Analysis of “You know my name”

Lia Vollack, Sony Pictures’s President of Music, called Chris Cornell inviting him to make a song for the new Bond movie, which would “reflect the dramatic new direction of James Bond”, with a “strong male singer”. Cornell thought it was a strange offer, considering that he is American, and imagined that he would perform a secondary song in the film instead of the main theme. Cornell declared he liked the Bond movies, particularly the ones with Sean Connery, but that he «wasn’t really a big fan of the last several movies». But Daniel Craig’s casting as James Bond intrigued the musician, and he decided to accept the job. Cornell then went to Prague to visit the film’s shooting, and was much impressed with the film’s emotional content after he was shown a rough cut of Casino Royale. In Prague he also met the score composer, David Arnold, who suggested writing a song «that echoed the film score».

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The composers started their writing separately, Cornell in his apartment in Paris, and Arnold in his house in London. Cornell stated that he had some difficulties with composing: «It is difficult, I think, to write lyrics for a character, so really I just kind of wandered around for about a month not thinking about it too much, until I sort of formulated some idea of a way that I could approach it, where I’m kind of relating to what’s in the character in the movie. And because this particular Bond is very edgy, but also has a lot of emotional depth, it’s a lot easier.» Later the two musicians met and showed each other’s ideas, and according to Arnold «it was almost like we wrote two parts of the same song.» Cornell wrote lyrics, to which Arnold added some lines and later music. Some of Arnold’s ideas included the song’s title, the heavy introduction, and «having the same genetic material as the Bond theme, but in a different order and in a different shape».

After a demo of the song was approved by the film’s producers, both musicians recorded the full version in AIR Studios London. Cornell and Arnold recorded the guitar and bass parts themselves and hired a session musician for the drums. The recordings were finished by the time Casino Royale finished its principal photography on July 21, 2006 and Arnold played it at the wrap party.

Speaking to film music fan site Maintitles, Arnold said he wanted You Know My Name to act as a substitute for the James Bond theme, to represent Bond’s immaturity.

Cornell stated that the biggest two influences on You Know My Name were Tom Jones, who performed the theme for Thunderball, and Paul McCartney, who composed and performed the theme for Live and Let Die.

Before producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli announced on July 26, 2006, that Cornell was performing the theme for Casino Royale, various names were reported in the media, some reports going so far as to have the performers apparently claim they were working on the song. This list includes Tina Turner, who previously sang GoldenEye and Tony Christie.

The lyrics try to illustrate Bond’s psyche in Casino Royale, described by Cornell as a conflicted and tough spy with more emotional depth, not the «superconfident, seemingly invincible, winking kinda ladies’ man superspy» of the previous incarnations.

So, let’s go with the meaning of the song.

If you take a life, do you know what you’ll give
Odds are, you won’t like what it is

It takes two kills to achieve 00 status, and a 00 Agent will most often regret his decisions in the field. Taking a life means giving death to your victim.

When the storm arrives, would you be seen with me
By the merciless eyes I’ve deceived

“When things get harder,will you betray me?” he asks

I’ve seen angels fall from blinding heights
But you yourself are nothing so divine
Just next in line

Describing how less than saintly Bond is and his place as a character with a very dark side. The song (like the film) goes through what it takes to survive the minefield that is the world of espionage. Far more noble men and women have failed, so this asks Bond to question his place and survival. His place, of course, being “next in line” in death and in Double-O status.

“Angels” is also poker slang for aces

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you

You’re the one responsible for saving yourself, you can’t trust or rely on anyone to help you.

The odds will betray you

The first of many references to gambling, given the film is named Casino Royale after a place where Bond enters a poker tournament against villain Le Chiffre.

“On one hand, I was unlucky that I was given this film that had a really shitty title to write a song to, not like Thunderball or Live And Let Die. Nobody wrote a song called Octopussy but I think that was a mistake! They had a great opportunity and they squandered it.”

