The music world was shook (well, no actually it wasn’t) by news that teen superstar Billie Eillish would be writing and performing the theme for upcoming James Bond movie No Time To Die. Can an angsty 18 year old from L.A. get in the headspace of a curmudgeonly womaniser in his 50s? Time will tell.
We looked back at the James Bond songs – each of them in fact, and ranked them from worst to best. We’ve left out the ‘James Bond Theme’ first introduced in Dr. No because, well, it would obviously win. Credit also to Blondie, Pulp, Muse and Radiohead who all wrote would-be Bond songs.
I’d quickly note that- touch wood – the only time I’ve been personally Twitter-abused is the last time I compiled this list (at a different site).
So please feel free to send me your correspondence.
23. Lulu – The Man With The Golden Gun
A practical joke that presumably everyone but Lulu was in on. She’s really trying here, and sings “He has a powerful weapon / He charges a million shot” with a straight face.
A crap soundtrack to a fairly crap movie (well, the ending is okay). ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ is hopelessly under-powered – a piddly pea-shooter with the safety on. It’s a slice of early-70s cheese absolutely nobody wanted or needed. A pastiche of a James Bond theme.
22. Sam Smith – Writing’s on the Wall
No polite way of saying this: I fucking hate this song. Truly. Goes down like a weak watery cup of tea. Sam Smith blubs through these lines with a wobbly lip and a runny nose. As it plays over Spectre‘s intro credits alongside images of ink-spraying octopi, it made me wish I was at the bottom of the ocean having my eyeballs depressurised. A piss-stream of lachrymose weepy drivel.
21. Rita Coolidge – All Time High
No clue who this person is. Frankly bizarre choice for a Bond song that eschews all the hallmark bravado in favour of adult-contemporary schmaltz. Cutesy love song with porny sax and cringe-inducing chorus that sounds like it should play over a pages-falling-off-the-calender montage in a shitty rom-com.
Personifies the tail-end of the Roger Moore era where James Bond was a sort of effete weirdo who dressed like a dad and slept with women about 20 years younger than him. Cheesy, inane and totally forgettable.
20. Shirley Bassey – Moonraker
Dame Shirley – you love her, I love her, but face facts – this is an unbearably dull song. You’d expect a bit more drama from, you know, the one where he finally goes to space.
For the movie where James Bond wrestles a python, journeys across the galaxy, instigates an intergalactic space laser battle, and knocks about with a character called Dr. Holly Goodhead – some more pizzazz was called for. Moonraker is the one where you throw the kitchen sink at it, not the one where you decide to show restraint.
Shirley simply doesn’t own it the way you’d expect (she was called in last minute) and the melody itself is fairly limp and nowhere near the imperious thrust of prior songs. A sad song for a true Queen to go out on.
19. Tom Jones – Thunderball
Ended up as a parody of ‘Goldfinger’, the predecessor it attempts to ape. Tinnitus-inducing horns blare with the aimless tenor of airport klaxons, parping constantly at fog-horn volume. Gives me a fucking headache, and Tom Jones – The Human Tuba – just bellows every note regardless of context.
18. Gladys Knight – License To Kill
Full credit to Gladys (minus her Pips) – she brings her A-Game here, plus she was born to sing a Bond theme. Melody may be prototypical Bond, but it’s stifled by the stiffly programmed drums and chintzy production of late 80s FM radio. Looks great in a tux though, fair play. The backing singers sound like they’re on crack – and since it was 1989, I’ll assume they were.
17. John Barry – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
When I was 8 I thought this was the best thing I’d ever heard. I don’t think that anymore. Epic certainly, and hearing it in a cinema alongside footage of gun barrels and boob silhouettes probably adds appeal. Sounds like a weird cowboy song with jangling spurs fit for The Lone Ranger, only with a slightly-ahead-of-its-time Moog bassline beneath it. Memorable, but just over the wrong side of ludicrous.
16. Matt Monro – From Russia With Love
Nothing really wrong with this – it’s classy, a little brassy, and captures the Eurasian setting pretty well. But a Bond theme with zero terrible sex puns or innuendo isn’t really a Bond song. Better than a poke in the eye – or a flick-knife court shoe to the groin.
15. Jack White & Alicia Keys – Another Way To Die
May be a little controversial, but this works better than most people give credit. There are issues for sure: the combination of drum machine alongside syncopated live drumming feels weird, as does the overly processed sound of Jack White’s electric guitars. Guitars in the Bond canon ought to feel massive, raw and twangy – here they are over-produced and lack any grit.
Yet there is some magic in the fusion of Alicia Keys’ R&B swagger and Jack White’s cock rock. His playing on the drums is brilliant – it’s rare that an actual standout performance is discernible in one of these themes. He can’t hold a candle to Keys vocally, but she makes up his slack. Not a hill I’m prepared to die on, but not terrible either.
14. Shirley Bassey – Diamonds Are Forever
Intro is iconic (and made for a great Kanye sample) but as the song develops it loses that unique character. Shirley Bassey imbues it with class, even in spite of the inevitable diamond-as-genitals metaphor that followed – “Hold one up and then caress it / Touch it, stroke it and undress it“. Filth.
