The soundtrack to Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film of the same name, was released by MCA Records in 1989.
Because the legendary composer John Barry (who had scored almost every film from From Russia With Love onwards) was unavailable due to ill-health, the soundtrack's more upbeat and suspenseful score was composed and conducted by Michael Kamen, who also composed the soundtracks for the first three Die Hard films and all four Lethal Weapon films. Initially Eric Clapton and Vic Flick were asked to write and perform the theme song to Licence To Kill; the tune was said to have been a new version based on Monty Norman's signature theme, with the guitar riff played by Flick. The prospect, however, fell apart and Gladys Knight's song was chosen, later becoming a Top 10 hit in the UK (reaching no.6) and in Germany.
The song, one of the longest to ever be used in a Bond film, was composed by Narada Michael Walden (best known for his work with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin), Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff (Houston, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross). It was based on the iconic horn line from Goldfinger, which required royalty payments to the original writers, Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. The music video of Licence to Kill was directed by Daniel Kleinman, who later took over the reins of title designer from Maurice Binder for the 1995 Bond film, GoldenEye.
All the instrumental tracks on the film's soundtrack are amalgams of various sequences and musical cues from the film rather than straight score excerpts. The end credits of the film feature the song If You Asked Me To sung by Patti LaBelle. Though the song was a top ten R&B charter and a minor pop hit for LaBelle, in 1992, the song was covered by and became a much bigger hit for singer Céline Dion. The track Wedding Party, used during the wedding of Felix Leiter to Della Churchill, makes reference the track Jump Up from the first Bond film, Dr. No.
In all honesty, I think Licence To Kill is possibly the most underrated of the Bond theme songs. Most of them usually sound all the same, but thanks to Gladys Knight's vocals and Michael Kamen's unconventional (for Bond) production, the tracks offers something different. Overall, he provides an exciting and hard hitting, yet beautiful score mixed with various songs from the film. Fans of the traditional bond-style soundtracks may find this a little different at first, but watch the film a few times, give the album a few listens and it'll grow on you. And as for the signature theme - I personally rate it so highly, it's up there with Bassey's Bond stuff.
If that seems a bit of a hard concept to take, remember one thing. This is Gladys Knight we're talking about, not some fly by night flavour of the month vocalist. Ms. Knight can go toe-to toe vocally with anyone.