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James Bond Theme Songs, From Worst to Best

by Andrew Beasley 3 years ago in movie
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The theme songs from the James Bond films cover a wide range of styles. Which one is the best?

All six James Bonds from the official EON film series

Over the past 58 years, the themes from the James Bond films have run a very wide gamut. From ballads and torch songs, to rock and instrumentals, the Bond themes have ranged from orchestral to electronic with many stages in between. But which of the historic songs are the best and worst?

25. Madonna: Die Another Day

"Die Another Day" is bottom in my ranking of the Bond films, and it's bottom again here. As if Sigmund Freud would lower himself to analyze this turkey.

24. Jack White & Alicia Keys: Another Way To Die (Quantum Of Solace)

"Quantum Of Solace" is also not an especially well-loved Bond film by many people, though it doesn't plumb the 'Die Another Day' depths. I actually like the movie, but the theme song is pretty dreadful. The song does at least start like many a classic Bond theme, with some great brass work. But thereafter, and especially once White starts 'singing', it grates on my nerves immensely.

23. Sam Smith: Writing's On The Wall (Spectre)

Sam Smith said that he wrote this song in twenty minutes. He should've spent longer. It's sadly a dull song from a mostly dull film. In fairness, the instrumental version of this track is one of the highlights of the Spectre score. But that probably says more about that hugely forgettable effort by Thomas Newman.

22. Billie Eilish: No Time To Die

Perhaps it is too soon to give this song a fair appraisal. An excellent title sequence can make a difference to how a theme is perceived, for instance. But writing this at a point between the release of the track and the release of the film, it's hard not to feel underwhelmed. It sounds like one long Skyfall verse waiting for a powerful, uplifting chorus. Poor old Daniel Craig will be signing off with three of the bottom four songs. He deserves better.

21. Tina Turner: GoldenEye

I adore the film, and love the video game, but the song? Meh. Listen to the lyrics in the middle eight too. Creepy. As an aside, why did the members of U2 come to write so many songs for action films in the mid-1990s? Someone should investigate.

20. Rita Coolidge: All Time High (Octopussy)

This is probably the least 'James Bond theme' of all the songs on this list. It doesn't relate to the film in any way, it doesn't talk about Bond, and it doesn't get the pulse racing with joy as so many of the Bond songs do. "All Time High" is pleasant enough, but weak too.

19. Matt Monro: From Russia With Love

'The singing bus driver' delivers the first theme song of the whole series. It feels like it belongs to an earlier era, but then 1963 wasn't the swinging 60's as we remember them now. The instrumental version which plays over the opening credits is far more exciting.

18. Gladys Knight: Licence To Kill

This is by no means a bad song, but the production has done it no favors at all as the years have passed, and it has aged horribly. It's also too long; if your track isn't that good, keep it brief. This effort also deserves to lose points as the writers 'borrowed' the famous horn line from "Goldfinger" yet wasted it on this.

17. Lulu: The Man With The Golden Gun

A lot of aspects of "The Man With The Golden Gun" feel a bit rushed, and the music is no exception. This was the last Bond film to follow just one year after the preceding one, so EON must have then learned their lesson. Lulu's song is arguably the last Bond theme which rocked until Chris Cornell came along 32 years later. It couldn't sound much more mid-1970s if it tried.

16. Shirley Bassey: Moonraker

"Moonraker" has the slowness of space baked right in. Shirley's trio of Bond themes got quieter and less in your face as they went along. Less good too. I almost prefer the disco version on the film's end credits; it's certainly a better fit for the crazy tone of the film that it accompanies.

15. Garbage: The World Is Not Enough

It's not garbage (ho ho), but it's certainly very middling. "TWINE" is decent enough but it's also quite forgettable; the only line I can ever remember from the verses is the one lifted from the film itself.

14. Tom Jones: Thunderball

You can almost hear the conversation between Broccoli, Saltzman, and Bond music supremo John Barry in your mind. "'ere, John. 'Goldfinger' was great, so for the next film can we get another Welsh person to belt out a loud one?" The song is pretty good, and legend has it that Jones fainted when belting out the final note. But imagine if they'd have gone with the track Johnny Cash submitted for the theme.

