Fifty years after the release of the very first Hollywood adaptation of Ian Fleming's superspy, James Bond returns to make his 23rd appearance on the silver screen this month in Skyfall, Daniel Craig's third crack at the character. The media blitz for the film's premiere is already in full effect, led by the release of Adele's new Bond theme song, the sensibly titled "Skyfall."
While the new movie's success has yet to be determined, the theme has all the making of a hit. With Adele in the midst of a self-imposed hiatus from music as she carries her first child to term, pretty much anything the "Rolling In the Deep" singer puts out right now is going to be snatched up greedily by her fans. Expect it to make a big splash on the charts. Just don't expect a masterpiece.
Sure, Adele has won the hearts of millions worldwide with her bold, rich tone, but "Skyfall" diminishes her somehow. Falling well short of sultry, her soft cooing on the track threatens to disappear into the lush arrangement instead of blasting it into the stratosphere where it belongs. Chart-topper or no, this one ain't likely to appear at the top of any Bond best-of lists anytime soon.
But is it bad enough to rank among the worst?
Not a chance. "Skyfall" may underwhelm given its singer's superstar status, but it's more inoffensive than abominable. In 23 tries, the Bond franchise has produced some truly wretched themes that make even hardcore fans wince. To put Adele's effort properly in perspective, we suggest you suffer through the following soundtrack bombs best forgotten. They're the (double-oh) seven worst Bond theme songs of all time.
007. Tom Jones, "Thunderball"
Asking noted lounge lothario Tom Jones to adopt a sexy spy persona on the soundtrack for "Thunderball" probably seemed like a good idea on paper. In truth, however, the theme was a rush job written by longtime Bond composer John Barry after his original song was rejected by the studio.
The track is studded with familiar Bond-theme motifs, but Jones' throaty croon edges closer to a goofy parody of Sean Connery's charming killer than a sexy tribute. A homoerotic love song from Tom Jones to 007 might have become a camp classic, but instead it's a flat-out dud. The worst part is that a theme written by Johnny Cash was also submitted, but ultimately rejected. I'd bet there's little chance it was as bad as this.
006. Gladys Knight, "Licence to Kill"
If it weren't plastered right into the underrated Timothy Dalton's second Bond film, there would be no telling that "License to Kill" was a Bond theme song at all. The track's extremely dated '80s production work is immediately off-putting, with Gladys Knight's voice struggling not to be drowned out by what must be the biggest, boomiest drums ever constructed.
The basic problem here is that this song does not sound like anything that belongs in a Bond film. Instead, it's a fairly generic '80s dance-floor ballad whose chief attribute is that it's among the series' shortest.
005. Jack White & Alicia Keys, "Another Way to Die"
This one had potential, but it didn't pan out -- at all. When it comes to songwriting, Jack White is tough to top, and Alicia Keys's soulful pipes have carried worse tunes than this. "Another Way to Die" seemed like an inspired out-of-the-box pairing on the surface, but the song itself fell sickeningly flat.
The first mistake was Jack White's attempt to match up Keys' vocals. I like White's rootsy warble as much as the next guy, but the overlap of his squealing rasp on to Alicia's high notes sounds like bad karaoke. But it's the duo's distinct lack of chemistry, both musical and sexual, that dooms this intriguing failure to the bust bin. The competing vocals sound as though they were recorded on different coasts by two people who have never even heard of James Bond before.
004. A-Ha, "The Living Daylights"
Last year, my colleague with One F placed this hyper-dated smudge of '80s pap among the best Bond themes of all time. With all due respect, perhaps he's taken a few too many powerbombs. While the ironic appeal of one-video wonders A-Ha tackling a cinematic icon is admittedly delicious, "The Living Daylights" came out sounding like drizzling dogshit.
Much like the other musical entry from Dalton's tenure, this one sounds approximately nothing like a classic James Bond theme. Was this synthy snoozer really supposed to get theater audiences pumped for the film they were about to see? The Bond that "Living Daylights" seems to embody is some kind of flip-haired fruity-pants, not the suave spymaster fans crave. Do yourself a favor and just listen to "Take On Me" again, instead.
003. Sheryl Crow, "Tomorrow Never Dies"
"Tomorrow Never Dies" starts out fairly promisingly, thanks to a return to the rich string arrangements that have come to define Bond themes. The problem here is with the artist chosen to sing the tune. Sheryl Crow is a fine singer, mostly, but she's spectacularly unsuited to this style.
Crow's easy-goin' West Coast whisper simply can't carry a track this big and swaggering. Her voice sounds thin and nasal on "Tomorrow Never Dies," falling far short of the sensuality required to pull it off. You wouldn't think it'd be so easy to rob a star like Crow of her sex appeal, but this dull ditty manages the feat in well under four minutes.
002. Lulu, "The Man with the Golden Gun"
The bizarre, syncopated brass-and-xylophone line that opens this track sets a disorienting tone right off the bat, but it's the grimace-inducing double-entendres in the lyrics that really crank up the crap quotient. Lulu's voice is entirely wasted on this crippled mess of a song, which longtime Bond composer John Barry considers his worst ever. It ain't hard to see why: It's entirely free of any coherent musical ideas.
Shock-rock demigod Alice Cooper claims that his song, "Man With the Golden Gun," was dropped from the film in favor of this one, begging the obvious question, "Fucking WHY?"
001. Madonna, "Die Another Day"
Full disclosure: I'm a huge Madonna fan, and I absolutely can't wait to catch her latest act at Toyota Center this month. But "Die Another Day" is shit, plain and simple. In fact, it's far and away the stinkiest green turd in the Bond theme-song bowl.
Owing entirely to Madonna's hard-won global fan base, "Die Another Day" was one of the most commercially successful Bond themes ever released. Shame, too, because no one should pay money for this dreck. Not even Q employed this many electronic sweeteners!
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It's tough to say what's most annoying about the song: The incessant refrain of the title, the egregious use of auto-tune or the entirely nonsensical Sigmund Freud namedrop. It's like trying to pick out your least favorite pubic louse.
This embarrassment represents not only the nadir of Bond music, but of Madonna's 21st Century reinvention, as well. It won her a Razzie for Worst Original Song in 2002, and if against all sanity it makes an appearance in Madge's October 25 set list, I'm walking the fuck out.