Here’s a classic James Bond trivia question: which band was originally asked to record the title tune for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, ultimately sung by Sheena Easton?
The answer, as tragics like me know all too well, is New York new wave demigods Blondie.
Rejected Bond songs with matching titles aren’t unusual. In his comprehensive book The Music Of James Bond, Jon Burlingame notes some other key examples:
- Thunderball (rejected versions by Johnny Cash and Lionel Bart, as odd a combo as you’ll ever hope to find)
- The Man With The Golden Gun (Alice Cooper)
- You Only Live Twice (Lorraine Chandler)
- GoldenEye (Ace Of Base)
Occasionally, a rejected Bond theme ends up being used over the end credits instead. That’s what happened with KD Lang’s excellent ‘Surrender’, which was originally going to be the title theme for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. You can even find echoes of the song in David Arnold’s score for the film.
What’s unusual in Blondie’s case is that while the song was never commercially linked with the movie in any way, the band went ahead and released it regardless a year later. It was track #4 on their 1982 album The Hunter. Have a listen.
There are evident Bond flourishes aplenty, most notably with the echoing guitars and the spy allusions in the lyrics.
This leads to two obvious questions:
- Why did Blondie’s original theme get rejected?
- Why did the band then open itself up to criticism by releasing a track that hadn’t been deemed good enough by the Bond franchise?
It also leads to a perhaps less obvious and broader question: how much of a flop was the whole Hunter project at the time?
The modern consensus is that The Hunter was a dud, the last gasp of breath for a dysfunctional band before Blondie broke up the same year. It would be a full 17 years until the group returned with a much more successful project, 1999’s No Exit (which included the UK#1 single ‘Maria’).
Wikipedia dismisses the whole album as “a disappointment, both critically and commercially”. AllMusic is similarly disdainful:
The Hunter was only made because they still owed Chrysalis an album on their contract, and it sounds like the obligatory record it was.
But did people really think that back in 1982, rather than with the benefit of hindsight? Let’s investigate.
Blondie’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’: The complete history
Despite scoring multiple megahits in 1980 (‘Call Me’, ‘The Tide Is High’ and ‘Rapture’) Blondie was not really active as a band in 1981. Debbie Harry released her solo album KooKoo, a commercial fizzer that’s now largely remembered for the HR Giger artwork and production work by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic.
Jimmy Destri also produced a solo disc, Heart On A Wall. To fill the Blondie-shaped gap, Chrysalis released the first of what would prove to be many band compilations, The Best Of Blondie.
Personal friction was, as ever, high. Guitarist Frank Infante took the unusual step suing the group to remain a member (litigation was a constant theme in Blondie’s history).
The band didn’t fully reconvene until December 1981 to begin work on The Hunter, and most of the recording happened in January and February 1982, according to contemporary press releases promoting the project.
But while Blondie was being lazy in 1981, production was winding up on For Your Eyes Only, the 12th James Bond flick, which had started filming the previous year.
A key element in every Bond film is the music. On For Your Eyes Only, that was handled by Bill Conti, best known then for his work on the Rocky films. As well as scoring the flick, Conti wrote a theme tune, with lyrics provided by Mick Leeson.
But who would sing it? By this point, the notion that the prototypical Bond theme required a female vocalist was well-established. Conti contemplated Donna Summer and Dusty Springfield when composing the song. But from a commercial point of view, Blondie was a more obvious contender than either of those performers.
The band had a freshly established movie theme pedigree. ‘Call Me’, from Richard Gere’s career-defining flick American Gigolo, had topped the charts in the UK and the US the previous year.
So the producers approached Blondie and asked if they would sing the title theme. And that’s when the problems started.
“They just wanted me to sing on their track,” Harry recalled years later for the 2006 TV special James Bond’s Greatest Hits . But despite a long history of cover versions (‘Denis’, ‘The Tide Is High’, ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’), that idea didn’t appeal to the band.
Tellingly, for ‘Call Me’ Giorgio Moroder wrote the music and produced, while Harry wrote the lyrics. Perhaps mindful of the royalties that accrued, the band wasn’t keen just to sing someone else’s tune. Instead, it proposed its own composition, written (like many a Blondie number) by Harry and then-partner Chris Stein. Harry explained for the TV special:
But the producers preferred Conti’s song, not least because the theme was also being used elsewhere on the score, and didn’t want to consider alternatives. So Blondie were quickly out of the picture.
