7 Classic Spy Themes Reimagined in the ’90s

The 1960s produced countless classic spy themes, from iconic title songs to early James Bond movies to the themes from Mission: ImpossibleSecret Agent and more. The 1990s? Well, the 1990s produced a whole lot of remakes of classic spy themes, some of them actually kind of fun. Here are seven takes on spy music from the era of jam bands and electronica.

Blues Traveler: Secret Agent Man (1995)

It pains me to include an Ace Ventura: Pet Detective movie in a post about classic spy themes but it was almost inevitable that I would. Placing songs on soundtrack albums was one of the best ways to get your music into CD buyers’ hands in the nineties, so we witnessed countless unholy alliances like the one you see here: a jam band with a lead harmonica player helping sell a ridiculous Jim Carrey movie (actually, the surely dumber sequel to a ridiculous Jim Carrey movie: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls). Blues Traveler play it relatively straight here but why not? It’s a pretty perfect song as it is.

Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen Jr.: Theme from Mission: Impossible (1996)

Bono and the Edge wrote “Goldeneye” for Tina Turner to sing over the opening credits of the 1995 James Bond movie of the same name. So why couldn’t Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. — the other half of U2 — provide the theme for the launch of the Mission: Impossible movie series the following year? And why wouldn’t they recast the theme as a thumping, bass-heavy techno track? It was Clayton’s clever idea to switch from the 5/4 meter of the original version of the Lalo Schifrin theme to the more dance-friendly 4/4 in this version.

Susanna Hoffs: The Look of Love (1997)

Burt Bacharach wrote the music for the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royale, so it only made sense that Bacharach songs would feature in the 1997 James Bond spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and its 1999 sequel. For International Man of Mystery, once-and-future Bangle Susanna Hoffs gave us this cover of “The Look of Love,” written by Bacharach and Hal David and recorded by Dusty Springfield for Casino Royale. Bacharach himself would appear in the sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, both on the soundtrack and on the screen, performing his classic “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” with Elvis Costello.

David Arnold ft. Propellerheads: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1997)

When David Arnold took over scoring duties for the James Bond movies, with the 1997 entry Tomorrow Never Dies, he introduced a new kind of sound for the decades-old series: a heady mix of an orchestral style dripping with the influence of legendary Bond composer John Barry and a distinctly nineties techno beat. He used the same approach on the album Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, on which he partnered with a host of rock and electronic music artists — from Aimee Mann and Pulp to Leftfield and Propellerheads — to cover theme songs from across the Bond franchise. The Propellerheads collaboration produced this excellent version of the title theme from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Moby: James Bond Theme (Moby’s Re-Version) [1997]

MGM/United Artists really wanted a hit song for the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack. Not only did they chose a title song through a competitive process (without necessarily telling the artists they were essentially auditioning for the role), they approached electronic music artist Moby to remix the “James Bond Theme.” Moby did in fact score a U.K. Top 10 hit with the remix but says he never would have tackled the theme had the studio not asked him to do it. “Actually, in all honesty, I feel like the original is perfect, you know, the John Barry original,” he explained in a 2006 interview, “and I think that my version of the James Bond Theme, it’s OK, but it’s certainly not any way nearly as good as the original recording by John Barry.”

Orbital: Theme from The Saint (1997)

Electronica never broke through in the way record executives looking for the next big thing in the late 1990s hoped it would, but it did find a home on movie soundtracks of the day. Not least of these was the soundtrack to the 1997 Val Kilmer vehicle The Saint, based on the adventures of the fictional character Simon Templar, whose most famous incarnation was surely the 1960s British spy-thriller TV series starring a pre-007 Roger Moore. A veritable who’s who of electronica, the movie’s soundtrack included music by the likes of Moby, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld and, covering the theme from the Roger Moore series, Orbital.

Robbie Williams: Millennium (1999)

Robbie Williams’ No. 1 hit from 1999 may well be the era’s most Bond-like song that wasn’t actually a Bond song. Of course, this is mostly because he lifted the iconic opening riff from Nancy Sinatra’s theme for You Only Live Twice. The “Millennium” video, in which a cheeky Williams casts himself as an overly suave Bond-like character, also doesn’t hurt.

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