The James Bond Theme Songs
James Bond Theme Songs
I’ve been steeped in the wonderful music of James Bond lately in advance of a 007 tribute show I’m staging this March 007th. Overall, the Bond themes are absolutely terrific. Most hold up better than the films. Here is my ranking of all 23 themes. Just click start on the video and read.
1) “James Bond Theme” by John Barry & Orchestra
Dr. No 1962
Monte Norman wrote possibly the best theme song ever. It has endured through all 50 years of Bond and it never sounds out of time or dated. Even recent attempts to update it, with synthesizers, samples and programmed drums can’t ruin it. It creates a tension and delivers a release that suits the films and the characters created by Ian Fleming and further developed by Saltzman and Broccoli. This song goes against the time worn adage from Confucius, who once wrote: “gong in song be wrong.” Well, I say, “gong in this song belong!” There is nothing bad to say about this masterpiece.
The weirdest and most wonderful of all the Bond themes. From the opening wailing of the brass, to Bassey’s affected screeching in that impossible vibrato, to the quoting of the “James Bond Theme” (leading into the bridge and as it races to the finish) to Bassey’s over-the-top ending note. You can hear that big note coming but you wonder, “is she really gonna go there? Can she go there?” Hell, yes she can go there! This song tells you that you are in for a ride, and more than likely a fiery death at the bottom of a canyon.
Sweet, sweet Adele. This is the only Bond theme to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It’s perfect. Simple without being simplistic. The slow build, the ethereal melody, the haunting lyrics, the lush production (that includes brass.) The orchestra swells and swells and then falls away. The song perfectly suits the setting, the mood and the story arc of the showdown at the Bond Family Estate, Skyfall Lodge in Scotland. These lyrics would have been the perfect inspiration to Kirsten Dunst at the climax of Bring It On, if only it had been directed by Sam Mendez.
The Spy Who Loved Me 1977
Marvin Hamlisch’s piano intro is pure gold that trickles out like jackpot coins just as the Union Jack parachute opens and Roger Moore’s stunt double descends right along with the melody. The lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager are so perfectly ‘70s superhero James Bond style and match the campy Roger Moore era (an amphibious sports car and a henchman the size of moose with metal teeth.) There’s a restrained movement to the beat in the verses that makes the release in the final “Baby, you’re the bests” all the more satisfying. Like when you finally go from the onramp to a clear freeway. (For the young people out there: once there was a time when taking the freeway was the faster way to travel.) This and “Live and Let Die”, are the most sing-along-able of the themes. This is a pop song for goodness sake. I’ll forgive the synthesized drums (dare I say, they’re done “tastefully?” Okay. How about “sparingly?”)
Diamonds Are Forever 1971
A haunting, spooky anthem that grabs hold of a Disco beat midway through. The second of the three themes sung by Shirley Bassey, this one is less theatrical than “Goldfinger”, but is no less a compelling vocal performance. The way she caresses the lyric “sparking ‘round my little finger” is flawless. This track is very much rooted in the original Bond theme aesthetic without directly quoting the original theme. This is the last of the horn crazy themes and feels like the ‘70s more than the ‘60s (which is what they were going for I hope.) The disco beat in 1971 is ahead of the curve and Don Black’s lyrics are among the best of any of the themes. The song works outside the realm of being a theme song, which is an asset because the film is unbearably awful.
That’s Sir Tom Jones to you! This song is the male “Goldfinger” in almost every way. It opens with crazy horns, it quotes the original theme, the vocal is an affected slow-burn that works its way toward the climax of the big note. Tom Jones’ delivery is cartoonish (but wait, that is a compliment!) This is exactly the kind of performance you want for a super spy action thriller with hot babes (DOMINO!!!), nifty gadgets and evil villains. It’s the perfect swingin’ ‘60s swarthy, hairy-chested man anthem or, if I may “manthem”. Oh, that’s good! I’m gonna use that one.
