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The Best Ever James Bond Theme Songs
The Best Ever James Bond Theme Songs
The announcement of a new James Bond movie is met with much fanfare and hype.
Similarly the choice of the theme song for each movie is highly anticipated.
It's always considered a great honour and a matter of prestige to be chosen to have your music grace the opening titles of the latest James Bond extravaganza.
For the last 50 years many famous singers and bands have introduced the opening credits to much acclaim.
This ignores the obvious fact that most of the Bond theme tunes are mediocre at best and sometimes truly dreadful.
In a case of the Emperors new clothes this inescapable conclusion seems to have by-passed many of the critics over the years who have seemingly been seduced by the glamour and excitement of a new Bond movie.
The real Bond villains are not to be found at the helm of SPECTRE or whatever sinister figures are attempting world domination. They are in the recording studio creating the next mediocre theme song. I reckon there are only a handful of real classic tunes among them all and here I look at every one with incriminating video evidence alongside.
'James Bond Theme' by John Barry & Orchestra (1962)
Of course we are all familiar with that big band swing and immediately recognisable guitar riff of the 'James Bond Theme'.
Written by Monty Norman and embellished by the wonderful arrrangement of John Barry it is one of the most enduring movie themes ever.
It was used here for the opening credits of 'Dr. No' but has remained as the signature tune throughout the Bond series. With its sense of foreboding and that staccato almost sinister guitar sound it still sends shivers up the spine.
For the first and only time there were actually two songs in a medley for the opening titles as 'Kingston Calypso', also written by Monty Norman, was included to reflect the Caribbean location of the movie. Here was introduced a young Sean Connery onto the international stage in the role which made his name and to which every subsequent Bond actor would be compared. Also justly famous for that iconic scene where a bikini-clad Ursula Andress makes an erotic appearance from out of the sea.
'From Russia with Love' by Matt Monro (1963)
Matt Monro never had the looks that made Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin such superstars and in many ways he was close to Nat King Cole in style.
But he was a marvelous singer in his own right and sang on many tremendous tunes throughout a successful career.
Unfortunately the title song to 'From Russia With Love' isn't one of them as it's far too middle of the road. More suited to a Perry Como Christmas special than an all-action thriller. It was played at the end of the movie with an instrumental version at the opening credits. It was written by Lionel Bart who later hit the jackpot with his songs for the hit stage musical 'Oliver!' when it was made into a movie in 1968.
Ironically the movie is regarded by many as one of the best of the James Bond series. Faithful to the spirit of the books and with a memorable performance by Rosa Kleb as the KBG officer with the sharp-pointed shoes. Along with Robert Shaw they both proved to be formidable foes for Bond.
'Goldfinger' by Shirley Bassey (1964)
Enter onto the scene the young Welsh diva Shirley Bassey who immediately struck gold with the memorable 'Goldfinger' written by Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley and John Barry.
With her tremendous vocal range and accompanies by that decadent jazz sound this was a sure-fire winner. Not only a memorable song but one which set the tone for future Bond themes and made her an international star.
The film was imbued with a great cast of actors and actresses with Gert Frobe as the eponymous villain and his side kick Oddjob played by Harold Sakata. The latter entered cinema history for his use of the deadly reinforced bowler hat which was just the thing for the well-dressed assassin. Continuing with the strange character names there was also the delicious English rose of Honor Blackman playing Pussy Galore. Certainly a name you couldn't get away with in the movies nowadays without inviting scorn. Not unless it was an Austin Powers movie.
'Thunderball' by Tom Jones (1965)
There is another version of Thunderball that was recorded by Johnny Cash and is available on disc.
But the studio found in favour of Welsh wizard Tom Jones who was a huge star in the swinging sixties and one of the best singers in showbusiness.
He was famous for classics like 'Delilah', 'It's Not Unusual' and 'The Green, Green Grass of Home' in that fertile decade for music.
Such a pity then that this song is truly dire and competes for one of the worst, if not the worst, Bond theme of all time. The cheesy lyrics don't exactly help the tune either. I'm not sure if it is included in any of Tom's greatest hits collections. Written by John Barry and Don Black it never really gets off the ground and was instantly forgettable although Tom Jones still sings it occasionally in his live act. At least the catchy guitar isn't too bad but more than that can not really be said for a poor effort.
