All the James Bond Theme Songs, Ranked Worst to First
Sam Smith in concert at Toyota Center last month
Photo by Jack Gorman
Earlier this month, Sam Smith announced that he has recorded the theme song for the upcoming James Bond movie, Spectre, due in theaters October 26. Titled "Writing's On the Wall," the theme has been described by the singer as a "classic love song" and will be released this Friday. This may be almost perfect, considering Smith has again collaborated with Jimmy Napes, who helped write Smith's heartbreaking 2014 hit "Stay With Me." Bond movies have a reputation for getting relevant artists to record their opening-title songs, so it's not surprising that the quadruple Grammy-winning British singer is following Adele's "Skyfall," the only Bond theme in the series to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. While we can only guess the hit potential of Smith's new song, now seems like a perfect time to reflect on the best and worst of the entire Bond-theme catalog.
24. "Die Another Day," Madonna (2002)
Lacking depth and creative lyrics, "Die Another Day" was a weak attempt to create an iconic Bond theme. I’m gonna wake up yes and no/ I’m gonna kiss some part of — wait, what? Those aren’t even cohesive sentences! It’s as if all Madonna did was read the title of the film, spent two minutes creating a redundant chorus and used old text messages for verses. (Shout-out to Sigmund Freud!) This song is also the perfect example of how awkward pop was in the early 2000s, still trying to figure out how to be different from what it was in the '90s. (Madonna will perform at Toyota Center on January 12, 2016; click here for more information.)
23. "Never Say Never Again," Lani Hall (1983)
Similar to "Die Another Day," this song also lacks creativity and is definitely the most boring Bond theme. You'd think it had been composed using a karaoke machine with its generic, monotonous tune and constant key-changing.
22. "The Living Daylights," A-Ha (1987)
When The Living Daylights was released in 1987, Norwegian band A-Ha was still relevant thanks to their huge 1985 hit "Take On Me." While this song perfectly encapsulates the time period, it simply falls flat in comparison to the other Bond themes. Perhaps it was the creative differences between the band and longtime Bond composer John Barry that killed A-Ha's song. While The Living Daylights was the last Bond film Barry composed, A-Ha won this creative battle. They released a revised version of "Daylights" on their 1988 album Stay On These Roads, and it remains one of their most popular songs.
21. "The Man With the Golden Gun," Lulu (1974)
This song is all over the place and is obviously trying to take elements of some of the more successful Bond themes, namely Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. The instrumentals sound like they're having an identity crisis. Once a pattern gets established, things get switched up again in a less graceful way than what Paul McCartney and Wings had accomplished. The only thing good about this song is its semi-amusing lyrics. Love is required when he is hired/ It comes just before the kill...His eyes may be on you or me/ Who will he bang?/ We shall see/ Oh, yeah!
20. "For Your Eyes Only," Sheena Easton (1981)
For Your Eyes Only is unique in the sense that it is, to this day, the only film to include the singing artist in the opening credits. Unfortunately, that’s about the only interesting thing about this theme. While "The Man with the Golden Gun" was all over the place, this song doesn’t have much going on at all. However, out of all the Bond themes, this one will surely put your fussy baby to sleep.
19. "All Time High (Theme From Octopussy)," Rita Coolidge (1983)
I don’t understand why John Barry and Tim Rice decided to write a saxophone love ballad for the intro to Octopussy, except that they obviously didn't learn their lesson from For Your Eyes Only. I mean, Rita Coolidge did the best she could with what she was given, but this song would fit more in a romantic comedy than a Bond film.
18. "Moonraker," Shirley Bassey (1979)
Shirley Bassey is the queen of James Bond, having recorded more theme songs than any other artist. By 1979, she had already recorded two extremely iconic theme songs: "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Goldfinger." "Moonraker" is the least impressive, but it’s not Bassey’s fault! Apparently this theme took on many forms, passing through the hands of different songwriters and singers (including Frank Sinatra) before ultimately landing in Bassey’s lap just weeks before its scheduled release.