Casino Royale 2006
I know I’ll get some arguments but I’m quite accustomed to being right in the face of others being wrong. If you are uncomfortable with this choice, it’s you that must make peace with the truth. The lyrics are the best as far as their relationship to the film. They convey the emotional and spiritual cost of taking a life. Daniel Craig redefined the role as portrayed in the films, back to the gritty special agent of the Fleming novels. This song announces this new presence with a bang and a scream from Chris Cornell. Who would have thought grunge rock with strings and horns would ever happen? I look forward to seeing Grunge on Ice, one day with the surviving members of Alice In Skates and Rage Against The Zamboni. This song is custom fitted like Daniel Craig’s suits. The only disappointment (and it’s a BIG one) is there are no girls in the opening titles. What up with that?
Live And Let Die 1973
This is another Paul McCartney mini opera that sounds like three song ideas melded into one (See “Band on The Run”). I could easily see this one being higher on the list but the out-of-left field reggae section takes it down a couple notches. It makes the song silly. How silly? As silly as running on the backs of crocodiles to escape a man with a hook for a hand (and how come Tee Hee’s arm that got eaten by crocs is longer than the intact arm?) Maybe reggae was a good choice after all? Alright, move this song back up to number 6.
A View To A Kill 1985
Exhibit A of ‘80s crap production value. Why did they hate music in the 1980s? This song is quite good, despite the meaningless lyrics, easily the worst in any Bond song, but who cares? It’s got a great hook, so “can we dance into the fi-ya?!” If you figure someone probably only paid $3.25 for a ticket to this movie in 1985, they could have walked out after the opening titles and still got their money’s worth, (provided you danced in the aisles.)
From Russia With Love 1963
This is a gorgeous song, with an impeccable melody. Beautifully orchestrated and daftly sung by Great Britain’s own great crooner, Matt Monro. It feels like a ‘20s or ‘30s love ballad that could have been something that inspired Fleming while writing, instead of the other way around. This theme isn’t sung over the opening titles. Instead you get this hybrid of John Barry horns, an instrumental version of “From Russia” that ends with the “James Bond Theme”.
This is a beautiful song and the last of the Shirley Bassey themes. (An amazing performance of the triangle, by the way. Ed Grimley would be completely mental. I must say.) Bassey doesn’t sing with the power of the themes she sang 15 and 10 years earlier, but the song matches the film. You can imagine floating in space while this song plays. You can also imagine wanting your money back after seeing this film. What is a “Moonraker” anyway? Is that anything like a “Comet-shoveler” or an “asteroid-mower?” More like “Uranus plougher”… Heh, heh. Heh, heh.
You Only Live Twice 1967
This film is set in Hong Kong, so is this theme trying to sound (look out! Here comes an outdated and offensive term) “Oriental?” (If you really want to be offended, watch the film. “I think he’s turning Japanese, I think he’s turning Japanese, I really think so”.) It sounds more like late ‘60s stoner music. And now, Sean Connery stars as James Bond in “You Only Inhaled Twice”. The ethereal vocal melody meanders along with the descending opening and a psychedelic distorted guitar. It’s trippy, man.
This feels exactly like what it is: An early ‘80s movie theme song. It’s like a case study. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s well written and performed. It’s the natural progression that stared with the “Theme From The Goodbye Girl” by David Gates, followed by “Maybe It’s You” from Tootsie, and finished “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman. “All Time High” isn’t on the Mt. Rushmore of Soft Rock Movie Anthems, but it is part of the Corn Palace in nearby Mitchell, South Dakota.
The World Is Not Enough 1999
A sneaky good song. Like so many of these Bond themes they reflect the musical landscape of their time. This feels like Moby or D.J. Useless must have been involved. I don’t understand the production of this era. It’s not as bad as the ‘80s, but it’s weird for its own sake, like the guy who rides the really tall bike in a stovepipe hat, striped leggings and a kilt. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do it, I’m just wondering why? Get out of the way and let the song through.
For Your Eyes Only 1981
If you could only hear Sheena Easton sing this song with a piano, bass, drums and a few strings, you’d find a beautiful song hiding among another awful ‘80s over-production. Its like putting Tom Brady’s beautiful face behind a football helmet. Such a waste! This is an absolutely beautiful ballad like “From Russia With Love”, but instead of harkening back to an earlier time, this is a soft rock ballad FROM THE FUTURE! Welcome to the 1980s! This is awkward-slow-dance-at-my-freshman-prom kinda music. I can only assume Sheena Easton is a terrible actress, because she should have been cast as a Bond girl in addition to singing the title (for God’s sake they let Madonna try to act in Die Another Day.) Easton has all the exotic looks required. I would have called her Anita Bootycall.
