One thing that’s been clearly established by the long-running James Bond movie series is the theme song. Ever since From Russia With Love, every movie’s featured a theme song, sung by vocal artists of varying levels of fame. Some movies even feature multiple songs, but when that’s the case, I’ll only consider the song that’s actually sung, even if an instrumental number plays in the opening credits. And if there are two sung songs, I’ll only consider the one playing in the opening title sequence. Both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love play there theme song in the closing credits.
Anyway, this is a list of all the theme songs, sorted in order of my personal preference. But even if a song appears lower on this list, they’re all at least listenable. Well … except for last place. Also, we’ll get to why there are 24 themes on this list despite how I’m only considering one theme song per movie, and there are 24 movies.
24 – Die Another Day by Madonna (Die Another Day)
Ugh, this song is torture. Admittedly I’ve never been a Madonna fan, but I can enjoy a handful of her older songs. This was clearly made well after her prime. My honest opinion is that she should retire from the music industry with whatever dignity she’s got left, instead of trying to chase Lady Gaga’s fame and further embarrassing herself. With most of the other songs I’ll be adding a bonus video for the fun of it, but I won’t here. It doesn’t deserve that dignity. The only nice thing I can say about this song is that it serves as a warning of what is to come.
23 – All Time High by Rita Coolidge (Octopussy)
This song was created in the middle of a sludge of overly dramatic, romantic James Bond theme songs. Four movies in a row featured these numbers that got increasingly slower. I’m not saying this is bad. In fact the tune and the line “We’re two of a kind” ended up being something I remembered in the decade and a half since the first time I watched the movie. But it’s a mid-80’s love song that doesn’t really get you excited for the movie. The tune works well as a romantic theme during the movie though. For the fun of it, here’s an instrumental version by the Ian Rich Orchestra.
22 – Licence To Kill by Gladys Knight (Licence To Kill)
Talk about a theme song that completely clashes with the movie’s tone. At least with All Time High, it’s a romantic number for a Bond movie that focuses on the romantic aspect of the story more than usual. Licence To Kill is possibly the darkest Bond movie in the franchise, intensely focusing on Bond’s quest for revenge. So why is it getting a cheesy late 80’s pop song? Again it’s not bad, but it clashes with the movie’s tone more than any other theme song in Bond movie history. And for the fun of it, Licence To Kill’s climactic truck chase scene with John Berry’s adventure theme added in (originally introduced in From Russia With Love).
21 – Moonraker by Shirley Bassey (Moonraker)
It might sound weird that the only artist to record three James Bond theme songs is appearing this low on the list. After you listen to this song though, you’ll understand why. This doesn’t really feel like a Shirley Bassey song. After the original recording artist left, they rushed to find a replacement. Bassey didn’t have enough time to make the song her own and she wasn’t satisfied with the final result. In fact a lot of people weren’t satisfied with it. Again it’s not a bad song, but it says something when Shirley Bassey never performed this song live until 2002, well after the movie’s 1979 release. For the fun of it, here’s a mini documentary about the story behind the Moonraker theme, as well as Bassey performing all three of her songs in a medley.
20 – Another Way To Die by Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)
I’ve got mixed feelings about this song. The beat behind the vocals is really good, especially the calmer beat during the verses, where you can just feel that it’s going to get faster and more energetic during the chorus. That said, the lyrics don’t really make much sense when you’re just listening to the song. That and Alicia Keys gets way too fancy with her vocals for my tastes, even if she’s got a good voice. This could be a personal taste thing, but I think this one is wasted potential. I feel that way about Alicia Keys’s music in general really. For the fun of it, here’s a live version done in the The Voice, Germany.
19 – For Your Eyes Only by Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)
This is another entry in the sludge of slow, dramatic songs in the late 70’s to early 80’s. That said, this one works for the movie a bit better since they were trying to take the series back down to Earth at the moment. And it is more energetic than the others, which helps. For the fun of it, here’s a rock-ish cover by symphonic metal band, Edenbridge.
