9 December 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the premiere of the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
It’s also the anniversary of David Arnold’s game-changing score and singer k.d. lang’s landmark closing titles anthem Surrender. Both Arnold and lang spoke to Yahoo about creating the score, working with the Bond producers Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson and EON Productions, and what tracks from the film — and 007’s musical registry — still resonate.
“I was starting Godzilla when I got a phone call about Tomorrow Never Dies,” Arnold recalls to Yahoo.
The musical mind behind five Bond scores to date, Arnold is one of cinema and TV’s top composers and producers, and it was Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 adventure that saw the rising composing star handed the unique musical baton that was once held by one of his key musical influences: John Barry.
Despite his Bond covers album Shaken and Stirred – The David Arnold James Bond Project making a critically-lauded stamp on the Brit pop charts of 1996, it was not that collection that first beckoned Arnold into Bond’s jukebox web of spin.
“I’d sent some of these tracks [from Shaken and Stirred] to Barbara and Michael at EON — so I wasn’t treading on toes in terms of intellectual property, and because I wanted them to hear them,” he recalls.
“They were making the films and I loved the films — so it was a thank you.”
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With Shaken and Stirred allowing the Bond bosses to ‘hear where my head was it with Bond music’, Arnold says it was his work on Stargate (1995) and Independence Day (1996) ‘that definitely eased things in terms of making a decision’.
And the small detail that Bond music legend John Barry ‘had heard the record and liked it and was very kind about what I was doing.’
When discussing Bond’s producers, Arnold asserts: “the great value of Michael and Barbara as producers and what makes them special and different is that they hire people on the strength of what they do. And they let them do it. They don’t hire people and tell them what do to.”
Arnold suggests the sibling pair are like “the safety bumpers in a ten-pin bowling alley to stop your ball leaping into a place it shouldn’t be. We are all heading in the same direction and there are lots of ways of getting to the end, but they’ll keep it on track.”
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However, such a dream job for Arnold still had its initial terrors. “When I got asked to do it, it was a brief second of elation followed by an absolute panic,” he muses. “All of a sudden, you’re not thinking about doing it, you’re now doing it. I’ve actually now got to do it. And that is mildly terrifying.
“But they did lead me into it very gently and let me score the opening pre-title sequence as a separate standalone just to see how we all got on. It was a lovely thing for them to do.”
One of the striking successes of the Tomorrow Never Dies score is how it represents a perfect Venn diagram of Moby, Alex Gifford, The Propellerheads, Sheryl Crow, lyricists Don Black and David McAlmont, Arnold and, of course, k.d. lang.
It was as much a Brit Pop 1997 moment as Goldfinger’s music by John Barry, Anthony Newley and Shirley Bassey were in 1964. Like Arnold, Bond music resonated with k.d. lang way before Tomorrow Never Dies.
She remembers how “musically, I loved Nancy Sinatra’s song You Only Live Twice because of the musical theme the strings played in the song. I thought that was indelibly memorable.”
But lang’s top Bond anthem “beyond doubt is Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger — to me that’s the quintessential Bond theme.”
Songs are important to David Arnold. And not just Bond songs. “I do think radio is the greatest,” he declares, “and I think songs are the finest of all art forms.” When it came to score versus song, Arnold suggests he is “such a huge fan of the interpolation of the song into the score and for it to hold hands with a composer… whenever I listen to a John Barry song, I feel the movie and the entirety of it.”
Arnold wanted the same with Tomorrow Never Dies and because his work on the film would come “from a perspective of someone who loves these things and who loves Bond songs and loves the scores, I am going to write a song. I had no idea whether it would get used. It didn’t matter.”
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That song was Surrender. Co-written with legendary Bond lyricist Don Black and singer David McAlmont and gifted an exemplary and not easy vocal from k.d. lang, Arnold “wanted people to somehow see the movie in that song.”
Twenty-five years later they still do. “I’d read the script,” he continues “I’d seen some rushes, I’d spoken to Roger Spottiswoode, I’d spoken to Pierce and Barbara and Michael, and I had an idea about where it was heading. I knew we were coming off GoldenEye which re-ignited the franchise. If we were going to kick a door in and say ‘we’re back’ then I wanted the song to do that… And that became the main central thematic core of the score which appears in the opening sequence.”
When it came to casting Constant Craving singer k.d. lang for his vocal, Arnold says it was ‘always her’ without hesitation. “I don’t know anyone else who could have done it, if I’m being honest. It is the velvety way she finds her way in and around the song.
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“Before you know it, you are encased in her vocal. You start off being at the front of it and you finish being inside it.” lang herself remembers how “it was a very challenging song to sing. It really stretched me.”
She continues, “I just thought the outcome was stellar, and I thought it was worthy of the Bond family. I was proud to be a part of it.”
Arnold goes further about his first and crucial Bond song appointment. “She’s got an extraordinary technical ability. And the amount of interpretive and genuine emotional heft that she can deliver in a vocal is very moving. And it was one of the easiest recordings I’ve ever had. She starts singing and you just shut up and record it. It was like two or three takes and that was it. Every single thing was gold.”
A less golden moment was a last-minute decision to move Surrender to the end-credits of Tomorrow Never Dies. Sheryl Crow’s non-Arnold song of the same name ultimately accompanied the opening titles.
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Competent and playful, the song arguably pales in comparison as it tries to be the film-defining Bond song that Surrender already was. k.d. lang confesses how “it was super disappointing to me because I thought I was doing the opening song.
“I honestly don’t know what happened, and I can certainly theorise, but I’m still very proud to have participated in the Bond theme world.”
Twenty-five years later, I ask David Arnold what are the cues and beats of his Tomorrow Never Dies score he most proud of? Without pause he replies, “I still do really like Surrender. I think it’s great. I tend to like the things I do with other people, because it makes me not think about what I have done so much.
“So, Backseat Driver was good fun. And the Kowloon Bay cue with that melody – which is like an electric guitar – before it goes back into a warm, medicated version of the melody of Surrender with that fretless bass.”
k.d. lang is also proud of her place in the Bond Music Hall of Fame. And she likes the film. “It was a good one! I mean, they’re all good, and everyone has their favourites and time can shed different aspects of your opinion on them. But I definitely loved it, as I do all Bond films, essentially.”
I tell her how the Bond and film music fan world continue to hold Surrender in high regard. “It’s nice to hear that. It’s really nice to hear that people appreciate it,” she adds. “To me, it sounds like a Bond theme and, again, that’s such honourable company to keep.”
Having never really left the Bond music world through various collaborations, anniversary concerts, event advice, documentaries and sidebar composing, Arnold ponders how he “was just thinking the other day about Bond retrospectively and in a world of huge budget, studio movies I’ve had k.d lang, Chris Cornell, Scott Walker, and Garbage all in that fold…
“I am thinking that is a pretty cool bunch of people to have in a Bond movie.”
He concludes, “if you do it honestly and enthusiastically with a real sense of knowing that the film is king and an awareness of its history — but also the possibilities of its future that you can do your best stuff.”
A two-disc, 25th anniversary reissue of the Tomorrow Never Dies score is now available from La-La Land Records.
Many thanks to David Arnold and k.d. lang.
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