Found Performance: “Thunderball” by Tom Jones

Soundtracks from blockbuster movies often turn into top selling records and radio hits. “Thunderball” (1965) was the fourth of the classic James Bond films — released back when Sean Connery was cast as Agent 007. The song by the same name, as recorded by Welsh singer Tom Jones, became a No. 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in Jan. 1966. Ultimately it spent 12 weeks on the chart. However, that movie soundtrack, and especially so the main theme, went through a tumultuous evolutionary process prior to its international success.

Shirley Bassey, another famous Welch singer, had a smash with the prior Bond theme, “Goldfinger,” from the movie of the same name that came out in 1964. The producers of “Thunderball” wanted Bassey to, once again, perform the theme for the new movie. Her recording of “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” satisfied the movie makers until they determined the short intro was insufficient to support the accompanying visuals. It had to be rerecorded, but Bassey’s schedule wouldn’t accommodate. Therefore, those in charge enlisted American singer, Dionne Warwick, to perform another version of the same basic theme. The track turned out well and it was scheduled for inclusion in the movie. Then Bassey learned that Warwick’s vocal was chosen over hers and she sued. As a result of the litigation, the producers scrapped both versions of “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (although an instrumental rendition does appear on the soundtrack album).
Prior to moving on with the story, let’s listen to the abandoned soundtrack recordings from these two incredible female singers. To hear Shirley Bassey’s versoion of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (with the short song intro) click on the record below.
Shirley Bassey, Run time 2:25
Next up is Dionne Warwick’s cover of the song, click on the record below to hear her version (with the long song intro).
Dionne Warwick. Run time 3:02

At this point, it would be remiss to leave out that another major recording artist opted for this same soundtrack recording. The man in black, Johnny Cash, submitted a version of “Thunderball” and the lyrics were written to “describe the film’s storyline.” The producers rejected Cash’s entry in the competition. This editor considered his offering interesting from a historical standpoint, but I can see why the producers weren’t in love with it. We all know that James Bond was an urbane and sexy spy in a modern and rapidly changing world. Yet, at least to me, Cash’s “Thunderball” reminds me of a western theme, reminiscent of his famous intro for the TV show “The Rebel – Johnny Yuma.” Click on the record below to hear the man in black sing his rendition of “Thunderball.”

Johnny Cash “Thunderball” Run time 2:52

With lots of song choices, but none that were usable for one reason or another, composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black, in a hurried rush, wrote another version of “Thunderball.” In the meantime, producers had demanded that th lyrics must include the word “Thunderball.” In the end, their song worked: It was exciting and Tom Jones made it a hit. The rumor is that Jones fainted during the recording session — right after he sang the final high note. Jones is quoted as saying, “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

There you have it: The story of how Tom Jones aced out Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, and Johnny Cash and earned himself a Top 10 soundtrack/radio hit with his vocal styling of “Thunderball.”

The accompanying “Found Performance” video was filmed in 1987 at Casteel Coch, which is a gothic castle in South Wales. The video intro salutes one of the great Pacific Northwest Top 40 radio stations of the sixties. If you were tuning your AM radio to KISN in Portland, Oregon in January 1966, you might have heard something that sounded much like this.The video is at ad free Vimeo, so click on the play button 2x – once to go to Vimeo and again to start the video.

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with QZVX.COM in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions. View other articles by Steven Smith
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