Critics may have found the 22nd James Bond caper,Quantum of Solace
, "grim and downcast" (The New York Times
), but audiences didn't seem to mind, turning out in sufficient numbers for
to set a new 007 opening-weekend record of more than $70.4 million (domestic). But never mind the movie - true Bond-philes know the most important action happens before the suave superspy ever appears onscreen: the trademark opening montages that usually suggest both softcore porn and postmodern dance, accompanied by a theme song that - no matter a seething rocker, slinky R&B ballad or pop confectionery - always incorporates elements of Monty Norman's brassy, timeless orchestral motif.
Happily, after Madonna's so-so electro outing "Die Another Day" - one of her wardrobe-change interludes at Sunday's blockbuster concert - and Chris Cornell's Casino Royale trainwreck "You Know My Name," Quantum arrives with the best Bond theme in a decade, "Another Way to Die" (above), which pairs Raconteur and White Stripe Jack White with classically-schooled R&B diva Alicia Keys in the series' first-ever duet. (Keys and White were selected after Amy Winehouse and Beyonce both dropped out.) Blending White's gonzo guitar skills, Keys' supple piano dynamic and of course Norman's theme, "Another" is already in heavy rotation on Sirius/XM's Underground Garage channel.
Click through for Rocks Off's choices of four other boffo Bond themes.
Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" (1964): The gold standard of Bond themes (co-written by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley), "Goldfinger" set the tone for opening numbers for a decade - Tom Jones' "Thunderball," Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice," even Bassey's "Diamonds are Forever." Thanks to Bassey's sinister, sultry vocals and those unbeatable brass-section swells, though, it still hasn't been surpassed.
Duran Duran, "A View to a Kill" (1985): One of Barry's last Bond-theme collaborations, the Oscar-winning composer gives the '80s idols' already sleek New Wave pop a sophisticated sheen. The video, where a mad bomber chases Simon LeBon around the Eiffel Tower, is a kitschy classic in its own right.
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Tina Turner, "GoldenEye" (1995): Written by U2's Bono and the Edge in the wake of Achtung Baby and Zooropa, this slinky ballad carries hints of those albums' darker tracks such as "Love Is Blindness" or "Dirty Day." Turner's feline vocals give the song a subtle twist of danger completely missed by Famke Janssen as villainess Xenia Onatopp in the film.
Paul McCartney & Wings, "Live and Let Die" (1973): The first rock and roll Bond theme, "Live and Let Die" marked the first time McCartney and legendary producer George Martin worked together since the Beatles breakup and wound up both a No. 2 U.S. hit and the first Bond theme to be nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar (though it was trounced by Barbra Streisand's easy-listening juggernaut "The Way We Were." Though grammarians cringe at McCartney's line "this ever-changing world in which we live in," "Live" is light on its feet and genuinely rocks. But the less said about Guns 'N' Roses' cover on 1991's Use Your Illusion I, the better. - Chris Gray