17. "License to Kill," Gladys Knight (1989)
You wouldn’t think "License to Kill" to be the title of a love ballad, but that’s exactly what it is. With a title like that, its lack of an upbeat tempo may be a missed opportunity, but that’s beside the point. Gladys Knight absolutely owns this song, though lyrically it struggles to make any sense: Got a license to kill/ And I’m going straight for your heart/ Got a license to kill/ Anyone that tries to tear us apart. It certainly fits the classic Bond motif of mixing love with violence, although it's not one that is easily remembered.
16. "You Know My Name (Theme From Casino Royale)," Chris Cornell (2007)
After a five-year hiatus, the Bond series rebooted with Daniel Craig in the title role for Casino Royale. Immediately, the producers knew they wanted a tough, gritty rock anthem to kick off the new franchise. While this particular opening title sequence is one of the prettiest ones, the song leaves much to be desired — probably because when Cornell was first approached to record the song, he didn’t know much about Bond at all.
15. "You Only Live Twice," Nancy Sinatra (1967)
Right away this song introduces an Asian undertone. This is appropriate considering Bond, here played by Sean Connery, went undercover as an Asian man using make-up and an accent (LOL). Except the title doesn’t make any sense, and frankly neither does the song. Lyrically, it's as if Nancy Sinatra is trying to make sense of the title though song: “You only live twice...Or so, it seems.” Not to mention that the lines “Love is a stranger who'll beckon you on/ Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone” make the song even creepier.
14. "Another Way to Die (Theme From Quantum of Solace)," Jack White and Alicia Keys (2008)
This is the first and only Bond theme to feature a duet, and was highly anticipated but poorly received. Initially, people got excited when they heard these two contrasting artists were going to collaborate, but the result was extremely lackluster. Undoubtedly a great instrumental composition, but let’s face it — Alicia Keys and Jack White just weren’t meant to share a mike together.
13. "Tomorrow Never Dies," Sheryl Crow (1997)
This song marks the franchise’s first time flirting with a sultrier sound. While I commend Sheryl Crow for stepping out of her comfort zone in terms of genre, this may not have been the best choice. A for effort, though.
12. "Nobody Does It Better (Theme From The Spy Who Loved Me)," Carly Simon (1977)
This is one of the better ballad-style Bond themes, released during the peak of Carly Simon’s career. Though the title of the movie is basically a throwaway line within the song, the piano sounds so sweet and sensual, perfectly pairing with the movie's overall plot.
11. "We Have All the Time in the World (Theme From On Her Majesty's Secret Service)," Louis Armstrong (1969)
This is also known as one of the saddest Bond theme songs of all time, and only Louis Armstrong’s husky voice can capture the emotional conclusion of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The title of the song derives from Bond's final words in both Ian Fleming's novel and the film; if you know the ending of this story, sometimes "all the time in the world" is still not enough. The soft instrumental and romantic lyrics only magnify Bond’s heartbreak and his possible loss of faith in love and long-term relationships.
10. "Diamonds Are Forever," Shirley Bassey (1971)
Though most consider the theme from Goldfinger as Bassey’s most popular song, this one still makes the Top 10 as her theatrical performance captures the grandeur and luxury of diamonds — the film's overall motif. Not to mention, this tune became an inspiration to hip-hop songs in later years.
9. "From Russia With Love," Matt Monro (1963)
"From Russia With Love" was the first Bond theme to feature vocals, as heard in Matt Monro’s suave vocals on this '60s-style love ballad. This song is unique because it's the unofficial theme song, playing during the end credits instead of the beginning of the film; there, an instrumental piece by John Barry that was very similar to the music in Dr. No is heard.
8. "The World Is Not Enough," Garbage (1999)
Here, Garbage achieved exactly what Sheryl Crow couldn’t in Tomorrow Never Dies. Finally the Bond producers got the sensual, seductive and mysterious sound they were looking for. Shirley Manson’s sexy voice paired with the signature '60s Bond guitar lick is the perfect mix of new and nostalgia. (Garbage will perform October 13 at Revention Music Center; click here for more information.)
