MY DEFINITIVE RANKING OF THE JAMES BOND THEME SONGS
With the upcoming release of Spectre on November 6, I’ve been rewatching the entire franchise and listening to those beloved theme songs. Just like the movies themselves, the songs range from classics to downright questionable. Without further adieu here is my ranking counting down from the worst to the very best. Here we go!
24. “Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys
From Quantum of Solace (2008)
Music and Lyrics by: Jack White
The instrumentals feel appropriate for a Bond theme, but Jack and Alicia’s vocals do not blend whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, as I enjoy both of them separately. Put them together and it’s a recipe for disaster.
23. “All Time High” performed by Rita Coolidge
From: Octopussy (1983)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry, Tim Rice, Stephen Short
Talk about a snooze fest…There’s nothing remotely Bond-ish about this ballad.
22. “Die Another Day” performed by Madonna
from Die Another Day (2002)
Music and lyrics by: Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzaï
Madonna was the only singer to actually appear in the movie whereas Sheena Easton appeared in the title sequence. Madge can be such a kick-ass performer, but her theme just does not fit for a Bond song. I think this merely sounds like a generic Madonna “in the club” type of song that’s been auto-tuned like crazy versus a James Bond theme.
21. “The Living Daylights” performed by A-ha
From The Living Daylights (1987)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Pål Waaktaar
Talk about ’80s synth sounds! This was the last Bond film scored by John Barry and apparently there were some rifts in the making of this theme. For me, I have a hard time understanding a majority of the lyrics, and it gets a tad repetitive.
20. “The World is Not Enough” performed by Garbage
From The World is Not Enough (1999)
Music and lyrics by: David Arnold and Don Black
In theory, Shirley Manson’s voice would be a great pick as she’s got that sultry tone to her. The song itself just gets very annoying with the way she punches and holds out “the world is NOOOOT enough”.
19. “From Russia with Love” performed by Matt Monro
From From Russia with Love (1963)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry, Lionel Bart, Monty Norman
One could question which version to use as the vocals actually came later on with the music being a variation on the original Dr. No theme. Matt Monro has a nice crooner sound to him. While I enjoy the the music and lyric combo, the idea of what the quintessential Bond song sound is hadn’t been in place yet so it’s hard to judge this next to some of the other themes.
18. “You Only Live Twice” performed by Nancy Sinatra
From You Only Live Twice (1967)
Music and lyrics by: Leslie Bricusse and John Barry
This tune is another one with a slow and sleepy quality to the tempo of the vocals as opposed to the music. I don’t think they match up as there’s more musicality beneath the surface than what Sinatra is putting forth. Plus, it’s a fairly short theme clocking in at under three minutes.
17. “You Know My Name” performed by Chris Cornell
From Casino Royale (2006)
Music and lyrics by: David Arnold and Chris Cornell
I usually enjoy the theme songs that come with a new Bond actor. For Daniel Craig’s first outing, the lead singer of Soundgarden lends his hard rock vocals to the theme, which sounds uniquely different than other Bond songs. I’m quite conflicted about this one as the I enjoy the slower take on the verses. The overall all theme of Bond being back with a vengeance is great. Once the chorus kicks in, it becomes too jarring for me. Again, I’m having a hard time understanding the lyrics.
16. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” performed by The John Barry Orchestra
From On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Music by: John Barry
With a new actor playing Bond (George Lazanby) after Sean Connery’s run, they took a slightly new approach with this theme as it is purely instrumental. A change of pace isn’t a bad thing even if it’s instrumental.
15. “Diamonds Are Forever” performed by Shirley Bassey
From Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Don Black
“Diamonds Are Forever” feels more like an after thought. It’s as if they thought “Well, we’re getting Connery back so we better call Bassey to sing the theme.”
14. “For Your Eyes Only” performed by Sheena Easton
From For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Music and lyrics by: Bill Conti and Michael Leeson
You can hear the beginning of that classic ’80s sound to this theme. Easton is the only singer to ever appear in the opening credits of the movie that accompany the song.
13. “Tomorrow Never Dies” performed by Sheryl Crow
From Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Music and lyrics by: Sheryl Crow and Mitchell Froom
“Tomorrow Never Dies” is technically a replacement song as this wasn’t the original theme. K.D Lang’s “Surrender”, which plays over the closing credits, should have stayed as the main theme. Crow just doesn’t have the same punch that Lang has in her song. The music works, but the vocals are over produced and Crow needs more vibrato in the notes she holds out.
12. “Moonraker” performed by Shirley Bassey
From Moonraker (1979)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Hal David
This is Shirley Bassey’s third James Bond theme and it’s another example of the theme song being leagues better than the film. Bond should never have gone into space. Bassey has great control over her tone, and there’s a dream-like quality to this theme.
11. “The Man with the Golden Gun” performed by Lulu
From The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Don Black
I will admit, this is not a great song but Lulu’s theme is so coo-coo pants crazy that I can’t help but love it. I just imagine her being super high on some sort of adrenaline fueled substance when she was recording it, and it makes me laugh.
