The story of Wings and Paul McCartney's iconic James Bond theme Live and Let Die

Paul McCartney and Wings
(Image credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

“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. 

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Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling 'Sgt. Pepper at 50.' He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as 'Private Practice' and 'Sons of Anarchy.' In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1-rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.