NOTE: Although this movie release predates the launch of MTV by two months, the opening titles are weird because Sheena Easton is singing it like it’s her music video. Strange. I don’t like it.
If you’re like me, then you too used to lie awake at night praying, “Please Lord, all I ask is that before I die you let U2 write a James Bond theme song for Tina Turner to sing.” “Granted”, sayeth the Lord. This was written by Bono and The Edge (or Paul and Dave, as their mothers call them) for the only Pierce Brosnan Bond film that isn’t a total mess, and the song isn’t a total mess either. It works as a theme song but I don’t think I’d listen to it if I weren’t watching silhouetted semi-nude women dancing while the credits roll.
The Man With The Golden Gun 1974
This song is strange as hell. It’s near impossible to sing along to, and difficult to follow. The lyrics, though written for the movie are clumsy. Johnny Mercer is rolling over in his grave (and could still write better lyrics.) This is the first song on my list where the movie is better than the song, but it’s a near dead heat. (Britt Ekland in a bikini tips the scales toward the film.) Lyrically this song isn’t about Bond, which makes it akin to “Goldfinger”, a song about the villain. In this case, Scaramanga or the man with the third nipple. If you ask me, that’s more interesting than a golden gun. “The Man With The Superfluous Papilla” would chart much higher than 17 on my list.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 1969
This movie is too long but has some of the great moments in Bond history and the love story is incredibly sweet and unexpected. This film gets lost in the shuffle, but I’m supposed to talk about the music. This theme is pretty good the first one hundred times you hear it, but after the second hundred times, you start to get a little sick of it. It hovers over the film like one of those parents who go to every one of their kid’s games wearing matching t-shirts with their little angel’s portrait on the front and something across the top in fluorescent font like “Cody’s #1 Fans Club. You ROCK!”
License To Kill 1989
The R&B Bond. It’s just awkward. It’s not Gladys Knight’s fault. She sings like a legend but this song is crap and doesn’t match the James Bond style in the slightest. Like Timothy Dalton, he’s a fine actor but the source material stunk. The script and director are to blame for the awful Dalton films and they should be have been hung alongside Saddam Hussein (and back in 1989 too. Would have saved everyone a lot of grief all the way around.)
The Living Daylights 1987
I thought we all agreed that a-ha were a one hit wonder, so why were they given another song? “Beats the living daylights out of me.” Good one Tony!
Quantum Of Solace 2008
Sometimes you put two great artists together, like Redford and Newman and you get Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Magic happens. This collaboration is not like When Harry Met Sally or even when chocolate met peanut butter. This is more like when Rosanne met yoga pants. It’s a hot mess. Some reviewers thought Quantum of Solace never could figure out what it was supposed to be and I think this theme follows suit. It doesn’t feel at all Bondian. Sometimes you’re too hip for the room.
Tomorrow Never Dies 1997
To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, if Sheryl Crow’s voice were any thinner some of our Senators and Congressman might be able to see through it. She can’t sing and this song stinks and Madonna must be Sheryl Crow’s “Lucky Star”, because if it weren’t for Madonna, this would be the worst theme of all. Some straight talk. If you’re not looking at Sheryl Crow, it’s hard to listen. I know I’m an awful pig for saying that, but how about we look at the evidence. This version without her pretty face has 311,028 views.
(“Skyfall”, by the way has over 15 million views. Adele can sing!)
23) Whatever song they make for the forthcoming film SPECTRE (being released November 6, 2015) will be here or higher, because I can’t imagine anything worse than…
Die Another Day 2002
This song makes you want to die today. It’s unlistenable. The auto tune must have been spitting out sparks. The opening scenes and the opening credits show Pierce Brosnan being tortured; this song must be part of it. He’s much stronger than I. When I listened to this I confessed to stealing an ink pen in the fourth grade and I even started confessing to bringing down Pan Am Flight 103. “Anything, JUST MAKE IT STOP!” Click play at your own risk!
I hope you’ll come see our James Bond Tribute Show
In fact here’s a funny video to promote it
Saturday March 007, 2015
Tony Starlight Showroom