10. “Writing’s On the Wall” performed by Sam Smith
from Spectre (2015)
Music and lyrics by: Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes
Sam Smith has stated that he wrote his theme in twenty minutes. At first listen, it doesn’t quite sound like your traditional Bond theme. It has those orchestrations, but it’s a slower more moody theme. The lyrics are quite depressing as it sounds like a big ultimatum that he has to make for the one he loves. It makes you wonder how it’s going to fit in with the overall theme of the film. I’ve actually listened to it multiple times now, and it gets better with each listen.
9. “Nobody Does It Better” performed by Carly Simon
from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Music and Lyrics by: Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager
This theme was the next one after Lulu’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”, and it is a complete 180. It’s slow, romantic, and timeless. It’s one of the few Bond songs that feels like a love song and is a good tribute anthem to such an iconic character. I would bet that Carly Simon still sings it in concert as it has a universal appeal to it and can be taken out of context of the film.
8. “Licence to Kill” performed by Gladys Knight
From Licence to Kill (1989)
Music and lyrics by: Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, Walter Afanasieff
Sing it, Gladys! “Licence to Kill” has a soulful quality to it that brings you right back to the days of Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson. I could play this one on repeat and sing along each time.
7. “Thunderball” performed by Tom Jones
From Thunderball (1965)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Don Black
“Thunderball” starts with familiar instrumentals and then adds the Tom Jones magic to it. It has such an over-the-top cheesy quality to it, but what else do you expect from him. It’s one of my favorite themes from one of my least favorite movies. Plus, I love his super high note at the end.
6. “A View to a Kill” performed by Duran Duran
from A View to a Kill (1985)
Music and lyrics by: John Barry and Duran Duran
You have to enjoy ’80s music in order to get into this one from Duran Duran. I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for it as my show choir sang it my senior year of high school. We had a “Danger” theme, so this was the men’s number with “Goldeneye” being the women’s number. The theme was one of the few highlights from the otherwise lackluster film, which also marked the end of Roger Moore’s run as Bond.
5. “Live and Let Die” performed by Paul McCartney and Wings
from Live and Let Die (1973)
Music and lyrics by: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney
You really can’t go wrong when you take a Beatle and have him do a Bond theme. It’s an interesting theme as there’s a good chunk of the middle of it that is just instrumental. This was the first of the Roger Moore films, and this theme seems to represent the changing of the times as it’s a very different style than the earlier Shirley Bassey songs or even Tom Jones’ theme.
4. “Goldfinger” performed by Shirley Bassey
from Goldfinger (1964)
Music and lyrics by: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, John Barry
This is the theme that really started the trend and idea of what we know as a “Bond” theme song. It’s the one that all others are typically compared to in terms of quality and Bond appeal. Bassey does some crazy vocal runs that are quite impressive. It has stood the test of time, and Bassey recently performed it at the Oscars for the 50th anniversary celebration of the franchise.
3. “Goldeneye” performed by Tina Turner
from Goldeneye (1995)
Music and lyrics by: Bono/The Edge
It might be sacrilege to some to put the other “gold” song higher than Shirley Bassey’s tune, but I’m a bigger U2 fan. I love the build of this song as Tina Turner starts all smokey and then gradually crescendos into a fantastic release around the two minute marker leading up to the ending.
2. “Skyfall” performed by Adele
from Skyfall (2012)
Music and lyrics by: Adele, Paul Epworth
The sultry Adele co-wrote the Grammy and Oscar winning song, and it quite perfectly fits the tone of the movie. When its paired with the credits, it makes for one hell of a James Bond anthem. There is a perfect build and strength that is important, yet hard to pull off. Adele does it all and I’ve been obsessed ever since I heard it the day it was released.
1. “James Bond Theme” performed by John Barry & Orchestra
from Dr. No (1962)
Written/Composed by: John Barry and Monty Norman
It only felt appropriate to end at the very beginning as that original James Bond theme heard in Dr. No will forever stand the test of time. You hear that score and it instantly brings you to Agent 007.
Theme Song Trivia!
Four songs have been Oscar nominated for Best Original Song:
1. “Live and Let Die” performed by Paul McCartney
2. “Nobody Does It Better” performed by Carly Simon
3. “For Your Eyes Only” performed by Sheena Easton
4. “Skyfall” performed by Adele – the only song to go on and win the award!
Six Songs Do Not Use the Title of the Movie as the Title of the Song
1. Dr. No – “James Bond” Theme
2. The Spy Who Loved Me – “Nobody Does It Better” performed by Carly Simon
3. Octopussy – “All Time High” performed by Rita Coolidge
4. Casino Royale – “You Know My Name” performed by Chris Cornell
5. Quantum of Solace – “Another Way to Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys
6. Spectre – “Writing’s On the Wall” performed by Sam Smith