kd lang – Surrender
Whenever a new James Bond film is on the horizon you always get endless polls with exciting names like THE ULTIMATE JAMES BOND THEME and THE NATION’S FAVOURITE BOND SONG, and not one of them ever mentions the tune we’re about to discuss – because despite being one of the greatest Bond themes, it is the great lost Bond theme.
When David Arnold was brought in to score the series for Pierce Brosnan‘s second outing as 007 in Tomorrow Never Dies, it was the cleverest decision producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had made in a long time – Goldeneye having been marred by a curiously MOR soundtrack (aside of course from Tina Turner‘s masterful title track). Arnold had effectively auditioned for the job four years earlier with Play Dead, the Björk-sung theme for the movie Young Americans, which was a Bond song in all but name. With Shaken and Stirred – a splendid album of Bond covers (which includes the definitive rendition of Moonraker, by Shara Nelson) – under his belt by the time Tomorrow Never Dies was released, he was clearly the heir-apparent to John Barry. The world (or at least the portion who cares about these things) expected great things from his first official outing – and had things gone to plan, this is what we would have got, and I’m pretty sure it would be close to topping all those polls today.
I think we can all agree that Arnold’s chosen muse kd lang absolutely nails Surrender – the song formerly known as Tomorrow Never Dies – and we can equally agree that is the most bombastic, explosive and swaggering Bond theme since 1965’s Thunderball – although it is far, far better than that. Opening with an almost deafening blast of drums and sexy, muted trumpet, it slides effortlessly into a slinky, purring verse delivered with perfectly cool authority. Now, kd lang has always done something my primary school music teacher Mrs Watson told me never, ever to do – she swoops through a note to get where she needs to be, in my opinion like a magnificent bird of prey zooming in for the kill. Mrs Watson would have disapproved terribly, but as she’s dead we won’t waste any more time considering her view. On Surrender, kd swoops like she’s never swooped before, and I honestly don’t think she’s ever sounded better – commanding, sexy and commendably threatening. When the song shifts gear for the most epic chorus 007 has ever seen, there’s not a thing I wouldn’t do if kd so demanded it; such is her power.
Surrender itself is very obviously old-school Bond – something we hadn’t had in a long time, and it was lyrically salacious in the way that only long time Bond collaborator Don Black can be (“I’ll tease and tantalise until you are mine”). For a franchise that had only just regained its mojo it was perfect for the times – and kd lang was a brilliantly maverick choice. There aren’t enough martinis in the world to send her swooning into 007’s arms, and this certainly wasn’t a theme of the “sweet James, you’re the best” variety – if anything it’s a song for the villain. I don’t know whether it was this that made the producers nervous or the fact that as a commercial proposition kd lang was more likely to do a Rita Coolidge than a Carly Simon, but somewhere along the way Sheryl Crow was quietly recruited to submit her own theme tune, and kd lang‘s was retitled and shunted rather unceremoniously to the end credits. What a rum do.
Of course Sheryl turned in rather ace effort herself, although it got a huge amount of stick at the time – thankfully it doesn’t get as much these days because we have Another Way to Die to compare it to, and even The Man with the Golden Gun sounds amazing next to that. As far as I’m aware, kd lang has remained tight-lipped about her demotion, but Arnold certainly got his own way next time around, recruiting Garbage for the almost equally brilliant The World is Not Enough.
A clever internet person has superimposed Surrender over the top of the opening sequence for Tomorrow Never Dies (I once did the same thing with the Cagney and Lacey theme over Riverdance and the results are quite spectacular), and it shows just how amazing a kd lang heralded Bond movie would have been. Though I do find this song so exciting that I forget to breathe during it, so I would probably have passed out in the cinema. Maybe it’s just as well things turned out the way they did.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Sometimes a song just belongs to someone doesn’t it? Surrender is indivisible from kd lang.