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Section Header
Licence to Kill
American Cover

European Cover

Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
Michael Kamen

Performed by:
The National Philharmonic Orchestra

MCA Records

Release Date:
June 19th, 1989

Also See:
The Living Daylights
A View to a Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
Die Hard
Don Juan DeMarco

Audio Clips:
4. Pam (0:27):
WMA (179K)  MP3 (224K)
Real Audio (158K)

6. James & Felix on Their Way to Church (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

8. Sanchez in the Bahamas (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. Licence Revoked (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular U.S. release.


Licence to Kill
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Sales Rank: 35997

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Buy it... if you want a cheap souvenir from the film and are focused on the unmemorable opening and closing songs.

Avoid it... if you seek a remotely satisfying presentation of Michael Kamen's basically sufficient but flawed score on an album that butchers it to pieces with poorly executed edits and arrangement.

Licence to Kill: (Michael Kamen) Tough times fell upon the James Bond franchise at the end of the 1980's. Its 16th entry, Licence to Kill, was a fiscal disappointment and years of legal wrangling over the rights to the character caused a delay in the production of the subsequent feature, Goldeneye. The first Bond film to earn a PG-13 rating in America was indeed Licence to Kill, with greater violence and a refusal to adhere to the formula of the series by cutting back on the charming elements usually inherent in these movies. In the plot, Bond angrily leaves the secret service to avenge a Latin American drug lord's attack on his CIA contact and friend, Felix Leiter. The story is decidedly low tech and personal, befitting well Timothy Dalton's more serious interpretation of the character. Just as Dalton was beginning to repair the damage that Roger Moore had done to Ian Fleming's famed spy (a circumstance leading to generally positive initial reviews of the film), the legal dispute that delayed the series' continuation ushered in the massively successful Pierce Brosnan era, further relegating Licence to Kill to obscurity. Production nightmares involving the film were many, extending all the way up to the title of the film; a last minute change from Licence Revoked caused a disastrous promotional campaign. Equally problematic was the soundtrack situation with Licence to Kill, which is about as dissatisfying as any in James Bond history. Originally, John Barry was to return once again to build upon his legacy with a follow-up to his highly regarded The Living Daylights. Additionally Eric Clapton was to collaborate with original series guitar favorite Vic Flick to provide a new interpretation on Monty Norman's classic theme for the title song. Throat surgery, however, did not allow Barry to fit the film into his schedule, and a last minute removal of Clapton yielded a title song performed by Gladys Knight that suffered from attribution problems. The score was subsequently handed to Michael Kamen late in production, too. Kamen had proven himself in Hollywood with his music for Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, among others, and he had collaborated with pop artists before in producing mainstream songs. Still, he was at a significant disadvantage in terms of time and coordination, and his resulting work, while basically sufficient, is usually forgotten in the larger scene of James Bond music.

The song situation for Licence to Kill was sloppy, with the opening and closing credits songs both running into unique problems. Gladys Knight's "Licence to Kill," which previews Tina Turner's instrumental and vocal tones for "Goldeneye," is not particularly remarkable in its primary melody. In fact, it owes far too much to fluffier pop mannerisms of the era to really stand apart as a memorable identity in the franchise. The only interesting part of the song is that which got it into trouble; the songwriters utilized the two opening brass notes from the classic "Goldfinger" song repetitively without attribution; eventually, John Barry and others had to be credited and paid royalties due to this blatant usage. Because "Licence to Kill" was also the longest song to ever be recorded for a Bond film, it had to be artificially shortened for the film. The other song, "If You Asked Me To," is heard over the end credits and is historically known for Celine Dion's cover version from three years later. Patti LaBelle's voice is far too irritating in its dainty tone when compared to Dion's smoother tones, so once again, it's no wonder that few people recall Licence to Kill for its music. Neither original song for the film went on to burn up the charts, barely registering on various sub-charts for a short time. Not surprisingly, because of the lack of Kamen's involvement in either song, their melodies are not adapted at all into the score, leading to a musical detachment that was rare in the franchise at the time. In general, Kamen's music is often considered adequate, but not really noteworthy. It's functional, but by no means spectacular. As a capable composer, he did execute some interesting variations on the original Norman theme and place a few short tributes to Barry's habitual series mannerisms in a few places. Kamen was also quite accomplished at creating Latin flair when necessary, and Licence to Kill was obviously a good place for that sound's introduction to the franchise. For casual observers of the movies, the resulting score dutifully serves its purpose somewhat conservatively and doesn't distract in the way that Eric Serra's often painful Goldeneye did. Additionally, Kamen's score utilizes few non-traditional symphonic instruments outside of the acoustic guitar, and because his style is a bit generic, it has aged remarkably well when compared to the one-time contributions to the Bond universe by Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti. To avid Kamen collectors, there are many satisfying connections between Licence to Kill and suspense motifs in Die Hard and the romantic tone of Don Juan DeMarco, as well as competent orchestrations.