13. Garbage – The World Is Not Enough
Successful fusion of turn of the century weirdness and classic David Arnold pomp. Enough hallmarks are present – 60s guitars, sweeping strings – that you don’t notice the clanging electro beat or late 90s synth squiggles. Shirley Manson’s earth-cracking chorus is one of the best in the series.
12. Die Another Day – Madonna
Deeply, deeply weird – I’ll agree that. But this song gets an unfair bashing. Sure it’s dated horribly – this sort of early ’00s electroclash sounds about 10,000 years old to today’s ears. But Robo-Madonna’s entry has a lot going for it – those strings for one are absolutely gorgeous, arranged by prolific composer Michel Colombier.
The bridge too is a rare example of one of these songs successfully raising the stakes – most crank it to 11 from the off and fail to escalate from there. If you hate this I can’t blame you. It’s total Marmite. For me it works.
11. Adele – Skyfall
I remember breathing a sigh of relief on hearing this: after the wobble at MGM Bond was back, and it was in good hands and classic. Pays a heartfelt homage to the tropes of the series but with an understated and delicate performance from Adele rooting it. That opening drum shuffle too is exquisite. A great song.
10. Chris Cornell – You Know My Name
The blast of noise and power that signified that things had irrevocably changed. Great riffs with a powerhouse delivery from Cornell, and some audacious drum fills. Daniel Craig’s first movie was a reboot that did away with a lot of things (namely the titular characters coif of dark hair) – ‘You Know My Name’ signified that changing of the guard perfectly.
Because David Arnold co-wrote the song, it was able to be woven throughout the score too, and served as the theme song for Craig’s fledgling Bond, until in the final scenes when the classic Bond theme appears, signifying his coming of age. Seriously underrated.
9. Paul McCartney & Wings – Live & Let Die
We’re in classic territory now, and few are more classic than this. ‘Live & Let Die’ is rightly a favourite, it just isn’t mine. The riff and melody are brilliant, I’ve just never been a fan of that bizarre verse of cod-reggae that brings everything to a crashing halt.
8. Tina Turner – Goldeneye
After a string of pop songs through the 80s, ‘Goldeneye’ returned to a classic sound: horns and attitude. One of the better written, lyrically (Bono & The Edge co-write) and with a strong melody absolutely SOLD by Tina Turner in full kill-a-bitch mode. Sassy, sultry and brilliant.
7. Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only
Real grower this one – leaves you cold on first lesson, but the bittersweet melody sticks with you. Sheena Easton’s voice gets a little reedy in the chorus but the quiet chill of the verses is spellbinding. It’s a small thing, but the way the synth melody pongs radar-like is a neat tie-in to the plot. Worth a re-visit.
6. Duran Duran – A View To A Kill
The only Bond song to go No.1 on Billboard, and you know it within the first 30 seconds. Somehow Duran Duran are able to temper new wave with John Barry pomp. The result is sheer mid-80s perfection, with the Linn drums and eyeliner to prove it. Easy to love.
5. Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better
Glang, glang-alang-alang-alang, glang-alang. Nothing inherently Bondlike about this, but it’s simply a brilliant song. Carly Simon proved one of the most unlikely heroes of the wider canon. She delivers these lyrics with a wink, but with genuine warmth too. Too damn classy.
4. a-ha – The Living Daylights
There’s an argument to be made that ‘A View To a Kill’ was great pop, but not a great Bond song. ‘The Living Daylights’ is both. The campy delivery of a-ha’s Morten Harket may serve as reminder that it’s definitely 1987, yet there’s a dynamism to this that is so often overlooked. The tempo is constantly shifting, with plenty of instrumental breaks and changes of momentum.
The combination of new wave twang and full orchestration is masterful – the melody on woodwind and blasts of dusty horns sound amazing. The instrumental bridge – replete with squawks of sax – is just the cherry on the cake.
3. Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice
This is achingly pretty – the opening string figure is the most beautiful twenty seconds in the history of the franchise. It’s anathema to me that this was initially offered to Frank, not his daughter Nancy, as her voice is suited perfectly. Crystalline, clean, but fragile. Sinatra herself thought she sounded like Minnie Mouse and the finished product is made up of over 25 different takes. If you don’t like this, then we don’t like you.
2. Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger
The first true Bond theme, and entirely iconic. The opening call and response of horns is as essential to the character of James Bond as his vodka martinis and sexual profligacy. Dame Shirley Bassey cemented herself as an icon, and blasted through this like a tornado. On any other list, this would be at No.1 and rightly so. Prefer Ringo’s version though.
1. Sheryl Crow – Tomorrow Never Dies
This song is so chronically, criminally overlooked. Few would consider this a classic, but for me it is a perfect cocktail of everything I love about the canon: orchestral swells, doom-laden guitars, timpani rolls and a belted out chorus.
It’s loosely sung from the viewpoint of Paris Carver, and shines a light on one of the more interesting and neglected plot points of the movie. ‘Goldfinger’ may be quintessential, but this is the song I return to again and again for it’s moody atmosphere and Sheryl Crow’s gorgeous smoky delivery. An underappreciated gem.