13. Shirley Bassey: Diamonds Are Forever

Shirley's second Bond song was also her second best. I love the way that the introduction of the track sounds like diamonds. Or it does to my addled mind, anyway. As a bass player myself, I've awarded bonus points for the pre-chorus bass break.

12. Sheryl Crow: Tomorrow Never Dies

The highest ranked Brosnan-era theme sees Sheryl Crow struggle to hit the high notes (or so it always sounds to these ears. I can't sing at all. Don't listen to me). This seems a case of the producers going for a higher profile singer rather than choosing the best song. K.d. Lang's "Surrender" from the film's closing credits is the better of the two tracks.

11. Sheena Easton: For Your Eyes Only

After the success of "Nobody Does It Better", Roger Moore was handed a trio of ballads for the themes for his next three Bond films. This is definitely the pick of the bunch. Sheena Easton is currently the only singer to appear in the title sequence of their film, too.

10. Nancy Sinatra: You Only Live Twice

Thankfully I knew this song before Robbie Williams sunk his grubby claws into it for his track "Millennium". "You Only Live Twice" has a great riff though, so who can blame him? Apparently, Sinatra was so nervous during the recording of the song, she had to sing a line at a time and then they pieced it together afterward. It doesn't show.

9. A-ha: The Living Daylights

By all accounts, a-ha and John Barry - who was working on his final Bond film - didn't get along. Yet when you compare the theme version to a-ha's own take on the song, it's Barry's brass stabs which really make it. It's a cracking theme from an underrated film.

8. Adele: Skyfall

I sat through Adele's Glastonbury set on TV to hear this, so it must be quite good. Daniel Craig's first four Bond films alternated between good and bad themes, so hopes were high for number five. Oh well. In fact, there may be a correlation between the quality of the theme and the quality of the film where Craig's era is concerned.

7. Chris Cornell: You Know My Name (Casino Royale)

When Chris Cornell died, despite his lengthy and successful career many news outlets used this track to sum him up. Perhaps that says more about Bond films being far more widely known than Soundgarden, but this is certainly one of his best songs. The chorus of this gives me goosebumps, and it was a definite return to form for the Bond music after the uninspiring Brosnan themes.

6. Duran Duran: A View To A Kill

Much like "The Living Daylights" this couldn't be mistaken as coming from any decade other than the 1980s. As a child of that decade, this is probably the Bond theme I've heard more than any other. And speaking of Decade, Duran Duran's best-of compilation of that name is awesome too. Check it out.

5. Shirley Bassey: Goldfinger

This is perhaps the ultimate Bond theme for the ultimate Bond film. I saw a screening of "Goldfinger" at the cinema and when the song started the goose bumps flew up and down my arms immediately. That's despite me having heard it thousands of times. It's loud, brash, and glorious, and has a sledgehammer impact in the film.

4. The John Barry Orchestra: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

John Barry was unafraid to experiment with Bond themes, despite being responsible for the music for an enormous film franchise. Granted, anyone would've struggled to write lyrics for a song called "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", but this instrumental, with its use of a Moog synthesizer for the bass line, is superb. "We Have All The Time In The World" from the same film would be high up this list too. If you like film scores, this one is a must.

3. Paul McCartney and Wings: Live And Let Die

Of all the Bond themes, this is the one that fits best with the visuals of the title sequence. However, I think I knew the version by Guns 'N' Roses first. Anyway, any song with a cod reggae middle eight shouldn't be this high in any list, but the rest of the song more than compensates for that. I played this at a wedding with my band once too. Marvelous.

2. Carly Simon: Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)

Radiohead's Thom Yorke once described this as "the sexiest song ever written", and who am I to argue with a face like that? The lyric of the song sums up Bond to a tee, and it was widely used in tributes to Roger Moore when he died. It's a fabulous track, and unlike many on this list, it can easily stand alone without the kudos of also being a Bond theme.

1. The John Barry Orchestra: The James Bond Theme (Dr. No)

Maybe it's a cop out to pick this at the top of the pile, but how can you not? It's a brilliant piece of music, and one of the greatest instrumentals of all time. "The James Bond Theme" is 1m 48s of genius which echoes through the ages.

If you agree or disagree with the list, get in touch on Twitter. James Bond will return...


About the author

Andrew Beasley

Freelance football (soccer) writer. I also like to write about other things which take my interest.

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