We continue to move on with our reviews. This week, we are tackling the song, A View to a Kill. As we all know, this song was written for the James Bond movie with the same name. Commercially, this song did very well as it hit the top of the charts. Do we think it deserved this success or could it have been better? Read and find out!
Musicality/Instrumentation: The one thing that has always struck me about this particular song is how well elements of the original Bond theme were woven throughout this song. It’s not as though it’s an in-your-face copy of the James Bond theme, and perhaps you wouldn’t even notice or recognize it if you weren’t listening for them, but there are elements layered throughout the song as part of the supporting framework. The instrumentation seems to be that that not any one instrument has the highlight for any extended period of time. The band used the guitar as more of a rhythm guitar than a straight-up lead-which has always been typical of the band, you can hear the intricate bass line just underneath, synth is used for atmospheric effect and for the loud accents in the chorus, the drums are there but have a slight mute effect to them so they aren’t at the top of the mix.
Vocals: When I listen to this song, I have to wonder why it was written so closely to the top of Simon’s vocal range during the chorus. You can hear the strain even in this studio recording, which has the advantage of technology to fix. Things you wonder…. But as I sit and listen, as much as I think the song could have been written in a different key, I appreciate the inflection in Simon’s vocals between verses and chorus. I don’t know how many fans really recognize the talent Simon has for setting the tone with his vocals. And, if anyone wants a good example: listen to this song and then go and listen to any song by the band Offspring. Then you go thank Simon for bringing a little emotion to his vocals.
Lyrics: The one thing I can say about lyrics in this case is that I have no idea what they’re about…but they definitely sound James Bond-ish. “Dance into the fire, that fatal kiss is all we need.” It conjures up images of mystery, spies, and all the goodness that is Bond. Unlike every other Duran song, I’ve never really sat and tried to understand the lyrics to this one. I suppose I’ve always immediately attributed them to the Bond movie and left them at that.
Overall: I think that the source of pride in this song is that it’s a Bond theme, and the only one, that went to #1. It gets regular play at gigs, and at this point I think it sounds incredibly tired live. When you’re standing in the audience for this one, you can feel the energy getting sucked out of the room – and to me it feels very much like the obligatory “We have to play it because it went to #1”. Here’s the deal band: “You don’t have to play ANYTHING. It’s YOUR gig. Play what you want. You’ve got a huge catalog. USE IT.” So what if people don’t hear this song?? They can come back to another show when you do want to play it and hear it with much more energy. Our review though, should be shaped solely by the album version. I think that the more significant problems I hear for this song lie in the vocals, but I blame instrumentation for that as well. The song was written so that the chorus is just barely within (or outside) Simon’s range. You can hear it even in the album version (even though it has been auto-tuned), and it’s not a case where Simon’s voice is straining for effect. It’s poorly written in that regard, and I suspect much of that was due to internal friction and inflexibility. If there was ever a sign of times to come, you need look no further than the music. The innovation is there, the ingenuity with using elements of the Bond theme throughout really works well, but the vocals really draw my attention and I realize that all was not necessarily well within the band.
Cocktail Rating: Three cocktails!
Musicality/Instrumentation: I loved this song as a kid. Who didn’t love this song in 1985? I loved the brash, catch-your-attention beginning. I loved the pounding, in-your-face keyboards. I loved that the keyboards were so clear that it seemed you could play each note and chord along with Nick on your air keyboard (strangely enough, that doesn’t have the same ring as air guitar!). Then, of course, the guitars are noticeable along with the drums that lay that foundation. That said, Nick’s keyboards are in the spotlight, regularly. It feels like they work to remind us all that this was for a movie and not just any movie but for James Bond. The chorus is worthy of note as it is full of everything from bass, keyboards, horns, etc. To say that it is full of sound is an understatement. When I was young, it seemed so lively, so full of energy. Now, I almost wonder if there isn’t too much, on one level, and not enough on another. I’ll explain. When I listen closely, it feels like too much. Too loud. Yet, live, lately, to me, it has felt tired. The band does not seem to have much energy when they play it. It has gone in the opposite direction of Wild Boys, in my opinion. Wild Boys seems to always get people excited live and A View to a Kill feels like a yawn.
Vocals: *sigh* My comments regarding the vocals of this song won’t come as a surprise. Frankly, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw Duran’s performance of this song during Live Aid in 1985. Simon’s vocals here make me nervous. More specifically, the range of his vocals make me nervous. While Simon doesn’t have many “bum” notes, he obviously did that infamous day and I always think that he could again every single time I hear this song. It always me hold my breath a little. The only time I have felt comfortable with the vocals is when they have done the song in combination with the b-side, That Fatal Kiss. During those times, it starts off slower and at a lower range. Perhaps, my nervousness over the vocals has had great affect on my enjoyment of this song, especially live.
Lyrics: One of my favorite introductions to any song is when Nick introduced this song on VH1’s Storytellers. In his introduction, he said how appreciative they were that they got a title like “A View to a Kill” to work with as opposed to Octopussy. Thus, they had something decent to start from. How did they do? The lyrics definitely have a Duran spin to them, including lines like: “That fatal kiss” and “Dance into the fire” during the chorus. I think Simon wrote the best lyrics that he could for a situation where he has to write something to fit a title. That said, the lyrics don’t speak to me in any way. They don’t make me think or feel something. Perhaps, because the song is tied to a movie, they shouldn’t. Nonetheless, this is the measure I use to determine the greatness of lyrics.
Overall: I want to love this song. It brings me back to a pivotal summer in my childhood. It reminds me that Duran had huge chart success and made one memorable Bond song. I like it but it isn’t one that I love. Those vocals make me nervous and the instrumentation feels too much to me. Instead of the song gaining energy live, it always feels lifeless to me and I always wonder the same thing. “I wonder if they only play this one because it was a number one and they think that they have to play it.” It has become a song that I stop jamming out and take pictures. I have wondered if part of the problem was the co-writing of John Barry, but I don’t think so. Is it over production? Maybe that enters the picture somewhat. After all, one of my criticisms is that the wall of sound coming at me is a bit overwhelming. Perhaps, it is the focus on matching the Bond spirit.
Cocktail Rating: 2.5 cocktails!