Pulp, Duran Duran, and Saint Etienne all submitted James Bond theme songs for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, before Sheryl Crow’s version was chosen.
What makes a great James Bond theme song? Traditionally, it has to sound good over silhouettes of women, guns, and other 007-related iconography, but in eras past, composer John Barry’s involvement in writing title tracks would lead to his unforgettable motifs being interpolated into the score too. In later years, as the producers have courted big chart stars, the songs have often been separated from the scores, leading to a process of tendering such as the one that started with 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
Artists have always submitted their own prospective Bond songs to producers, and unused tracks over the years include Johnny Cash’s “Thunderball”, Blondie’s “For Your Eyes Only”, and (most recently) Radiohead’s “Spectre”. Following the chart success of GoldenEye’s title track (written by Bono and the Edge and performed by Tina Turner) producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to put out an informal call for title song submissions.
It’s worth mentioning that the title of the 18th James Bond film started out as Tomorrow Never Lies, which would have been the slogan of the evil media empire that runs up against Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. Infamously, a typo gave the producers the alternative option of Tomorrow Never Dies, which they eventually took, even though it makes as much sense with the film as Quantum Of Solace does for a film where “Quantum” is also the name of an off-brand SPECTRE.
The title seemingly wasn’t the only seat-of-the-pants decision on this tumultuous production, which we’ve detailed in a recent episode of the Film Stories podcast. Have a listen to that here:
Meanwhile, composer David Arnold was picking up the conductor’s baton on the film’s score, having just won a Grammy for his work on Independence Day and also impressing Broccoli and Wilson with “Shaken And Stirred”, his album of Bond theme covers by popular artists. On the theme song front, after receiving submissions from an array of British and European artists, the producers selected Sheryl Crow for the coveted gig.
As a result of the tendering process, Tomorrow Never Dies has more potential theme songs than any other entry in the long-running series. Marc Almond and The Cardigans were among the many acts who reportedly submitted demos, but not all of the submitted tracks have been available to listen to one way or another.
Looking at the tracks that are available, whether they’ve been released or repurposed with new lyrics, here are some stories of the artists whose unused takes we’ve heard…
Honourable mention: k.d. lang
“Tomorrow will arrive on time…”
Not all of the non-Crow entries missed out on the soundtrack. Arnold co-wrote “Surrender” for Don Black and David McAlmont while scoring the film and followed Barry’s lead by embedding its motif throughout his music. It was never designed for the opening titles, as the deal with Crow was already done when Arnold boarded as a composer, but he was allowed to compose a song for the closing credits instead.
Performed by k.d. lang, “Surrender” includes the title of the movie in the lyrics and plays up the more conventional brassy and bombastic stylings of previous outings. Arnold got his shot at the opening when he co-wrote the theme for The World Is Not Enough (with Black) and also co-wrote “You Know My Name” (with its performer, Chris Cornell) for Casino Royale. Later, there was a similar adaptation of Arnold’s score for Quantum Of Solace, whose main motif was adapted into “No Good About Goodbye” for the queen of Bond themes, Shirley Bassey.
“Now what would you do, if there was no tomorrow?”
Often lauded as one of the all-time great Bond theme artists, Duran Duran had previously contributed “A View To A Kill” for Roger Moore’s swansong in 1985. When the open call for submissions went out, the group submitted a demo for Tomorrow Never Dies, written by Warren Cuccurullo and Nick Rhodes.
Had their submission been chosen, Duran Duran would have been the only act other than Bassey to record more than one Bond song. However, the producers evidently decided to go a different way. The band later rewrote the lyrics and adapted it into “Last Day On Earth” for their 2000 album “Pop Trash”, which proves less synth-heavy than the demo version might suggest.
“The city streets are littered with the casualties, the could haves, the should haves, and the would’ve beens…”
After Pulp had contributed a far superior cover of Octopussy's “All-Time High” for Shaken And Stirred, Arnold invited them to submit a track. Working to a tight deadline, the band turned around their contribution in two days, providing a slightly Bowie-flavoured track that instantly conjures the visual of a silhouetted Jarvis Cocker throwing some shapes in the opening titles instead of naked women.
Like various other artists who submitted a song, they also released their track, but under the title “Tomorrow Never Lies” – nodding, whether intentionally or not, to the film’s working title in the process of distinguishing it for copyright reasons. The song was featured as a bonus track on Pulp’s 1998 album “This Is Hardcore” and as a B-side on “Help The Aged”, which peaked at number 8 in the UK singles chart.
“I’m just another kind of girl, and I’m leaving for another kind of world…”
If you’ve not heard of Swan Lee, a Danish group who were active from 1996 to 2005, you might see where this one is going. Having enjoyed success with Turner and previous big-name acts, the producers wanted an act that would give them another crossover chart hit. And while some sources report that the song was a top contender, the band never were.
As the story goes, it was suggested that another act could record the song, but the group understandably didn’t like that. Swan Lee never charted outside of Denmark, but their “Tomorrow Never Dies” was included on their 2001 album Enter. The track later popped the 2006 game Hitman: Blood Money too, and what’s more, they shot a Goldfinger-inspired music video for it in 2007, which you can see above.
“Promises, all he ever makes is promises…”
Another frontrunner came from indie-dance trio Saint Etienne, who co-wrote and performed this banger of a demo, little realising that there was so much competition from other acts. It’s maybe the most original and distinctive of the submissions available for us to listen to now, but it’s also easy to imagine how a fully produced version would have brought out the Bond in it too.
One more story about the tendering process comes from the band’s 1999 rarities album “Built On Sand”, on which their “Tomorrow Never Dies” demo features. In the liner notes, the band writes: “About 500 people were asked to write a song for the James Bond film… Apologies for the cassette quality, but the master tape was nicked by Piers Brosnan (sic) who claims it is seven times better than Sheryl Crow.” Oof.
“Until that day, until the world falls away, until you say there’ll be no more goodbyes…”
So, what about the theme we got? I’m sensing this may be an unpopular opinion, but I quite like the track, which is co-written by Crow and Mitchell Froom. The vocals make it a somewhat poppy update of the sort of big, swooning ballad we’ve come to associate with Bond, but hey, there’s nowt wrong with pop music.
Oscar attention for Bond theme songs are all but inevitable these days, but it wasn’t so back in the 1990s – there were no Best Original Song nods from the Academy between Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” and Adele’s “Skyfall”. Crow’s song did earn a Best Original Song nomination at the Golden Globes, but lost to to “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, a film that also comfortably outstripped Tomorrow Never Dies at the box office in December 1997.
Much like the film, Crow’s song is not fondly remembered as a franchise best, but for my money, it’s an underrated entry on any given Bond song playlist. But OK, yes, “Surrender” is probably better…
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