James Bond Theme Songs, From Worst to Best
The themes from the James Bond films cover a wide range of styles. Which one is the best?
Over the past 55 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.They have inevitably also varied in quality. So which Bond themes are the best and worst? I'll warn you now, none of the new ones get too close to the top. Listen to Spotify a playlist of my choices here.
24. 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.
23. 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 does, with some great brass work. But thereafter, and especially once White starts 'singing', it grates on my nerves immensely.
22. 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.
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
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, then 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 me. 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
8. Adele: Skyfall
I sat through Adele's Glastonbury set on TV to hear this, so it must be quite good. Daniel Craig's Bond films have alternated between good and bad themes, so hopefully the next one will be great. 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)
Chris Cornell died recently, and 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 earlier this year. 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.
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