Throughout history, pop artists have been tantalized by the concept of espionage, whether singing about real-life spies or using snooping tactics in their approaches to matters of the heart. So we did a little reconnaissance ourselves, digging into the vaults to find five of our favorite songs about spies (or spying) to coincide with a week dominated by the news of President Donald Trump firing FBI director James Comey, which occurred after weeks of speculation about the agency's investigation into the White House's ties to Russia. Fans of James Bond, John Le Carre, Jack Ryan, conspiracies, and the like – these are especially for you.
Pulp, "I Spy"
Espionage, revenge, adultery, and class warfare get mixed up in Pulp's svelte, sexy 1995 anthem. Bandleader Jarvis Cocker plays the role of a James Bond-meets-Karl Marx libertine who's out to cause a revolution by wreaking havoc on the ruling class – one sordid love affair at a time. "It's not a case of woman-v-man," Cocker sings, his voice barely above a late-night whisper. "It's more a case of haves against haven'ts." The five-and-a-half-minute song unfolds as a mini suite. Guitars in the opening play like violins while strings ramp up the tension as the tune unwraps. As Cocker croons of stealing a rich man's brandy, a keyboard stalks the landscape and drums start to foretell of the blows that will inevitably arrive after the song ends.
The Decemberists, "Valerie Plame"
This song takes its name from a real-life former CIA operative, one whose identity as a secret agent was outed in 2003 by a newspaper columnist. The Decemberists avoid the controversy of the actual incident – one that led to Plame's resignation and further ignited debate surrounding the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What the Decemberists concoct instead is far more fanciful in tone and sound. Songwriter Colin Meloy acknowledges the news, but puts us in the mindset of a former Plame acquaintance – a "stupid boy on a bus" – who views the woman as the one who got away. While learning Plame isn't who he thought she was, the torch still burns, and the Decemberists deliver the tale with a carnival-like joyfulness in which an old-timey banjo pairs with regal orchestration to create wistful nostalgia.
Nancy Sinatra, "Last of the Secret Agents"
This little-known, oft-forgotten Nancy Sinatra cut was written for the spy-spoofing film of the same name, once again pairing the vocalist with "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" collaborator Lee Hazlewood. The connection proves worth mentioning since the song's sound falls somewhere between the aforementioned hit and the James Bond-film playbook, launching with a bombastic horn overture before settling into a spirited groove. The real pleasure, however, is listening to Sinatra regale us about the hapless spy she loves. "He's never even caught a cold," she sings, and one can practically hear her roll her eyes. The insults keep coming: "Got his degree at Disneyland," she quips. But before one can go find out how to obtain a master's at the Happiest Place on Earth, horns sweep in and Sinatra professes her affection for the everyday hero. She would tackle the spy song genre again, and more seriously, when she later sang the theme to "You Only Live Twice."
The Fugs, "C.I.A. Man"
Whether the Fugs were a novelty group or purveyors of underground avant-rock depends on which rock historian you ask. But there's no denying the New York band had a venomous (and hilarious) anti-war streak. Take "C.I.A. Man," which sounds something like a jug band attempting to tackle reggae. It's full of bluntly wry critiques of the Central Intelligence Agency. Some lyrics aren't too vicious – "Who can get a budget that's so great?" – but others feel for more pointed. The Fugs reference riots in Vietnam, clandestine kills, and questionable operations in Nicaragua. And yet the group makes it all go down easy thanks to a bouncy, curse-word-laden call and response.
Dramarama, "I've Got Spies"
This early 90s glam-rock scorcher comes from the same school as the Who's "I Can See for Miles" and the Police's "Every Breath You Take." While the song conflates spying with stalking, it does so with a fierce, demented swagger. Guitar riffs twist and wiggle like funhouse mirrors. Lead singer John Easdale epitomizes dark-suited bluster by taking a confident, polished approach as he sings about his lurking nature. And around the corner of every verse lies a corkscrew-like guitar riff, conveying a sense of there being nowhere to run.