'The Sound of 007': Mat Whitecross shares how his salute to James Bond music was born
The Sound of 007 director Mat Whitecross knew the music of James Bond before he even knew Ian Fleming’s icy yet debonair MI6 agent even existed.
“My dad used to sing this tune when reading to me in bed," the documentary maker tells Yahoo. "I thought it was a little tune he had made up but it turned out to be the James Bond theme.”
Like millions of people all over the world, the acclaimed filmmaker’s life on planet Earth has been soundtracked by Monty Norman’s dramatically sinister guitar riff but now it’s fell to him to tell the storied history of the music behind Bond who celebrates the 60th anniversary of his film debut this week.
The Sound of 007 is an ambitious (if pithy at 88 minutes long) and riveting dive into the music that has dominated cinema for six decades.
Read more: Every James Bond theme ranked
From the original theme to the classics from the likes of Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey to a reappraisal of the divisive themes by Garbage and Jack White, Whitecross’ documentary is the first such film to really wrestle into how music makes Bond tick.
Watch a trailer for The Sound of 007
And it couldn’t be in better hands. An eclectic filmmaker who’s work spans documentary and fiction, Whitecross has unintentionally become symbiotic with the music film.
His feature debut Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was a brilliantly uninhibited look at the life of Ian Drury, he’s directed music videos for Coldplay, The Rolling Stones and Take That and Supersonic achieved the impossible in having something insightful to say about Oasis. But Whitecross thought he’d turned his back on making music films when he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I was working on this Paralympics documentary with John Battsek who knows Barbara Broccoli because they made a documentary [about Bond] a few years ago called Everything or Nothing and he said to me ‘they know they don’t have big official Bond film for the 60th anniversary but they want to do something',” says Whitecross of how he came to direct The Sound of 007.
Though he had an initially positive meeting with Eon, he heard nothing back and simply thought another party had secured the gig. Then came a phone call when production for No Time to Die was getting into full swing.
Read more: The James Bond movies ranked
“They rang up and were like ‘so what we doing about this documentary then?’. We threw a lot of ideas around but the one everybody liked the most was the one about the music as it had never been done before and certainly not officially with this level of access. I’ve done a few music docs and each time I do one I say to myself that’s it now because I don’t want to get pigeonholed but I couldn’t turn this down.”
Despite salivating at the idea of being given access to the full Bond archive which included over 7,000 video tapes, the logistical challenges of putting together The Sound of 007 were huge. Such is the nature of documenting events from the past 60 years, not all of the parties involved are still around and many of those that are were rightfully spooked by COVID but Whitecross still hurdled onwards.
The result is a treasure trove for Bond nerds and newcomers alike. Even the hardcore fans will find tidbits of information they might not have heard before – most notably that Michael Caine was the first person to hear 'Goldfinger' while staying over at John Barry’s house because Terence Stamp was bringing too many girls home or that Amy Winehouse was originally scheduled to sing the theme for Quantum of Solace before her drug addiction worsened.
Read more: How the James Bond actors shaped the role
It’s also a proper salute to the greatness of so much of the Bond music and its role in enduring popularity of the character.
The Sound of 007 does float the idea of what is the best Bond theme with 'Nobody Does it Better' by Carly Simon being a popular choice but Whitecross veers in a different direction. With the question put to him, he’s pretty firm that his answer is 'We Have All the Time in the World' by Louis Armstrong — recorded for 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service — but has a lot of time for some of the more unpopular choices too.
“I love the Jack White song ['Another Way To Die' for Quantum of Solace]. I love what Chris Cornell did ['You Know My Name' for Casino Royale]. It’s funny when you talk to different people and they go this one doesn’t work but then someone else loves it.
"I met with Lulu and she talked about how she thought they dropped the ball with 'The Man with the Golden Gun' but that’s my kids’ favourite. She sang it down the phone to them which was pretty amazing.”
In many ways, Whitecross has been building to The Sound of 007 across his whole life and career. In 2014, he directed Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, a mini-series starring Dominic Cooper as the iconic author but in a story that will resonate with many, Bond also echoes memories of family.
“I used to sit down on bank holidays with my dad and watch Bond, and it was Roger Moore then but my dad thought they were unwatchable. In his mind Sean Connery was the true Bond but to us Moore was the best because he was funny and wasn’t quite as scary. We grew up on those films,” he says.”
It’s a love he’s found himself passing onto his children: “A lot of films that meant a lot to you as a kid don’t necessarily resonate with you as an adult but then you rediscover them through your children. So we’ve been watching the Bonds with our girls and they become a part of your DNA and you don’t even realise it.
"And now when I read them stories at night I do the James Bond theme just like my dad used to.” It’s a passion that’s clearly imbued in every frame of the film.
The Sound of 007 documentary, The Sound of 007: LIVE from the Royal Albert Hall, and the 25 James Bond films are available on Prime Video now.
Watch Barbara Broccoli talk about Amy Winehouse's unmade Bond song