Somewhere down the line, it became a tradition for every movie featuring the gentleman spy James Bond to have a theme song performed by a huge contemporary pop star played over the opening title sequence. The last one, which was used for the movie Spectre, by Sam Smith really sucked. It wasn’t cool or suave or Bond-like at all. It was just a regular Sam Smith song. It was like he’d never seen a James Bond movie in his life. And then somehow, he won an Oscar for it. But there have been some really great and iconic Bond themes over the years – here are the 10 best ones!
10. GoldenEye by Tina Turner
The theme song from GoldenEye was written by Bono and the Edge from U2 specifically for Tina Turner to sing. In Music and Media’s review, they wrote highly of the song: “A perfect candidate for the soundtrack of 007’s latest adventure, Tina Turner and her raw R&B power easily fit in the Shirley Bassey tradition. Composers Bono and the Edge stayed close to the traditional James Bond sound – even the Club Edit is fairly conventional.” It was an unusual combination to have the main guys from the Irish alternative rock band U2 collaborate with the soulful pop singer Tina Turner, but somehow, each artist’s distinctive style cancelled each other out and fit together like a puzzle to create the ideal sound for a James Bond theme song. If you want to be considered a great singer of James Bond themes, then you want to be compared to Shirley Bassey, who sang three iconic and beloved theme songs for the movies. Adele was compared to Bassey when she sang her beautiful, emotionally charged, Oscar-winning theme song for Skyfall. And the critics noted that Tina Turner’s voice in the GoldenEye theme song had a sort of Shirley Bassey quality. If you aim for Bassey, you can’t really go wrong.
9. A View to a Kill by Duran Duran
Roger Moore was the most quintessentially ‘80s Bond with his movies full of all the ludicrous action sequences and unusual fashion choices and retro visuals and camp sense of humor, so it only made sense that Duran Duran’s Bond theme, for A View to a Kill, would be a quintessentially ‘80s song, with all of its synth sounds and flashy effects that come out of nowhere. The band didn’t hold back from bringing their signature synthpop and new wave styles from their theme, even though it wasn’t really in fitting with the Bond style – and they made it work! The theme is kind of the best thing about the movie, or at least the only thing that stands the test of time. Despite Christopher Walken’s awesome villain, the general consensus is that A View to a Kill is one of the worst Moore era Bond movies – maybe one of the worst Bond movies, period. Plus, at 57, Roger Moore looked way too old to be the cool, suave, sexy ladies’ man that is James Bond. But the movie’s theme song is punchy and memorable and fun. It was the only Bond movie theme song ever to reach the number one spot on the Billboard charts.
8. You Know My Name (for Casino Royale) by Chris Cornell
It was a great loss last year when Chris Cornell died. With his outfit Soundgarden, Cornell was an even earlier trailblazer of the grunge rock movement than Kurt Cobain and he had been producing great music for his entire life. The same goes for his Bond theme “You Know My Name” for Casino Royale, which changed up the way that Bond themes are written. Usually, artists are brought in and they make a song that will fit the new James Bond movie. But Cornell’s theme was different, because Casino Royale was different. It was the gritty Batman Begins-like reboot that was going to take the Bond movies in a darker, more serious, more realistic direction. The Bond franchise would never be the same again. So, in order to reflect this, Cornell created his song with the aim to make it the new theme song of the entire franchise. The way he saw it, if the franchise was getting dark and modern and fresh and gritty, the old Monty Norman theme wouldn’t do anymore, so he wrote a song about the character himself. And frankly, if the producers had decided to use Cornell’s “You Know My Name” as the theme song for the franchise from now on, there would be little objection from the fans.
7. Thunderball by Tom Jones
The producers originally wanted Shirley Bassey to do the theme song for Thunderball – a version that regular Bond composer John Barry had written with Leslie Bricusse called “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” – and then Dionne Warwick had a crack at it, and Johnny Cash submitted one that they disregarded, until finally, they settled on the legendary Tom Jones to sing a new version of the song, now entitled “Thunderball,” which Barry wrote with Don Black. The song ends with a note that’s really difficult to hit and goes on for really long – so long that when Jones was recording it, he fainted halfway through the note. The singer himself has said of the incident, “I closed my eyes and I held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes, the room was spinning.” This was even mocked by “Weird Al” Yankovic in his theme song for the spoof movie Spy Hard, where instead of passing out at the end, Yankovic’s head explodes. But Jones’ passing out was worth it, because what we got from it was a great Bond theme – maybe not as great as the Johnny Cash one that we never got to hear, but still pretty great.
6. We Have All the Time in the World (from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) by Louis Armstrong
When you think of Louis Armstrong, you surely think of “What a Wonderful World,” but his Bond theme “We Have All the Time in the World” should not be forgotten. Composer John Barry, who worked on almost every piece of music that ever found its way into a James Bond movie, has said that this is his proudest achievement in the franchise. He considers it to be the finest composition he ever did for a Bond movie and also remembers it fondly for the joy of working with the great Louis Armstrong. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often cited by filmmakers as the only Bond movie that stands as a technical cinematic achievement, but it is also controversial for being the first and only Bond movie to star the Australian George Lazenby in the lead role as 007. He’s not British! Oh, no! But you know what, he’s actually a great Bond. He has the charm and the charisma and the likability to make it work. It was also the only Bond movie where 007 actually married the Bond girl (and then she got tragically killed), so its theme song “We Have All the Time in the World” has since become a staple of weddings.
