“You Only Live Twice”, performed by Nancy Sinatra, is the theme song to the 1967 James Bond film of the same name. The music was by veteran Bond film composer John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The song is widely recognized for its striking opening bars, featuring a simple 2-bar theme in the high octaves of the violins and lush harmonies from French horns. It is considered by some to be among the best James Bond theme songs, and has become one of Nancy Sinatra’s best known hits. Shortly after Barry’s production, Sinatra’s producer Lee Hazlewood released a more guitar-based single version.
The song has been extensively covered by artists, from Coldplay to Soft Cell, Björk and Little Anthony & The Imperials to Shirley Bassey. Robbie Williams notably re-recorded the opening bars of the song for his hit “Millennium”.
James Bond veteran John Barry returned to the franchise to produce the score. The lyrics were by Leslie Bricusse, who had previously cowritten the lyrics for the theme to Goldfinger. Julie Rogers was asked to perform the song, and recorded it with a 50 or 60 piece orchestra at CTS Studios. The song was quite different from the later Sinatra version, with a more Oriental flavour. Jazz singer Lorraine Chandler also recorded a version of the song that differed greatly from the other two. Chandler’s version has a bombastic, Shirley Bassey-sound, which differs from the mellow alternate versions. John Barry said: “It was usually the producers that said ‘this isn’t working, there’s a certain something that it needed’. If that energy wasn’t there, if that mysterioso kind of thing wasn’t there, then it wasn’t going to work for the movie.” The song shares only two lines with Sinatra’s, “You only live twice”, and “you’ll pay the price”. The film’s producer Cubby Broccoli, wanted his friend Frank Sinatra to perform the song. Frank suggested that they use his daughter instead. Barry wanted to use Aretha Franklin, but the producers insisted that he use Nancy instead, who was enjoying great popularity in the wake of her single, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”.
The version (2:46) featured in the film’s opening title sequence and on the soundtrack LP is in the key of B and has a single vocal track. The song was recorded with a 60 piece orchestra on 2 May 1967 at the CTS Studios in Bayswater, London. Sinatra later recalled that she was incredibly nervous during the recording, and it took around 30 takes to acquire enough material. Producer John Barry eventually created the final product by incorporating vocals from 25 takes.