THE FT TOP 100 SONGS
95. Gladys Knight – “License To Kill”
Vic Fluro says:
There are stalker songs and there are stalker songs, but when Licence to Kill sweeps into its heavy, pounding intro – like the incidental music for some massive earth-destroying threat – you know you’ve found the daddy of them all. Gladys Knight doesn’t sound breathy and sensual so much as acutely menacing as she sings “Hey baby, thought you were the one tried to run…AWAY?” I can’t help but picture Bond locked in some hillbilly’s basement, desperately scrabbling with the lock as Gladys Knight comes closer and closer with bulging eyes and a bloodstained carving knife.
Actually, that’s not quite true – even at this stage, the orchestration suggests some massive purring machine of a song, holding back the full weight of its awesome power. Bond would be scrabbling at some electronic hyper-lock, and Knight would have a ray-gun or possibly a white cat. The surroundings would be opulent. “Please don’t BET” snarls Gladys “that you’ll ever ESCAPE ME – ONCE I GOT MY SIGHTS ON YOU!!” Knight isn’t the bond girl here, or even Bond himself, but a deranged, power-crazed villain in her own right, hiding inside a massive arrangement of synth trumpet and drums instead of a volcano base. And then the true horror is revealed, along with a backing chorus seemingly composed of snake-women:
Got a LICENCE TO KILL (To KILL!!) and you know I’m going straight for your heart! (Got a LICENCE TO KIIIIILL!!)
Got a LICENCE TO KILL (To KILL!!) ANYONE who tries to TEAR US APART!! (Got a LICENCE TO KIIIIIILL!!)
Licence to… KILL!! (cue incredible sweeping synth trumpet bonanza presumably meant to suggest deployment of nuclear missiles)
Well eh wot I mean to sa wot? I surely can’t have heard that correctly. The shock lasts right the way through another vaguely creepy verse, complete with breathy snake-gals in back, in which Glad sings that she thinks James can depend on her to make things right before threatening to aim a gun at him again as in verse one. This is not a stable woman. Another chorus and then suddenly we’re into whole new uncharted levels of lunacy, as Knight hypothesises a likely scenario complete with LOUD MUSICAL STABS like the stabbings of A KNIFE:
Say that somebody tries to make a move on you – (stab stab stab stab stab stab!)
In the blink of an eye – I’LL BE THERE TOO! (stab stab stab stab STAB STAB!!!)
And they better know why I’m gonna MAKE ‘EM PAY (STAB STAB STAB STAB STAB STAB!!!)
TILL THEIR DYING DAY!!
TILL THEIR DYING DAY!!
TILL THEIR DYING DAAAAAA-AAAAAAAYYYYY!! AAAAEEEEAAARRRGGGHHH!!!
Yes, you read that correctly. If someone tries to talk to you for even a moment, Gladys Knight will appear like the creature out of The Ring and then hound them until they die. And to make the point she then howls out like a creature from the depths of hell. The music does its best to match her point for point, growing ever more melodramatic, stagey, showy, flouncing through the riffs like a predatory Adam West. Finally, having swept up into some kind of grotesque epiphany, Gladys leaves us with the following:
Oooowwoooooooo… LICENCE to… KILL….. mmmmm… KILL… KILL… KILL… KILLLLLL (whispered again and again until the music fades out into, one can only assume, shocked silence)
Needless to say, this is one of the greatest pieces of music ever devised.