The movie was good though with Adolfi Celi playing the evil Emilio Largo who committed the daring theft of two stolen nuclear warheads to further the devilish aims of the SPECTRE organisation. Stunning French brunette Claudine Auger played the female lead who was Largo's mistress but eventually ended up in Bond's arms.
'You Only Live Twice' by Nancy Sinatra (1967)
Another splendid theme tune sung by Nancy Sinatra that blended perfectly with the Far-Eastern setting of the movie.
Written by Leslie Bricusse, Anita Baker and John Barry it was one of the better songs from the Bond movies.
In particular it was John Barry's memorable orchestral score that made the song stand out. A couple of years later Barry composed a similar melody for harmonica on the movie 'Midnight Cowboy' with a much more modest production.
Many years later it was skillfully sampled by Robbie Williams on his popular single 'Milennium' in 1998 which became a huge hit. As a massive fan of the Bond series he filmed a humourous video in homage. He also named the album which the song came from as 'I've Been Expecting You' named after the famous catchphrase attached to Ernst Blofeld.
This time Blofeld was played by Donald Pleasance with Japanese actresses Akiko Wakabyash and Mie Hama supporting Connery. The script was written by children's story-writer Roald Dahl of all people.
'We Have All the Time in the World' by Louis Armstrong (1969)
This beautiful and simple song from 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' was a real winner at the end of the sixties.
Although it is not actually the opening theme tune it is always strongly associated with the movie rather than the instrumental that was played over the credits.
The movie had a hard time as Sean Connery had been replaced by George Lazenby, an Australian male-model and the acting equivalent of a tailor's dummy. I don't recall many if any other movies he appeared in after his Bond stint.
But time has been kind to the movie and it doesn't look so bad nowadays. It also starred Telly Savalas as Blofeld and Diana Rigg as the love interest who incredibly manages to snare Bond into marriage but with unexpected results.
The song was written by John Barry and Hal David who was the famous lyricist partner of Burt Bacharach. The latter wasn't involved with the music but it definitely has that Bacharach feel to it especially with the soft trumpet melody. Ultimately however it was the deep-throated larynx of Louis Armstrong that gave the song it's real uniqueness. His gravelly voice softened by the lush and soothing strings of the orchestra were a perfect combination.
'Diamonds Are Forever' by Shirley Bassey (1971)
The Bond movie franchise was undergoing a real purple patch musically as writers John Barry and Don Black produced another legendary tune.
Shirley Bassey returned to lend her siren vocals onto the epic orchestral sound of 'Diamonds Are Forever' which is regarded as one of the best Bond themes. An absolute classic.
And in a match made in heaven Sean Connery also returned to play Bond just for one film enticed by a record $1.2 million payout from United Artists. He was joined by the sexy Jill St John as Tiffany Case a diamond smuggler who eventually teams up with Bond. Others in the cast were Charles Gray as the ubiquitous Ernst Blofeld with also Bruce Glover and Putter Smith excelling as the campest assassins in movie history.
'Live and Let Die' by Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
James Bond Rocks! For the first time the theme tune was an out and out rock song.
It was decided to ditch the crooners, the torch songs and the jazzy, melliflous cool of the old 60's numbers.
But the epic sound was retained as Beatles legend Paul McCartney wrote this classic in tandem with his wife Linda.
Although given the quality that had preceded them it seemed unbelievable that 'Live and Let Die' was the first James Bond theme song to be nominated for an Oscar. Prior to that it must have been galling to the studio that the 'Casino Royale' spoof had beat them to it with a nomination for Dusty Springfield's 'The Look of Love' back in 1967.
McCartney created an original and breathtaking song that evoked all the drama and excitement of a Bond movie. Thrilling and spirited it was structured with a clever change of pace that mingled dynamic rock with melodic sing-along sections and even including a short reggae segment. In homage Guns n' Roses even produced an excellent heavy rock cover version released as a single in 1991 from their 'Use Your Illusion 1' album.
