After debuting a month out from the release of the 23rd James Bond adventure, Skyfall, Adele’s anthem of the same name made 007 music history. The song hit the UK Singles Chart at No. 4 after less than 48 hours on sale, while it ranked 8th on the Billboard Hot 100. The bellowing tune wasn’t just an original number tacked on for the sake of tradition. It was a beast all its own.
Awards voters have responded appropriately: Thursday morning, “Skyfall” earned a Golden Globe nomination — and a step in the right direction to the coveted Best Original Song Oscar (an accolade no James Bond title song has ever been able to attain). Paul Epworth, the British music producer who won a Grammy award for his work on Adele’s 21 and shares the nomination with the singer, says that finding the right sound for “Skyfall” that was a particular challenge. “[The producers] said they wanted a dramatic ballad basically,” Epworth tells Hollywood.com. “With having read the script and trying to set the whole thing up in that context, where it happens in the film, there was really only one thing it could be. It was interesting to want to do something that was simultaneously dark and final, like a funeral, and to try and turn it into something that was not final. A sense of death and rebirth.”
What would be an issue for most “pop” stars was a welcome twist for Adele. Epworth describes the singer as having “an open mind musically.” While aware of her audience, Epworth says that Adele never shies away from darker material. It’s a sensibility at the core of Adele’s music and one that worked out for Epworth’s approach to “Skyfall.” After marathoning the first 13 James Bond movies, where the producer deciphered the “musical code” of the songs (“I think it’s a minor ninth as the harmonic code … the Bond songs, they have that elaboration to it”), Epworth sat down and wrote a piece of music that he believed could be the tune for theme.
“I thought, ‘This could be the song,'” Epworth says. “And I rang her up and said, ‘It might be too dark.’ And she said she loved it.” The duo immediately jumped into the studio. “Within 10 minutes, she put down most of the vocals. She had the lyrics ready in her head when she drove over. It was the most absurd thing. She’s fast, but it was really quite phenomenal.”
Performing “Skyfall” unveiled a new side of Adele to her collaborator. “She has an old soul,” Epworth says. “She never really mentioned she could sing the [Shirley] Bassey-esque slurs that she does in the opening.” But any fan of Adele can immediately recognize the signature belting voice that made her previous work notable. “She’s actually a very controlled vocalist. She has a lot of finesse and skill. She’s not just a powerhouse — it’s a lot of careful technique. That’s why she’s an amazing vocalist. It’s all control.”
The idea of being the first Bond song to win a Golden Globe and an Oscar excites Epworth, and feels like the end of an amazing journey. “To get the call and feel like we came up with the goods — I’d never dreamt of awards.”
Update: Epworth has since elaborated on his previous statement: “Adele didn’t record her final “Skyfall” vocal in 10 minutes. We cut the first draft of the verse and chorus. It took us a while to hone the track into the end result.”
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]