And I will replace youQuantum of Solace

If Bond manages to screw up or mess up, or die, M will not hesitate to replace him.

It is the cold truth of the nature of his job that Bond is ultimately expendable. When he dies, there will be no one to mourn him. This expresses a vulnerability and melancholy that is reflective of Daniel Craig’s characterization of Bond.

You can’t deny the prize; it may never fulfill you

The prize of 00 status might not be fulfilling to Bond, a theme which is played throughout the movie, where Bond seems eager to prove himself, only to regret his status when he falls in love.

It longs to kill you

Bond’s job is a dangerous one, one where you life is never secure.

Are you willing to die?

You must be willing to give your life to fulfill your duty as a 00.

The coldest blood runs through my veins

This serves as a testament to Bond’s character. A cold, professional, almost unfeeling killer

You know my name

Bond, James Bond.

If you come inside, things will not be the same
When you return to my night

If James Bond becomes a 00 Agent, things will change and never go back to the way they were.

If you think you’ve won
You never saw me change
The game that we have been playing

Reference to the movie: Bond thinks he has defeated Le Chiffre at cards, only for LeChiffre to capture Vesper.

I’ve seen diamonds cut through harder men
Than you yourself
but if you must pretend
You may meet your end

James Bond commonly shrugs off risks and the threats to his life, and these words mean that if Bond wants to continue acting like this, he may end up dying.

The “diamonds” part refers to how a diamond is the hardest material on Earth and thus can cut through anything, including a tough guy. Whether it’s figurative or literal (you can get cut by a woman’s diamond ring!), doesn’t matter, but it even fits the gambling metaphor given one of the card suits is diamonds.

Forget how to feel

Since a 00 Agent has a “licence to kill” in the field, they must forget their feelings and rely on their instincts.

Life is gone with just a spin of the wheel

Being a 00 Agent is very risky, and “Life is gone with just a spin of the wheel” means that life is short, and that Bond understands this. It is to kill, or be killed.

It also plays off of the gambling theme of the movie – in this case, the wheel is a roulette.

You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
you know my name
You know my name
You know my name

James Bond. 007. Seven times.

Three versions of the song were produced:

  • Main Version: Track 1 on You Know My Name singles
  • Pop Mix: used in the video and released on the Carry On album and on German singles as Track 2
  • Film Versions: more orchestral versions used in the film’s opening and closing credits.

The song was leaked on the internet on September 20, 2006. The first version of the song, the grittier one which was leaked and not used in the movie, was made available for download on iTunes Store on November 13, 2006. This version debuted on the UK Single Download Chart at number 20 on November 22, 2006. It was released as a stand-alone single on December 14, 2006. The single features a new acoustic version of the Soundgarden song Black Hole Sun as a B-side. The German, Dutch and Australian versions of the single offer a second version of You Know My Name (called the Pop Mix) as a B-side. This version is the one used for the song’s music video, and is available on Chris Cornell’s solo album, Carry On.

The song is the first Bond theme not to be included on its film’s soundtrack album. Cornell declared that it happened because he wanted the song to be “his” and since he wrote You Know My Name in midst of recording the solo album Carry On, he felt that the song belonged to the album. In 2008, the song was included in the compilation The Best of Bond…James Bond.

The song’s music video was directed by Michael Haussman, who tried to compare «the lives of a professional spy and a rock star». The video premiered on MTV’s Making the Video on October 31, 2006.

You Know My Name  became the most successful song from Chris Cornell on the rock charts and arguably Cornell’s most recognizable and popular song. The song peaked at number 79 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 64 on the Billboard Pop 100 chart and garnered a Grammy Award nomination for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media the following year.  The song also received a first-round nomination in the Best Original Song category for the 2006 Academy Awards, but did not qualify for the final list of nominees.

The song received enthusiastic reviews, with critics praising the song’s ability to fit well with the context of the film.

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