As for the movie, it must have been difficult for many Bond fans to accept super-suave Roger Moore ex of 'The Saint' TV series as the tough guy secret agent James Bond. But he managed to pull it off and his first movie turned out to be one of the best ever. Yaphet Kotto played the villain and Jayne Seymour as Solitaire in the female lead. However Clifton James as the redneck Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper stole the show during that famous speedboat chase.
'The Man with the Golden Gun' by Lulu (1975)
Sung by Scottish singer Lulu this song unfortunately failed to set the heather on fire in a big way.
Written by John Barry and Don Black it lacked the quality of the previous few efforts and was a disappointment after the invigorating 'Live and Let Die' theme tune. It seemed the series had taken a backward step musically.
The opening burst of the horn section is irritating to the ears and although Lulu sings well she is let down by a weak tune and bad lyrics. A real disappointment.
Alice Cooper had recorded a song for the movie which wasn't chosen. His version of 'The Man with the Golden Gun' survives on his 1973 album 'Muscle of Love'
The movie had the excellent Christopher Lee playing an evil foe once again for which he was typecast. From the Hammer horrors of Count Dracula through another Count as Dooku in the Star Wars movies and to the evil wizard Saruman in 'The Lord of the Rings'. In this movie he was the triple-nippled Scaramanga with the eye-candy provided by Swedish beauty Britt Eckland. They even managed to bring back Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper for another turn.
'Nobody Does It Better' by Carly Simon (1977)
The title says it all as Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager wrote in the song for 'The Spy Who Loved Me' in 1977.
Hamlisch revealed that he agonised about how to write a song containing the title 'The Spy Who Loved Me' before giving up the idea as too corny. However the song is an unashamed tribute to the superspy extolling all his virtues in an affectionate love ballad.
The change of emphasis resulted in the beautiful voice of Carly Simon overlaying fantastic music and superlative lyrics in what is a possible contender for the best ever Bond theme tune. The Hollywood Academy certainly agreed and it was awarded an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
The movie heralded the beginning of the massively overblown production values and gadgetry that became associated witn the Roger Moore era. The villain this time was the web-fingered Stromberg intent on world destruction and the creation of a new underwater civilisation. He was played by Curd Jungens(mistakenly billed as 'Curt') with the Bond beauty played by Barabara Bach as a Soviet agent. Richard Kiel played 'Jaws', he of the metallic dentures.
'Moonraker' by Shirley Bassey (1979)
Written by John Barry and Hal David this song marked the return of Shirley Bassey as singer.
She was actually recruited at the last minute as original choice Johnny Mathis never completed the recording. She sings with her customary gusto hitting the soaring high notes that she does so well.
However the actual song turned out to be an anti-climax and the past-glories of those 60's classic tunes wasn't repeated. Being too far too laid-back and polished it lacked that special magic that makes a great Bond tune. Even a sprinkling of a string section sounding much like 'You Only Live Twice' couldn't lift the song.
The movie itself isn't highly regarded as things got even more far-fetched and silly with laser-fights in space as the franchise rode the back of the popularity of Star Wars. There was even a romance for 'Jaws' with a be-spectacled young lady in pig-tails to add to the cheesy storyline. A saving grace was the superb Michael Lonsdale as the evil industrialist Doctor Hugo Drax who planned to poison the whole earth and begin a new civilisation in space. Sound familiar?
'For Your Eyes Only' by Sheena Easton (1981)
Written by Bill Conti and Michael Leeson and featuring Sheena Easton who hailed from Bellshill in Scotland before she sought fortune and fame in the USA.
Although the track received an Oscar nomination for Best Song it wasn't a very popular choice amongst fans. Not a very strong ballad and the lyrics weren't that exceptional either.
As an alternative there is a song by Blondie that never passed the audition for the movie title track. Also called 'For Your Eyes Only' it was spared oblivion and included on 'The Hunter', the band's album from 1982. Although not a classic either it perhaps suits being played over the title sequence better than the original.
But the film was good as it it seemed a post-dramatic stress reaction had taken place in response to the high-tech indulgence of the previous two movies. Here the action is much more grounded without losing the glamour and epic style of the typical Bond movie. No spaceships this time.
