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.
Duran Duran- “A View to a Kill”
HIT #1: July 13, 1985
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
In the almost 60 year history of the James Bond franchise, there has been a theme for each movie but it wasn’t until 1964’s “Goldfinger,” that it was discovered that the theme could function as its own magical pop culture moment and become a hit outside of their respective movies. After the success of “Goldfinger,” the franchise has gotten an impressive list of artists to sing the themes to their movies, and as we’ve been seeing many of those themes have become legitimate charting hits. Even if you’re the least bit familiar with 007 you probably still have the themes memorized in your heads.
But in the US, only one Bond theme has managed to go all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 so far and it’s one that you probably wouldn’t have guessed off the top of your head. Instead of “Goldfinger,” “Live and Let Die,” or “Nobody Does It Better,” we got Duran Duran’s extremely ‘80s sounding theme to a movie that many consider the absolute nadir of the 007 series. It may not make a lot of sense but that’s the pop charts for you.
By the time Duran Duran landed their second and final #1, the band was already splintering in a very public fashion. In the few years leading up to “A View To A Kill,” Duran Duran had been arguably the leading group of the Second British Invasion with their blend of synth-pop, glam, and Chic-inspired dance-funk combined with their high concept music videos that helped to define MTV in its early heyday. Their third album, 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, gave the group its first US #1 with the cluttered Nile Rodgers remixed funky dance-pop track “The Reflex.” Soon after, they got to #2 with “The Wild Boys,” a studio track that was included on the 1984 live album Arena. (It’s a 4.) Duran Duran were on top of the world and as usual with big acts began to get sick of each other.
In 1985, the members of Duran Duran had split themselves into two smaller acts showing the creative divisions within the band. On one hand, you had John and Andy Taylor joining with Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson in the Power Station, a hard rock/funk fusion band, while on the other hand, you had the other members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, and Roger Taylor forming the more experimental group Arcadia. Probably as a testament to Duran Duran’s popularity, both the Power Station and Arcadia immediately hit it off landing singles in the Top 10. (The Power Station’s highest-charting single, 1985’s “Some Like It Hot,” peaked at #6. It’s a 5. Arcadia’s highest-charting single, 1985’s “Election Day,” also peaked at #6. It’s also a 5.) But when Duran Duran was offered the opportunity to perform the theme for the latest Bond flick A View To A Kill, creative differences weren’t going to stop them from doing it.
The idea for Duran Duran recording “A View To A Kill” came about after John Taylor, himself a Bond superfan, ran into the longtime Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at a party all drunk wondering, “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” (Considering the last two Bond themes I’ve talked about, I’d have been wondering the same thing at the time.) Soon enough, the band met with the legendary Bond composer John Barry where they often got drunk at songwriting meetings but Barry helped to flush out Duran Duran’s idea for the theme picking out all the good parts and putting it all together. Duran Duran and Barry wound up writing the song together with the group producing along with Chic bassist Bernard Edwards and fellow producer Jason Corsaro.
Listening to the song, I can’t exactly say Barry managed to pick out all of the good parts. The best part of “A View To A Kill” is easily the orchestra that manages to bring the classic orchestral grandness of a Bond theme into the ‘80s pop landscape and still sounds nice when they play. I also like how John Taylor’s bass gets into a good groove throughout but especially when the chorus hits as well as the occasional funky guitar scratches from Andy Taylor. Unfortunately, the rest of the song falls apart falling victim to a lot of the cheap sounds common in many mid-‘80s productions especially with those keyboard orchestra stabs from Nick Rhodes. Those stabs pop up so much in the song, so loud, and so randomly that it sounds like a kid was fooling around with the keyboard in the studio. It’s all a bit much and along with the gated drums weighs down any enjoyment from a song that has the skeletons of something better.
The lyrics to “A View to a Kill,” like a lot of Bond themes, are all poetic gibberish but it’s more apparent here. Simon Le Bon is telling this lover that until they can dance into the fire all they need is a fatal kiss, the fatal sounds of broken dreams, and when all they see is the view to a kill. If Le Bon’s describing the kiss and broken dreams as fatal then how can he and his lover dance into the fire if they’re both dead. I don’t know and it’s not like the rest of the lyrics offer any explanation either. Le Bon puts himself into the action of the song with his frantic singing delivery but ultimately there’s not much in the song to sell so it all just comes across as forgettable.
Also forgettable is the music video which was directed by the duo of Kevin Godley & Lol Creme, both former members of the ‘70s studio-rock band 10cc. Like a lot of soundtrack songs, the video for “A View to a Kill” basically combines clips of the film with a storyline of its own. Amid shots of Roger Moore’s James Bond on the Eiffel Tower, we see the members of Duran Duran on their own mission dressed as different types of people where at the end we get a fun little quip of Le Bon saying “Bon. Simon Le Bon” when a woman asks him, “Hey, aren’t you…” before Le Bon activates a detonator that blows up the Eiffel Tower. It would have made for a fun video had there not been lots of noise to distract from the song along with cheap ‘80s special effects that are ugly to look at now. On a recent episode of Paramount Plus’ reboot of Behind the Music, the members all talked about how they didn’t get along during the making of the video with John Taylor going as far as to say he hates the video. From watching it, can you blame him?
The week that “A View to a Kill” reached #1 was also the week of the Live Aid benefit concert where Duran Duran performed on the concert’s American stage at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium. Like with the music video, Live Aid was not a great experience for the band where they’ve complained about not being able to hear each other. That complaint definitely comes across in their performance of “A View to a Kill” which sounds fine for the most part except when Simon Le Bon goes off-key and cracks his voice towards the end which would be dubbed as “The Bum Note Heard Round the World.” When you’re playing to a viewing audience of two billion people, that’s a very embarrassing moment to have. Live Aid would mark the last performance for the five original Duran Duran members until 2003.
51 when “A View to a Kill” hit #1, John Barry wouldn’t be involved in any more US hits though co-wrote 1987’s theme to The Living Daylights with the Norwegian pop group a-ha which was a hit across Europe. Barry continued working until January 2011 when he died of a heart attack at the age of 77. A few months later, Duran Duran paid tribute by performing “A View to a Kill” during their set at 2011’s Coachella festival with the first portion incorporating a full orchestra which made the song sound like your more traditional Bond theme before transitioning into the original track. It sounds pretty good.
Going by Tom Breihan’s description in his Stereogum review of the song, A View to a Kill sounds like a truly ridiculous movie and at the time was not a big box office hit. Audiences may not have been super into James Bond by the mid-‘80s but they were super into Duran Duran which is my best explanation in why they managed to get their theme to the top when others before and after haven’t. Since Duran Duran, many other hot artists have signed on to sing a Bond theme and two more themes have been Top 10 hits but not #1. But star power can only go so far in turning a Bond theme into a hit. The latest Bond theme “No Time To Die” by Billie Eilish only got to #16 despite Eilish’s own massive star power. At this point, seeing another Bond theme get to #1 in the US isn’t exactly impossible considering the more recent themes have gone to #1 in the UK but it certainly isn’t going to be easy.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the cover of “A View To A Kill” that the Drive-By Truckers member Jay Gonzalez recorded for the 2017 Bond theme compilation album Songs, Bond Songs: The Music of 007: