afterwards.  Similarly, the lines “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes, Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home” represent Eleanor Roosevelt being at a mental health facility with the workers and patients worrying for her.

The second verse, “Hide it in the hiding place where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry where no one ever goes, Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes, It’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair, Most of all you’ve got to hide it from the kids” are reference to Eleanor living in a time where strong women had to repress their feelings and emotions, hiding them away completely out of sight.  Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt had many marital problems, with Franklin having many affairs.  Women who he allegedly had affairs with include Princess Martha of Sweden, his secretary, Missy and Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer.  These affairs would eventually lead to the couples’ separation and ended any intimacy in their relationship.  There are also rumours that Eleanor was a lesbian and had a relationship with Lorena Hickock.

In the third verse of the song, “Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, Going to the candidates’ debate, Laugh about it, shout about it, When you’ve got to choose, Every way you look at it you lose”, Eleanor watches her husband’s debate in which he won he presidential election.  Due to her husband’s paralysis and ill health, Eleanor did most of the work.  Eleanor therefore would have been more than capable of running for the presidency herself but could not because she is a woman.

The song’s chorus could be read in many ways.  The references to “Jesus”, “Heaven” and “God” could be suggestive of mourners at Eleanor’s funeral or simply Eleanor being prayed for by those with the “sympathetic eyes” mentioned in the first verse of the song.  When used on the film’s soundtrack, the chorus takes on a new meaning, telling the listeners that Mrs Robinson should not cheat and sin on her daughter’s boyfriend and encouraging Mrs Robinson to become a holy and moral person.

The final verse of the song is perhaps the most talked about verse of the entire song.  The lyrics, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, What’s that you say Mrs Robinson, Jolting Joe has left and gone away”.  In the context of a song about Eleanor Roosevelt, lines about a New York Yankees Major League Baseball centre-fielder may appear to be slightly out of place when analysing the lyrics.  However, Joe DiMaggio is referenced in the song as he represented traditional American values with the lines being a tribute to his unpretentious heroic stature in America in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes.  It is widely known that Paul Simon was a huge fan of baseball player Mickey Mantle and when asked during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970 why he chose to talk about Joe DiMaggio instead, Simon replied, “It’s about syllables, Dick.  It’s about how many beats there are”.  DiMaggio initially had reservations about his name being used in the song, wondering why Simon had written the line, “Joltin Joe has left and gone away” when he hadn’t gone anywhere.  DiMaggio soon dropped his complaint after Simon explained what the lines meant.  In a New York Times op-ed in March 1999, shortly after DiMaggio’s death, Simon said of the DiMaggio reference:  “In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence”.  Simon later performed Mrs Robinson at Yankee Stadium in honour of DiMaggio a month after his death.

After its inclusion in The Graduate, Mrs Robinson was awarded two Grammy Awards at the 11th Annual Grammy Awards in 1969.  It became the first rock song to win Record of the Year and was also awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary-Pop Performance – Vocal Duo or Group.  The duo declined to perform the song at the ceremony, instead shooting a video which consisted of them at the Yankee Stadium in reference to the song’s final verse about Joe DiMaggio.  Mrs Robinson was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Original Song because as a nominee, a song must have been written exclusively for the film in which it appeared.

The song has also seen the accolade of being covered several times, including by Frank Sinatra on his 1969 album My Way.  Sinatra’s version of My Way changes a number of lines, including replacing the word “Jesus” with “Jilly”, perhaps motivated by the refusal of some radio stations to play a song including the word “Jesus”.  Sinatra’s version also includes a new verse directly referring to The Graduate.  These changes make for a rather odd version of the song and is not one of Sinatra’s more successful covers.

More successful was The Lemonheads’ cover of Mrs Robinson, recorded to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of The Graduate in 1992 and featured on their 1992 album It’s A Shame About Ray.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Three). “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone …”

Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, from his 1971 album Just As I Am, to all intents and purposes comes across as a lovesick paean to a departed lover but the much acclaimed song, which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song at the 1972 Grammy Awards, was actually written about the film Days of Wine and Roses (1962), a tale of love amidst alcohol addiction starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

In the film, public relations man Joe Clay (played by Jack Lemmon) meets and falls in love with Kirsten Arnesen (played by Lee Remick), a secretary.  Kirsten doesn’t drink until Joe introduces her to social drinking.  Although reluctant, after her first few Brandy Alexanders, she admits that drinking “made her feel good”.  Kirsten’s father (played by Charles Bickford) is dubious of the relationship but the two marry and Kirsten gives birth to a daughter named Debbie.