There was some great fun at the end though when famous impersonator Janet Brown was hired to play Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the comic actor John Wells reprising his role as her husband. But during the movie a splendid cast helped things move along with Topol as Bond's ally and Julian Glover proving a marvelous villain. Amongst a plethora of Bond beauties French actress Carole Bouquet took the lead female role.
'All Time High' by Rita Coolidge (1983)
From the provactively entitled movie 'Octupussy' this song was written by John Barry with lyrics by Tim Rice and produced by Stephen Short.
Rita Coolidge was a surprising choice as she was considered to be more popular in the 1970's. Apparently however the story goes that Cubby Broccolli's daughter Barbara was a big fan and so Coolidge got the job.
She won over competition from the more current Laura Brannigan and the beehive Brit singer Mari Wilson. The tune is pleasant but entirely unremarkable as it sounds like a failed entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Weak and lacking in the excitement of many of the best Bond themes it actually only gets interesting near the end when the saxophone briefly enters the scene before promptly disappearing. Very disappointing
The video was filmed at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton masquerading as an Indian palace as the movie was located in India. The film went down well and enjoyed a strong supporting cast that included Maud Adams, the great Steven Berkoff, Louis Jordan and even ex-tennis star Vijay Armritraj.
'Never Say Never Again' by Lani Hall (1983)
Sean Connery returned as Bond for one last time in this movie although with a well-fitting toupee for the action scenes.
Not an official movie of the Cubby Broccolli franchise it nevertheless did well even though it was just an updated version of 'Thunderball'.
The title theme sung by Lani Hall and composed by Michael Legrand is fairly forgettable. Brought in the same year as 'Octopussy' the movie theme shares that insipid and too laid back style of the Rita Coolidge number. However Lani Hall does her best and puts in a tremendous singing performance through the musical malaise.
The film enjoyed a terrific cast with Max Von Sydow playing Ernst Blofeld aided and abetted by Claus Maria Brandauer as a psychopathic Largo and the gorgeous Barbara Carrera as the evil Fatima Blush. The love interest was supplied by Kim Basinger and there were also supporting roles for Edward Fox as 'M' and Alec McCowen as 'Q'. Rowan Atkinson was included after Sean Connery asked that the famous comedy scriptwriters Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais be brought on board to inject more wit into the movie. Actress Amy Irving even took part as the voice-over for a computer scanning device.
'A View to a Kill' by Duran Duran (1985)
Another imaginative, although highly commercial move when British New Romantics Duran Duran were chosen for this movie.
Written by John Barry and band bassist John Taylor the song topped the singles charts in America and was the only Bond theme thus far to have reached number one in the USA.
It's a tremendous Pop-Rock number with a really modern and energetic feel befitting an action-packed Bond movie. However the accompanying video filmed on the Eiffel Tower with shots of the band intercut with scenes from the movie was pretty awful and blotted their copybook.
This turned out to be Roger Moore's last outing as the superspy and probably not before time. He was looking much too old for the fast-action superstud role by now. Nevertheless it was a fine movie to finish his Bond career with lively action scenes, crisp and witty dialogue and the inspired casting of Grace Jones and Christopher Walken as baddies. Grace wasn't the best actress in town but she seemed perfect for the part and Walken relished his role as main antagonist Max Zorin. Also starred Patrick Macnee who was sadly killed off and Dolph Lungren in a minor role as a henchman.
'The Living Daylights' by A-Ha (1987)
Written by John Barry and Pal Waaktaar of the popular Norwegian band who were riding high in the charts at the time.
The main theme for 'The Living Daylights' was originally given to the Pet Shop Boys. They started recording the project but pulled out soon after. They had learned that they would not be allowed to score the music for the film in its entirety.
Perhaps they would have done a better job as the A-Ha song is mediocre without being dreadful. The Norwegian lads set a good pace but ultimately the chorus was very weak which let the side down. Again a case of what might have been if it had a little more verve and purpose.
