When James Bond (Agent 007) investigates the murders of three fellow agents, he soon finds himself a target, evading vicious assassins as he closes in on the powerful Kananga. Known on the streets as "Mr. Big," Kananga is coordinating a globally threatening scheme using tons of self-produced heroin. As Bond tries to unravel the mastermind's plan, he meets Solitaire, the beautiful Tarot card reader whose magical gifts are crucial to the crime lord. Bond works his own magic on her, and embarks on a series of adventures, involving voodoo, hungry crocodiles and turbo-charged speedboats. (Synopsis from Hollywood.com)
For 1973's Live and Let Die, George Martin had the unenviable task of following in John Barry's well-established footsteps—a possible double-whammy since there was now a new James Bond for the public to swallow, what with Connery's ostensibly permanent departure from the series. When Roger Moore took over the role, no one had an inkling whether television's "The Saint" would make a better showing than George Lazenby did in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Happily for Eon Productions, thanks to a focus on rapid-fire action, a continuation of the trend toward overt humor, and considerable promotion for the new Bond, Live and Let Die quickly became the biggest grossing 007 film to date.
The movie still stands as one of Moore's better efforts, due in large part to the fact that the plot and pacing remained true to the cinematic vehicles that made Connery famous. Moore had not had time to settle into the role as the (arguably) more suave, more "gentlemanly" Bond, so Live and Let Die seemed like a James Bond film, and most audiences accepted Moore far more readily than they had Lazenby. Paul McCartney & Wings performing the main title theme didn't hurt, given the band's popularity at the time. For its time, the song was unique and dynamic; very different from anything previously done in a Bond film.
One crucial point that George Martin understood, as did Barry, was that a film soundtrack need not be a cacophony of musical peaks and valleys (David Arnold take note). Virtually all of the tracks on the Live and Let Die album stand up as very listenable compositions, with a flavor contemporary to the times without crossing the line into dated pop. Like Barry—but with a very different style—Martin created unique motifs for characters and settings, mostly using bass, percussion, few strings, and a small brass and woodwind orchestra.
Nowhere is Martin in better form than with "Bond Meets Solitaire" (track three). The lyrical theme for Solitaire meshes impeccably with a low, almost ominous Bond theme, then builds to a smooth but unexpected crescendo of horns as TeeHee turns Bond's Walther PPK into a twisted hunk of useless metal. The scene is an agreeable, if slightly clumsy tribute to the scene in Goldfinger where Oddjob crushes the infamous Slazenger 7 that cost Goldfinger the golf match; Martin's soaring music is almost too exaggerated, yet it efficiently serves to make the scene memorable.
"Whisper Who Dares" begins on a pleasant note with flutes and light brass as Bond takes a ride through Manhattan on his way to meet Felix Leiter. The pace picks up with heavy horns and wah-wahing guitars as Whisper's pimp-mobile glides up beside Bond's car and dispatches the driver, forcing Bond to take the wheel from the back seat. The music clatters to a satisfying climax as Bond's sedan soars through the air and crashes down on the concrete steps of a building. "Snakes Alive" slows down the pace with a haunting, suspenseful progression that builds to the staccato opening notes of the Bond theme as he roasts a marauding viper with an improvised flame thower (an aerosol can and one of Moore's un-Bond-like cigars). But the music doesn't end there; the subsequent build-up is immediate, with a heavy sousaphone puffing belligerently away as the treacherous Rosie Carver sneaks into Bond's bungalow, only to find herself in an unexpectedly heated situation.
Like the previous Bond soundtracks, Live and Let Die includes some incidental background music, and Martin does a commendable job with "San Monique," an expertly rendered Latin theme, the orchestration of which brings to mind the sound of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It's one of my favorite cuts on the album, although in the film it is barely heard.
"Fillet of Soul—New Orleans/Live and Let Die/Fillet of Soul—Harlem" breaks the Bond soundtrack mold with its unabashed electric R&B style, and to excellent effect. It works as an atmosphere builder on the album, since—except for B. J. Arnau's energetic performance of the title song—these selections are seriously abbreviated in the film. The musical style is quite appropriate in context, and one of the album's highlights. "Just a Closer Walk With Thee/New Second Line," played during the "funerals" in New Orleans for special agents executed by Mr. Big, is an amusing piece, featured here in its entirety; on film, the orchestration is slightly different and considerably shorter.
Given the suspenseful situation that "Bond Drops In" highlights, one might expect a somewhat darker theme. However, it is light and airy, again blending the Solitaire and Bond themes, until its somewhat more ominous end. But then Martin hits us with the serious stuff: the heavy, complex structures of "If He Finds It, Kill Him" and "Trespassers Will Be Eaten," both of which have distinctive and dramatic musical flows, almost suggesting that the action was choreographed to the music—not unlike Sergio Leone's filming to Ennio Morricone's scores in his many Italian westerns.
"Sacrifice" relies on heavy percussion and low, rumbling horns and strings, punctuated by shrill woodwinds to give it a primitive, savage character; portions of it are played twice in the film, once in the pre-credit sequence where Agent Baines is killed by a snake at a "native" altar (in actuality, Dr. Kananga's execution grounds), and again when Solitaire is threatened with the same fate near the end of the movie. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the piece's rise to climax is virtually identical to the final moments of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life"; one almost expects to hear the heavy closing chord of the Beatles' song as the final spiraling notes fade away...
The concluding James Bond theme is a different orchestration than the movie's "gunbarrel" opening. This full-length version has a heavier, bassier sound with more rhythmic percussion. It's ultimately quite satisfying, providing continuity to the series but with a unique pop flair that departs somewhat from Barry's typical arrangements.
Live and Let Die is easily my favorite non-Barry Bond soundtrack. While the album does not contain all the music from the film, it is arranged better than most of the previous EMI releases, with the tracks appearing mostly in sequence with the movie, and having a commercial but agreeable cohesiveness. Martin succeeded in capturing the gritty, urban atmosphere of New York; the combination of lavish beauty and seediness of old New Orleans; and the exotic, tropical Latin flavor of the fictitious San Monique—and all the people and events therein—with the depth and aplomb of a virtuoso.
Who would expect less from the "fifth Beatle"?
Notes on the Remastered
The alternate orchestration of "San Monique" is certainly enjoyable, if somewhat less appealing than the original, having sparser instrumentation and a bouncier tempo. "Bond and Rosie" intertwines a fairly soulful rendition of the main title, a lyrical reprise of the "San Monique" motif, and a tension-filled arrangement of the Bond theme, but it comes across as less cohesive than most of Martin's background themes. "The Lovers" offers little of the emotional intensity that shines in most of the album's best tracks, yet this one in particular needs to reflect Bond and Solitaire's passionate feelings; in this regard, it seems somewhat lacking. However, the cut very appropriately ends with the little tune that Baron Samedi plays on his flute when the two encounter him in the woods. ("Good morning. It's sure going to be a beautiful day. A bee-uuu-tiful day.")
The final track, "Underground Lair," opens on an eerie note, appropriate to its graveyard setting; it then builds up to a slow, dramatic arrangement of the main title, with some of Martin's more generic action licks thrown in. It's a fitting enough conclusion to the album, and although the new music very rightly belongs on the remastered release, it doesn't merit an upgrade to a five-star rating on this page.
Bonus Tracks (Remastered Edition)
When you were young and your heart was an open book,
What does it matter to you?
You used to say live and let live.