Joe goes from the “two Martini lunch” to full blown alcoholism.  His alcoholism affects his work as he and Kirsten both succumb to the pleasures and pain of addiction, resulting in Joe being demoted due his poor performance.  Joe is sent out of town on business and Kirsten finds that the best way to pass the time is to drink, and drink plentifully.  One afternoon, whilst she is drunk, Kirsten causes a fire in the couples’ apartment almost killing herself and their child.  Joe, meanwhile, eventually gets fired from his Public Relations job and goes from job to job over the next several years.

One day, Joe passes a bar and stares at his reflection in the window.  He goes home and says to his wife, “I walked by Union Square Bar.  I was going to go in.  Then I saw myself, my reflection in the window and I thought, ‘I wonder who that bum is’.  And then I saw it was me.  Now look at me.  I’m a bum.  Look at me!  Look at you.  You’re a bum.  Look at you.  And look at us.  Look at us.  C’mon, look at us!  See?  A couple of bums”.

As a result of their realisation that they have a drinking problem, Joe and Kirsten work together in Kirsten’s father’s business and manage to remain sober for a while.  However, the power of addiction is too strong and after returning to heavy drinking, Joe destroys his father-in-law’s greenhouse and plants whilst searching for a bottle of liquor that he had stashed there.

Joe is committed to a sanatorium wearing a straight jacket and with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, a dedicated sponsor named Jim Hungerford (played by Jack Klugman) and regular AA meetings, Joe finally becomes sober for a while.  Joe tries to help Kirsten to overcome her addiction also but instead just ends up drinking again, being so desperate for a drink that he breaks into a liquor store and steals a bottle.  This results in another trip to the sanatorium, where he is stripped down and tied to a treatment table.

Jim warns Joe that he must remain sober, even if it means staying away from his wife.  He explains to Joe that alcoholics often demonstrate obsessive behaviour, pointing out that Kirsten’s previous love of chocolates may have been the first sign of an addictive personality and counsels him that most drinkers hate to drink alone in the company of sober people.

Joe eventually becomes sober for close to a year as well as a responsible father to his child and manages to hold down a steady job.  He also attempts to make amends with his father-in-law but his Mr Arnesen lashes out at him blaming Joe for indirectly getting Kirsten involved in the alcoholic lifestyle.  On calming down, Mr Arnesen reveals that Kirsten has been disappearing for long stretches of time and picking up strangers in bars.

One night, after Debbie is asleep, Kirsten comes to the couples’ apartment in an attempt at reconciliation.  Joe resists the temptation to get back together with his wife, fearing that if he were to give in, he could go back to drinking.

Kirsten pleads with Joe to take her back and get their relationship back “the way it was”.  Joe explains to her, “You remember how it really was?  You and me and booze – a threesome.  You and I were a couple of drunks on the sea of booze, and the boat sank.  I got hold of something that kept me from going under, and I’m not going to let go of it.  Not for you.  Not for anyone.  If you want to grab on, grab on.  But there’s just room for you and me – no threesome”.

Kirsten refuses to admit that she is an alcoholic.  However, she does acknowledge that without alcohol, she “can’t get over how dirty everything looks”.  “You better give up on”, says Kirsten.  Debbie asks Joe, “Daddy, will Mommy ever get well?”  Joe replies, “I did, didn’t I?”  Kirsten leaves and Joe fights the urge to follow her.  He looks down the street where Kirsten is walking as a sign reading “Bar” reflects in the window.

The lyrics of Ain’t No Sunshine reflect Joe’s dilemma; he must either decide to stay with his wife and risk his alcoholism getting out of hand again or stay sober and risk losing her.  Talking about Ain’t No Sunshine and the inspiration behind the song in 2009, Bill Withers explained, in reference to the characters of Joe and Kirsten:  “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong.  It’s like going back for seconds on rat poison.  Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you.  It’s just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I’m not aware of”.