From this point on, all of the theme songs are at least good. Some of the previous ones may be good too, just not really in my personal taste.
18 – From Russia With Love by Matt Monro (From Russia With Love)
The first of the sung theme songs, Matt Monro’s From Russia With Love played during the closing credits. It’s a classic romantic number with an interesting blend of Western beats and Eastern instruments. I’m sure this song is actually a lot better than most of the songs higher on this list, it’s just not in my personal taste. For the fun of it, here’s the theme that plays during the opening credits.
17 – You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice)
Another one of the slower theme songs, but this one actually sounds as dramatic as it’s trying to. It’s a tune that also works very well with the movie’s soundtrack. I don’t really have much more to say about this one besides the fact that I like Nancy Sinatra’s other work better. For the fun of it, here’s a cover by Coldplay.
16 – Tomorrow Never Dies by Sheryl Crow (Tomorrow Never Dies)
As this is the first James Bond movie I ever saw in full, Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies also happens to be the first James Bond theme song I ever heard. In fact for a while I thought that all of the James Bond theme songs were sung by women, because after that I saw this, it was Goldfinger, Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy, the World Is Not Enough, Goldeneye … a bunch of songs with women as the theme song vocalist. I thought that Casino Royale was the first Bond movie with a man singing the theme song … until I saw From Russia With Love. Anyway, this song is good. It’s got a slightly haunting tone to it, a good beat, and good vocals.
Tomorrow Never Dies happens to be one of the movies with two theme songs, with Surrender by K.D. Lang playing during the closing credits. It’s actually the better song, and the tune within the song is incorporated into the movie’s soundtrack. But because Sheryl Crow’s song played during the opening credits, that’s the one I’m considering for this list. Here’s Surrender, edited into the title sequence for Tomorrow Never Dies.
15 – Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)
This is a really neat sounding song, with instruments imitating the cartoonish sound of shiny things, but in a way that doesn’t feel cheesy. This is another song that is arguably good enough to be much higher on the list, it’s just not in my personal taste. I can’t quite explain why. For the fun of it, here’s Shirley Bassey performing the song at the Queen’s 90th birthday.
14 – The Living Daylights by A-ha
This song is pure 80’s goodness. It doesn’t really fit the tone of the movie, but it’s still a fun song – much better than the Licence To Kill song that came after it. Not much else to say, so here’s the awesome opening sequence that quickly sold me on Timothy Dalton as James Bond.
13 – A View To A Kill by Duran Duran (A View To A Kill)
Just like the previous song, this is pure 80’s goodness. This is actually the only theme song in franchise history to hit #1 in the billboard charts. The music video is also fun. For the fun of it, here’s a quick scene that shows why Christopher Walken is such a great villain in this movie.
From this point on, all of these theme songs are great. With the exception of number 1, it gets increasingly harder to pick my favourite song from this point on.
12 – We Have All The Time In The World by Louis Armstrong (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
Fun fact, when Louis Armstrong recorded this song, he was recovering from a heart attack. Also, after he finished recording the song, he walked up to longtime Bond composer John Berry, shook his hand and said “thank you sir for letting me do this.” This actually overcame John Berry with emotion. This is a very good song and on many other people’s lists, it would be near the top. In fact it may be comparable to Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World classic. Again, why it’s not higher on my list is purely a matter of personal taste. For the fun of it, here’s the theme that plays during the opening credits.
11 – Man With The Golden Gun by Lulu
This song is just fun, but it also acts as a great villain song. As a bonus, here’s a short interview with Christopher Lee, talking about the movie and touching on his friendship with Ian Fleming himself. It’s a very neat interview.
10 – Writing’s On the Wall by Sam Smith (Spectre)
Of the dramatic theme songs in the series, this is probably the strongest. It’s mostly a romantic number, but there’s a slight haunting feel behind it. Sam Smith’s vocals are good on their own, but the backing orchestra puts the entire song on an entirely different level. In fact this song has grown on me since rewatching Spectre, to the point where there are times I can’t get it out of my head.
