Some three years ago, I put together a list of the ten best James Bond movie theme songs. With the release of Skyfall next week and a very good theme song by Adele, people have been talking about what the best Bond themes are and where Skyfall would land on that list. So here’s our officially unofficial list of the best Bond themes of all-time.
Off The List: You Know My Name (Casino Royale) – Chris Cornell
There are a lot of good Bond themes. However, this is a top ten list. You Know My Name is a good Bond theme but it’s just not as good as the rest of the list. I can understand the argument that You Know My Name should be on the list. My list is fairly interchangeable from 9th to 13th. Since I’ve arbitrarily capped this list at 10, the addition of a new song forced one of the songs on the original list to be dropped and Cornell’s theme was the victim.
#10 For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton
While you’re watching that video above, pay attention to the woman singing at the start. That’s Sheena Easton making the first appearance by a theme song singer in a Bond movie. For a standard pop ballad, it’s not a bad song. It fits both as a Bond theme and would have likely worked just as well as a single from a Sheena Easton album. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s so different from most other Bond themes that makes it work so well and why it appears on so many top ten lists.
#9 The World Is Not Enough – Garbage
No, this isn’t on the list as the token Brosnan era entry. Granted, out of the five Brosnan movies, only two are what I’d consider good (the other being Goldeneye). To be honest, if you told me in 1999 that Garbage was doing a Bond theme, I’d be very concerned because I wouldn’t think that Garbage would be capable of doing a classic Bond theme. Hell, Garbage doing a Bond theme would have made as much sense on paper as Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist. Fortunately, they handled themselves very well and served up a theme song good enough to make this list.
#8 Skyfall – Adele
The Brosnan and Craig years have been pretty hit and miss when it comes to theme songs. Since 1995, I’d say that we’ve had three good Bond themes and three bad ones. Fortunately, the producers virtually guaranteed a hit by picking Adele. The classic orchestral backing also invokes a sense of nostalgia as its reminiscent of the best Bond themes. The vocals are a bit more Shirley Manson (lead singer of Garbage) than the Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones that it could have been but she still sounds good. In short, it’s an instant classic.
#7 Thunderball – Tom Jones
The influence of Goldfinger on Thunderball’s theme is obvious. From the big orchestral scoring to the big vocalist to the singer passing out while singing the final note, Thunderball was virtually a carbon copy of Goldfinger. Okay, Shirley Bassey was reported to have almost passed out while holding the final note of Goldfinger where as Jones was reported to have passed out while holding the final note here. Another fun fact is that Bassey, Dion Warwick and Johnny Cash all recorded versions of Thunderball before the call was made to go with Jones.
#6 Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey is the only singer to have performed more than one Bond theme with Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker and a third film which is ranked higher on this list. Naturally, it’s only appropriate that Bassey makes the list twice. It’s not that she hasn’t earned it, though. Diamonds Are Forever might be better known now as a song sampled for a Kanye song but it was a pretty good Bond theme. Mind you, all four Bond theme with lyrics (singing was the sole criterion for a theme song to be eligible) made this list. The music department knew what they were doing back then.
#5 You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra
Moving up one spot from the original list is the theme to the original final Connery movie as Bond. It vaulted over Diamonds Are Forever which was the actual final Bond movie. This song is notable for the Japanese influence in the backing music which is fitting as the movie was set in Japan. It also beats the hell out of that Robbie Williams song that sampled this song.
#4 A View To A Kill – Duran Duran
New wave band Duran Duran seemed like an odd choice to do a Bond theme but bassist John Taylor got them the gig by goading the producer into giving them the gig. Taylor went up to Cubby Broccoli at a party and asked when somebody decent was going to do a Bond theme? While this would turn off most potential employers, Broccoli gave them the job to do the theme for A View To A Kill. The film was largely forgettable apart from Christopher Walken’s turn as the villain and Duran Duran’s theme song. It remains the only Bond theme to top the Billboard Hot 100.
#3 Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me) – Carly Simon
Carly Simon’s Bond theme was the first theme song to have a different title than the film title. The title of the movie did make it into the song, though, which beats the differently named theme songs to Octopussy (All Time High), Casino Royale (You Know My Name) and Quantum of Solace (Another Way to Die). While it didn’t chart as highly as Simon’s famous You’re So Vain, it was her longest charting song by two months. While it might not be the best Bond theme of all-time, it definitely sums up James Bond.
#2 Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney and the Wings
Not many Bond theme singers can consider their addition to the Bond movies as one of the iconic songs of their career. When you consider how epic Paul McCartney’s song catalogue is, it goes to show how good and how popular Live and Let Die is to be a staple of his live sets.
#1 Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey
There is only one song that you can choose for top spot on a list of the best Bond themes. It’s only fitting that Shirley Bassey’s theme is the gold standard for Bond themes because Goldfinger is the gold standard for Bond movies. One thing that makes Goldfinger unique is that it’s one of the rare Bond themes that is actually about the movie. It’s a song about Auric Goldfinger where as a lot of themes are only tangentially related to the movie. Mind you, it’s not like I needed added justification for naming this the best Bond theme.