SKYFALL: A Musical Dissection

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Adele got the Bond theme – surprise! Well, not really. She was the right choice given that her last album is the biggest thing since the Big Bang, and she links directly from the lineage of great British Bond crooners Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. Skyfall is the 23rd Bond theme, starring the eternal DILF Daniel Craig – so just how did Adele and Paul Epworth go about composing music history? It’s got to carry on where all the others left off, and yet it has to sound like you. Here’s how she gets it just right…

0.02 Opening with the roar of the ‘you can’t not have’ horns, you know within 2 seconds it’s a Bond theme.

0.08 Almost immediately we’re stripped down to a piano pulse straight out of Adele’s own musical style bag, making it clear it’s hers.

0.33 Here she is. Adele’s trademark vocals narrate the typically vague lyrics which make the song applicable to the entire Bond franchise, not just the film in question. She says this is the first time she’s written to a brief. (Usually she’s writing to a grief.)

1.00 ‘This is the end’ is clearly the refrain for the verses. Implies impending doom, linking to the apocalyptic title. She sings in her usual tone, relaxed and not belted – slipping up into her head voice for the higher notes.

1.24 Catchy, killer chorus. The way the melody lifts on ‘skyfall’, ‘crumble’ and ‘stand tall’ is pure Shirley Bassey, but Adele’s trademark cockney shines through when she pronounces all the ‘l’s as ‘ow’s. Accompanied by strong strings, recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios. Because when you’re making a Bond theme, why not.

2.10 Strings and horns get to do what they’re best at with some harmonic minor action filling in the vocal lines. That’s the scary sounding bits, for the non-musical ones.

2.18 The best line in the whole thing: “You may have my number, you can take my name…but you’ll never have my heart”. Listen to how she carries the ‘heart’ note on up into the chorus

2.30 Chant-like backing vocals make it even grander than it has been thus far. The first chorus here appears to be multiple Adeles, but when it repeats it sounds like a men’s chorus – slightly Gregorian, slightly Only Boys Aloud.

2.55 Break it down now! Adele chants over simmering grand orchestral chords. This is the goosebumps bit. I can see Daniel Craig peeking around corners and running and all sorts here.

3.45 Everybody! All instruments, singers, flames, everything, back for the grand finale.

4.10 The strings shoot up much higher than before to give us a new oscillating theme making sure the arrangement feels EVEN BIGGER. All the chords below are sinking towards the end. And presumably, the sky fall.

4.21 Here’s her big moment: sing ‘Skyfall’ and hold…and go higher…and go higher again. I can already see her, arms outstretched, singing this at the Academy Awards next year. If her throat’s not playing up.

4.37 The final chord, like the very first, is standard Bond, bookending it perfectly.

So that’s how you make a Bond theme. In case you want to brush up, here is a quick flick through all of the past 22. It takes 11 minutes. Enjoy…

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One thought on “SKYFALL: A Musical Dissection

  1. Pingback: Re-Orchestrated and Re-Released | Pop Culture Dandy

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