Week 116: “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra

This time last year, I recommended clearing your schedule and watching all the James Bond movies. If you still haven’t gotten around to doing that, I’m a bit mad at you, but it’s okay. Instead of re-stating the benefits of making your way through those 22 bits of movie magic, I’ll just ask you to listen to this fun little song by Nancy Sinatra.

This track was the theme for the fifth Bond installment, in which 007 finds himself womanizing, shooting bad guys, and delivering snappy one-liners in Japan. After recording a demo of this song featuring vocalist Julie Rodgers, Nancy Sinatra was brought in to record the final version. Sinatra, already famous for singing “These Boots Were Made For Walking” and for having the last name Sinatra, was evidently a bit nervous about recording the song; she needed 25 takes to finish a song that requires about 2 minutes of singing.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening violin line. It’s positively gigantic, emerging from the song’s first few seconds and attacking your ears like a fire-eagle bearing down on a mouse. If you’re a Robbie Williams fan, you probably recognize the melody. (If you’re not a Robbie Williams fan, don’t worry; you’re not missing much.)

2. There’s a hint of east-Asian influence. Composer John Barry found Japanese music “elegant”, and wanted his soundtrack to echo that elegance. This was the mid-1960s, so the probability of musical stereotyping was high, but thankfully, Barry kept his parallel fifths to a minimum (you can hear some at 0:20) and managed to create a song that was a tribute to, rather than a caricature of, Japanese music.

3. Nancy Sinatra’s voice. It’s not as powerful as your typical 20th-century singer’s voice would be, and that may be the reason she was so nervous to record it. But I like her tentative approach to the song, whether she meant it to sound that way or not. It’s endearing. She’s not belting it out like Shirley Bassey on “Goldfinger”, but singing as if she’s holding back just a little bit. A reluctant diva.

Recommended listening activity:

Purchasing an item of clothing that is way more glamorous than what you usually go for.

Buy it here.