In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Rita Coolidge- “All Time High“
PEAK: #36 on August 27, 1983
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”
When artists get picked to perform a James Bond theme, usually they’re at the peak of their fame in terms of the pop charts and publicity or at the very least are still a relevant presence in pop music to warrant them singing a theme. With Rita Coolidge, she was neither when she was picked to sing “All Time High,” the theme to 1983’s Octopussy. By 1983, Coolidge was several years removed from her pop chart peak and it wasn’t like she remained a constant presence.
After starting out behind the scenes singing backup for rock and folk artists, Coolidge had her big breakthrough as an artist in 1977 scoring her only two Top 10 hits which were both covers with the first and biggest one being a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher)” retitled as “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” and the second one being a cover of Frankie Valli’s “We’re All Alone.” (“(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” peaked at #2. It’s a 5. Jackie Wilson’s 1967 original “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher)” peaked at #6. It’s a 9. “We’re All Alone” peaked at #7. It’s a 4. Frankie Valli’s 1976 original peaked at #78.) But after that burst of success, Coolidge’s subsequent singles and albums hit less and less and hadn’t charted on the Hot 100 in three years by the time of “All Time High” but that didn’t stop the people involved with the movie from getting her to sing their theme.
Octopussy marked a return for original Bond composer John Barry who had sat out the last Bond film 1981’s For Your Eyes Only due to tax issues. Barry had hoped to team up again with Don Black, the lyricist who together had written “Thunderball” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” but Black was busy so Barry teamed with Tim Rice, the lyricist best known for his work with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Disney. In writing the theme for Octopussy, the two decided against titling the song after the film with Barry giving Rice an assignment to come up with six different titles. “All Time High” wound up being the one of those titles and the one that stuck.
The film people originally had singers like Mari Wilson and Laura Branigan in mind for the theme but it was the producer Cubby Broccoli’s daughter Barbara, a fan of Rita Coolidge, who persuaded her father to choose Coolidge as the singer by playing her songs around the house. But even when Coolidge got into the studio to record “All Time High,” Rice was still writing the lyrics which didn’t sit well with Coolidge to the point where years later she said she still didn’t like the song feeling it wasn’t complete.
The song acts as another love song from a Bond girl to Bond with Coolidge’s narrator wanting a sweet distraction for an hour or two before falling deeply in love with Bond where they become an all time high and together they’ll take on the world and win. Looking at these lyrics, you can tell that they feel a bit incomplete with Rice making some grammatical errors, “Had no intention to do the things we’ve done” and the lines that give the title, “We’re an all time high/On an all time high.” Also the line, “Funny how it always goes with love” strikes me as laughable for a song about James Bond. I mean you’re falling in love with a high-profile spy, it can’t be funny that love isn’t the only thing that goes with this relationship. Perhaps Rice should have spent more time flushing the song out.
“All Time High” doesn’t sound much like your classic Bond theme. Producers Phil Ramone and Stephen Short instead make it sound like pure early ‘80s adult contemporary schmaltz piling on all the hallmarks- the twinkly piano, processed phaser guitar scratches, synth strings, and a saxophone that sounds like the type you’d expect to soundtrack a cheesy love scene. Rita Coolidge isn’t as horrifically bad as Sheena Easton was on the last Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only” but even then it’s not much to write home about. Coolidge does her best but her voice just isn’t all that memorable or powerful to make what’s already an average song stand out.
Rita Coolidge’s career wasn’t exactly at an all time high when “All Time High” reached its chart peak of #36 in the late summer of 1983 but it certainly gave her a nice little comeback especially with the Octopussy movie being a hit as well grossing $67 million in 1983 alone. (On 1983’s year-end list, Octopussy is at #6 between WarGames and Sudden Impact.) “All Time High” wound up being the last time Rita Coolidge would chart on the Hot 100. In the decades since, Coolidge has remained active continuously releasing new albums and performing while releasing a memoir in 2016.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the funny moment from 2012’s Ted where one-time #1 artist Mark Whalberg badly sings “All Time High” to Mila Kunis during a Norah Jones concert:
(Norah Jones’ highest-charting single, 2002’s “Don’t Know Why,” peaked at #30.)