Fun fact – Radiohead also submitted a song for the movie, a previously unreleased song called “Spectre”. Eon Productions rejected the song since it wasn’t written for the movie, thus it would be unelidable for the Academy Awards. Considering Writing’s On The Wall won the award, they didn’t make the wrong choice. I don’t like Radiohead’s song as much, but here it is edited into Spectre’s opening sequence. I’ll let you decide which one you prefer.
9 – Thunderball by Tom Jones (Thunderball)
This is the manliest theme song in the James Bond franchise, no doubt about it. Here’s Tom Jones performing it at the 50th celebration of the Bond franchise. His voice still sounds quite powerful in his advanced years.
8 – Goldeneye by Tina Turner (Goldeneye)
The soundtrack in Goldeneye may be the weakest aspect of the film, but Tina Turner’s theme song is great. It’s got a smooth beat that feels pure 90’s, while still embracing some of the more classical elements of the franchise. That and there’s a subtle tense feeling throughout the entire song. Like Tomorrow Never Dies, this movie’s got a closing credits song as well, The Experience of Love by Eric Serra. Here it is being performed live.
7 – You Know My Name by Chris Cornell (Casino Royale)
There are better songs in the series, but I can’t think of one that gets me more excited for Bond movie than this one. There’s something about this song that becomes its own style, making it hard to pin down exactly what subgenre of rock it is. RIP Chris Cornell. Because of Cornell’s death last year, I won’t be posting an extra video for this one out of respect.
6 – Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings (Live and Let Die)
This song doesn’t really feel like it fits a James Bond movie. I don’t care though, because it’s a fun, groovy theme that’s kind of exciting anyway. I heard this song several times on the radio at my old job and enjoyed it, not yet knowing it was a Bond theme song. In short, it’s pure 70’s rock goodness. For the fun of it, here’s Guns N’ Roses performing a cover of the song. It’s just as fun, just a different style.
And now, we enter the legendary portion of this post. All four of these songs are worthy of legend in their own right.
5 – Skyfall by Adele (Skyfall)
By far the most haunting theme song in the franchise, Skyfall perfectly sets the tone for the movie to come. It became the first theme song in the franchise to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and it’s a well-deserved award. For the fun of it, here’s a live cover of the song by symphonic metal band Within Temptation. It’s a version that’s just as good even though it’s the complete opposite in tone.
4 – Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)
I might not be a huge fan of the movie, but I must admit this song is absolutely brilliant. It forever set the standard for Bond theme songs, one that’s rarely even approached. Like the Man With The Golden Gun song, it’s a fantastic villain number that mixes blatant lyrics with subtle hints of Auric Goldfinger as a character. For the fun of it, here’s a parody by Gina Riley.
3 – The World Is Not Enough by Garbage (The World Is Not Enough)
Speaking of awesome villain songs, if the Bond franchise were a musical, this would be the one song actually sung by the villain. And it’s an awesome one at that. Shirley Manson’s voice sounds very powerful throughout this number in a way that adds to the sinister lyrics, almost to the point where you believe she’s ready to take over the world. It’s got a great music video too. Here’s Garbage performing it live last year.
2 – Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me)
I’m not even sure what to say about this one. It’s just great. As a bonus, here’s a tribute to Roger Moore’s run as James Bond with the song. RIP Roger Moore.
Before I properly name my number one pick, there really was no other choice for this. No James Bond theme is more iconic than this. And because Dr. No didn’t have a sung theme song, I had to go with the soundtrack. So here it is, my number one pick for this list.
The James Bond theme, by John Barry
Seriously, there is no other legitimate choice for number one, whether this is a personal taste thing, or just choosing the best. It’s such an iconic theme. And no, I don’t know why Dr. No’s opening credits suddenly starts singing 3 blind mice, but it’s only one of the movie’s many unexplainable quirks. As a bonus, here’s the 1997 Moby version, released around the same time as Tomorrow Never Dies.
I hope you enjoyed this post. What’s your favourite James Bond theme song? Please let me know in the comments below.