The movie was a refreshing rebirth of the Bond franchise as Welsh actor Timothy Dalton took hold of the reins. He had leading lady Maryam d'Abo alongside pitted against renegade Soviet General Gorgi Koskov played by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe. There were also Joe Don Baker, Jonathon Rhys-Davies who gave some double-barrelled supporting acting as well as Art Malik as a Mujahideen leader in war-torn Afghanistan.
'Licence to Kill' by Gladys Knight (1989)
The end of the 1980s saw a return to the traditional big band sound of the 60's for this James Bond tune.
In fact the writers of the song 'Goldfinger' were given royalty payments for the horn section due to its similarity.
A real return to form too as Gladys Night's classy vocals gave justice to the music and words of Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. She puts in a fantastic vocal performance and makes a really good tune into a great one. It's a modern interpretation of the traditional Bond tune and works on every level. Due to illness John Barry was not available so Michael Kamen took charge of the film score.
This time the Bond villain was played by American actor Robert Davi as Franz Sanchez the most powerful drug-lord in Latin America. Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto played the ladies in Bond's life and a young 21-year old Benicio del Toro also appeared as a henchman making him the youngest bad-guy in the Bond movies.
'GoldenEye' by Tina Turner (1995)
It was probably surprising that it took so long for Tina Turner to become the voice of Bond after many years in the music business.
Here incredible vocals were well suited to that over-the-top sound that was typical of the Bond theme.
Unfortunately the song is just one-paced and average which didn't do justice to her talents. It just seems to amble along without going anywhere or grabbing the attention.
The song was written by Bono and The Edge from U2, a band that were no strangers to film music having recorded 'Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kill Me' for the movie 'Batman Forever'. The other two band members Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen had also performed the theme music to the first 'Mission Impossible' movie.
As for the movie it was another Celt in charge as Irishman Pierce Brosnana joined Scot Sean Connery and the Welsh Timothy Dalton in playing the role. Also starred Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Joe Don Baker once again and other notable supporting roles by Scots actors Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cummings as well as Famke Janssen and Minnie Driver.
'Tomorrow Never Dies' by Sheryl Crow (1997)
Written by Mitchell Froom and Eric Clapton's ex-girlfriend Sheryl Crow this song was a last minute choice for the theme tune.
You wouldn't think so to hear the song as it is an excellent piece of Bond music. The soft-rock style is blended expertly with the John Barry sound and it really benefits from a strong chorus.
Another song 'Surrender' sung by K.D. Lang was used for the end-credits with its melody also appearing during the film score. It was originally first choice but replaced as Sheryl Crow had a bigger commercial profile.
The scourge of MIchael Jackson, namely Jarvis Cocker and his band Pulp had recorded 'Tomorrow Never Lies' for the movie as that had been the original title. It never made the re-named finished version but is still available on disc. In fact quite a few artists submitted entries for 'Tomorrow Never Dies' including Saint Etienne, Marc Almond, Swan Lee, The Cardigans and Space.
The movie starred the excellent Jonathan Pryce as Elliott Carver playing a Rupert Murdoch-style megalomaniac media-tycoon. It also starred the lovely Teri Hatcher fresh from 'The Adventures of Superman' TV series. The irrepressible Joe Don Baker returned again as a CIA agent and Geoffrey Palmer as a Royal Navy Admiral. Also Scottish actor Gerald Butler played a small part as a Royal Navy sailor.
'The World Is Not Enough' by Garbage (1999)
Written by David Arnold and Don Black and performed by Indie giants Garbage for Pierce Brosnan's third outing as Bond.
Unfortunate that it was sung by a band of that name as the song was dreary and an uninspiring intro to a very good film. Ultimately it is really a languid dirge that outstays its welcome well before the end.
Singer Shirley Manson became the third Scottish female vocalist to appear on a Bond film making it a hat-trick of mediocrity. The band also contributed music to the film score itself which is rare for a Bond movie.
In the film Denise Richards played the female lead with Robert Carlyle the evil Soviet terrorist impervious to pain. Robbie Coltrane returned and French actress Sophie Marceau played the bad girl. To add some humour John Cleese appeared for the first time playing technological wizard 'Q' or perhaps 'R' as Bond jokingly referred to him in the dialogue.