Ultimately, Conti worked with Sheena Easton, then a rising star whose ‘Morning Train (9 To 5)’ had just topped the US charts. Production on the track was completed on 24 April 1981, according to Burlingame’s book.
Choosing Easton proved a wise move commercially and critically, with the song hitting #4 in the US , #8 in the UK and #6 in Australia. Uniquely amongst Bond theme vocalists, Easton actually appeared in the title sequence for the film. (Madonna had a cameo as a fencing instructor in Die Another Day and also sang the theme, but didn’t appear in the opening credits.)
The song earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, and scored a memorable performance at the 1982 Oscars ceremony.
This means that Blondie’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’ likely existed at least in demo form by April 1981. That makes it almost certainly the first track actually worked on for The Hunter, even though that album wasn’t released until 24 May 1982, more than a year later.
Why was the song still used, given that it been specifically created for the Bond movie? The cynical but likely answer is that by the time work on the album started, the band needed every song it could get.
When The Hunter has been re-released on CD, the only bonus track has been an extended mix of second single ‘War Child’. There aren’t any extant demos or B-sides.
Blondie’s previous album, 1980’s Autoamerican, had performed well but included several deeply experimental tracks, which seems to have made the label nervous. As drummer Clem Burke noted cynically in a September 1982 interview with Jim Green for Trouser Press:
When we were beginning The Hunter, [the record company] said, ‘Well, we hope this isn’t another album like Autoamerican.’ What do you mean, you hope there’s not gonna be two number one singles on the album?
Given those circumstances, more esoteric tracks weren’t likely to be submitted. And that meant there was a limited group of songs to choose from when The Hunter was being assembled.
Hence “an unwanted James Bond theme” (as producer Mike Chapman described the track in 2001 CD liner notes) made the cut.
It’s worth pointing out that on release, Blondie’s label went out of its way to refute any association with the Bond franchise. Reviewing The Hunter on 29 August 1982, Arizona Daily Star journalist John Hancock notes he actually asked if the song had been pitched for the movie:
‘For Your Eyes Only’ appears to have been a contender for the James Bond flick of the same name, complete with classic secret agent guitar riffs. But a representative of Chrysalis Records insists the movie came out first.
Denial might have seemed wise at the time, but even then it came across as disingenuous. As Hancock continued, “If so, why would Blondie try (and fail) to outdo Sheena Easton’s marvellous theme?”
Anyway, that leads us handily back to our second big question: was The Hunter really such a critical flop generally as we’ve since been led to believe? Looking at the evidence, I don’t think so.
Did critics really hate Blondie’s The Hunter in 1982?
The very first review of The Hunter I’ve been able to find is from The New York Times on 19 May 1982, a week before the album’s release. Reviewer Robert Palmer (no, not the ‘Addicted To Love’ singer) offers a review that’s incredibly positive, especially considering the modern conclusion that the record was an immediate flop.
Musically, The Hunter may be Blondie’s finest album, and it’s certainly the group’s richest and most confident work since Parallel Lines, the album that made the group international stars almost five years ago . . . There are more lyrical and musical ideas here than on the last two Blondie albums, and there aren’t any of the wayward experiments that made Autoamerican so difficult to listen to all the way through. The Hunter is a first-rate American pop group doing what it does best – making popular music that conceals provocative substance just beneath its polished, shimmering surface.
Writing for Creem in August 1982, Toby Goldstein was similarly enthused, noting that “the album blends Blondie’s rhythmic adventurousness with enough traditional pop devices to keep the purists happy”.
Neither Palmer or Goldstein single out ‘For Your Eyes Only’ for special mention. However, some of the more positive contemporary reviewers did.
Writing in the Boston Globe on 1 July 1982, Bill Flanagan describes the album as “enjoyable” and “fresh sounding”. “Anything Blondie touches turns to pop, and this time they’ve touched African and Caribbean rhythms, lightly, and with surprising success . . . the album finally holds together so well because Blondie is playing better than ever. We no longer have the sense of musicians assembled, arranged, and carefully corrected in the studio.”
