Yes, I know he wrote The Way We Were, The Entertainer from The Sting, and A Chorus Line, which, on a side note, I saw on Broadway starring Saved by the Bell‘s Mario Lopez. But Marvin Hamlisch solidified his status forever with me by writing Nobody Does It Better, the theme song from the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, with then-girlfriend and future-and-now-ex Mrs. Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager. They had to convince Cubby Broccoli, king of the Bond franchise, to let them do it since he was used to calling on John Barry or the occasional superstar like Paul McCartney for compositions. Cubby’s decision left us with the sexiest Bond of the estimable theme song canon.
Oh how I remember the opening credits while seeing the film for the first time at the drive-in as a child with the whole family as part of a James Bond triple-feature.
The opening is a whopper. I remember elation at seeing a silhouette of James Bond bouncing on what was clearly a trampoline, this coming at the height of my insane trampolining days.
Then silhouettes of lots of naked ladies whose nipples quickly won prominence on the screen. Some advanced tumbling before a smoke machine and blue lights. Bond toppling a squadron of armed, unclothed Soviet female guards with super-spy sex appeal as the only weapon required. A presumably nude gymnast doing a balance beam and then high bar routine on the barrel of 007’s gun, straddling the giant phallus as Carly Simon delivered a near-moaning rendition of the Marvin Hamlisch number.
At that age, I was more interested in idea of what I was sure had to be Roger Moore bouncing on a trampoline than eroticism in espionage films, but I knew naughty when I saw it. As usual, my parents showed no reaction or made no mention of the racy opening number, letting my brother and me sort it out for ourselves, which for me meant that Bond was supposed to be devilishly sexy, and even those Russian spies couldn’t resist him in a white tuxedo.
It was indeed a sexy song – I would argue the sexiest of all the Bond themes. I know The Man with the Golden Gun is supposed to be even raunchier, but it’s wrapped it a blunt metaphor that a child at the drive-in can’t get, and I still mostly interpret Lulu’s number as a paean to a paid assassin, or a warning, à la Shirley Bassey‘s interpretation of Anthony Newley’s Goldfinger.
There are no double-entendres to sort out in Nobody Does It Better, and Carly Simon, already a seasoned pro at seriously sensual pop music, reads it as a straightforward celebration of Bond sex. She could well have been one of the Soviet silhouettes collapsing in erotic delirium just from 007 proximity – if she had tumbling skills.
She starts off with a coo, like she’s just deflated from the most fantastic orgasm imaginable, but by the end of the song, her vocals are soaring with the orchestra. She’s still ecstatic, but slightly mournful and even desperate, for no matter how good the sex was, she knows it will never, ever be that good again.
If you listen closely at the end, you can hear her say “James,” letting us wonder if she’s thinking of 007 or her then-husband James Taylor. C’mon. Even if you’re a JT fan, you know she’s thinking of Bond.
Best to sing it sexy. Aimee Mann tried her hand at the song, but her usual detached vocals sell the song way short. I love Aimee Mann – she’s almost peerless in pessimism – but sensuality is not her strong point; sadness is. I do, however, greatly appreciate the fact that her performance prompted someone Bondy to assemble this video, which rightly features the Lotus Esprit in a road chase involving an explosive motorcycle sidecar, the renowned transformation of an auto to mini-sub, and the projectile missile that makes a perpendicular trajectory from the bottom of the sea to blow up a helicopter with a comely hitwoman at the helm. Bond excess at its best.
Yet the song isn’t bound to Bond. Radiohead performed it live and to fine effect with no mention to 007, though I believe Thom Yorke did introduce it as the sexiest song ever written. His interpretation owes plenty to Carly Simon’s. Electric guitar chords replace the strings, but it’s still sorta soft, like pillow talk that crescendos into a celebration of the apex of sex, one that he will never find again. Though he doesn’t sound quite as post-coital as Simon, he gets that the song is about stupendous screwing – with an almost outright plea for more of it.
The jazz outfit Sex Mob did an entire album of Bond-related music, Sex Mob Does Bond, including Nobody Does It Better. Here someone sets it to sexy, semi-nude ladies shimmering about, as is only appropriate for Bond themes:
Yes, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer-Sager knew how to present the familiar Bond to the audience without lyrics muddling metaphors with phallic and violent images collapsing together. Their collaboration with Carly Simon told us what we already knew but needed to hear:
James Bond is one irresistible fuck.
Marvin Hamlisch, this was your lasting gift to the world, or at least to Raúl.