The Funny Reason Paul McCartney’s Song For James Bond’s Live And Let Die Almost Never Happened

Roger Moore stands in the sun with a questioning look in Live and Let Die.
(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and MGM)

Watching the James Bond movies in order is an experience akin to taking a time machine through the last 60 years of pop culture. That’s reflected both in the cinematic quality and content of the 25 007 adventures, as well as the theme songs that announced the arrival of each film. 

It’s part of what makes the alternate history of Bond songs so interesting to behold, especially with stories of artists like Frank Sinatra almost landing two Bond songs. Though in this case, history has taught us all the lesson of how Paul McCartney’s song for Live and Let Die almost never happened. 

It’s not that the song itself was disapproved of; quite the contrary. In the Prime Video (opens in new tab) documentary The Sound of 007, we learn that producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman actually requested Sir Paul’s songwriting talents by name. But as was revealed through interviews with composer/producer Sir George Martin, as well as McCartney himself, the process took on some interesting twists. Here’s what the team had to say: 

"Sir George Martin, Composer/Producer: Broccoli and Saltzman had put ‘round that they wanted a good theme tune. One of the team asked Paul McCartney if he would write a song. 

Sir Paul McCartney, Artist: I said, ‘Ok, send me the book around.’ They didn’t have a script then, I don’t think. He sent me the Ian Fleming book, and I read it. I read it, I thought it was pretty good, and that afternoon I wrote the song. It was co-produced with George Martin. I worked with George, which I hadn’t done since the Beatles. George took an acetate of it out to, I think it was the Bahamas, where they were filming it. He took it to Harry Saltzman.

Martin: And I thought, ‘Well, he’s gonna look me over.’ And at the end of it, he said, ‘By the way, who do you think we should get to sing the song?’ I said, ‘Well, you do have Paul McCartney,’ [and he said] ‘Yeah. Yeah. What do you think of Thelma Houston?’ I said, ‘I think she’s great, but Paul…’ [Harry continued] ‘How about Aretha Franklin?’ I said, ‘Fantastic.’ But Paul and I had suddenly realized that I had to put it to him, as delicately as I could, that if he didn’t take Paul, he wouldn’t get the song."

To think that "Live and Let Die" could have fallen into the history of alternate Bond themes if it weren’t for the fact that 007 producer Harry Saltzman couldn't take a hint. "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney and Wings is still a fantastic version that’s gone down in the history book for a reason. However, having a Black artist singing a song that winds up in a Harlem nightclub is kind of a requirement. 

In a sense, Saltzman and the Bond franchise got to have its cake and eat it too. Paul McCartney and Wings got to perform the main title version of Live and Let Die’s signature track, but another version also wound up on the film’s soundtrack. Seeing as it might have been awkward to have a former Beatle performing the song in the Harlem-based nightclub Filet o’Soul, a different take was performed by recording artist B.J. Arnau in the film, which you can listen to below:

The first entry in the Roger Moore’s James Bond movies, Live and Let Die has one of the most memorable songs to kick off a 007 adventure. It’s certainly not an easy act to follow Diamonds Are Forever, a statement which applies on two separate levels. As Sir Roger stepped in after Sir Sean Connery’s surprise return, McCartney’s tune followed the second time Dame Shirley Bassey scored one of the Connery-era title themes.

Sir Paul McCartney’s rock and roll track undoubtedly came along at the right time though. Transitioning the James Bond saga from the swinging sixties into the hard rocking ‘70s, Live and Let Die’s title track was purely a product of its time. Not to mention, it also helped bridge the gap even further between the 007 tradition of scoring a chart-ranking hit that also ties into the most recent film's plot and promotion. 

As the section of The Sound of 007 dedicated to the song continues, some highlighted feedback came from both franchise producer Barbara Broccoli and The Man with the Golden Gun singer Lulu. Their reflections on the track were as enthusiastic as they were wonderful to behold: 

"Lulu: It was rock and roll. You hadn’t had a Bond song that sounded like that. That almost blew me off my seat.

Barbara Broccoli: I remember Dad playing that Paul McCartney song, he had big speakers in the living room. My sister and I, just going crazy. Going absolutely crazy."

Pop culture history could have changed quite a bit if Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die title tune wound up becoming an alternate take relegated to the same sort of fate Alice Cooper’s song for The Man with the Golden Gun landed. That’s a story for another time, as fate led to a smash hit for the ages, as well as the first Oscar nomination for a James Bond song. 

With those accomplishments under its belt, the 007 series would establish a new era of tradition for the then fledgling films. You can learn more about the 60-year musical history of the franchise in The Sound of 007. The documentary, and its companion concert highlight special, are both currently available for steaming, provided you have a Prime Video subscription

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.