The famous and highly effective section of the song in which Withers repeats “I know” 26 times occurred when the songwriter intended to write another verse for the song but was advised by other musicians to leave it that way.

For Ain’t No Sunshine, Withers took the subject matter of Days of Wine and Roses and created a song which has almost certainly become more famous than the film on which it was based.  However, Ain’t No Sunshine was a success story nearly never happened.  The song was originally tucked away on the B-side of Withers’ Harlem single but became popular when disc jockeys began to play Ain’t No Sunshine as the single instead.  Ain’t No Sunshine thus became Withers’ first hit and has become one of his signature songs.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day Two). “Thunderball, Your Fiery Breath Can Burn the Coldest Man, And Who is Going to Suffer From the Power in Your Hand”.

Tom Jones’s Thunderball is one of the many James Bond themes to have become synonymous with the spy thriller series.  However, back in 1965, Jones wasn’t the only one who had his eye on the much coveted prize of having a song featured in one of the highly successful Bond films.  How different Thunderball, and the whole James Bond series, could have been if a song by an American country artist had been used.  Yes, it really could have happened because during the film’s production, the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash wrote and submitted his vision of a theme song for Thunderball.  Imagine if you will, Bond’s wardrobe consisting of cowboy hats and spurred boots as opposed to the very finest tailored suits that money can buy and you are just about there.

The writing of the Thunderball soundtrack was arduous to say the least.  Upon hearing what the new Bond film would be called, John Barry pondered for ages on how best to write a song with a title as vague as Thunderball before at one point, deciding that it could not be done.  Therefore, he titled the original title theme to Thunderball, Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.  This title was taken from an Italian journalist who, when Dr No was released in 1962, had dubbed Bond “Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”.

The resulting song Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang was recorded by Shirley Bassey.  However, there were concerns about Bassey’s singing on the track and it was given to Dionne Warwick.  At the same time, John Barry created a longer introduction for the song so that the lyrics would not be heard until after the Thunderball title had appeared in Maurice Binder’s title design.  The song was eventually removed from the credits altogether after United Artists threw a spanner in the already complex works by suggesting that the theme song should have the film’s title in its lyrics.  To add to the confusion of finding a suitable theme song for Thunderball, when it was decided that Warwick’s version of Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang would be used instead of Bassey’s version, Bassey sued the film’s producers.  As a result, neither version of Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang appears on the resulting soundtrack album.  However, parts of Barry’s musical score for the song were later interpolated into the soundtrack.  On the soundtrack album, the remaining parts of Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang can be heard in the track Cafe Martinique played by full orchestra and jazz rhythm quartet and later as a bongo drum heavy cha-cha in the track Death of Fiona.  Interestingly, the death of Fiona scene takes places at Club Kiss Kiss.

In a last ditch attempt to write a theme song which would be deemed suitable by United Artists, Barry teamed up with lyricist Don Black and created the Thunderball song we all know and love in something of a rush.  During the recording of their new theme song, Tom Jones famously fainted in the studio after singing the song’s final high note.  In various interviews, Jones has said:  “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes the room was spinning”.

Around this time, Johnny Cash’s self-written idea for the Thunderball theme song was making waves at production studio Eon Productions.  Cash’s Thunderball describes the film’s story with lyrics such as, “Money hungry minds need a thread to launch a scheme, But those, who hold the Thunderball, could rule the world, it seems, Cannot the peaceful world find the clue to where she’s gone. The silent sea won’t answer now but terror lingers on”, whilst the chorus of “Thunderball, your fiery breath can burn the coldest man, And who is going to suffer from the power in your hand”  could only have been written by Johnny Cash.  The lyrical content of Cash’s Thunderball is put to a musical backdrop which, although as beautifully presented as always, would have been more at home in a Spaghetti Western than in a British film about a suave secret agent.  Musically, Cash’s Thunderball is similar to sections of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

And herein lays the problem:  Particularly in the early days of the James Bond films, Bond themes, always co-written by John Barry, presented a very particular brand of lyrical wordplay and lushly orchestrated and wholly British sounding musical content which Cash’s Thunderball didn’t have.  Perhaps if Cash had presented his idea for a Bond theme later in his life when the film studio was more accepting of different takes on how Bond should be presented in music, he could have easily had a Bond theme.

