The Second Disc

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Friday Feature: “Licence to Kill”

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Recent coverage of soundtracks on The Second Disc has been warmly received. To this end, we have added a the Friday Feature. Every Friday, you’ll find some sort of article devoted to a soundtrack or film composer of merit. We hope you enjoy these trips through Hollywood’s musical landscape!

Our first Friday Feature deals with one of the oddest of the James Bond films. No, not Never Say Never Again (that’s not really a Bond film, anyway). Licence to Kill was the second and final feature with Timothy Dalton as 007 and the last to be filmed during the existence of Bond’s mortal enemy, the Soviet Union. That alone should make it an intriguing journey, but Licence to Kill is more than a little strange.

In the film, 007 turns rogue to avenge an ally, DEA agent Felix Leiter (protrayed by David Hedison, who also played Leiter in 1973’s Live and Let Die). His adventures take him to the fictional “Republic of Ithsmus” and pit him against drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).

Though it received a fair amount of acclaim upon release (less so today – many mistakenly believe its commercial failure in the U.S. delayed the franchise until 1995’s GoldenEye picked up the pace), Licence to Kill is a bit of an odd duck in the 007 franchise for a few reasons. Dalton’s portrayal of Bond was far less cheeky than Roger Moore’s tenure as the agent, but Licence to Kill is almost devoid of humor entirely. The fantastical elements were kept to a minimum, too; the villains were unconcerned with world domination and more driven by the drug trade (a real-world concern at the time). It was also considerably gorier than its predecessors, becoming the first Bond film to receive a PG-13 rating.

The music of Licence to Kill went in a different direction, too. John Barry, who’d been connected to the franchise since From Russia with Love (and scored all but three of the films since), had moved on and the late, great Michael Kamen had taken his place. Kamen was both an accomplished composer (his most recent hit being Lethal Weapon) and pop/rock arranger who’d worked with Pink Floyd, Eurhythmics and Queen, and his score was an admirable fit for the movie.

Also intriguing were the pop songs that typically opened and closed the film. This time, the tunes went in a decidedly more R&B direction (after having themes by Duran Duran and a-ha); Gladys Knight sang the “Goldfinger”-inspired title track (written in part by pop-R&B luminaries Narada Michael Walden and Walter Afanasieff) and Patti LaBelle contributed to the end-credits theme, “If You Asked Me To” (which became a big hit years later for Celine Dion). There was a third, unused song for the film, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Much of the weirdness of the Licence to Kill soundtrack, however, can be derived from its release history. Originally released on the MCA label, the LP could not be licensed by EMI when a massive reissuing of the Bond music catalogue was being undertaken. Imported copies are cheap, but it’s still odd that this album didn’t get a chance to be expanded (especially since it’s not the best-assembled record, top-loaded with incidental pop songs and not enough score).

Here’s what the track order looked like, and afterward you’ll find some vault tracks worth your consideration:

Various Artists – Licence to Kill: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCA 6307, 1989)

  1. Licence to Kill – Gladys Knight
  2. Wedding Party – Ivory
  3. Dirty Love – Tim Feehan
  4. Pam – Michael Kamen and The National Philharmonic Orchestra
  5. If You Asked Me To – Patti LaBelle
  6. James & Felix on Their Way to Church
  7. His Funny Valentine – Michael Kamen and The National Philharmonic Orchestra
  8. Sanchez is in the Bahamas/Shark Fishing – Michael Kamen and The National Philharmonic Orchestra
  9. Ninja – Michael Kamen and The National Philharmonic Orchestra
  10. Licence Revoked – Michael Kamen and The National Philharmonic Orchestra

Other tracks:

  • Licence to Kill (Extended Version) (U.K. 12″ A-side – MCA Records MCAT 1339): Simply a longer version of the title track.
  • If You Asked Me To (Dub)/(Instrumental Suite) (from U.S. 12″ promo – MCA 7896, 1989): two remixes of LaBelle’s song, released commercially in the U.K., did not help this track chart anywhere higher than No. 79 on the Billboard charts (by contrast, Celine Dion hit the Top 5).
  • Eric Clapton and Vic Flick – James Bond Theme ’89: This may be one of the greatest unreleased Bond cuts. The original title theme was merely a new recording of the iconic theme song, featuring guitar work by both Vic Flick (who’d played the guitar riff on the original recording of the theme) and Eric Clapton (who’d collaborated with Kamen on the score for the British program Edge of Darkness). It was neither utilized nor released (I’m not even sure it’s ever leaked), although Flick contributed to other parts of the score.

Written by Mike Duquette

April 23, 2010 at 11:22

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