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Unfortunately, Kamen also made a few tremendous blunders in Licence to Kill that are only exacerbated by an absolutely wretched album release. First, his inability to translate one of the song's melodies into an overarching identity for the score is compounded by his choice not to provide his own dominant motif for the score. In fact, he really makes no attempt to provide Licence to Kill with any kind of main theme, instead playing it safe with bland underscore, a misplaced love theme, occasional references to the Norman theme, and the vaguely Latin atmosphere. The aforementioned love theme problem is a curious one; Kamen, for some reason, decided to provide Bond's primary love interest with a gorgeously Latin acoustic guitar identity (as heard in "Pam"). The problem is that she's an American CIA informant. Likewise, Dalton's performance is sometimes treated to Latin flair, which goes against Barry's tradition of keeping Bond's identity purely rooted in Norman's original jazzy tone (or some variant of it). Why this material wasn't restricted to general location shots or the drug lord and his henchmen is bizarre. The suspense music in Licence to Kill is awkwardly limp, sometimes relying on a solo bass woodwind or bloated tuba. This is contrary to the rhythm that Bond scores typically exhibit, even in their subtle moments. These difficulties yield an average overall score that still has its highlights. Undoubtedly, "Pam" is a pretty track on its own, and the truck chase in "Licence Revoked" features some brassy interludes for Norman's theme that rival David Arnold's in force. Also, some outstanding action moments in "James & Felix on Their Way to Church" culminate in a stunning final minute that includes a lovely nod to Barry's You Only Live Twice. Trying to seek these few highlights on MCA Records' album will frustrate the hell out of you, though. Few soundtracks have been as badly mangled in their presentation as Licence to Kill, and, unfortunately, no subsequent re-issue (as with the other Bond scores through Goldeneye) has ever rectified the situation. The placement of the songs near the start of the album is fine, though they include two worthless source pieces. The score cues are butchered severely in how they were edited for the album, and evidence of these badly managed edits can be clearly heard within nearly all of the score tracks. Some of the sudden transitions are distractingly severe and amateurish. There is no flow to the album as a result, and anyone trying to assemble a chronological presentation of the music as heard in the film will have better luck proving the existence of God to an atheist. Appreciate the score for what it is, but shun the abysmal album. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: ***
    Music as Heard on Album: *
    Overall: **

Bias Check:For Michael Kamen reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.14 (in 14 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.21 (in 32,993 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 2.83 Stars
Smart Average: 2.9 Stars*
***** 17 
**** 22 
*** 30 
** 24 
* 26 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   2 tracks are switched
  Mark Malmstrøm -- 8/15/10 (3:15 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 45:32

• 1. Licence to Kill - performed by Gladys Knight (5:13)
• 2. Wedding Party - performed by Ivory (3:53)
• 3. Dirty Love - performed by Tim Freehan (3:45)
• 4. Pam (3:50)
• 5. If You Asked Me To - performed by Patti LaBelle (3:58)
• 6. James & Felix on Their Way to Church (3:53)
• 7. His Funny Valentine (3:26)
• 8. Sanchez in the Bahamas/Shark Fishing (2:06)
• 9. Ninja (6:03)
• 10. Licence Revoked (9:11)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film. The American and European pressings contain different cover art.

  All artwork and sound clips from Licence to Kill are Copyright © 1989, MCA Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 6/16/10 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2010-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.