Cash’s poetic telling of the story in his Thunderball vision is a grand effort from the country star but musically would have fitted uncomfortably in the Bond theme canon.  Let’s just say, you can take the Man in Black out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the Man in Black.

Song of the Day: Movies in Music (Day One). “Anybody Seen A Knight Pass This Way? I Saw Him Playing Chess with Death Yesterday”.

Following his tenure in The Walker Brothers, Scott Walker’s four self-titled albums of the late 1960s cemented his critical reputation but also alienated most of his previous audience.  For many fans of Walker’s previous work in The Walker Brothers, Scott 4 (1969) was the final straw, so far removed was it from what his audience had come to expect of the artist in the earlier part of the decade.  Scott 4 was originally released under Walker’s real name, Noel Scott Engel, with the name ‘Walker’ not appearing on the album until it was re-released some years later, a conscious effort it would seem to further remove himself from whatever his audience might expect, thus allowing the artist to move into new creative territories.  The album was also the first Walker solo album to be completely comprised of his own material, with the previous three Scott albums all featuring covers of songs by Jacques Brel.  Scott 4 was so unpopular at the time of its release that it completely failed to chart and was deleted soon afterwards, triggering an emotional and artistic crisis from which it would take the artist years to recover.  Scott 4 is now rightly seen as a classic and one of Walker’s strongest works, with musicians including David Bowie and Radiohead even citing it as a major influence.

The opening track of Scott 4, The Seventh Seal, is a straight yet highly poetic retelling of the 1958 Ingmar Bergman film of the same name.  Bergman’s The Seventh Seal tells of life in a 14th century Swedish village experiencing the cataclysmic effects of the Black Death. The Seventh Seal highlights the very worst shortcomings of religion, questioning its insufficient explanations of human suffering, the lack of proof regarding the existence of God, the witch hunts undertaken by the church, the immorality of the clergy and the way in which religious leaders manipulate believers into undertaking immoral tasks.

In The Seventh Seal, disillusioned knight Antonius Block and his squire Jons return home after ten years fighting in The Crusades to discover that Sweden is being torn apart by the plague (“Anybody hear of plague in this town, The town I’ve left behind was burned to the ground”).  In the film, Block meets Death and challenges him to a chess match believing that he can prevent his fate (“Anybody seen a knight pass this way?, I saw him playing chess with Death yesterday”).

In the space of a five minute song, The Seventh Seal uses the full storyline of the film.  The song gives four of its nine verses to the scene in which Block goes to the confessional.  Death, dressed as a priest, takes position on the other side of the grille.  Block tells the figure on the other side of the grille that his life has been futile and without meaning and that he wants to perform one meaningful deed (“My life’s a vain pursuit of meaningless smiles”).  Upon revealing the chess strategy that will save his life, Block discovers that the person who he thought was a priest is Death, who promises to remember the tactics (“He knelt to confess, The face within the booth was Mr. Death …”).

Additionally, we find references to the scene in which Block speaks to a young woman who has been condemned to be burnt alive for fraternising with the devil (“A young girl on a stake her face framed in flames cried, I’m not a witch God knows my name”).  Later in the song, there are lyrics based upon the final move in the chess game which seals Block’s fate (“The knight hung his head, And said you’ve won I’ve nothing left to play”) before a lyrical depiction of the final scene of the film in which Block and his followers are led away over the hills in a solemn dance of death after Block loses the game of chess to Death (“Their hands held as one, Solemnly danced toward the dawn …”).

Walker’s The Seventh Seal takes the subject matter of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and plays it out in a song complete with some of the most effective tambourine playing you will ever hear on a record, swooping strings, mariachi style trumpet that wouldn’t sound out of place on a western soundtrack, church bells and a male voice choir, all pulled together by the operatic baritone of Walker’s unique and much celebrated voice.  Like much of the material on the Scott albums, The Seventh Seal is a work of cinematic scope and vision rarely matched by any other artist.