A Previously Lost Version Of The James Bond Theme May Have Been Found, Thanks To The Power Of The Internet

Timothy Dalton being stared down by Benecio del Toro in Licence To Kill.
(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

Lost media is a tale of woe that touches pretty much every major franchise. Fans of the James Bond movies were reminded of this fact rather recently, as the subject of a lost version of the franchise’s iconic theme song resurfaced in the news. The reason for this was because a version of the 007 theme, featuring none other than legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, has apparently been found. Let’s take a closer look at what may be a resurfaced piece of James Bond history.

Timothy Dalton stands surprised in Licence To Kill.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

The Story Behind Licence To Kill’s Lost James Bond Theme

This entire caper starts with late composer Michael Kamen, the man hired to give 1989’s Licence To Kill its score. After John Barry had retired from the James Bond franchise, Kamen’s skills were recruited to keep evolving Timothy Dalton’s Bond. It was a shrewd move, as around that point in time, Kamen’s work was also being heard in another huge franchise: the Lethal Weapon film series

Working with Eric Clapton as a co-composer and performer on the Warner Bros.-handled series, the pair would enlist James Bond guitar legend Vic Flick to record a version of the theme for Licence To Kill. As the man who played lead guitar on Dr. No’s introduction to Monte Norman’s iconic theme, this sounded like 007 history in the making. In an interview with GuitarPlayer, Flick spun the story about this recording, starting with his recollection of landing the gig: 

Yes. A guy called me from the studios in South London to do a couple of hours work on the title. When I arrived, there were a few guys with suits. I said, ‘What the hell is all this about?’ There was also Eric Clapton and conductor/composer Michael Kamen. We video-recorded it twice in an apartment on the River Thames.

Not only were we deprived of a tune that, according to The Guardian, was supposed to really sell the harder edge of Timothy Dalton’s Bond, but there was a video to go along with it! Unfortunately, both would be lost to the sands of time, partially because of the decision to go another way with the movie’s title track. Vic Flick filled the world in on that part as follows: 

I eventually phoned: ‘What’s happening about my being a star?’ Kamen said, ‘Sorry Vic. That’s all off. You’re not going to believe this. Gladys Knight and the Pips are doing it.’ Nobody else has heard our recording. It’s something everybody’s been searching for. The two cassettes have disappeared. That would be like finding the Holy Grail.

The man wasn’t wrong about labeling this as a Holy Grail-worthy find. Fans have been searching for some time, only for a big break to finally arrive. One has to wonder if Vic Flick has even heard this supposedly resurfaced track, because that’s exactly what some are claiming has happened in the past couple of weeks. 

Timothy Dalton and Carey Lowell sit in front of stacks of betting plaques in Licence To Kill.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

How Eric Clapton’s James Bond Theme Supposedly Resurfaced

In its own account of the story surrounding Licence To Kill’s lost theme, a new development was reported by James Bond fansite MI6-HQ. Allegedly an uploader had not only found the audio to the alternate theme with Eric Clapton and Vic Flick, but they released it into the wild. The bad news is that not too long after it was uploaded to SoundCloud, the song seemed to disappear. 

However, the people of the internet don’t let things like lost media die easily; as the song resurfaced at Archive.org. You’ll want to take a listen to that track for yourself, as it’s going to be key to the next piece of our discussion. While some are convinced that Licence To Kill’s supposedly lost theme isn’t legit, evidence seems to stand contrary to those claims.

Robert Davi sits thinking on a couch in Licence To Kill.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM.)

Does Eric Clapton’s Alleged Licence To Kill Theme Sound Legit?

The first thing people noticed in the quest to authenticate this Licence To Kill theme tune is that it was removed from SoundCloud in the first place. If you want to give a piece of lost media an instant boost in credibility, you make sure to strike it in the name of copyright. However, even if you compare the Eric Clapton/Vic Flick jam session to the track “Gunbarrel” from Michael Kamen’s actual score, you can see some striking similarities: 

Comparing “Gunbarrel” to this supposedly long lost session outtake, it sounds like the final track is a refined version of the song we almost got. The clincher, of course, is Eric Clapton’s portion of the performance, which also sounds like the spitting image of his work with Michael Kamen on Lethal Weapon. All of that doesn’t compare to the ultimate point of order that seems to have confirmed this music is 100% legit.

Carey Lowell, Desmond Llewelyn and Timothy Dalton inspect some equipment in Licence To Kill.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

The Expert Opinion That May Have Settled The Licence To Kill Theme Debate

A James Bond fan on Twitter reached out to one of the most authoritative sources that could legitimize this track: Licence to Kill’s music editor Andy Glen. The son of John Glen, the legendary 007 director behind several Bond films, including the one in question, Andy responded to this fan inquiry with the following:

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Unless some massively compelling evidence to the contrary lands, Andy Glen’s verification feels like the final word on whether or not we’ve just heard Licence To Kill’s lost theme. Which only leaves the court of public opinion with one final, important question: did we get the better theme song?

Timothy Dalton finds a wounded David Hedison in Licence To Kill.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

Which Licence To Kill Song Is Better?

This is initially a difficult question to answer, especially because Gladys Knight’s “Licence To Kill” isn’t a bad song. It may not rank among the higher ranks of 007 theme songs in the canon, but it’s not an abhorrent disaster like Die Another Day’s opening. But even with those qualifications and caveats, it feels like we were cheated out of a potential winner that could have really ripped. 

It seems safe to assume that the version of “The James Bond Theme” with Eric Clapton and Vic Flick was an early version and not a final concept. Admittedly, in the shape it currently resides in, it starts out as a bit of jumbled mess. That all changes once Flick does his thing, playing the signature bass line, which gives way to some very Lethal Weapon-sounding guitar from Clapton.

This lost theme would have fit Timothy Dalton’s second and final James Bond adventure to a tee, because Licence To Kill was trying to infuse the franchise with that very type of energy. It’s the Eric Clapton-ness of it all that gives this music its then contemporary edge, and when you listen to the rest of the soundtrack, it fits like a finely tailored tuxedo. 

No offense to Gladys Knight or Patti LaBelle, but this should have been the signature track for Timothy Dalton’s exit. This extra element of identity may have helped land the resulting film with more of a definitive image, which could have only helped with securing the Bond films Dalton was supposed to make afterwards.

2022 is the 60th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, with the subject of music being one of the key focuses for celebration. That’s not all you can celebrate, as there’s a number of upcoming spy movies and TV shows for 007 fans to enjoy while waiting for the next chapter to begin. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.