7. "Thunderball," Tom Jones (1965)
Anybody who passes out while belting the final note of a song deserves to be in the Top 10. No, really, go back and listen, because that is what Tom Jones claimed happened. The song may not be strong lyrically, but that voice! Not to mention that the instrumentals retain elements of previous Bond themes, making this one of the more memorable classic songs.
6. "A View to a Kill," Duran Duran (1985)
"A View to a Kill" is the one and only Bond theme to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Though it never won any awards, it perfectly encapsulates the '80s music scene. Achieving what A-Ha’s "The Living Daylights" couldn’t, this is definitely remembered as one of the more iconic Bond songs.
5. "Goldeneye," Tina Turner (1995)
Written by U2's Bono and The Edge, this theme has a slow build, as the staccato strings sound ominous and the sudden blaring trumpets echo classic Bond music. This first film of the '90s introduced Pierce Brosnan as Bond and was a huge success; Turner’s powerhouse voice sets the tone perfectly. The film also inspired an equally successful video game with the same title.
4. "Goldfinger," Shirley Bassey (1964)
Goldfinger is the first Bond film to feature the iconic use of naked women in the opening title sequence, and is also the first theme song to feature a female artist. In Shirley Bassey’s first of three Bond themes, her dramatic voice introduces the villain, Goldfinger, who apparently has the Midas touch. Certainly it is one of the most memorable, and best, Bond films of all time.
3. "Live and Let Die," Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
Now here’s a perfect example of a successful nontraditional take on Bond. This song had so many layers in all the right ways; it's incredibly theatrical and borderline epic, so even Guns N’ Roses had to make it part of their repertoire. So what if it abandoned all the musical elements that traditionally make up the Bond themes? It was a bold attempt to do something completely different and, unlike some of the series' other musical experimentation, it worked.
2. "Theme From Dr. No," John Barry (1962)
Before anyone gets mad that the original James Bond theme song is not No. 1 on our list, let me explain myself. Of course no one can top the original James Bond theme song; the instrumentals alone embody the essence that is Bond. The blaring brass play as if announcing the arrival of a hero, and the dangerous yet smooth electric guitar underplays its coolness, making it seem even more charismatic and alluring. Still, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make this theme song No. 1, simply because it ends too soon! One minute into this adventurous tune, it changes into a peppy rendition of "Three Blind Mice," which totally makes sense if you have seen the movie. If you haven’t, it makes the abrupt switch even more confusing.
1. "Skyfall," Adele (2012)
Skyfall is the first and only Bond theme song to win an Academy award for Best Original Song. Perfectly soulful, sultry, brave and dramatic with all the classic Bond instrumental elements, it is absolutely what all previous theme songs had aspired to be. Adele’s powerful, full and theatrical voice is simply incomparable.
So what to expect from Smith’s comments about "Writing's On the Wall" being a "classic love song"? He could be hinting at another slow ballad, though that could mean something as iconic as Matt Monro’s From Russia With Love theme or a flop like Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only attempt. Either way, Adele has set the bar extremely high for him.
Previous Bond theme songs, in chronological order:
Dr. No (James Bond Theme Song) by John Barry (1962)
From Russia With Love by Matt Monro (1963)
Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey (1964)
Thunderball by Tom Jones (1965)
You Only Live Twice Nancy Sinatra (1967)
We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong (1969)
Diamonds are Forever Shirley Bassey (1971)
Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and the Wings (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun by Lulu (1974)
Nobody Does it Better Carly Simon (1977)
Moonraker Shirley Bassey (1979)
For Your Eyes Only by Sheena Easton (1981)
All Time High by Rita Coolidge (1983)
Never Say Never Again by Lani Hall (1983)
A View to Kill by Duran Duran (1985)
The Living Daylights by A-Ha (1987)
License to Kill by Gladys Knight (1989)
Goldeneye by Tina Turner (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies by Sheryl Crow (1997)
The World is Not Enough by Garbage (1999)
Die Another Day by Madonna (2002)
You Know my Name by Chris Cornell (2006)
Another Way to Die by Jack White & Alicia Keys (2008)
Skyfall by Adele (2012)
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.