Singer Chris Cornell died yesterday at the age of 52. Numerous outlets report that his death is being treated as a possible suicide. A superstar of the Nineties grunge scene, Cornell rose to fame as the front man of the band Soundgarden. He found similar success with another group, Audioslave, and as a solo recording artist. It’s in the latter capacity that he is probably best known to James Bond fans, for co-writing and performing “You Know My Name,” the theme song to Daniel Craig’s debut 007 movie, Casino Royale, in 2006.
As much as I love Adele’s “Skyfall,” for me “You Know My Name” is easily the best Bond song in the last 30 years. It’s also the last one, to date, to be co-written by the film’s composer—in this case David Arnold. Arnold and Cornell achieved a perfect creative symbiosis with this track, which boldly introduced Craig’s new, younger, rawer Bond with aggressive first-person lyrics. According to John Burlingame’s The Music of James Bond, Arnold wanted the song to serve as an alternative theme for the less mature Bond, who wouldn’t “earn” the classic Monty Norman/John Barry version of “The James Bond Theme” until the end of the movie. Therefore, he wanted it to have “the same genetic material as the Bond theme, but in a different order and in a different shape.” Indeed it does, and it makes for a truly fantastic substitute theme as Arnold weaves the melody throughout his score. Yet it’s Cornell’s powerful vocals (at the time the first male vocals on a Bond song in nearly two decades) that really cement “You Know My Name” as one of the all-time great Bond themes.
Incredibly, given that he is one of the youngest and most recent, Cornell is the first James Bond main title vocalist to leave us. (The songs performed by Matt Monro, Louis Armstrong, and Dusty Springfield did not play during the main titles of their respective films.) Cornell had battled addiction for most of his life, but seemed to be doing better in recent years. In his final performance, with Soundgarden, earlier last night, CNN reports that he substituted the planned encore with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” Cornell’s death so young is a tragedy, but in addition to his lasting impact on popular music, he left an indelible mark on the Bond series with a terrific theme song for one of the franchise’s best films.