Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
With James Bond Part XXIV being released this week, the time seemed right to take a look at some Bond-related covers. Tune in tomorrow for some of the best ever made; for today, we’re whetting your appetite with a look at an all-Bond cover album that’s not like all the others.
Over the years there have been a lot of albums that cover the music from the James Bond films, and little wonder. Whether it’s the various scores that John Barry composed for the films or the themes commissioned to the latest chart-toppers, the music to Bond films has a white-hot spotlight thrown on it right from the moment of conception. Some shine in that light; some turn to dust. Generally, the composers handle the assignment by making the song dramatic and big, either in scope or in volume, and the cover albums have followed suit, often billed to philharmonic orchestras and using every last instrument therein. Result: classical music for the lounge lizard in your life.
Russ Pay’s Double O Heaven has none of these bombastic trimmings to it. It has no vocals; the main instrument is an acoustic guitar, sometimes solo, sometimes with tasteful accompaniment. Its quietness sets it apart from its source material and all the other copycats – as the perfume ads used to say, “If you want to capture somebody’s attention, whisper,” and Pay’s murmurs are more riveting than all the overblown turns by the artists who thought excess was the only way to go.
Double O Heaven has one original (“Sean’s Theme”) and nine covers of the familiar themes, now a little less familiar. Five of them are below. Do I expect you to talk? No, I expect you to listen…
Russ Pay – The James Bond Theme (Monty Norman cover)
John Barry may be the name most associated with Bond themes, but Monty Norman’s the man who composed “The James Bond Theme,” and he’s got a court ruling to back him up on that. Pay arranges it for acoustic guitars, giving the theme a hint of both classical and flamenco that works very well.
Russ Pay – Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey cover)
The drum roll at the beginning makes it sound like an epic is impending, but when the gates swing open, Pay’s version of “Goldfinger” enters with more quiet mystery than awesome power. If it beckons you to enter its web of sin, you still shouldn’t go in – but you might think about it a little longer.
Russ Pay – Diamonds are Forever (Shirley Bassey cover)
With her release of “Diamonds Are Forever,” Shirley Bassey was two for two in knocking a Bond theme out of the park – a third of a century later, Kanye West based his “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” around a sample of it, turning it contemporary in a flash. This is, to my mind, the strongest of Pay’s Bond covers; it takes a quieter song and adds a powder-thin layer of the exotic while keeping it out of easy-listening territory.
Russ Pay – Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
Producer Albert Saltzman wanted Shirley to sing the Live and Let Die theme; to guarantee a hit, he asked Paul McCartney to write it. McCartney said he would, but only if he and his band Wings were the recording artists. The last time Saltzman had turned down the chance to work with a Beatle was when he decided not to produce the movie A Hard Day’s Night; not willing to make the same mistake twice, he acquiesced, and a smash was born. Once again, Pay gets gentle where the original gets explosive, but the song holds up just fine.
Russ Pay – We Have All the Time in the World (Louis Armstrong cover)
“This never happened to the other fellow,” George Lazenby famously said in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a Bond movie that continues to divide its viewers into best-ever / worst-ever camps. This never happened to “We Have All the Time in the World,” the moving song written by John Barry and lyricist Hal David and featuring Louis Armstrong’s last recorded vocal. Pay loses the vocal, but not the beauty.
Double O Heaven contents
2. Live And Let Die
3. From Russia With Love
5. Sean’s Theme
6. Diamonds Are Forever
7. We Have All The Time In The World
8. You Only Live Twice
9. Nobody Does It Better
10. The James Bond Theme
Pay… Russ Pay… on Amazon to buy the full album.
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN NOBODY DOES IT BETTER: THE 24 BEST COVERS OF JAMES BOND THEME SONGS.