Amidst this gush of general enthusiasm, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ rates singling out:
The band’s fascination with the fashions of the early ’60s, obvious from the calypso musical-comedy sound of ‘Island of Lost Souls’ to the almost camp arrangement of ‘For Your Eyes Only’, is addressed directly in ‘English Boys’, a sad ballad about that magical lost world.
And again we have George Kanzler from Newshouse enthusing over the album overall and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ in particular (quoted text from The Chapel Hill News, 13 June 1982):
The Hunter, the group’s new album, is their most cohesively eclectic and artistically best . . . ‘For Your Eyes Only’ is a clever reflection on the lack of honesty in personal relationships couched in the terms of James Bond – and other – movies. Film buffs should have fun with the organ and guitar riffs.
I’m not saying everyone thought The Hunter was brilliant. There are plenty of reviews that treat it like smoking hot garbage. Here’s what Smash Hits in the UK had to say about it in a review from its 27 May 1982 issue (that date also means reviewer Dave Rimmer heard the record ahead of release and wasn’t just piling onto a notable flop):
A subdued one, this. Blondie were never renowned for their risk-taking and after Debbie Harry’s extremely rickety solo bash went down like a lead balloon, this finds them ploughing the safest ground possible. The new songs are as light as ‘Sunday Girl’ or ‘Union City’ but never as hard-edged as ‘Rapture’ or ‘Hanging On The Telephone’. Only the chugging ‘Orchid Club’ and the oddball ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’ stand tall and proud. (5 out of 10)(review text thanks to the now-defunct Rip Her To Shreds archive)
Legendary rock critic Robert Christgau also aimed his terse vitriol straight to the heart:
This is a lousy record by any standard–the pop, the eclectic, even the arty. That Debbie is writing all the lyrics is only symptomatic–the tragedy is that of an absorptive, synthetic talent trying to find its essence.
Interestingly, several reviewers thought ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was a highlight in an otherwise dud collection.
In the Los Angeles Times for 11 July 1982, Richard Cromelin goes straight for the jugular: “This music has all the inspiration and rapport you’d expect from a band whose guitarist sued the group to keep himself in the lineup.” (I wish I’d written that). But he thinks ‘Eyes’ is a rare high point:
‘For Your Eyes Only’ is closer to Blondie’s early music: simple, tuneful pop with a ’60s slant, highlighted by delicately braided vocal overdubs.
That was also the case for John Hancock at the Arizona Star, the very same journalist who Chrysalis told that there wasn’t a Bond connection. Hancock is brutal in his assessment of the album overall:
This, [Blondie’s] sixth album (if you don’t count rehashes, Deborah Harry solos and European versions) is tired, contrived and shallow.
He identifies just two tracks as “listenable”: the first single ‘Island Of Lost Souls’, and ‘For Your Eyes Only’.
But even a hater like Hancock didn’t think this meant the end of Blondie.
Perhaps if The Hunter is as unsuccessful as it deserves to be, it will shock Blondie into re-evaluating itself and producing good, exciting music once again.
Following the same formula, Len Righi at the Morning Call on 19 June 1982 notes that “Debbie’s generally awkward lyrics and so- so vocalizing rob these songs of their charm”, but says that “the pop songs ‘English Boys’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’ also click”.
Reviewers rarely agree. Others singled out ‘For Your Eyes Only’ as a weaker track. Here’s what Wayne Robins from Newsday wrote (20 June 1982):
Among the easy-to-avoid songs are ‘Dragonfly’, which hides behind trite science-fiction jargon, and For Your Eyes Only, which not only borrows a James Bond movie title, but evokes Bond movie theme music: Harry sounds like a computerized cross between Shirley Bassey and Sheena Easton.
Those who did note the track were, unsurprisingly, likely to highlight the potential Bond connection, even if they didn’t actually investigate it. Syndicated music writer Michael Lawson commented in the Sun Times of 4 June 1982:
The Stein Harry collaboration ‘For Your Eyes Only’ has only its name in common with the Sheena Easton hit, title tune of the recent James Bond film. Blondie’s Eyes can’t claim similar quality.
