Soundtracks from blockbuster movies often turn into top selling records and radio hits. “Thunderball” (1965) was the fourth of the classic James Bond films — released back when Sean Connery was cast as Agent 007. The song by the same name, as recorded by Welsh singer Tom Jones, became a No. 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in Jan. 1966. Ultimately it spent 12 weeks on the chart. However, that movie soundtrack, and especially so the main theme, went through a tumultuous evolutionary process prior to its international success.
Shirley Bassey, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with short intro. Run time – 2:25
Dionne Warwick, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, with long intro. Run time – 3:02
At this point, it would be remiss to leave out that another major recording artist opted for this same soundtrack recording. The man in black, Johnny Cash, submitted a version of “Thunderball” and the lyrics were written to “describe the film’s storyline.” The producers rejected Cash’s entry in the competition. This editor considered his offering interesting from a historical standpoint, but I can see why the producers weren’t in love with it. We all know that James Bond was an urbane and sexy spy in a modern and rapidly changing world. Yet, at least to me, Cash’s “Thunderball” reminds me of a western theme, reminiscent of his famous intro for the TV show “The Rebel – Johnny Yuma.”
Johnny Cash, Thunderball. Run time – 2:52
With lots of song choices, but none that were usable for one reason or another, composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black, in a hurried rush, wrote another version of “Thunderball.” In the meantime, producers had demanded that th lyrics must include the word “Thunderball.” In the end, their song worked: It was exciting and Tom Jones made it a hit. The rumor is that Jones fainted during the recording session — right after he sang the final high note. Jones is quoted as saying, “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”
There you have it: The story of how Tom Jones aced out Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, and Johnny Cash and earned himself a Top 10 soundtrack/radio hit with his vocal styling of “Thunderball.”
The accompanying “Found Performance” video was filmed in 1987 at Casteel Coch, which is a gothic castle in South Wales. The video intro salutes one of the great Pacific Northwest Top 40 radio stations of the sixties. If you were tuning your AM radio to KISN in Portland, Oregon in January 1966, you might have heard something that sounded much like this.