A little more than a month ago, I ranked every Bond movie. Now I’m doing it with Bond theme songs.
It sounds like Sam Smith is slated to sing the Spectre theme song. I’m fine with that. Dude’s English, he’s got pipes, and Adele’s iteration was so successful that it was pretty much predetermined they would pick another soulful singer-songwriter.a
But before his song is added to the canon, here’s a look at his predecessors. There’s a wide gulf in quality, and honestly, probably more than half of the Bond themes suck. I’m ranking them anyway.
For this exercise, I’m excluding Monty Norman’s untouchable Bond theme, which served as the de facto lead melody for Dr. No.b I still hum it to myself when executing a harrowing pass on the interstate or sneaking to my desk 15 minutes late. It’s ingrained in my DNA forever.
1. Live And Let Die – Paul McCartney, Wings
Simply everything you could want in a Bond theme, plus piccolos
2. Nobody Does It Better – Carly Simon
She could’ve easily tipped the scales into mawkishness, but she knew when to rein it in, and the result is a pop masterpiece.
3. We Have All The Time In The World – Louis Armstrong
I’m picking this over the all-instrumental OHMSS theme. This is so beautiful it transcends Bond.
4. You Know My Name – Chris Cornell
“I’ve seen angels fall from blinding heights / But you yourself are nothing so divine” just seconds after Bond smashes a thug’s face through porcelain and almost drowns him in a sink. Sorry, Pierce; thisis My Bond.
5. Another Way To Die – Jack White and Alecia Keysc
I remain bullish on Quantum of Solace, but it doesn’t belong in the uppermost tier of Bond films. This song is arguably its best addition to the canon. Just enough fuzz.
6. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey
Time has been unkind to two aspects of the Connerys — the action choreography and the songs. This one holds up best becauseGoldfinger remains so relevant that it could be a 1960s period piece made today, and Bassey’s theme clings to it with so much devotion.
7. Diamonds Are Forever – Shirley Bassey
This movie reminds me of four things, listed here in increasing order of importance:
1) Two villainous gay lovers who murder people with scorpions
2) The name Tiffany Case lol
3) Sean Connery’s preposterous hairpiece
4) This. Forever, foreva eva, foreva eva?
8. Skyfall – Adele
I don’t even really like this song… But it won an Oscar, so whatever.
9. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra
In the early 1960s, Nancy Sinatra was a very attractive woman. That is all.
10. The Living Daylights – a-ha
Now we start getting into the, uh, weirder ones.
11. From Russia With Love – Matt Munro
Sounds like what standing in a bread line in Novosibirsk must have felt like. Long, inaccessible, mercifully in the past, but oddly charming in a glad-I-didn’t-have-to-live-it way.
12. A View To A Kill – Duran Duran
This works in the sense that it sounds both like a Bond theme and a Duran Duran song. I’m not sure I know why they want me to “dance into the fire,” but considering how derivative the actual movie was, I shouldn’t complain about such frivolous things as lyrics.
13. Thunderball – Tom Jones
The premise of this song is built on a series of lyrical comparisons between Bond and other men, and right from the start it’s easy to see why this is a dumb idea — “He always runs while others walk.” Melodically, it sounds identical to Goldfinger. Having Tom Jones sing a song this lazy is like only driving your Corvette on a carefully tailored, closed-course oval. He guns the engine, but he’s just going in circles.
14. Goldeneye – Tina Turner
It’s beginning to strike me that I’m running out of okay songs. Bono and The Edge wrote this, and man, how I wished they would’ve just performed it too.
15. The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu
The lyrics are fairly nifty but painfully explanatory. Essentially, Lulu lays out the villain’s means, motives and method. Again, we return to the brassy horns of the ’60s, and she really sells it, but there’s not much for sale.
16. The World Is Not Enough – Garbage
Sort of a husky, industrial vibe, which fits the slicked-up motifs of the movie. But if I made you list every artist who’s ever recorded a Bond theme, how many would you list before Garbage? All of them, plus some wrong answers, right?
17. Moonraker – Shirley Bassey
Surprisingly, I don’t really have a problem with this song. Actually, I don’t really feel anything about this song.
18. Die Another Day – Madonna
The real shame is that I actually love, like, the first 15 seconds, with the string work and staccato percussion. Then the autotune and synth work tramples all over everything and she starts sing-talking about Sigmund Freud. Madonna admirably went for something bold, but this remains maybe the biggest, most cringe-worthy joke in the whole damn canon. And I haven’t even mentioned the music video where she gets “tortured” in a North Korean prison.
19. Tomorrow Never Dies – Sheryl Crow
Eminently forgettable. Is it better to be remembered as a disaster or not remembered at all?
20. Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight
This song is more than five minutes long. I literally just listened to it, and I can’t remember a single thing about it. I can’t hum it, I don’t know any of the words — “licence to kill” is in there somewhere, presumably — but I cannot bring myself to play it again.
21. All Time High – Rita Coolidge
Tragically cloying. At least it has a distinctive horns hook.
22. For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton