Remembering You Only Live Twice
50th Anniversary - The Title Song
By Chris Malone
“You only live twice, or so it seems”
It was 50 years ago this year that 1967’s summer Bond blockbuster, You Only Live Twice, premiered. 1
As the fifth James Bond film from the EON Productions stable, You Only Live Twice pushed the franchise further in the direction of outlandish fantasy and OO7 himself towards that of an indestructible super-man.
Yet for many, including this writer, You Only Live Twice remains a perennial personal favourite, etched indelibly as a primordial memory of cinematic James Bond. It was the stuff of pure imagination to a young mind: the exotic Japanese locale; an authentic sumo wrestling contest; American and Soviet space capsules being ‘gobbled up’; the archetypal baddie (with facial scar for added menace); and his gigantic lair concealed within an extinct volcano.
Behind the scenes, breathtaking sun-drenched photography and a new director steered us towards a different type of Bond adventure. In support were set designer Ken Adam, editor Peter Hunt, title maker Maurice Binder, and composer John Barry, now all considered indispensable members of the filmmaking family.
The You Only Live Twice title song is quite unlike any preceding it. In many ways it is the antipodean response call to Goldfinger (1964). Instead of a brassy, brazen, and blaring declaration that slams the senses with the thrust of a freight train, a delicate and mysterious opening lures and entices. With a deep note, underpinned by gong, the strings ascend from the lowest ebbs of the bass clef to the upper reaches of the treble. It’s a brave contrast to the propulsive incendiary launches made during the opening titles of the previous four James Bond films.
One can imagine this introductory prelude as scoring the dawning of a new day. The coldest remnants of night swept away as shards of warm, golden-syrupy sunlight pierce the horizon – the sudden activation of life that heralds a new beginning. Similarly, we can consider the very final moments of the song to accompany the sun setting – its rich hue seemingly extinguishing itself in a distant ocean. That ever-so-slightly lingering bass chord at the very end almost signifying a switch being flicked off plunging a dreamy day instantly into the inky-black of a moonless night.
John Barry’s arrangement of “You Only Live Twice” tacets trumpets and instead wraps the rhythm section with celestial layers of silky strings rounded out with French horns on top, tuba at the bottom, and harp glissandos in between. In many respects, this romantic setting pre-figures the John Barry sound that would emerge some ten years later and reach its zenith in Oscar winning scores Out of Africa (1985) and Dances with Wolves (1990). The carefully crafted rhythm section includes acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass (beating like a heart), guiro, brushed snare drum, gong, and marimba. The latter adds a soupçon of Japanese flavour, just enough to place the song within the geography of its film.
The “You Only Live Twice” song reunited composer John Barry with lyricist Leslie Bricusse. The pair had previously collaborated on “Goldfinger” (with Anthony Newley), “Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” for Thunderball (1965), and an unused version of “You Only Live Twice” recorded by Julie Rogers. 1 The melody and lyrics for this first version was revised further by both Barry and Bricusse once filming completed. Bricusse’s final lyrics are poignant and perceptive – there is an essence of melancholy and yearning.
“And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on”
Whereas “Goldfinger” is famous for the formidable voice of Shirley Bassey, “You Only Live Twice” deferred to the softer and more intimate timbre of Nancy Sinatra.
It was actually perfect casting.
Following recording of the underscore during April and the first two days of May 1967, composer Barry, lyricist Bricusse, engineer John Richards, the Bond film producers, and an overabundance of reporters crammed into the control room of the Cine-Tele Sound Studios (CTS), in Bayswater, London. 2 3
It was the evening of Tuesday, 2 May 1967, and Nancy Sinatra found herself ensconced in the vocal booth, the same room that her father recorded Great Songs from Great Britain in June 1962. This was Nancy Sinatra’s second visit to London and, on this occasion, she travelled with her sister Tina to enjoy some of the city’s tourist attractions. a 2
But for Nancy Sinatra, the pressure of recording for Bond, especially under the watchful eye of the media, proved an intense experience for the 26 year old performer. Having delivered a few takes with the orchestra, Barry elected to record his accompaniment separately in order to perfect his singer’s performance. 4 5
John Richards balanced the orchestra and rhythm section on the studio’s stalwart 12-channel Telefunken console and delivered a live stereo mix, in a three-track configuration, to a Philips tape machine running pink Agfa half-inch tape. Once the recording was captured to Barry’s satisfaction, the composer dismissed the orchestra and turned his attention to working with Sinatra. 4 5
Coaxing many takes through calm and assured feedback via the talkback mike, Barry secured material for subsequent editing leading to a beautiful, beguiling, and bewitching way to spend two minutes and 44 seconds. 4 5
You Only Live Twice premiered in the UK on 12 June 1967. This left about 40 days for Gordon McCallum and the Pinewood Sound Department to dub (re-record) music into the film, Maurice Binder to finalise his evocative title sequence, and prints to be struck for distribution. Furthermore, work on the soundtrack album was hastily completed to be available in stores. The LP (UAL 4155/UAS 5155) is said to have been available from July 1967 however it was briefly reviewed in Record World magazine’s 3 June 1967 issue, as well as Billboard Magazine on 10 June 1967, indicating that it was available prior to release of the film. 6 7 8
“Make one dream come true, you only live twice”
Some fifty years later, what can we say of the recordings of “You Only Live Twice” available on CD?
