Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Never Say Never Again's rejected theme

(Photo source: Life Between Frames)
Last week, Tim Lucas of Video WatchBlog unearthed Phyllis Hyman's rejected theme from Never Say Never Again, thanks to his friend Stephen Forsyth, who also happens to be one of the composers of the dumped theme.

This was a particularly cool discovery for me because I'm always interested in hearing theme songs that didn't make the final cut. In fact, I once did a Fistful of Soundtracks episode about rejected movie themes, and I played "Thunderball" by Johnny Cash and "For Your Eyes Only" by Blondie. (However, I wasn't able to get my hands on Alice Cooper's "The Man with the Golden Gun" and Ace of Base's "The Juvenile," which was an early contender for the GoldenEye theme. After the GoldenEye producers gave Ace of Base the boot and went with Tina Turner--good call--the Swedish group released their version of "GoldenEye" as "The Juvenile.")

Never Say Never Again, the unofficial 1983 Bond flick that featured a saggy-looking Sean Connery in his first appearance as 007 since Diamonds Are Forever, divides Bond fans. But they all agree that its score, which was composed by a past-his-prime Michel Legrand (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the original Thomas Crown Affair), pales in comparison to John Barry's energetic scores from the official Bond movies. Legrand's limp theme was performed by Lani Hall, the vocalist from Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's "Mas Que Nada" (a tune I was introduced to by another spy movie franchise, Austin Powers). "Never Say Never Again" is one of the weakest themes to open a Bond film, official or unofficial.

According to Forsyth:
I co-wrote the title song for the movie with Jim Ryan. Warner Bros. informed our attorney that the song was to be used as the title song in the picture. However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros. informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand, who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that contractually he had the right to the title song. So my song was never released...

Phyllis sadly took her own life in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late one night and told me she felt that "Never Say Never Again" was "her best and favorite recording."
Though her performance is terrific (she demonstrates restraint, something that's missing from the caterwaulers on American Idol) and the song is better than Hall's final version, it wouldn't have been suitable for NSNA's action-oriented opening credits sequence, which follows Bond on a mission that turns out to be a training exercise. Also, Hyman's ballad suffers from the then-popular "yacht rock" sound that instantly dated the other early '80s Bond themes (Hall's "NSNA," Rita Coolidge's "All Time High" from Octopussy). It took Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" to break the spell, restore energy to the Bond theme and make it rock again.

In other Bond theme-related news, reports that the Quantum of Solace producers chose Amy Winehouse to sing the upcoming film's theme have been exaggerated. (Note to self: Never believe the non-BBC British press.) When Winehouse isn't busy headbutting and pimpslapping North Londoners or searching for her dealer, she and her frequent collaborator Mark Ronson have been working on the tune, but the Quantum of Solace producers haven't picked it as their theme yet. Will this be another one for the rejected Bond theme pile?

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