5. You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra
Interestingly enough, the screenplay for You Only Live Twice was written by Roald Dahl. Can you picture that? The same guy who wrote the scene where Augustus Gloop gets stuck in a chocolate pipe also wrote the scene where James Bond fakes his own death and escapes from a burial at sea. Dahl hated the source material, comparing Ian Fleming’s novel to a travel guide, so he had to craft his own story for the movie with no information besides its Japanese setting. With that in mind, Nancy Sinatra – one of the greatest singers of all time – infused her theme song with oriental sounds that make it a bona fide classic. It has all the mysticism and the romanticism and the entrancement of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” but with a more oriental feel. It’s like she remixed “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” for a Japanese audience. It suits the movie perfectly and it’s just a great Sinatra song in its own right. The producers originally wanted Nancy’s father Frank Sinatra to do the theme song, but he recommended that they hire his daughter instead. Her musical style is more adaptable to the style of James Bond and it gave us a classic theme.
4. Skyfall by Adele
When director Sam Mendes first approached Adele to write the theme song to Skyfall, she told him that she might not be the right person for it, saying, “My songs are personal, I write from the heart,” so Mendes basically told her to “just write a personal song,” and that was that. When the song, which features a 77-piece orchestra and the leitmotif of Monty Norman’s initial James Bond theme song, was first played for producer Barbara Broccoli and star Daniel Craig, they both reportedly “shed a tear.” Adele created a beautiful theme song for the film. She and her co-writer Paul Epworth sought to capture what made all the previous great Bond themes so great. She incorporated the mystery of Nancy Sinatra and the darker tones of Shirley Bassey and the sexuality of Carly Simon and the tragedy of Paul and Linda McCartney and wrapped it all up into the same song. By adding all the elements of the best Bond themes, she had put all the Infinity Stones into the Infinity Gauntlet and she could snap her fingers and win an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award, and a Grammy – the first time a Bond theme won any of them.
3. Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings
When the 007 producers approached Paul McCartney to do the theme song for Live and Let Die, the screenplay wasn’t even finished, so he had no movie plot to work from. Instead, he read Ian Fleming’s novel that the film was loosely based on and based the theme song around that. As the music legend explained, “I read it and thought it was pretty good. That afternoon, I wrote the song and went in the next week and did it…It was a job of work for me, in a way, because writing a song around a title like that’s not the easiest thing going.” But he did it and, to no one’s surprise, it was one of the best Bond themes of all time. The theme from Live and Let Die became the most commercially successful Bond theme at the time, reaching the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It was also the first James Bond theme song to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Plus, this theme song reunited McCartney with his old Beatles producing partner George Martin and, like a lot of songs credited to the ex-Beatle, it’s been covered by dozens of other artists, the best selling of which was performed by Guns ‘N’ Roses.
2. Nobody Does It Better (from The Spy Who Loved Me) by Carly Simon
Despite the fact that the lyrics do mention the phrase “the spy who loved me,” Carly Simon sort of revolutionized the way that Bond themes are written when she provided the theme song “Nobody Does It Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me, because it was the first ever Bond theme to not share its title with the film itself. By doing this, she opened up the creative possibilities of the artists that followed her. Paul McCartney felt creatively stifled by having to build his song around the title Live and Let Die – well, no more, thanks to Carly Simon. See, Simon, famous for performing songs about the men in her life, decided to do a theme song about the sexuality of the James Bond character in what has been described as a “lust-drunk anthem.” It’s a really great song on its own, even if you listen to it outside of a Bond context. It was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe and a couple of Grammys. And this song becomes even greater and more memorable once you’ve seen Alan Partridge’s rendition of it, complete with a recreation of the sexually suggestive imagery from the opening title sequence.
1. Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey
This one is the obvious candidate for the top spot. It is simply the most iconic and memorable Bond theme of all time. Even people who have never seen the film, or indeed any of the Bond films, identify the franchise with this theme song. This was actually the theme song that started it all. After this one, pop stars had to sing a distinctive theme song over the opening titles of James Bond movies. This one set the benchmark that has yet to be topped. It was Welsh singer Shirley Bassey’s biggest hit in the Billboard charts and would go on to become the song she was best known for throughout the UK. When the film’s producer Harry Saltzman first heard the song, he reportedly said, “That’s the worst f**king song I’ve ever heard in my f**king life,” but luckily there wasn’t enough time to record another song to appease the curmudgeonly producer, so the theme song that literally everyone else in the entire world loves was allowed to stay in the film. Bassey’s Goldfinger theme song was included on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Songs” list and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. As far as movie theme songs go, this is about as successful and iconic as they get.