It seems that Sinatra’s vocal was mixed entirely dry and without the plate echo frequently applied to vocal performances emanating from CTS (and other studios) during this era. There are reasons to speculate for this. Chiefly, it may have always been Barry’s intention that the song present a more proximate sound than that of, say, Shirley Bassey. If a deliberate choice, it was certainly a decision that enhanced the intimacy of the production.
It may also be the result of how the raw material was assembled. When synchronising the song with the original monaural film soundtrack (from the first M-G-M DVD edition and accounting for speed differences), the vocal timing is very slightly different over the duration of the entire song. This suggests that the spliced vocal takes were assembled on a separate reel that was then synchronised to the orchestral backing for final mix down.
Regrettably, commercially available recordings almost universally exhibit drop-outs, vocal sibilance, and high frequency linearity issues.
Liberty Records’ ubiquitous blue covered LP, titled 13 Original Themes, saw more than one CD release during dawn of the format in 1983. The Japanese issue (CP32-5046), sporting different artwork, is restricted in dynamics and often brittle in tone. This is a digital clone of the American release (CDP 7 46079 2) prepared by Ron McMaster. Not an enjoyable listen.
In some territories, EMI also issued a collection of themes on CD, titled James Bond Greatest Hits (796478-2). The content was derived from the red covered LP of the same name first issued in 1982. This version presents a less aggressive tone with a mostly stable stereo image.
1988 saw the original soundtrack issued on CD for the first time. Original artwork was reproduced, albeit significantly reduced in size to accommodate a jewel case. Naturally, this disc included the title song that bookended the LP issued in the USA. This edition exhibits many of the issues of its predecessors.
A 2CD set prepared to celebrate the 30th anniversary of James Bond in 1992, titled The Best of James Bond, was compiled by Ron Furmanek and mastered by Bob Norberg. Issued by EMI records (0777-7-98560-2 2), this release collated all the title songs up to Licence to Kill (1989) and premiered other previously unreleased material on disc two. A single disc version (0777-7-98413-2 5) gathered the songs, changed up the sequencing, but used the same mastering. Unfortunately, this version of “You Only Live Twice” makes significant use of noise reduction tools and techniques, stereo widening (that contrarily actually narrows the image), and emphasis in the region ranging from 6 to 8 KHz, a particular band where the sibilance needs taming.
Capitol Records released the complete score in 2003 (72435-41418-2-9). Album producer Lukas Kendall elected to replace the opening 20 seconds from the three-track orchestral backing tape. This commendable effort resolved several fidelity issues during the opening bars however it is unfortunate that the entire song, with vocal, was not available this format. In reality, most of this hybrid version was lifted from the 1992 The Best of James Bond CD master and possesses practically all of its traits.
Subsequent Anniversary edition compilations generally seem to use the 1992 mastering with additional dynamics processing in an attempt to modernise the sound. Not recommended.
Where does that leave us in 2017?
Firstly, with a wonderful title song revealing an intimate performance by Nancy Sinatra. Secondly, without a good sounding digital copy. It is possible to eliminate all of the technical limitations of the aforementioned CD releases. But a newly minted issue that carefully marries the first generation three-track orchestral backing with Sinatra’s vocal would be even better.
Indeed, for this writer at least, it would make one dream come true.
- There is some debate whether the vocal performance was recorded on May 1, 2, or 5 1967. Photography by the Daily Express newspaper is dated 1 May. Photography by Otto Bettmann is dated 5 May. It is possible that more than one session was held but this does not account for Nancy Sinatra wearing the same clothing, make-up, and hairstyle in both the 1 May and 5 May photographs, if these dates can be taken as accurate. Nancy Sinatra’s own web site (www.nancysinatra.com) defers to the 2 May 1967 date.
- IMDb,. (2017). "You Only Live Twice". Retrieved 14 May 2017, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062512/
- Melody Maker newspaper. 13 May 1967.
- Wikipedia,. (2017). "You Only Live Twice (song)". Retrieved 14 May 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Only_Live_Twice_(song)
- Malone, Chris. Interview with Eric Tomlinson 18 Jan 2007.
- Malone, Chris. Interview with John Richards. 28 Mar 2007.
- Wikipedia,. (2017). "You Only Live Twice (soundtrack)". Retrieved 14 May 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Only_Live_Twice_(soundtrack)
- Record World magazine. 3 Jun 1967.
- Billboard magazine. 10 Jun 1967.