Various Artists

Come Spy with Us: The Secret Agent Handbook

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Such a brilliant idea for a compilation, it's a wonder it hasn't been done before, Ace's 2014 set Come Spy with Us: The Secret Agent Handbook collects 25 secretive swingers from the '60s, splitting the difference between pop tunes and cinematic espionage. Impressively, the entire affair avoids both James Bond and Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man" aside from covers (the signature Bond theme is handled by Johnny & the Hurricanes, while Al Caiola serves up an instrumental of the Rivers staple). Usually, compiler Tony Rounce -- who does give thanks to Matthew Jones -- prefers splashy arrangements built on bold brass and sweeping strings, but there are certainly a lot of echoing guitars and splashes of exotica, all suggesting danger and adventure. Naturally, novelties take up a fair amount of space here -- the best might be the Supremes' go-go parody "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" -- but most of this occupies a similar territory as Nancy Sinatra's "The Last of the Secret Agents," which is delivered with a straight face and a wink. Even during this secret agent peak, which ran roughly from 1965 to 1967, plenty of musicians were ready to good-naturedly send up spies and that mischievous humor keeps things lively, while the craft of the composers and songwriters give this music heft. John Barry, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, and Lalo Schifrin are responsible for those grand cinematic peaks, providing the context for Scott Walker ("Deadlier Than The Male," a classic Walker Brothers hit) and Smokey Robinson ("Come Spy with Me," the theme to a lost 1967 flick) to play with on their tunes. It's all fun but it's not really campy: it's a well-rounded portrait of a '60s fad that turned into a pop culture touchstone, a touchstone that is splendidly heard here.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:29
2 2:31
3 2:30
4 3:31
5 2:07
6 2:57
7 2:26
8 2:49
9 1:50
10 2:45
11 2:33
12 2:21
13 2:06
14 2:36
15 1:54
16 2:54
17 2:14
18 2:10
19 2:30
20 2:18
21 1:52
22 2:55
23 2:19
24 2:12
25 2:55
blue highlight denotes track pick