'Die Another Day' by Madonna (2002)
Into the 21st century the music followed the modern trend of Electro-dance Pop so favoured by Madonna at the time and who also appeared in a role in the movie.
Written by herself and Mirwais Ahmadzaï it seemed a rather empty choice in terms of production for the Bond theme. Electronically-processed with a sharp, edgy style it's instantly forgettable despite the fact that it was a big hit in the music charts.
But this particular cocktail is too shaken and stirred by far. No epic sweep, no passion or big orchestra sound so indicative of a John Barry production as this was aimed at the younger generation. However the accompanying video was adult material with Madonna being interrogated by a mean crowd of Korean heavies who dunk her head in ice-cold water and have an electric chair waiting. Blood is spilled and violence ensues with references also to events and characters from previous Bond movies.
The movie starred Halle Berry and Toby Stephens along with Madonna herself of course and also Michael Masden and Rosamund Pike among an impressive supporting cast
'You Know My Name' by Chris Cornell (2006)
The Bond franchise were really going to the edge now as they recruited a heavy rock singer famous for appearing with Grunge superstars Soundgarden and supergoup Audioslave.
The superb voice of Chris Cornell graced this theme song to 'Casino Royale' in which Daniel Craig made his debut as Bond.
The song was written by Cornell and David Arnold and the vocal power of the former raised the track above many of its predecessors. But there is real power and urgency all through the music too.
The stranglehold of the Celtic Mafia was broken as an Englishman was finally chosen and a blond-haired Bond no less which broke new ground. Danish actor Mads Mikkelson played the villain in the movie with female lead being the French actress Eva Green. Not surprisingly, given its location, many European actors and actresses populated the cast for Casino Royale.
'Another Way to Die' by Alicia Keys & Jack White (2008)
The cosy fireside crooning of Matt Munro and the theatrical splendour of Shirley Bassey are a long way off now.
Who would have guessed that back in the 1960s the James Bond theme would be in the hands of Rock musicians.
This time for 'Quantum of Solace' it was Jack White, one half of The White Stripes, who took charge and along with Soul singer Alicia Keys brought his individual style to the show.
The song has a claim to fame as being the first duet for a Bond theme. However I didn't feel the triple combination of post-grunge guitar, hip-hop and the big band sound sat together all that well. The track could have done with a more coherent structure and arrangment. An interesting and imaginative song but it didn't quite get there.
On-screen Mathieu Amalric played the main villain and Olga Kurylenko the female lead. Supporting roles were played by Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Anatole Taubman and Tim Piggott-Smith.
'Skyfall' by Adele (2012)
Another classy singer and yet another dud song.
English chanteuse Adele was the natural choice for the theme song to 'Skyfall' which was released in 2012.
Her singing is faultless as you would expect but the song is another dreary dirge lacking inspiration.
In fact it resembles a mash-up of previous offerings with echoes of Chris Cornell's song and also Garbage. Plus it has the background mood melody from Monty Norman's original just in case anyone did not realise this was the new Bond song.
As a co-writer along with Paul Epworth, Adele must share the blame for inflicting further mediocrity. The song certainly flows along with a sophisticated arrangement but it never really lifts itself above the average.
This was Daniel Craig's third movie in his hardened version of James Bond with a spectacular attack on the MI6 headquarters in London providing the spark for the plot. Added value came from Judi Dench's 'M' struggling with events from her past coming back to haunt her and strain her relationship with Bond. The movie also starred Javier Bardem as the bad guy with support roles from Helen McCrory, Ralph Fiennes and the great Albert Finney.
So that's my take on the musical themes of the Bond movies over the years. If I was asked to choose a favourite then that would be very difficult. But I would say that it would be a choice between 'Live and Let Die', 'Nobody Does it Better' and 'Diamonds Are Forever' above all the rest.
You'll have your own favourites but if you'll permit me I have drawn up a poll of my idea of the Top 10 tunes. They're not only based on my own preference but also influenced by the popularity and enduring quality of the songs.
With that qualification I would like to invite you to vote for your favourite here.
My Top 10 choices in alphabetical order
What is your favourite James Bond theme tune?
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