(Lawson also nastily comments that The Hunter is “an album that generally confines its quality to the cover graphic”.)
In similar vein, here’s Bill Robertson in the Star-Phoenix for 19 June 1982:
‘For Your Eyes Only’ plays with spy stories in cliche (We both have our orders; The subject was roses).
Warren Gerds from Gannet News Service was even more dismissive (text quoted from the Lafayette Journal And Courier 15 August 1982):
The pits: ‘For Your Eyes Only.’ Notice it is the same title as the James Bond movie theme song. It raises a question: Was it a candidate for the movie theme song? If it was, the movie producers made the right choice. This one is a clinker.
So what have we learned?
- Blondie definitely did record ‘For Your Eyes Only’ for potential use in the James Bond film (which is widely known), but essentially denied it at the time (which is much less widely known).
- Critical reaction to ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and The Hunter was a lot more diverse in 1982 than we’ve subsequently assumed. It wasn’t universally loved, but it certainly wasn’t universally dismissed.
- In short: Hindsight can be dangerous.
Blondie’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’: The drag connection
A final bizarre footnote of enthusiasm for the song that I unearthed while researching this story. It turns out that ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was used in a successful high school drag beauty pageant way back in 1982. Given the current ludicrous attacks on drag performances by transphobic US legislators, the tale has a fresh relevance – especially given that one of the judges was a Republican.
Here’s the story, direct from the Idaho Statesman of 15 November 1982, where it made the front page.
Mr. Parma High – sexy in an evening gown
By DEBBY ABE
Billy “Babette” McCarty learned what it’s like to be beautiful, sexy and female when he was named winner of a beauty pageant at Parma High School this weekend.
The 16-year-old Parma High junior prevailed over seven other male students in evening gown, talent, daytime dress and interviewing categories to win the title of “Mr. PHS” on Saturday night.
“Everybody said I looked like a woman,” McCarty said shyly in a phone interview Sunday. “Yeah, I looked pretty.”
McCarty dazzled the crowd of several hundred parents, community members and students with his pantomime of Debbie Harry of the rock group Blondie in the talent portion of the show, according to Shari Webster, a pageant organizer.
Dressed in a black skirt and a black and silver, low- cut, tight-fitting top that held in his balloon-padded chest, McCarty held a make-believe mike and lip-synched his way through For Your Eyes Only, a recent Blondie release.
“His act was really well done,” Webster said. “I don’t know how he did it, but at the end of the song, he kicked off his shoes and did the splits.”
In daytime dress competition, McCarty, whose stage name was “Babette,” modeled his mother’s green velvet skirt and blazer. Although most of McCarty’s friends thought his acts were funny, his girlfriend was a bit embarrassed, he conceded.
“She didn’t like me lifting up my dress to show off my garter,” McCarty said.
In evening gown competition, McCarty wore an elegant, light blue dress with flounces at the bottom edge and shoulders. He covered his punk haircut with an auburn, shoulder-length wig (his mother’s) and had his face made up, complete with false eyelashes, by two female friends.
McCarty, at 5 foot 4 and 120 pounds, said he was pleased at winning the title and its accompanying prize of $40. Community members, including Rep. Skip Smyser, R-Parma, served as judges.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I wanted to. It (dressing as a woman) wasn’t too bad -I wasn’t embarrased. I’d do it again,” McCarty said.
First runner-up and winner of $25 was Terry (Cherry) Reynolds, 16, Parma, and second runner-up and winner of $10 was Shawn (Sunshine) Frisby, 16, Parma.
The second annual pageant, sponsored by the Office Education Association, raised $353, said Webster, who is adviser to the high school club. The money will be used to supplement other fund- raisers to support an 11-year-old Indochinese; to help pay medical bills for Parma High School senior Laura Haughton, who has leukemia; and to help former Ugandan exchange student Lucy Kobusingyee return to the United States.
Webster said that overall the show went well. The audience particularly enjoyed the talent show, which had boys performing a variety of acts from “roller- skating onto the stage as Linda Ronstadt” to donning a tutu and doing a gymnastics routine.
“We did have one disaster, though,” Webster said. “Billy’s wig flew off in one of the acts.”