“As a writer who thinks of himself as part craftsman, the idea of writing a Bond theme is akin to being asked to make a bit of furniture for the national collection,” Paul McCartney said in the 2013 biography Man on the Run.
In October 1972, McCartney was introduced to 007 film producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who gave him a copy of Ian Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die. He read it in a day, and finished the theme song the next, with Linda contributing the middle reggae section.
It all came easy, though McCartney admitted working the title in was a bit tricky. “I thought, ’Live and let die – okay, really what they mean is live and let live, and there’s the switch.’ So I just thought, ’When you were younger you used to say that, but now you say this.’”
Wings recorded it, with Henry McCullough’s Les Paul power chords and a dynamic George Martin orchestration giving it spy game flair.
“It was at AIR Studio, with the orchestra live in the room with us,” guitarist Denny Laine says. “We captured the excitement of a performance, which I think is why the record was so powerful.”
But when Martin brought the acetate to Broccoli and Saltzman, they mistook it for a demo, asking, “So who shall we get to sing it?” Paul joked that he could be billed as “Burly Chassis,” playing off regular Bond chanteuse Shirley Bassey. The song shot to Number 1 in the summer of ’73, paving the way for the year’s blockbuster second act of Band on the Run.
50 years later, McCartney still performs it regularly, as does Laine. “It always goes over well, and I close my set with it,” he says.