'Live and Let Die' by Wings: The making of Paul McCartney's classic Bond theme

29 September 2021, 15:38

Paul McCartney recorded the theme tune for Roger Moore's 'Live and Let Die'
Paul McCartney recorded the theme tune for Roger Moore's 'Live and Let Die'. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Mayer Nissim

When John Barry was out of action for the seventh Bond film, a more-than-suitable replacement was found.

When James Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were looking for someone to write the theme for Live and Let Die, they decided to aim big.

Just three years after the end of The Beatles, Paul McCartney was happy to oblige, and his 'Live and Let Die' was the first rock 'n' roll Bond theme and remains one of Paul's biggest post-Beatles hits.

But do you know who wrote the song? Or how Paul McCartney almost wasn't the person who sung it? As Daniel Craig's Bond farewell No Time To Die finally reaches cinemas, here's everything you need to know about maybe the best Bond theme ever.

Who wrote 'Live and Let Die'?

After a decade of all his songs being part of the Lennon-McCartney partnership, Paul struck out completely on his own for his debut solo album McCartney.

Clearly missing the company, by the time second album Ram came around he'd formed a new songwriting partnership, this time with his wife Linda.

And then he formed a new band, Wings, with drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Denny Laine joining the husband-and-wife duo.

They recorded the album Wild Life and, during the sessions for their second album Red Rose Speedway, recorded the Bond theme 'Live and Let Die'.

QUIZ: How well do you know Paul McCartney?

And like most of Wings material at the time, it was written by the songwriting team of Paul and Linda McCartney.

The screenplay hadn't even been finished when Paul wrote the song, but he asked for a copy of the original 1954 Ian Fleming novel to help him along.

"I read it and thought it was pretty good," he said.

"That afternoon I wrote the song and went in the next week and did it... It was a job of work for me in a way because writing a song around a title like that's not the easiest thing going."

Paul also reunited with The Beatles' producer George Martin, who handled production and arranged the orchestra.

Paul and Linda McCartney in 1973
Paul and Linda McCartney in 1973. Picture: Getty

How did Paul McCartney almost not end up singing 'Live and Let Die' in the movie?

While Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were more than happy to have snagged Paul McCartney while John Barry was unavailable, they didn't actually intend for him to sing the theme.

Saltzman thought a female soul singer should do it, suggesting Thelma Houston, or past Bond singer Shirley Bassey.

George Martin didn't agree, and said that McCartney should sing it himself.

But to keep Saltzman happy, he worked on a soul arrangement that would later feature in the film itself sung by B J Arnau in a nightclub scene.

Paul ended up singing the proper theme, and it was soon a mainstay on Wings tours and, since that band split, on McCartney's own solo jaunts.

When was 'Live and Let Die' released and how did it do in the charts?

Recorded during the Red Rose Speedway sessions at AIR Studios in October 1972, 'Live and Let Die' was released as a single on June 1, 1973, ahead of the US release of the movie on June 27.

The Live and Let Die soundrack album, with a score by George Martin after he impressed with his orchestral work on the theme, followed on July 2, 1973.

On a run of hit singles for Wings, 'Live and Let Die' got to number 9 in the UK Charts.

Paul McCartney at the 1974 Academy Awards
Paul McCartney at the 1974 Academy Awards. Picture: Getty

It got to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (kept off the top for three weeks by 'The Morning After' by Maureen McGovern, 'Touch Me in the Morning' by Diana Ross, and 'Brother Louie' by Stories), eventually selling over a million copies in the US and going Gold.

It was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song, missing out to to Barbra Streisand's 'The Way We Were'.

The song was bundled into a load of McCartney hits compilations, including Wings Greatest (1978), All the Best! (1987), Wingspan (2001) and Pure McCartney (2016), eventually being remastered for the 2018 reissue of Red Rose Speedway. And, er the soundrack of Shrek the Third in 2007.

Does Paul McCartney totally mess up his grammar by singing "ever-changing world in which we live in"?

Read more: Paul McCartney's infamous angry 'Long and Winding Road' letter after tinkering is a must-read

Songs aren't English grammar text books, and nor should they be. Lyrics aren't about evoking a feeling, not being 100% grammatically correct.

That said, many people have taken issue with Paul's words to 'Live and Let Die', arguing that not only does he end a sentence with a preposition (gasp!), but he's got a tautology there, by repeating the word "in" (nooo!).

In a middling review of the single in the NME when it was first release, journalist (and future Revolution in the Head writer) Ian MacDonald poked fun at McCartney's "curious notion of grammar, about this 'ever changing world in which we live in'."

On the other side, despite sheet music, some have long claimed that Paul actually sings: "ever-changing world in which we're livin'", which is perfectly acceptable – elegant even.

Gold's Hall of Fame: Paul McCartney

In 2009, the man himself put it all to rest when quizzed about it by The Washington Post.

"Yeah, good question," Paul said. says. "It's kind of ambivalent, isn't it? Um I think it's 'in which we're living.'"

He sang a couple of bars, and continued: "It's funny. There's too many 'ins.' I'm not sure. I'd have to have actually look. I don't think about the lyric when I sing it.

"I think it's 'in which we're living.' 'In which we're living.' Or it could be 'in which we live in.' And that's kind of, sort of, wronger but cuter.

That's kind of interesting. 'In which we live in.' In which we live in! I think it's 'In which we're living.' "

In short. Maybe we should all Let it Be.

Who has covered 'Live and Let Die'?

The first "cover" of 'Live and Let Die' was of course that soul-powered version by B J Arnau used in the film itself.

And the most famous cover is undoubtedly Guns N' Roses hard rock version appearing on their 1991 album Use Your Illusion I and also being released as a single.

Singer Axl Rose actually programmed all those synthesisers in their version to sound like horns, and it came across perfectly.

Previously, 'Weird Al' Yankovic wanted to record his own version 'Chicken Pot Pie', but the vegetarian McCartney said no, for obvious reasons.

Also a veggie, 'Weird Al' let it go, though he did occasionally perform that version as part of his Food Medley during live shows.

Since then it's been covered many times over, including by Bond associates Shirley Bassey and David Arnold featuring Chrissie Hynde, as well as by the likes of Billy Joel, Frank Turner and The Brotherhood of Man.