Motivic Connections in James Bond Title Themes

I've been talking a lot about motivic connections in King Crimson lately, so I thought I'd take a minute to point them out in a more unusual context: the title songs for the three Daniel Craig James Bond movies. These songs are very tightly linked in ways you may not have noticed. In case you haven't seen the films, here are the title sequences from all three films:

Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' from 'Casino Royale' (2006):

'Another Way to Die' by Jack White and Alicia Keys from 'Quantum of Solace' (2008):

And finally, Adele's 'Skyfall' from the film of the same name (2012):

All three of these songs are at roughly the same tempo. 'You Know May Name' is =138bpm, 'Another Way to Die is =142bpm, and 'Skyfall' is =139bpm. The original Bond theme was at =140bpm, so these tempo similarities are clearly an intentional reference back to the original theme.

All three of the Craig-era title songs are also based around the same basic chord progression: the minor key progression i - VI - iv, with the first two chords each taking a bar and the third chord taking two bars. In 'You Know My Name', this progression forms the basis of the intro and the chorus (though the rhythm is different in the intro). In the other two songs, it appears in the verse.

This chord progression does not appear in the original Bond theme - I believe it is unique to the Craig films. As a reminder, here's the original Bond theme, composed by Monty Norman:

The accompaniment for the classic theme is constructed from three consecutive chromatic notes - B, C, C#, and a repeated C, each lasting a half note. In the song's key of E minor, B is the fifth, C is the sixth, and C# is the raised sixth. This theme has become iconic, so it's unsurprising that it's referenced in the Craig era songs.

'You Know My Name' is in B minor, so in this key, that accompaniment theme is F#, G, G#, G. Unsurpringly, the first three notes in Cornell's vocal melody in the chorus are F#, G and G#, so the old theme is immediately evoked - but it never goes back down to G, so it remains subtle. The rest of the chorus melody plays with the fifth B-F# (scale degrees 1 and 5) quite a bit.

Adele plays with our expectations a little more in 'Skyfall', which is a half step up, in C minor (so the accompaniment theme is G-G#-A-G#). The guitar part in the first verse emphasizes the notes G, D#, A, D# in the same half note rhythm as the Bond accompaniment - this evokes the original theme, but avoids outright playing it, replacing every instance of the G# with a D# a fourth below. Her chorus melody begins with the same 1-5 melodic leap that is used extensively in the chorus of Cornell's song (C-G). If the i-VI-iv connection in the verses hinted at a connection with the title song from the first Craig-era Bond film, this solidifies it. She then expands the interval to 1-6 (C-G#), and thus the melody on 'Skyfall, Crumbles' emphasizes G and G#, setting us up to expect an A to follow, just like in the classic Bond theme. Instead, she overshoots the note by a minor third and goes to C, then quickly down to F, subverting our expectations and merely hinting at the theme for the second time in the song.

The second verse finally fulfills our expectations by immediately stating the full G-G#-A-G# theme for the first time in any of the Craig Bond title songs (since even Cornell's song only contains the first three notes and doesn't go back down to the sixth). As in Cornell's song, the theme is played over the i-VI-iv progression, and it continues throughout the entire second verse.

This theme doesn't show up in 'Another Way to Die', but this isn't the only part of the original Bond theme that these songs reference. Let's take a look at the B section of the original Bond theme, from 40 seconds in. Here's the start of the melody:

Pay special attention to the first four notes. The first two notes are an ascending minor third, and the next two are a descending minor second. There is also syncopation here, as the third eighth note beat is silent. Now take a look at the main lick from the bridge of 'Another Way to Die' (first appears at 2:18):

The first two notes are an ascending minor third, and the next two are a descending minor second. The interval between the two sets of two notes is different, but those intervals alone are enough to evoke the original theme.

The syncopation from this theme also appears in the opening guitar lick to 'You Know My Name' - the first five eighth notes follow the same rhythm (the third eighth note is a rest). This two-bar phrase also ends similiarly, holding a note for the last three beats of the second bar.

Instead of following the more varied rhythms of its source material, this guitar lick continues to play with the syncopation and groupings of three only hinted at for a second in the original theme. This lick can also be seen as a diatonic expansion of the chromatic lick from the opening theme: it emphasizes B, C#, D, C# - the same contour as the accompaniment theme lick. In that sense, it can be seen as a combination of two different parts of the original theme - but that could just be reading too far into it.

'Another Way to Die' has a similar opening guitar lick, which clearly references the 'You Know My Name' variation:

Both licks are phrased in groups of three 8th notes (until the final note of the fourth group of three is held as a dotted quarter). Both are also largely based around a group of three consecutive diatonic notes, a whole step followed by a half step (B-C#-D in Cornell's song, E-F#-G in White/Keys). In this manner, 'Another Way to Die' immediately invokes 'You Know My Name', and the connection is only made stronger when we get to the verse and hear the i-VI-iv progression in the same key (B minor), tempo that it appeared in Cornell's song, and following the same rhythm.

I'm not sure who is responsible for these connections, since all three of these songs were written and produced by different people - but regardless of who is behind it, these tracks demonstrate that even mainstream pop songwriting can play with motivic connections in a clever, fun, and possibly even artsy way.

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